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More On Equal Marriages

Amanda Marcotte has an insightful post responding to the same Linda Hirshman article that I wrote about a few posts down. She starts off with the same general sort of observation that I made -- that Hershman's attempt to get women to strategize for enforcing equality in their own relationships is inadequate and ineffective in the long term if we're not also blaming the patriarchy for creating this situation in the first place. But the way she phrases it reveals that even my response -- basically "hey husbands and boyfriends, shape up and take responsibility for the equality of your relationship" -- didn't go far enough. Marcotte says:

The problem here is even if you're with a well-meaning man who tries to do his share around the house, unless he's a neatnik--i.e., internallly motivated to be clean--he's never going to be under the same social pressures as women to keep the house neat. Which leaves you with the choice of either asking him to meet an artificial standard that he doesn't want to meet, which will make him resent you, or lowering your standards to his and having people think you're a bad wife/girlfriend/woman. Bring children into it, and you get to be a bad mother, too. My ex-boyfriends had the freedom to take some bohemian pride in clutter, but for a woman, it's just evidence you don't care enough about your home or your man to keep the place clean.

The important thing is keeping our eyes on the prize and blaming the patriarchy, not the women who have to make hard choices inside it. Far more important to the cause of feminism than the individual choices women make to survive is going out there, labeling the problem, educating both men and women on the issues at hand so that they can at least start reconsidering their individual choices, and, most importantly, continuing to agitate for collective, political action that will demolish male dominance.

The basic point is this: households do not exist in isolation. What Marcotte is getting at is basically Anthony Giddens' theory of structuration -- social systems perpetuate themselves by setting up the choices that people face in such a way that it makes sense for them to make choices that reproduce the system (in the worst cases, the choice is framed in such a way that *either* option perpetuates the system). Therefore, you can't just fix the internal relationships of your partnership and have the outcome be truly equal. Your household is still in a relationship to all the people and social structures around you, who exert various pressures (such as blaming only the woman for a messy house) that skew the outcome when measured in terms of the happiness and freedom of the household members. So even exhorting both men and women to work for equality in their own households is not enough to fix the situation. Neither naive "choice feminism" that validates any choice nor Hirshman's call to demand that people make a certain set of properly feminist choices really gets at the heart of the problem.

This is not to say that within-household equality is a bad thing. An internally equal relationship subjected to antifeminist pressures is a good sight better than an internally unequal relationship. On the other hand, it's difficult to criticize many choices (particularly on the woman's part) that are what Marcotte calls "survival choices" that are rational within the system -- you can't demand that oppressed people make sacrifices for activism. We need to look beyond your own household domain for the other social structures that are placing unfair choices and pressures your household (just as Hirshman opens her article by looking beyond the workplace for the social structures that create workplace inequality). And we need to recognize that it's a change that has to be made society-wide, not under the naive classical-liberal conception that households can choose their level of feminist-ness all on their own.

On a slight tangent, Marcotte links to this Bitch, PhD post that gives one of the best succinct and forceful responses to the last-name-changing dilemma (from a basically structurationist viewpoint) that I've seen:

Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name.


New In The Kiosk

A passing comment in this Philocrites post reminds me of a pet peeve that deserves some time in the Kiosk. I'm a pretty stong nominalist, so I'm generally very accomodating when someone finds a certain bit of terminology offensive. But I have to draw the line at getting worked up over the use of "Democrat" as an adjective (e.g. "the Democrat Party"). Certainly "Democratic" is grammatically correct, but it's absurd to be offended when someone drops the "ic" -- heck, you're just handing them a stick to poke you with. Then again, given that the Democratic Party's actual positions are increasingly indistinguishable from the GOP's, I guess partisans need to find something to justify their fierce rivalry.

Meta Cultural Theory

Cultural Theory argues that none of the four biases (Hierarchy, Egalitarianism, Individualism, and Fatalism) is entirely superior. All four are necessary, in some combination, for a functioning society. On the one hand, it's an appealing idea that seems to offer a useful direction for policymaking. But on the other hand, allowing this higher-order view seems to threaten to let Cultural Theorists transcend the basic theorem of Cultural Theory: that everyone is biased.

But what actually happens is that the biases reappear at the meta level. The question of "how do we coordinate and balance the application of different biases?" is one that admits of four irreconcilable answers. The most obvious is a sort of meta-Hierarchy -- a set of clear rules specifying when and where each first-order bias is applicable. More popular in the Cultural Theory literature is meta-Egalitarianism, under which all four biases are invited to the table to share their perspective as equals. The idea of the complementarity of biases has been most deeply investigated by Michael Thompson, whose study area -- the Sherpas -- exhibits meta-Individualism, a practice of allowing the four biases to compete to see which is most effective at running each sphere of life in a given set of circumstances. And of course there's meta-Fatalism, in which we just hope for the best in our configuration of biases.


Thanksgiving Day Cynicism About Bird Flu

Over at Obsidian Wings, hilzoy has a somewhat naive post about the pros and cons of using a quarrantine to control bird flu:

... If there is a good chance that a quarantine would contain the spread of avian flu in the US, then I think there would be a serious case for imposing one.

But this is ONLY true if there is a good chance that a quarantine would, in fact, work. If it wouldn't, then you incur all the considerable costs of imposing a quarantine without getting any of its benefits at all. And that would just be stupid: exactly like trying to stop an influenza pandemic by walking around saying "go away, you silly virus!", only with much, much greater costs.

Her eventual conclusion is that the nature of flu means that the benefits of a quarrantine are quite small, and hence not worth the costs. As a utilitarian, I think cost-benefit analysis of the type hilzoy proposes is certainly the way policy problems ought to be analyzed. However, as a pragmatist, I recognize that weighing the costs and benefits to society of a policy is somewhat tangential to the way policy is actually made.

In real policymaking -- particularly when dealing with a Big Problem like bird flu or terrorism, the goal is not to reduce the costs and increase the benefits until the latter exceeds the former. Rather, it's to raise the cost until it's commensurate with the importance and scaryness of the problem (provided, of course, that somebody else is paying that cost). A cheap but effective solution is no good because its cheapness fails to do justice to the seriousness of the problem. We need to feel like we're making big sacrifices in order to preserve some important value and meet some pressing need. Quarrantining strangers is thus going to have great appeal as a response to an epidemic of bird flu.

Consider, as another example, Obsidian Wings' favorite issue: torture. Various cost-benefit arguments have been made about torture -- pro-torture people raising "ticking time bomb" scenarios and anti-torture people presenting evidence that torture is a hugely ineffective way of getting reliable information. Unfortunately, both types of argument are usually beside the point. For the vast majority of torture supporters, what weighs in torture's favor is not the benefits it's likely to bring in terms of combatting terrorism. It's the costs that torture imposes. Torture is seen as good because it shows that we're willing to go to really great lengths* to do something about terrorism.

The anti-torture side is a bit more complex. It's not that anti-torture people don't see terrorism as a big problem that we should demonstrate our resolve against. Rather, they don't see torture as something eligible to be counted as a cost, treated as causing a finite level of harm that can be weighed against other pros and cons in some sort of moral calculus. They take a deontological attitude that torture is wrong, period. This is why the ineffectiveness of torture is only brought up as an uncomfortable afterthought. To even think of torture as a cost, rather than as a sin, is for most anti-torture people a sin of improper moral reasoning.

*Pun intended


Guns, Germs, and Marx

A while back I mentioned
that a Marxist mailing list had picked up one of my posts about Jared Diamond. At the time the online archive of the list had expired, but I recently discovered (through my referrer logs) an available archive of their discussion.

Bad Astronomy

I'm in no way a trained astronomer (I actually don't even like astronomy -- for whatever reason stargazing doesn't appeal to me all that much). So when someone tries to use astronomy to prove a philosophical point and even I can see that they're wrong, there's a problem. I'm reading a book about Deep Ecology, and I came across this line from founder Arne Naess:

Modern astronomy, which I have followed since the 1930s, indicates that the universe is growing, and I feel that I am growing with the universe; I identify with the universe -- the greater the universe, the greater I am.

Unfortunately for Naess, the sense in which the universe is growing is quite different from the sense in which a person's growth is a desirable thing. The universe is not growing in the sense of developing and becoming richer. It's growing in the sense of expanding. All that's happening is that its bits and pieces are getting farther apart.


Immoral Men

Linda Hirshman argue that the main thing holding us back from gender equality today is the household division of labor. The fundamental problem is that men won't do their share of the work -- indeed, the work-family dilemma never even appears on their radar. Certainly there's a mutually reinforcing relationship between inequality in the workplace and inequality at home, and workplace discrimination is a real problem, but I think Hirshman is right that in many cases today it's the home relationship that acts as the heavy flywheel keeping the structure in place.

I don't agree so much with where Hirshman goes from there, however. She first claims that the persistence of inequality shows that "choice feminism" has failed. After all, the women who opt to quit full-time work and take on the lion's share of the housework and childrearing will all tell you it was their choice. Hirshman lambasts the "choice feminists" who allowed this to happen by not condemning housework as unfulfilling drudgery that women should refuse to accept. But I think a more sophisticated idea of choice still works. A naive choice perspective only asks whether the selection of an option was freely made. A more sophisticated view of choice also asks about the parameters of the choice -- what was the set of options presented, and who had to make what choices at what time? Feminism has done much to reduce the overt inequality of unfree choices, but powerful structural inequalities persist in what choice sets people are presented with. Thinking this way allows us to condemn the inequality in society without blaming individual women for choices that were, given the circumstances, perfectly rational -- and without denying that an equal society will (due to variation in tastes and abilities) include some families where the woman does the housework alongside ones where the man does and ones where the work is split equally. Besides, if we condemn housework in such uncompromising terms, how do we expect to convince men to take up their fair share?

This brings us to the next point: for all her talk about how feminism has failed by not being radical enough, Hirshman never utters the four magic words: I blame the patriarchy. All of these unequal relationships contain a man, and yet Hirshman tiptoes around pointing a finger at them for perpetuating (albeit usually passively, by failing to question the prevailing social structure) the inequality. Her discussion of solutions all focus on how women can increase their bargaining power through things like career-focused education and marrying more vulnerable men. Those strategies are fine as far as they go -- at worst they deprive couples of the crude economic rationalizations for traditional gender roles*, and at best they provide crucial leverage against a sexist husband. But if we're looking to re-inject a moral element into household gender politics, let's start with this: men have a responsibility to examine their own attitudes, behaviors, and assumptions, and to correct those that are incompatible with real equality. Men must be held responsible by other men and women, and boys must be taught from a young age that household equality is their responsibility too. A man who fails to do his share of the work, or who fails to seriously face the same questions that his wife faces, is acting immorally. Sadly, it seems that most heterosexual men in contemporary America are immoral.

*Of course, this is easy for me to say, since I think no household making more than $50,000 a year (except with significant extenuating circumstances) has much right to complain about finances or sacrifice other things for more money.

The Purpose Of Marriage

PG makes quick work of the claim that marriage is about procreation:

I am much in agreement with Gallagher that the state's interest in marriage is that legal recognition reinforces an arrangement that is beneficial to the state. What I disagree wildly about is that the only benefit to the state marriages creates is procreation. For one thing, our government policy clearly doesn't see procreation alone as beneficial, or we wouldn't have five year limits on welfare and discouragement of further procreation by recipients (in some cases going as far as rewarding people financially for sterilization, which always gives me a creepy memory of the depiction in Midnight's Children of the radios-for-sterilization tradeoff during the Emergency). Rather, what the state sees as beneficial is the creation of relationships that prevent people from becoming burdens on the state.

... This is why the state has reason to recognize the union of two people even before they start popping babies, and why it does even for couples that never do. As far as I know, our government accords no privileges to people merely for making babies, but reserves benefits like tax credits to people who are raising children.

The fact is, our current legal landscape does not privilege childbearing. Now, I can see how a committed inverse Malthusian might, in response to the horror of a fallling (white) birthrate, advocate substantial reforms that would reconfigure current marriage law into a birth-promotion program. But I don't see how someone working from a Burkean conservative point of view could look at the status quo and then claim to defend it on pro-procreation grounds.


Fixing Nature

A recent forestry bill introduced to Congress, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act (pro and con), got me thinking about the vexing question of human involvement in the natural world. The bill is aimed at promoting the recovery of forests from natural disasters, such as fires or hurricanes. A number of the provisions, such as enhancing monitoring of forest conditions and making cross-jurisdictional coordination easier, are unobjectionable. The core of the bill, however, is the recovery strategy it promotes: the bill's ideal is that after a fire (or other disturbance, but given my interests I'll focus on fire), crews would go in to log the dead and downed trees, then replant the area.

There are reasonable economic (if you don't log quickly, it will rot) and safety (a major fire can often increase the fire danger by killing a lot of the trees that were too juicy to burn, thus leaving more available fuel for the next fire) reasons for post-burn logging. But the rhetoric of the bill's sponsors is -- perhaps in an attempt to head off the likely objections -- phrased largely in terms of the environmental benefits. This makes an appealing image -- a healthy natural ecosystem has been wiped out by a disaster, and needs help regaining its fragile balance.

A strong trend in ecology has challenged the equilibrium model underlying the bill sponsors' version of environmentalism. This lends a more sophisticated air to the knee-jerk enviro reaction of "don't touch the forest." Disturbances like fire and hurricanes, we now know, are not exogenous forces that unexpectedly mess things up. They're part and parcel of the development and renewal of the ecosystem. Sweden is an excellent case study on this point. Earlier this century they attempted to improve their forests by removing snags and replanting after major fires -- only to find the ecology impoverished by the removal of what turned out to be critical elements of habitat. Active cleaning up of the forest here runs the same risk, of achieving a quick and aesthetically satisfactory recovery at the price of impairing the long-term ecology.

The presumption of natural resilience, however, also has its drawbacks. It presents recovery operations as a new exogenous interference, without which the forest could go happily on its way. But most of the forests in this country are already compromised by human activity. They're fragmented and hemmed in by settlement, choking on pollution, and deprived of key elements of their biodiversity. The disturbances, too, are not necessarily the ones that the forest evolved to handle, as human modification of the landscape and management practices have changed the type of fires that occur. America's forests are the creation of America's society, and therefore they cannot necessarily be left to handle their own maintenance. We are inextricably bound up in our forests' ecology, and therefore have to take responsibility for it -- a responsibility that may require active management at times.

This doesn't mean I'm in favor of the bill. A lot comes down to the particulars -- how hard is it really to do the necessary restoration work under present law? And are the projects that will be made possible under this law really aimed at improving the health of the environment, or is that just a cover for economically-motivated tree farming? I'm pessimistic on both counts, given the larger conservative approach to forestry that this bill springs out of. I'm especially wary of any measure that claims to streamline and speed up environmental projects, as that line of reform is at root an attempt to let big government and big business get on with their partnership of running things without having to deal with the pesky public. Certainly speed is sometimes important -- but that's all the more reason to get the public involved at stage one of the planning process, well before the disaster hits.


The Problem of Good

I've got another long post in the works, but in the meantime I'll link to an interesting article exploring the problem of evil by flipping it around and asking about the "problem of good" raised by McDuffism -- the theory that God exists, but he's a sadistic bastard.

Leibnizian Love

I've noticed that there seem to be three basic approaches to romantic relationships, which I've taken to calling "Leibnizian," "Newtonian," and "Habermasian."

Leibniz was an early modern philosopher who believed that the world was made up of "windowless monads." These monads didn't truly interact with one another. Rather, they each had the design of the world programmed into them, and were thus able to perfectly go through the motions specified by that plan without any reference to what the other monads were doing -- sort of like a series of clocks that were callibrated initially and thus all remain in sync through the dictates of their gears. Two monads might appear to bounce off of each other not because their collision affected their velocities, but because their internal programs told them that they should reverse direction at thus-and-such a moment.

In relationships, a Leibnizian expects their partner to already know the script. The rules for how to handle any given situation should already be in their head. For example, a traditionalist Leibnizian woman would expect her partner to know that the man is supposed to pick up the check at a restaurant, and would hold him responsible for spontaneously doing so. Leibnizism comes in two varieties: "natural law" and "jigsaw." A natural law Leibnizian believes that the rules in question are universal. Thus the woman in our example, if faced with a date who attempted to split the check, would consider him to be a bad person who can't grasp the basic and obvious rules of social ettiquette. A jigsaw leibnizian, on the other hand, recognizes the diversity of internal rule sets that a person might have, and sees their challenge as finding a person whose internal rule set matches their own. So if our example woman were a jigsaw Leibnizian, she would reason that while "going Dutch" is not inherently wrong and may work for other women, she happens to like the "man pays" system and is only interested in men who would volunteer to act accordingly.

The Newtonian view of the world is much more familar to us, and hence needs less elaboration. It's a world of cause and effect, stimulus and response. Any action elicits a predictable reaction from an affected object. The Newtonian view sees romance as a game of strategy. The big challenge is to find the right stimuli -- the right set of clothes, the right amount of time to wait before calling, the right restaurant to go to -- that will elicit the right set of responses on the part of your partner. Much attention is also given to deconstructing your partner's stimuli, either in order to make sure you give the right response, or in order to discern their ulterior motives.

The last perspective on relationships is named for Jürgen Habermas, a contemporary German philosopher about whom I've written a number of times. Habermas's work is centered on the idea of "communicative action." Communicative action is not stimulus-response, or even sophisticated social conditioning, type of action. Rather, its goal is to reach freely accepted understanding on the part of the two parties. In a Habermasian relationship, situations of uncoordination (such as our previous example of the disagreement over who pays for dinner) are handled through the offering of explanations and reasons. Such communication requires both parties to show respect for the other's viewpoint and be genuinely open to being convinced of its truth. This communication would take place continuously, not just at the moment of crisis -- so our couple would have discussed their ideas about date financing in advance and ideally come to some shared understanding.

Of course, I've presented all three views in a slightly caricatured form. Nobody adheres strictly to a pure version of one of these paradigms. Each one has a grain of truth in it, and any functional relationship will be a mix. However, there is much diversity in the proportions in which people mix these views (as a rough characterization, I would say that conservatives tend to favor natural law Leibnizism, liberals like jigsaw Leibnizism, and the cynical postmodern generation goes for Newtonism). My own preference leans strongly toward Habermasian relationships, a fact which I now recognize has caused me a fair bit of confusion and frustration in talking to people who prefer to order their lives on more heavily Leibnizian or Newtonian principles.

(And lest you think I could do a post without mentioning Cultural Theory, I would propose the following mapping of the three perspectives. Newtonian relationships correspond to low-group ways of life, falling under either Individualism or Fatalism depending on how in-control the person feels. Leibnizian relationships are high-group, though I don't believe that the natural law and jigsaw variants can be assigned one to Hierarchy and the other to Egalitarianism. Many Egalitarians would try to claim Habermasian relationships, and to some degree they're right, but I think the true home of the Habermasian perspective as I've outlined it is with the oft-neglected fifth way of life, Autonomy. I have further thoughts about the place and importance of Autonomy that I will perhaps blog later.)


Cultural Theory, Habermas, and Hugo Schwyzer

Today is a good day, because I get to write about three of my favorite topics. This synthesis was sparked by Hugo Schwyzer, who writes:

[Lynn] Phillips talks about the problem so many young women struggle with: separating their own desires from those of their families, friends, and the broader culture. For many of the women Phillips interviewed, the internalized audience is omnipresent, but never more so than when engaging in sexual activity. The make-up of the audience varies little from young woman to young woman: mothers and fathers, friends and family members, teachers and pastors and peers. Each member of the audience has his or her own set of expectations for how the girl ought to behave, and gradually, those expectations have crawled deep into the psyche. Raised to be acutely sensitive to the wishes and values of others, most young women "internalize the audience" by adolescence if not before. (Mom really can be everywhere!) And of course, once young women begin to interact sexually with others, the "audiences" begin to make conflicting demands.

... Thus I'm convinced that one of the most important feminist tasks is helping young -- and not so young -- women to quiet that internalized audience. Quieting, mind you, is not the same as dismissing. All of us, at times, can be comforted and strengthened by the memory of what some loved one or respected person has told us. On occasion, it's appropriate to ask: "What would so-and-so say if they could see me now? What advice would they give?" We ought on occasion to consider the wishes and beliefs of our culture, our faith (if we have one) and our parents. But though these ought to be factors in our decision-making about food, sex,and pleasure, they ought not to be the decisive ones. Helping young women listen to their own desires, separate from those of the large and loud audience, is a key feminist goal.

The liberatory project that Phillips* and Schwyzer outline is a very appealing one. However, as it stands it seems to be based on an Enlightenment/liberal model of the person that has come in for criticism in the social sciences. The liberal person is autonomous and unified self, with endogenous preferences, experiencing barriers and constraints as he or she attempts to interact in a world filled with other people.

The problem with the unified self seems easy enough to resolve. Poststructuralists have shown that identity and the self are in fact often fragmented and contradictory. Schwyzer's mistake is in assuming that internalized audience may be multiple and conflicting, but that a person's authentic desires are necessarily already consistent and unified. Here I must side with the existentialists who argue that while a unified self is not an automatic reality, it is a worthy goal. We can leave behind the paleo-liberal idea of the naturally unified self without discarding the idea of constructing a unified self. Thus Schwyzer's quest for the "authentic yes and authentic no" requires a (practically linked but conceptually distinguishable) existential project as well as the liberatory project he outlines.

More problematic is the idea of an easy separation of endogenous and exogenous preferences. Schwyzer is arguing for liberating people** from the exogenous preferences that we carry around in the form of the "internal audience." Even social scientists who hold no brief for the grid/group typology often approvingly cite Mary Douglas for the basic premise of Cultural Theory: that preferences are not inborn or given by early and effective conditioning, but rather arise out of social relations. Someone who is fully human cannot be imagined in isolation from the society in which their preferences form and operate.

The easy conclusion to draw from Douglas is that the distinction between endogenous and exogenous preferences -- between the "authentic yes and no," and the "internal audience" -- is illusory. But this runs up against the fact that we seem to experience the distinction as a real one (albeit not always clear-cut) in considering our own motivations. I'm unwilling to dismiss this as a mere Whorfian reading of our own experience through culturally given categories. I also don't think it's enough to distinguish them only as a matter of degree, viewing the "internal audience" as those cultural messages that we haven't internalized as fully as those desires that appear authentic.

Here I think Jürgen Habermas's attention to communicative action can offer some help. Habermas allows us to draw a distinction between being motivated by a sense of duty or a requirement imposed by another, versus motivation by a conviction that something is right. Communicative action is the process by which one person attempts to truly convince, rather than just harangue or guilt-trip, another person. The authentic yes and no can then be understood as those desires that a person has become truly convinced of, either through communicative action or through one's own experience (coupled with self-directed communicative action). The internal audience is made up of those voices whose claims a person feels compelled by but hasn't fully been convinced of -- thus making them appear as if coming from an outside source.

As a final speculation, I'd bring this distinction back to the grid/group typology of Cultural Theory. The internal audience strikes me as the mechanism by which grid is imposed, whereas group operates through cultivating shared authentic yesses and nos.

*Having not read her book yet myself, I can only go on what Schwyzer says about her ideas.
**Schwyzer and Phillips talk specifically about women, and I agree with them that women face greater, and qualitatively different, challenges on this front. However, I think that the general idea is applicable in some fashion to all people.


Should Scientists Lie To The Media?

John Quiggin has a post quibbling over the way climate change skeptics have selectively edited a quote by climatologist Stephen Schneider to turn it into a more emphatic endorsement of lying to the media. Here's Schneider's full quote:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

What interests me is not so much the debate over whether we should take the generous interpretation that Schneider was discussing the problem of framing and translating climatology into lay language, or the harsh interpretation that he intends to baldly lie. (Indeed, I think it's far less productive to debate programmatic statements like this when we can pull up some articles in climatology journals and mass media reports on climate and compare them to evaluate the actual practice of climatologists.)

I'm interested in the way that Schneider assigns the two competing claims of honesty and persuasiveness to two different roles -- the honest scientist and the persuasive human being. By separating those two roles, Schneider is a big step ahead of many scientists, who believe that it's their duty as scientists to promote a certain policy. The fact is, however, that in the decisionmaking arena, scientists (especially natural scientists) are just well-informed laypeople.

This role separation I think goes a long way toward resolving the conflict Schneider faces in talking to the media. The key thing is that reporters are calling him because he is a scientist. They will attribute his words to him in the capacity of climatologist. Therefore it's improper for him to use his scientific platform to promote his policy views, to try to put the authority of science behind his layperson's views.


"Gender Feminism"

In the comments to my previous post, Kevin McCulloch accuses me of mixing "equality feminist" and "gender feminist" ideas:

Equality feminism doesn't try to explain the differences between men and women. It simply observes that our commitment to universal human rights obliges us to give women's interests as much weight as we give men's interests. It's a philosophy of basic fairness and according to its tenets most people are feminists.

Gender feminism tries to explain the difference between men and women in social science terms, attempting to discover the means by which gender is socially constructed. So, for example, a gender feminist would look at your bullet point about "men who feel entitled to sex but aren't concerned about their partner's needs" and try to deduce why men are socialized to be insensitive.

McCulloch's use of the terms "equality feminist" and "gender feminist" doesn't quite match how I've usually seen them used (by and large by anti-feminists), although he does capture the basic idea that equality feminism is "everything feminism has accomplished so far" and gender feminism is "any further changes that feminists advocate, which would go too far and oppress men."

McCulloch seems to see the key difference as being the nature-nurture question. Equality feminism is either agnostic on the question or favors a "nature" view, whereas gender feminism comes down on the side of "nurture." Presumably equality feminists would pursue equality by trying to patch society to cope with inborn sexism or just give up in the face of the inherent differences, while gender feminists would pursue equality by getting to the root of the institutions that create sexism. Stated this way, equality feminism looks rather unappealing.

McCulloch tries to claim the authority of science for the equality feminist view, arguing that personality differences have been shown to be innate. Whether he's right or wrong (and I think the main conclusion has actually been that nature-nurture is asking the wrong question) science has clearly shown that differences between men and women are slight (non-pdf summary here). This indicates that the well-documented social inequalities between the genders are the result of social institutions, rather than being the simple outgrowths of personality. So exploitative sex is an institution -- a learned behavioral template through which personality is expressed -- not just a natural outgrowth of men's inherent insensitivity.


About Feminism

This summer ApL asked a few questions about feminism. I'm reposting my reply here so that I can more easily refer to it later on.

(1) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I don't consider myself a feminist, and I don't consider myself not a feminist. There are some feminists who would say I as a man can't be one, and it's not worth my time to argue. I believe what I believe, and everyone can decide for themselves whether I meet your own definition of feminism.

(2) What are your opinions/impressions of feminism today?
It's in the same boat as all the other progressive movements (environmentalism, labor, etc.) -- on the defensive because of a conservative shift in our culture and government. And like the other progressive movements it has an image problem because it's been relentlessly tarred with a caricature of its extremist fringe elements.

(3) What issues do you see being tackled by the feminist community today? Which issues do you think *should* be addressed?
I won't claim to have a comprehensive list, but I think there's a wide variety of things that feminists are fighting for both on a policy level and on a cultural level.
* Defending and improving access to abortion is without a doubt the top priority
* Connected to that, access to birth control
* Getting more women into positions of power, so our nation's boardrooms and legislatures and so forth are gender-balanced
* Attacking sexism in the media -- sexist characterizations/plots, the use of sexist themes in advertising, biased decisions about what issues get priority in the news, etc.
* Combatting the causes of body image problems and eating disorders
* Equality in relationships and dating -- getting rid of double standards, men who feel entitled to sex but aren't concerned about their partner's needs, etc.
* Eliminating the wage gap. This means not just paying women the same amount for the same work, but also addressing the overt and subtle ways that women are pushed into lower-paying and less prestigious careers, and the factors (like lack of child care and inflexible hours) that make it difficult for women to compete on a level playing field with men
* Equality within the household -- on average men still do less than their fair share of cooking/cleaning/childcare even when both spouses work
* Working to eliminate rape, both in the justice system (aggressively prosecuting rapists and not portraying rape victims as sluts who were asking for it) and on a cultural level (rooting out the sick views of sex and power that lead some men to rape)
* And I think American feminists are also very active in doing what they can to prevent some of the really egregious abuses of women's rights in other countries, like the imposition of strict Sharia law in Islamic countries (including, increasingly, Iraq) and female genital mutilation in Africa.

Also, I'd say GLBT rights are a feminist issue, since opposition to GLBT rights is usually based on defending traditional gender roles.

Aside from abortion (which I refuse to take sides on), all the battles I've listed as feminist agenda items are ones I'd love to see won. I could quibble with how they're prioritized, but I think the list is pretty good.

(4) If you consider yourself a feminist, what does that mean to you in your life? How does it influence your daily thinking and/or actions? If you don't consider yourself a feminist, do you see feminism and/or feminists playing any part in your life (either positive or negative)?
Feminists definitely play a role in my life, if for no other reason than that I read a number of their blogs every day. And I'm not a fan of traditional gender roles (to put it mildly), so I'm glad that feminists have opened up space for me to discard those roles in my own personal relationships.

SUVs Make You Fat

Why is it that advocates of one left-wing cause are so eager to get ahead by working against other left-wing causes? And why is it that afterward, the proponents of these causes are so surprised at their inability to communicate a clear and coherent philosophy to the American people?

A recent case in point is Dweebs Drive SUVs (via Gristmill). I'm no fan of SUVs, both for environmental and safety reasons. And I support trying to make SUVs seem uncool as a strategy for getting people to get rid of them. What I don't support is accomplishing that by promoting unprogressive notions of coolness. In particular, that site makes shameless use of anti-fat prejudice in its case for why SUVs are uncool. (It arguably indulges in homophobia, although I think it generally stays on the "mocking men for feeling insecure about their masculinity" side of the line.)


The Cultural Theory Of "He's A Douchebag But I'm Voting For Him Anyway"

Over at RedState, krempasky draws the same lesson from yesterday's Republican losses in New Jersey and Virginia as many Democrats did from the nationwide debacle last year: "welcome to the consequences of failing to inspire anyone." In both elections, the losers focused too much on the stick of prophesying doom should the other side win (Bush will overturn Roe! Kaine wouldn't execute Hitler!) than on the carrot of making people identify with the candidate and feel good about his plan to improve things.

I think some of the problem can be illuminated by Cultural Theory. The basic problem is that political junkies (including campaign managers and volunteers) tend to be Egalitarian with respect to elections, whereas most voters are Fatalists.

Douglas and Wildavsky argue that Egalitarian-Fatalist is a natural coalition (as is Hierarchist-Individualist). And there's some truth to that -- but it's a coalition that has to be carefully managed, and both the Kerry and Kilgore campaigns made a similar mistake in relying on their Egalitarian viewpoint in their interactions with the Fatalist electorate.

Egalitarians are easily motivated by fear. They see themselves as a small, tight-knit group struggling on behalf of the masses against an unjust system. They take a risk averse outlook, worrying that their small gains may slip away at any moment. So to tell a liberal Egalitarian that a Bush victory will spell the end of legal abortion will get him or her to the polls lickety-split.

It seems intuitive to an Egalitarian that a Fatalist ought to be open to the same sort of plea. Fatalists too feel oppressed by the system. There are problems, however. Fatalists have dealt with that oppression in a very different way. Egalitarians develop a theory of why and how the system is oppressive, and then fight to change it. Fatalists, on the other hand, give up on trying to understand their oppression and resign themselves to rolling with the punches. To point out that oppression is going to come from one direction is not very helpful, as they do not believe that anyone can really figure out and implement a plan for improvement. In fact, a fear-based argument is likely to cement their Fatalism further.

Fatalists may be experiencing and hating the high-grid situation that Egalitarians dislike, but they also lack the high-group that gives Egalitarians a sense of efficacy and purpose. An inspiring candidate can raise supporters' group, giving them a feeling of belonging and a vision of the future. That step of inspiration is necessary before fear-based appeals will have any purchase.


Shoort Returns

I don't know what anything on this site says, but it showed up in my referrer logs and it has some neat pictures of people from Tierra del Fuego dressed up as demons.


People Vs. Conservation

One of the unfortunate things about political ecology is how pessimistic it often seems. Even after the poststructuralists' attempts to reinvigorate ideas of agency and resistance, the usual impression you're left with is that marginalized people are only getting more squashed between the twin forces of capitalism and the state. So it's nice to occasionally see a small bit of good news, such as this (via Savage Minds):

Court vVictory For One Bushman Family

The Botswana High Court ruled on Friday 28 October that the government must allow Bushman Amogolang Segootsane and his family to return to their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It must also return his goats to him and allow him to bring water into the reserve.

The conflict between human rights and nature conservation -- specifically the type of nature conservation based on keeping people away -- is a long-standing topic in political ecology. I've written before about the fact that often such a conservation strategy is ineffective. And in many cases -- of which Segootsane's appears to be one -- the moral dilemma is even smaller, because conservation is a mere pretext. Environmentalists need to be careful that they don't praise things done in the name of conservation that actually have no such effect.

This isn't just a Third World problem. As James McCarthy (2002, Environment and Planning A) has pointed out, the parallels between people like Segootsane and the American ranchers in the Wise Use movement -- a comparison that complicates both the animus directed at Wise Use as well as the praise of people like Segootsane. I would add as well the off-road vehicle enthusiasts who will now have more say in the rules regarding the practice of their hobby on nearby federal lands.


Climate Icons

Garry Peterson points out a recent effort to develop an "iconic image" for the battle against climate change. The product -- a map of the earth highlighting a dozen locations where the earth system is nearing a tipping point due to climate change -- is rather disappointing.

From a graphic design perspective, the problem is obvious from Peterson's post, where the proposed icon is presented shrunk down to the size of a business card. There's a continuum of visual representations, running from a "data map" on one end to a symbol on the other. A "data map," such as a standard topographic map, is a compilation of information. It is meant to be interpreted and queried with reference to particular problems, to have its details inspected and pulled out. A pure symbol, on the other hand, is meant to be taken in at a glance -- think, for example, of the way you instantly recognize a letter of the alphabet by its overall shape. A symbol, however, has no inherent information content. It simply exists to efficiently trigger an already-known association.

What the climate icon group is looking for is not quite a pure symbol, as it needs to communicate content as well as being a trigger for a known idea. Nevertheless, an effective icon will stand closer to the pure symbol end of the spectrum. It will be something that can be grasped at a holistic level. Here the proposed icon falls flat. The proposed icon is basically a stylized locator map. When you can't read the writing, it communicates very little information -- no indication is given of what exactly is happening at the marked locations. And there's no obvious pattern to where the hotspots are occurring. If it had turned out, for example, that the hotspots were all in the tropics, then the map would have had some visual impact by communicating a simple message about what part of the world is the most at risk. As it stands, however, the icon needs explanation. To be an effective icon, it needs to represent a single clear generalization about the effects of climate, rather than pointing to a bunch of seemingly randomly distributed locations each with their own story.

The hotspots approach does, however, suggest that perhaps the global is not the proper level for creating climate icons. Each of the hotspots has the potential to be turned into a compelling icon around one type of climate change impact. The fight against climate change may be best fought by focusing in on one or two of the impacts in order to capture the public imagination with a specific and easy-to-understand story.


Totemism, Animism, and Marriage

Ampersand links to a long anti-marriage post by Noah Millman. I won't go through and rebut his particular responses (but there are some criticisms in the comments to his post, including ones by Ampersand and myself). What I'm interested in is what Millman's post reveals about the deeper philosophical contrast between the conservative and liberal views on marriage. Ampersand pointed out the post as an illustration of the underlying sexism of anti-marriage arguments, and he's right on that count. But I also think we can see something perhaps more basic -- and it comes though clearly in the most sexist passage of Millman's argument:

My friend was intrigued. How, he asked the rabbi, do you - how do I - know after one meeting like this that I've found my destined bride. The rabbi looked at him. Listen, he said, when a man is *really* ready to get married, any uterus will do.

To prepare the ground, I want to introduce the anthropological distinction between "totemism" and "animism." The terms refer to different forms of relationships with nature rooted in different types of hunter-gatherer religion. In a totemistic system (such as the Australian Aborigines), social life (including the wider community of nature) is run according to a pattern set down by the ancestors. It's both morally right as well as a source of fulfilment to re-trace the steps of the ancestors. The harmony of the world is maintained by enacting a defined role within the master-plan. In animism (such as many of Canada's First Nations), however, there is no master plan. Nature and society are full of beings who must be negotiated with over and over, and the harmony of the world is founded on the consent of those involved and a sort of invisible hand process. So, for example, take the case of a totemist and an animist going out to hunt deer. The totemist will reason that the ancestors established deer-hunting. Therefore it's the human role to hunt, and the deer's duty to be killed. The animist, on the other hand, will reason that no amount of past deer-hunting can justify presumptively shooting the deer. Rather, the kill must be agreed upon between the hunter and the prey, with the individual prey having a say in whether it's for the best that it be killed.

Conservatism takes a generally totemist view of social relations. In Millman's view, marriage is a template, laid down by God, nature, or tradition. Our duty is to act out the roles it lays out, and in doing so we will find fulfilment. This is what underlies his opening argument that everyone ought to get married, and social pressure (though it seems not outright coercion) is justified in achieving this end. And it underlies his agreement with the rabbi that marriage is not about love, but about finding "a uterus" to fill the wife-and-mother slot in the externally-given template.

Love, on the other hand, is profoundly animistic -- and so it makes sense that Millman minimizes its importance. While one may find duty-fulfilment and satisfaction in a role-defined totemistic relationship, love arises from an appreciation of the particular details of the object of your love. It's about fitting yourself not to a partner but to this partner. It would be a mistake, however, to say that love-based marriage cannot spawn obligations and must wither as soon as the passion fades. Nevertheless, the obligations that members of an animistic couple take on are founded on the same individual negotiation as love. It requires the same animistic skills of responsiveness and agreement, rather than the totemistic skills of role divination and fulfilment.

Interestingly, though, there's nothing essentially anti-marriage about totemism. It's quite plausible that a non-sexist template could be established, in which people seek "a spouse" rather than "a husband" or "a wife." This is difficult at present, since most of the resources that can be used to define and justify such a template have sexist content -- both our longstanding traditions as well as all the major religions are anti-marriage. Nevertheless, there are some people trying to construct such a pro-marriage totemism, usually under the banner of "the conservative case for gay marriage."

The possibility of pro-marriage totemism, I think, points up the shortcomings of Cultural Theory, relational models theory, and other perspectives that put a high analytic importance on the form -- the type of logic and structure -- that ideologies and social relations take. Certainly those issues are important, and failing to recognize when your opponents are operating in a different logical system can lead to much banging of heads against walls. But the contingent content of those logics can be crucially important as well.