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My Manifesto, Of Sorts.

I recently did a LiveJournal meme with brief answers to my stances on various political issues. The list of issues is still fairly biased toward things that get attention in the major media outlets, but I was OK with that since I rarely take the time to state a position on many of those issues.


Whence Come Obligations To Animals?

I don't want to harp on Kian too much, but her anti-animal-rights post also raises another common frustrating argument. She says that, while reason-less animals may not have rights, we do have obligations to them. I don't dispute that there can be obligations without rights. The problem is that opponents of animal rights never go on to explain what the basis or parameters of these obligations are. So we have a detailed Kantian theory of rights, plus a vague allusion to additional obligations. Occasionally our obligations are clarified as being to avoid causing "unnecessary" suffering -- which only begs the question about what kinds of suffering are necessary. Without a surer foundation, such obligations become individually or culturally relative.

The cynical reading of this is that it's a sort of auxillary hypothesis meant to keep our cultural intuitions from being out of sync with our moral theory. Our society accepts a lot of things (e.g. factory farming) that would be violations of any reasonable animal rights theory, yet also condemns many things (e.g. torturing kittens) that would be allowed by a pure Cartesian speciesism, while being internally inconsistent (e.g. our revulsion at eating horses while we chow down on cows). Vague obligations are therefore a useful fudge factor, to be invoked when we encounter practices that we don't like, while those we do like can be excused by declaring the harm "necessary" and pointing out the animal's lack of rights.

A somewhat less cynical, but still problematic, reading is that our obligation to animals is purely conventional, a sort of supererogatory charity. We, as individuals or as a society, can agree to take on certain obligations toward non-rights-holding entities. Those obligations are fully binding after the commitment is made, but they originate in the desires of the obligation-holder (including the desire to be a certain sort of person or culture). Hence no argument of morality or justice can be used to show that we ought to adopt a certain level of obligation.


Red Line to F-F-F-Florence!

I realize it's never going to happen in a million years, but I'm drooling just at the possibility that Pinal County might get public transportation.

Among the reasons it's never going to happen is backwards thinking like this:

But Deputy Pinal County Manager Ken Buchanan said the county first needs to improve and expand its roads and highways.

"We're still working on roads, where they'll connect," he said. "Then, we'll talk about transit. What it's going to come down to is subsidizing transit."

You can't finish with the roads first as if they're an independent question. The more and better public transport you build, the less roads you need. But the more roads you build, the less people will think about, or want to use, public transportation.

I suspect quality public transportation, especially if done in conjunction with (coerced or voluntary) transit-oriented, rather than car-oriented, development would be an economic boon to the county. Reliable commuter rail would make Casa Grande or Florence a much more attractive place to live.

Three arguments

A1. Most heterosexual couples are able to produce children.
A2. Only those couples which can produce children should be allowed to marry.
A3. Therefore all heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry.

B1. Most women have less upper body strength than men.
B2. Only people with great upper body strength should be allowed to be firefighters.
B3. Therefore all men, but no women, should be allowed to be firefighters.

C1. Most humans (and few if any animals) are capable of "reason."
C2. Only things that are capable of "reason" have rights.
C3. Therefore all, and only, humans have rights.

As far as I can tell, these three arguments are essentially identical in their logical structure. And it seems that any liberal would recognize that arguments A and B are fallacious -- the ecological fallacy, to be precise (as well as disputing the truth of premise 2, but that's beside the point for now). Yet most of them (Kian's post is the example that motivated me to post this) would assert that argument C is sound. Indeed, argument C is at the heart of the most common rebuttal to the idea of animal rights.


Roger Pielke, Jr. makes a good point about the real source of hurricane danger:

Q: Does the relationship between global warming and hurricanes matter?

A: I have a paper that's currently under review that looks at future global economic impacts of hurricanes under the assumptions of the most bullish scientists saying there's a hurricane-global warming connection and the most conservative assumptions saying there's very little connection. And from the standpoint of impacts, perhaps counter-intuitively, it really doesn't matter that much. Why is that? It's because the pace of societal growth in coastal locations, the accumulation of wealth, occurs at such a rapid rate that it drowns out any signal of climate change over the long term. Modulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes sense for climate change, but it probably doesn't make sense for dealing with future hurricane impacts.

Geographers have been pushing this sort of view of natural hazards for decades, but it hasn't sunk in. It would be interesting to research why, when nature and society clash, we have such an inclination to think the fix lies on the nature side of the equation.


Environmentalism As Politics Versus Environmentalism As Lifestyle

Environmentalism is, at heart, a political project. It aims at the achievement of certain outcomes -- changes in the way our society relates to the natural environment. One important avenue for achieving that change is alteration of individuals' lifestyles*. Yet there is a danger here -- green lifestyles may take on a life of their own, such that the pursuit of a certain lifestyle is pursued as an end in itself without reference to the original goals.

One example of this environmentalism-as-lifestyle thinking can be seen in a recent post by Dave Pollard (who is normally better than this) discussing tips for living a simpler life. I agree that in many cases, choices that we would consider "simpler" are better for the environment, and I agree with quite a few of Pollard's specific recommendations. But Pollard's post fetishizes simplicity. For example, he advises us to have storage space built into the walls of our home, rather than having furniture to put stuff on. Now, I suppose it is simpler in an Occam's Razor sort of sense because built-in shelving means that you own fewer separate objects, but I don't see how it would simplify my life in any meaningful sense for my bookcase to be bolted to my wall.

On the other hand, Pollard advocates veganism. Veganism is certainly good for the environment, but it's far from simple. After all, one of the simplest foods in the world to prepare is a steak. And I'm not sure what is really accomplished by simplicity for simplicity's sake in food -- my favorite vegan meals are various curries, which are much more complex to prepare than meat-and-two-veg, but all the more enjoyable for it.

Pollard also gives us a vision of the ultimate goal of lifestyle "simplification," in a hypothetical visit to a clothing-optional commune (a commune which has apparently been simplified by exterminating all those pesky complicated old people and ugly people). A key feature of this commune is polyamory. Now, I have nothing against polyamory. But there's nothing simple about real polyamory. It requires a lot of work to maintain the complex balancing act of multiple partners. And whatever its other benefits, polyamory is no better or worse for the environment than monogamy (one might -- incorrectly, I think -- claim that polyamory is more natural than monogamy, but that brings you out of environmentalism into the territory of naturalness-fetishism).

*Though I think modern environmentalism has a tendency to go too far in this direction.


A Few Notes On Hugo's Dinner Parties

Hugo Schwyzer's recent post about WASP dinner party seating arrangements has apparently touched a nerve with a lot of people. Commenter Malachi does a great job of framing Schwyzer's approach as extrovert privilege. I'd add that the responses of defenders of Schwyzer's approach -- particularly Schwyzer himself and Phil Hoover-Chicago -- bring up a number of the classic privilege-defender lines: "If you don't like it, go somewhere else." "Geez, what are you people so worked up about? It's no big deal!" "I know some people who are members of the disadvantaged group but who accept this practice." "You're hurting us by your refusal to conform to our norms."

Hoover-Chicago also comes out with Geek Social Fallacy #4 -- the assumption that if two people share a mutual friend, they too will be able to be friends. It's telling that GSF4 is a geek social fallacy, since geeks tend to be introverted. So for Hoover-Chicago, it's probably true that he would get on well with any friend-of-a-friend he encountered. But this blinds him to the fact that this is not so for everyone.

It's also unclear what the moral basis for the much-cited obligation to socialize is. Who, exactly, is being hurt by my failure to talk to lots of strangers? I can understand the problem if the party becomes so clicquey that someone who wants to socialize with a stranger is unable to break in, but the obligation to socialize goes farther than that. The most I can discern in terms of justification is Schwyzer's commitment to Calvin's Dadism -- if something is hard, then it's good for you.


Illiberal Opposition To Horse Slaughter

I would have missed this if the Onion hadn't done a "What Do You Think?" on it, but it appears the House recently passed a ban on the slaughter of horses for meat. While there are arguments to be made in favor of banning all meat production or allowing it all, as well as for making some distinctions among animals (e.g. saving just certain "higher" animals), I can't see what valid philosophical argument can be made for singling out horses for protection while allowing the slaughter of cows and pigs.

The arguments offered by proponents of the bill are pure cultural imperialism, and hence incompatible with a liberal state. On the one hand, they appeal to the special status of horses in our culture, a status that is taken as too obvious to need any defense or justification despite the fact that other cultures come to quite different conclusions. We think of horses as beautiful and having personalities, and we think (in contrast to nearly every other meat-eating culture) that respecting an animal is incompatible with eating it. So the law's purpose is to enshrine the dominant cultural preferences. The welfare of the horses, if it enters the argument at all, enters only as a corollary of horses' elevated cultural status (thus freeing us from having to wonder whether slaughtering other animals is also painful to them).

The cultural imperialism gets even more overt when the French enter the picture. Most of the horse meat from the US is apparently exported to France and Belgium. The implication is that Americans ought to be prevented from supporting the weird cultural habits of foreigners.

Anti-slaughter advocates also propose a variety of instrumental rationales for banning horse slaughter, such as that drugs used on horses are not approved for use on food animals. Such instrumental reasons, though, would only justify stricter safety regulations on the horse meat industry, not an outright ban.

It would be one thing if supporters of the ban wanted a total ban on meat but knew that horses was as much as they could get given the political realities. But to try to establish "horses no, cows and pigs yes" as a final principle fails.


I'm sure everyone was dying to hear from me on this issue, since I'm such a popular blogger and I write about electoral politics all the time, but I'm willing to say with 95% confidence that the Democrats will retake neither the House nor the Senate this year, though they will probably gain a seat or two.

Ending Racism Versus Not Being A Racist

The Angry Black Woman contrasts two definitions of racism, only one of which would allow her to be (potentially) described as a racist. She prefers the sociological definition, "racism = prejudice + power." But she notes with frustration that people she debates insist on using the dictionary definition, "racism = prejudice."

In one sense this is a purely semantic debate -- after all, whether you call something "racism" or not doesn't change how morally acceptable it is. But in another sense it's a very important debate, because it's symptomatic of the way different people approach racial issues. The problem with people who cling to the dictionary definition is that they substitute semantics for ethics.

The (usually white) dictionary-ist reasons: "what's wrong in race relations is 'racism' (or 'being a racist'). Therefore we have to establish what 'racism' means. And, as any good linguistic descriptivist will tell you, 'racism' means whatever most people use it to mean -- a fact which can be determined by looking it up in a dictionary." This is, in effect, an appeal to cultural relativism in the defense of the status quo -- "most speakers of my language would/would not apply a condemnatory term to the conduct in question, therefore it's wrong/right."

The sociologist, on the other hand, begins with ethical premises: "what's wrong in race relations is when people get unfair advantages or disadvantages on the basis of their race. The creation or maintenance of such advantages or disadvantages requires both prejudice and power, since a powerless person can't have an impact on another's life chances, no matter how virulent their hatred."

In theory, the sociologist could leave the definitions as they are, and just promote the idea that some forms of racism/prejudice are serious ethical violations while others are trivial, based on whether they're backed by power (a la the "marriage in all but name, so the fundies will shut up about us redefining the word" theory of civil unions). But the fact that there are so many dictionary-ists in the world makes this an impractical strategy. We're therefore forced to try to change people's behavior by changing our usage of the relevant condemnatory words.

Another way of framing the difference between the two definitions is suggested in Ampersand's recent post. He points out that people of color tend to think about racism in terms of its effects, whereas white people tend to think about it in terms of the intentions of the perpetrator. In other words, people of color are consequentialists and white people are naive Kantians. People of color want to end the system of race-based advantages and disadvantages, whereas white people want to ensure that they're well-meaning. It's therefore in people of color's interest to recognize forms of real racial advantage/disadvantage so that they can be corrected, whereas it's in white people's interest to ignore them so that they don't trouble their conscience. And it's therefore also in white people's interest to push the dictionary definition of racism, since it's entirely about psychological states. That definition focuses on the cleanliness of their own hands (and the potential dirtiness of others') rather than on the actual effects of whatever conduct is at issue.


Modern Grief

When someone dies, we often tell those left behind that there's "no right way to grieve." I don't want to deny that principle, but I think it's interesting to note how modern the ideas on which it's based are.

NRWTG is premised on the idea that grief is about the griever, not the grieve-ee. Grief is a coping mechanism for the person whose loved one has passed away, a way of dealing with the loss. Grief is thus relative to the griever -- the merits of, say, stoicism versus weeping being a function of the griever's psychology. This conception is coupled to the modern idea that it makes no sense to speak of right and wrong except in relations between people (morality is intrinsically intersubjective). Thus to the extent we can distinguish better from worse grieving, it's not a moral question, but rather a pragmatic one of what ways will help the griever to cope most effectively -- hence we speak of healthy vs unhealthy grief. But as pragmatic rather than moral concerns, they give no warrant for others to step in and interfere (rather than simply offering help and advice). At most, one's unhealthy grief may impair one's other obligations to other people.

The idea that grief is about the griever is also a modern idea. To the modern mind, there's nobody else who grief could be about. We generally hold that moral relationships can be established to actual other people, and possibly to potential other people (e.g. future generations), but not to former other people. The dead can't be harmed. The strictest version comes from a secular attitude -- the deceased no longer exists, as their personhood has evaporated. Modern religious views lead to similar conclusions -- the deceased is removed from us into heaven (or hell, or a newborn) and hence not available to be helped or harmed by how we grieve. A non-modern outlook, in contrast, may either hold that the deceased is still present, or that we can have obligations to those who can't be helped or harmed by our actions (e.g. to respect the memory and dignity of the deceased).

Another possible subject of grief is the family or community. Modern individualism (which underlies even less individualistic outlooks, since they simply expand the amount of effects on other individuals that are recognized), however, denies the possibility of having obligations to the family or community in terms of how one grieves. At most, we might recognize a particularly egregiously unusual form of grief as bringing embarassment-by-association on the other individual members of the group.

This is not to say that our way of thinking about death today is thoroughly modern -- consider, for example, the non-modern comfort we take in feeling of some action that the deceased "would have wanted it that way" (an instance in which the griever's non-modern preferences can justify certain forms of grief by the modern standard of "actually helps the griever cope"). But our conception of appropriate forms of grief on the part of others is governed by modern principles.


Rationales for Environmentalism

Jason Scorse declares that environmentalism alone is "amoral" and must therefore incorporate an animal rights perspective as well. I happen to agree with his call to see (some) animals as directly morally considerable, but I think his argument for getting there, along with his false choice of anthropocentric environmentalism, animal rights, or both, is not on target. Animal rights is just one among the many ways that people may conclude that there are moral criteria shaping the way they ought to interact with nature.

I'll first divide the possibilities into transitive and intransitive. Transitive morals are "duties to" something -- there is some recipient of moral action for whose sake it's done. Both rights-based and consequentialist morality fall into this category, because both posit some potential victim (a rights-holder or welfare-experiencer) to whom moral action is directed.

Transitive morality can be further divided into direct and indirect forms. Indirect transitive morality says that we should act in one way rather than another in our relations with nature for the sake of someone who isn't part of nature. Nature itself isn't harmed, but someone else may be harmed by what we do to nature. The more common kind of indirect transitive morality is anthropocentrism, which Scorse finds inadequate. Anthropocentrism recognizes the fact that humans -- to whom we have moral duties -- are affected by, and depend on, nature. Therefore what we do to nature may violate the rights or decrease the welfare of one or more humans (including future generations).

The other common type of indirect transitive morality is creation care. Creation care argues that our interactions with nature are limited by our ethical obligations to God. Because nature is God's creation (and hence His property), we violate God's rights or harm Him when we misuse nature.

Direct transitive morality holds that we have moral obligations owed directly to nature -- that nature itself can be harmed in a morally relevant way, regardless of the effects on other humans or God. There is theoretically a whole spectrum of direct transitive moralities based on how much of nature is accorded direct moral status (our relations with the remainder of nature being then constrained indirectly by our obligations to those entities that are directly considerable). But there are three common positions. One -- advocated by Scorse -- is animal rights. Animal rights (which here includes non-rights-based systems like Singer's utilitarianism) holds that we have duties to any entity that is a subject. Subjectivity is variously defined as self-awareness, the ability to form counterfactual preferences, or the ability to feel pain. In any event, animals or a subset thereof are given direct moral status, while our relations with the remainder of nature remains subject to indirect obligations.

Biocentrism extends considerability to all individual organisms. In various ways (usually some hybrid of quasi-Platonism and Darwinism), one posits that non-subject organisms can be said to have rights or welfare that we must respect. Note that, contrary to the tired arguments about vegetarians being hypocrites for killing carrots, biocentrism requires additional, and philosophically controversial, moves to bring non-subjects (e.g. plants) under the direct moral umbrella.

In its pure form, ecocentrism rejects the anthropocentric/animal rights/biocentric concern for individuals. Our transitive moral duties are said to be to populations and ecosystems, not individuals, because those larger collectivities are the true units of life and evolution. We are required to respect the rights or promote the well-being of species and forests and rivers. Note that ecocentrism is almost never found alone, but rather is combined with anthropocentrism (different rules for different domains) or biocentrism (both individuals and ecosystems are self-organizing systems, and hence count morally for the same reasons).

Pantheism is a variant of biocentrism or ecocentrism that stipulates that the reason that we have transitive duties to nature is that nature is God or God is in nature.

One final type of transitive morality straddles, or rather effaces, the direct/indirect distinction. Transpersonal ecology (often identified with Deep Ecology) asserts that one can't draw a moral boundary between humans and non-humans. The whole cosmos is ultimately part of each human self. So doing something to nature is nothing more nor less than doing it to oneself (and to everyone else).

Intransitive morality has no grammatical object -- there is no entity to or for whom moral actions are done, and who is therefore victimized by immorality.

Virtue ethics asserts that it is morally good to behave in a certain way toward nature -- not because nature is harmed in some way, but because acting that way just is the right way to behave, or is the behavior characteristic of a good/moral person. One could postulate the existence of freestanding environmental virtues such as the virtue of leaving a small footprint, or one could extend virtues exercised among humans (e.g. compassion) into relations with nature. A variant of this direct virtue ethics would be indirect virtue ethics, which was very popular in the early conservationist movement. In indirect virtue ethics, one's conduct toward nature is not itself virtuous or vicious, but nature is important as an instrument for cultivating certain virtues (such as self-reliance acquired during hiking or hunting).

One may also act in a certain way toward nature on the basis of a divine command. If God orders you to save the whales, you are obligated to save them, no matter how undeserving of saving they would have been in the absence of such a command. Divine command morality is not a major player in the modern West because what divine commands regarding nature one can find in the Bible are typically seen through the creation care lens.

Finally, one may conclude that certain states of the environment, or processes within it, posess intrinsic value. The evolutionary process and diversity are common candidates for intrinsic value. One promotes intrinsic value not as a duty to the intrinsically valued thing, but as a duty full stop. Analogies to the (alleged) intrinsic value of knowledge or great art can clarify how intrinsic value is intransitive.

Pluralistic or hybrid theories are possible as well.


Me vs. the Earth

I've been living in southern Arizona (Casa Grande, to be specific) for about a month now, and I feel like I'm personally strangling the Earth with my bare hands.
  • Water. Casa Grande is in the Colorado basin, one of the most water-strapped regions of the world. My personal water consumption is a tiny drop compared to the giant cotton farms and gated communities with private lakes all around us, but we're still making it that much less likely that any water from the Colorado will ever reach the ocean.
  • Gas. Public transportation in CG consists of one Greyhound a day to and from Phoenix and Tucson. We're comparatively lucky to have a Safeway right around the corner, but to get to anything else practically requires a car, given how spread out everything is (and how brutally hot it is to walk).
  • Recycling. Even the ultimate feel-good greenie activity, recycling, is tough to do out here. Arizona as a whole is not doing so well on this front. There is curbside recycling for most of CG, but it doesn't cover apartment complexes. So if I want to recycle, I have to drive my stuff to the dump (located way out of town, and open inconvenient hours) myself.
  • AC. Even with the thermostat set fairly high (82) and turning off the air during the day, we're still running the most energy-sucking of appliances an awful lot of the time.


No Posting

I'm off to New York for the weekend. In the meantime, I give you some amazing paper art.


Palmerton Community Festival

It's that time of the year again -- I'm getting a whole bunch of hits from people searching for "Palmerton Community Festival." So let me take advantage of my apparent power by telling you to go buy cookies from the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church stand, and make sure all your trash makes it into an actual trash can so as to make things easier for the Boy Scouts.


Can You Love The Sinner But Hate The Sin?

In discussing gay rights, it's inevitable that the anti-gay rights person will invoke the principle of "love the sinner, hate the sin." And it's almost as inevitable that the pro-gay rights person will deny that LTSHTS is possible.

I understand the powerful appeal of denying LTSHTS. All reasonable participants in contemporary political discourse generally agree -- and I'm not about to dispute it -- that it's wrong to hate anyone, with the possible exception of Stalin-scale monsters. So if hating what someone does necessarily entails hating the person, it becomes untenable to continue hating the act.

As a psychological proposition -- that hating an act will cause the hater to eventually direct his or her hate toward the person who commits the act -- LTSHTS-denial strikes me as dubious. It may be true in many cases, as humans are often weak, but it's hardly inevitable. Our impression of its prevalence is doubtless inflated by many people who invoke LTSHTS dishonestly, in an attempt to dodge justified accusations that they hate the sinner. I would also argue that our culture actively fosters an inability to LTSHTS (think of the way we dehumanize criminals). What's more, if LTSHTS-denial is a psychological proposition, then our ethics become captive in a weirdly pragmatist way to psychology. After all, a purely psychological denial of LTSHTS proves not that the conduct in question is actually morally right, but rather that we ought to consider it morally right for reasons independent of its actual rightness.

As a philosophical principle (a principle of logic), LTSHTS-denial is also dubious. The logical implication of a categorical denial of the possibility of LTSHTS is that all conduct is permissible, since to oppose any conduct is to hate it, and to hate it would be to hate the person who commits it. Clearly this conclusion is unacceptable. Unless the only people we care about are a small elite of the very powerful, showing love to anyone (and certainly love, even at a minimum level, to everyone) entails desiring restrictions on others' conduct, and hence opposition to some acts. Take feminism (from whence comes much LTSHTS-denial in the gay rights case) as an example. Anti-feminists frequently charge that feminists hate men. But feminists reply (rightly) that while they hate patriarchy (as a system) and they hate oppressive acts carried out by men, they do not hate the men themselves -- if anything, they love men more than many forms of anti-feminism. What is this, if not LTSHTS? One proposal might be that it's possible to oppose the sin without hating it. Hate, we could say, is a particularly emotional and visceral sort of opposition. While this may be true, it doesn't solve our problem. I can imagine no standard of viscerality that would classify ordinary anti-gay rights views as hate without also including much of the justified anger that feminists express toward patriarchy. Or perhaps we could say that not all things that are wrong are sins. A sin is something that is wrong because it violates God's law. This would get secular moral theories off the hook of not being able to hate wrongdoing without hating the wrongdoer. But I see no reason why, psychologically or philosophically, it should be possible to love the committer of secular injustice while hating the secular injustice itself, but impossible to LTSHTS.

But perhaps we can restrict its domain. Perhaps something about the gay rights case makes LTSHTS inapplicable there, while it is applicable in cases such as patriarchy. There is a certain sense in which you cannot fully love a person while hating a false sin. Loving a person means wanting what's best for them. Obviously, if you have a false idea of what's best for them due to misclassifying one of their actions as a sin, you are unable to want what's actually best for them. But misguided love, bad as it may be in many instances, is different from hate.

Since there are sins (in the broad sense of "wrong acts"), and since (almost) no person is deserving of hate, we should continue to LTSHTS. This includes hating the sin of dishonestly or incorrectly claiming to LTSHTS when one actually does hate the sinner, and hating the sin of incorrectly determining which acts are sins.


Understanding Versus Caring

On the basis of a focus group, David Suzuki thinks the big hurdle to taking action on climate change is that people don't understand how climate change works. After his focus group participants went through a great deal of hand-waving and confusing climate change with the ozone hole, he concludes:

People don't get it. This is a big problem, because if people don't get it, then they don't really care, so politicians and CEOs don't really care, and status quo rules the day.

This sounds very plausible, and it's become a key tenet of modern environmentalism (perhaps because environmentalism, more so than other modern social movements, is so explicitly wedded to science). The problem is that it isn't true -- plenty of research has demonstrated that increased education does not lead to increased environmental concern*. This is not to say that knowledge is unimportant, but that it plays an instrumental, rather than motivational, role -- knowledge tells you how to fix the problem, not whether you should try to fix it in the first place.

If my vague "studies have shown ..." doesn't do it for you, consider an issue that the public manifestly does care about: terrorism. It's a bit hard to maintain that understanding is a necessary prelude to political concern when half of the American public thinks Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

Or perhaps Suzuki should look at his own focus group results. A few paragraphs earlier in his article, he says:

The majority felt that global warming was a pretty important problem and they were concerned about it.

* That is, increased education about environmental issues doesn't lead to increased environmental concern. Overall level of formal education, regardless of subject, is actually a fairly robust correlate of environmental concern (independent of income). This suggests that the driving force is not knowledge, but rather the culture of academia and the professional world. The culture of these social spheres makes environmental concern one element of what constitutes a "good person."


Speaking Of Animal Rights ...

In the process of writing that last post, an idea occurred to me about an issue I dealt with a month ago: can someone consistently reject meat on animal rights grounds, and oppose animal testing, yet still accept medical treatment that was developed through animal testing. In my previous post, I focused on the relative strength of the boycott effect in the meat vs medicine cases, concluding that the boycott was less likely to reduce the amount of animal suffering in the latter case. But I think there's also a question of differential framing that means the question of boycotts is also less relevant in the medical treatment case. For reasons I won't get into (and don't entirely understand), the use of animals for food is framed as a personal issue, while animal testing is a political one. Food is seen as regulated by individual consumer choice, in which boycotts are a key weapon. Political (in the conventional sense) struggle is limited to the most egregious forms of factory farming, such as chicken debeaking. Change is seen as coming through widespread change in attitudes and habits. On the other hand, animal testing is concieved of as a political struggle, in which the main, and most effective, weapon is agitation for a social/legal decision against the practice. An individual-level boycott is beside the point when you anticipate that the boycotted-against thing will soon be banned. Hence the sunk costs argument will weigh in favor of accepting treatment.

Thinking The Unthinkable About Scientific Progress

Orac's recent rant* against animal rights supporters raises an interesting blind spot in debates over morally controversial research. Like most staunch defenders of animal testing, he points out the many scientific and medical advances that we have made through animal testing. He asserts his own efforts to avoid "unnecessary" suffering on the part of the lab animals he uses, where suffering (presumably) becomes "necessary" when any way of avoiding it would limit what we are able to learn. More interesting is that he reminds me (in the course of rebutting it) that animal rights proponents claim that the same advances could be made without harming animals. All animal experimentation is "unnecessary" in exactly the same sense as I inferred Orac used the term. They're unwilling to say that many new treatments may be delayed or never developed, and that that's a price worth paying to protect the animals who would otherwise suffer in the labs.

From animal testing to stem cells to the repatriation of Native American remains, the moral imperative of the advance of science is never questioned, except by those who are opposed to science. Nobody seriously considers whether, while the advance of science is ceteris paribus a very good thing, in some cases the costs of achieving some non-trivial knowledge might unfortunately be too high. So animal rights proponents insist that equal results can be achieved through cell cultures and computer models, President Bush declares that the existing stem cell lines are plenty, and repatriators tell inspiring stories of the research bonanzas that follow repairing relationships between archaeologists and tribes. (By what I'm sure is sheer coincidence, my own judgment is that the desirability of restriction is highest, and the negative impacts on scientific progress lowest, in the case of repatriation, and conversely in the case of stem cells). The only people willing to entertain the possibility of a slowdown in scientific progress as the price of serving other ethical goals are people like Vine Deloria Jr who have little regard for science in the first place.

As counterexamples to my thesis, we could certainly come up with scenarios where ex hypothesi huge advances in understanding may be gained from horrifying Nazi experiments. So it's true that neither the pro-research nor anti-research sides is aiming at the total maximization of scientific progress without regard to the ethical cost. What's really happening, then, is that neither side is willing to admit to a reduction in the socially-established default or baseline rate of scientific progress. Certain ethical principles, such as constraints on directly killing innocent humans, are so deeply embedded that to violate them in the name of research is unthinkable, and thus they do (usually unconsciously, or consciously but self-evidently) constrain the rate of progress. But once this rate, minimally constrained by consensus ethical principles, is established as the status quo, proponents of further restrictions are unwilling to admit that their proposals would reduce that status quo rate.

*I call it a mere "rant" because he indulges in a good deal of guilt-by-association-with-your-extremists, one of my least favorite rhetorical strategies. And he amusingly declares that animal rights views are not based on reason, while offering in support of his own animal-noblesse-oblige view the ironclad contention that it's "ridiculous" to belive otherwise.

In Defense of Ecofeminism

Kian is not a fan of either Deep Ecology or ecofeminism, and she cites an earlier post of mine as support for rejecting the former. But I think she's a bit too quick to dismiss the latter.

There are certain elements of ecofeminism that I take exception to, particularly the more cultural, spiritual, and Freudian ones (e.g Charlene Spretnak or Riane Eisler). And I disagree with the commune-based social ideal promoted by many ecofeminists (as well as other philosophies such as bioregionalism). Nevertheless, there are certain valuable insights that come from ecofeminism, and which are preserved in more sociological forms of combining feminism and ecology (e.g. Diane Rocheleau or Val Plumwood).

Kian writes:

The fact of the matter is – if we are to believe that men are the main destroyers of the environment – it is only because men are is the higher places of power in which they drive the capitalistic/consumerist nation… but they are not doing this as a way to oppress women, and they’re not even thinking deep enough into it to believe that what they do to the environment could bug an ecofeminist as much as it apparently does… what they’re doing is looking for money, not looking to place themselves above and beyond women.

I think ecofeminists are right in saying that domination of nature has long been pursued by men as a goal in its own right. The basic ecofeminist idea is that our patriarchal culture says that those characteristics that make humans separate from, and superior to, nature are found more in men than women. Women, like nature, were said to be irrational, parochial, and in need of male/human control. Early feminists recognized this, and responded to it by saying "me too" -- arguing that women are just as human as men. The important step made by ecofeminists was to challenge the dichotomy of good vs bad traits, arguing that the traits traditionally associated with femininity and nature are valuable too. There is a strong temptation (among ecofeminists, and even more so among their critics) to go on to say that the traditionally feminine/natural characteristics are superior, and that they are essentially female. But more sophisticated forms of ecofeminism argue that we should break down the dichotomy, allowing both sexes access to the characteristics on both sides of the traditional line, and developing a relationship to nature that is neither purely "masculine" nor purely "feminine."

Men are driven to cultivate and express those characteristics and to prove through them their superiority over women and nature. There is a strong tradition of conquest of nature for its own sake, as a manly pursuit quite apart from any monetary gain (indeed, one would need to earn money in order to be able to afford hunting trips and so forth). The wolf extermination movement, for example, was driven far beyond the economic needs of the sheep industry by the ideology of manliness-over-nature. Wolves were conceptualized as cowardly and unmanly -- hence they were unworthy of life (or even fair hunting), and it was an expression of masculinity to go kill them.

William James' essay "The Moral Equivalent of War" is a good example of what ecofeminists are thinking of. He points to the conquest and domination of nature as a way to cultivate "manly" virtues of strength and obedience which would otherwise be lost in the effeminate days of world peace. The thinking in James' essay neatly parallels the practice of sexual conquest of women as a way of proving masculinity. While few people today would be quite so explicit, there remains an ideology of the rugged outdoorsman who proves his moral worth by battling the elements. There is also the disdain of environmental protection as a sentimental and effeminate practice, proper to "cat ladies" who treat animals as human, but not appropriate for real, rational men.

Contemporary attitudes toward vegetarianism provide a final example of how masculininty is entwined with environmental destruction (as well as callousness to personal health, a kindred issue to environmentalism). Even if one doesn't buy the animal rights arguments, it's clear that the environment would be better off if we ate less meat (and far less factory farmed meat). But vegetarianism is disparaged as a feminine practice. Male bonding takes place over steaks and burgers, and the man flipping meat on the barbecue is -- despite wearing an apron -- King of his Castle, provider of the most important part of the meal, while his wife merely garnishes it with such veggie dishes as potato salad and cookies. Tofu is the symbol of the man who is effeminate and "whipped." Meat has this significance because killing an animal is the clearest way to demonstrate domination over nature, since animals put up a fight (which explains the added ideological significance of eating steaks that are still bloody, hence allowing the fantasy of having killed the animal yourself, perhaps with your bare hands). The desire to prove masculinity through domination of nature is hence a driving force behind capitalism's destruction of nature. After all, you can only make a profit if people want to buy what you're selling.