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The Party Of Ideas?

One of the most common criticisms of the Democratic Party is that they lack big ideas. Georgia10 at Daily Kos responds to the latest iteration of that claim by quoting a list of bills introduced by Senate Democrats.

The list, however, makes the opposite point that georgia10 intends. All of the things listed are things the Republicans should be rightly criticized for defeating. But none of them are big ideas. Most of them are simply pushing a little further on programs that already exist -- such as an increase in the minimum wage, or more funding for college grants -- or cleaning up Republican messes. The overall message that I get from the list is that the Democrats are the party of small-bore, End of History style managerial tinkering, the party that says the basic structure of society is fine, so all we need to do is fine-tune it and stop idiots from messing with it.

Stack that up against the Republicans' big ideas -- starting a war (or two), privatizing Social Security, and banning abortion, to name three. These are things that would fundamentally alter the national (and international) landscape. They're all bad ideas that would alter the landscape for the worse, and I'll take the Democrats' status quo over the Republicans' regression any day. But the Republicans are clearly thinking bigger than the Democrats. So sure, the Democrats haven't been completely sitting on their hands. But they also haven't been reaching for the stars.



Over the course of the past month, my average daily hits have almost doubled, but I'm pretty sure my actual readership (such as it is) has declined, because about 90% of my hits are now Google searches (including the perennial queries about utilitarian and deontological views on homosexuality). I should try writing something actually worth reading and see what happens.


Women And Children First?

A common example of anti-male sexism used by those who think men are oppressed is the "women and children first" philosophy of evacuation in the event of a disaster. The usual response to this claim is to point out that this philosophy is condescending and infantilizing to women, and that any benefits they get from it are trivial compared to the many forms of anti-woman sexism in our society. As it turns out, though, in the case of wildfires, spiriting the women away to safety puts them even more at risk:

More women and children are dying in fires trying to evacuate the family home while men stay behind to defend it.

Head of the Centre for Risk and Community Safety and RMIT researcher Professor John Handmer believes this scenario is occurring more frequently than in the past.

"We have documented that in many cases men will order women and children to leave the property at the last moment fearing that it looks very ugly," Professor John Handmer said. "Women and children are put in the car and told to drive off — into the fire front unfortunately in many cases — while the men remain behind protecting the house, so they are in relative safety."

Australian research -- and I have no reason to suspect this wouldn't be true of the US as well -- has pretty clearly shown that nearly all civilian deaths occur from hasty, last-minute evacuations. Further, most homes burn down well after the fire front has passed. If your home is well-prepared (defensible space cleared around it, screens over windows and eaves, etc.), you can safely wait out the main wall of flame inside. Then you'll be there to put out the embers that could eventually torch the house. So condescending attempts to spare the weaker sex from active front-line defense of the home in reality puts them in greater danger.


Religion And Science Are Complements

The Worldwatch Institute has a poll on its site, asking "What role should religious leaders play in the movement to cultivate an environmentally sustainable and just society?" One choice -- currently the lowest vote-getter -- is "Abstain from involvement and leave the leadership of the movement to those with a scientific approach to environmentalism." I think this choice is wrongheaded, because it improperly imports a "science versus religion" framing into an issue where that framing does not apply. With respect to the environment, science and religion are complements.

There are two ways in which religion can conflict with science. The first is substantive: religion proposes factual theories that are incompatible with those of science. The best current example of this, of course, is creationism versus evolution. Literalist Christianity contains certain factual propositions, such as "the world was created in six days," which conflict with science's factual propositions. The other way science and religion can conflict is epistomological: religion asserts a moral injunction against the pursuit of certain knowledge by science, either because that knowledge is intrinsically something that we are not meant to know, or because the only feasible methodology for acquiring that knowledge would be unethical. Stem cell research is an example of the latter sort of conflict.

While I can't speak for all religions, neither of these sorts of conflicts are present in the case of Christian environmentalism. There is no substantive conflict, because the Bible does not contain any ecological theories. God may have told the Israelites where all the animals and plants come from, but he never pronounced on food webs and successional patterns. Christianity also does not offer any epistemological opposition -- nowhere in the laws of Moses or the teachings of Jesus are we told "thou shalt not conduct a biodiversity survey or build for thyself a computer model."

In the case of environmentalism, what religion provides is a value system. Science alone cannot tell us what to do. Science may find that expanding palm oil plantations cause declining biodiversity, but it takes the addition of an extra-scientific value premise -- "we ought to preserve biodiversity" -- to give us an agenda for action. Religion is, of course, not the only source of values, and one may reject religious environmentalism due to disagreements with the basis or content of that value system. But science is useless without some extra-scientific value system. To eschew Christian environmentalism in favor of science-based environmentalism is like saying that instead of getting a car with automatic transmission, you're going to get one with wheels. Regardless of how much you enjoy driving stick, it doesn't change the fact that automatic cars need -- and are perfectly capable of having -- wheels.

Bestiality, Vegetarianism, And Consent

I don't mean to turn this into an animal rights blog, but in his latest column, Dan Savage raises an interesting argument for vegetarianism (or bestiality), but then gives a nonsensical rebuttal.

However, it needs to be said that if zoophilia is wrong because animals can't consent to sexual acts, then hamburgers, lamb chops, and Jell-O brand gelatin, along with leather shoes, belts, pants, slings, and hoods, are all equally wrong. It's possible that meat and leather are, you know, wronger. If we could talk to the animals, I'm pretty sure they would tell us they would rather be screwed than stewed. But until we can talk to the animals, I fully support eating them and wearing them, not fucking them.

The standard argument against bestiality -- animals can't consent to it -- seems to apply equally to carnivory. Savage tries to weasel out of it by invoking a strong notion of consent (it must be verbal), and applying the burden of proof inconsistently. With regard to sex, he says we should assume (just like we do with humans) that it's forbidden unless animals explicitly tell us we may. But with regard to eating, we should assume that it's permitted unless animals explicitly tell us we may not. I see no reason for this. After all, Savage himself admits that insofar as animals can communicate nonverbally, and insofar as we can guess their thoughts by analogy to our own, they refuse to consent to being killed for food in stronger terms than they refuse their consent to sex.

It's interesting that with regard to sex, we happily elevate animals to moral agency -- after all, nobody would think of asking whether a vibrator consents to being used for a person's sexual gratification. Yet with respect to food, we deny animals that moral status.


Five Things Feminism Has Done For Me

As a denizen of the dregs of the feminist blogosphere, I seem to have been tagged to do the "Five Things Feminism Has Done For Me" meme. So here we go:

1. It removed some of the cultural barriers to me being a house husband. (Now if only socialism would get on the stick and remove the economic barriers ...)

2. It jump-started my academic career, as my first conference presentation was the paper I wrote for my Feminist Geography class.

3. It kept me interested in high-quality blogging, since I'm not sure I'd have lasted five years if I was still just reading Kevin Drum and his ilk.

4. It led me in to recognizing and understanding other forms of inequality (race, ability, size, etc).

5. It made life a whole lot better for a great number of non-me people, who I care about either personally or in the abstract.

Down With Dryer Sheets

I knew it -- dryer sheets are a bad idea. I stopped using them after my first trop to Australia when I couldn't find them, but my clothes came out of the wash just fine. Now if only I could convince my apartment complex to let me put up a clothesline.


Pretend Punishment

This article gives a fairly succinct summary of the retributivist versus utilitarian theories of punishment. But it also gives an interesting test of which side your moral intuitions lie on. The author discusses two scenarios in which a utilitarian punishment system would lead to outcomes we'd find unacceptable. The first is the classic anti-utilitarian thought experiment -- we can concieve a scenario in which punishing an innocent person would have beneficial effects, and hence strict utilitarianism would demand that we do it. He then goes on to present a second scenario, billed as even more unacceptable and ridiculous -- utilitarianism would demand that we pretend to punish a person, rather than really punishing him, if that would have an equal or greater deterrent effect. My moral intuitions, however, are so strongly utilitarian that my first reaction to that scenario was "oh, if only it was realistic to imagine that pretend punishment would work!"


Partisan Blinders

Here's an little case study in how getting attached to a group (in this case, the Democratic Party) leads to highly skewed perceptions of the behavior of other group members versus outsiders. Kevin Drum says that in their recent PA Senate debate, Bob Casey made a "garden variety debating point" and Rick Santorum responded with a "finger-jabbing rant" with "spittle flying into the camera," clear evidence that he has "lost it." Not being one to pass up schadenfreude at Santorum's expense, I took Drum's advice to check out the video.

What I saw bore little resemblance to Drum's description. Casey accuses Santorum of not spending very much time working. Santorum gives an off-point rebuttal, then turns the question back around by accusing Casey of not spending very much time working, either. Casey refuses to answer, but Santorum insists -- with some finger-jabbing, but no spittle or ranting. The "debate" soon degenerates into both men repeating the same point over top of each other. Neither man comes out of it looking very good -- rather than productive elucidation of the choice voters face, they end up involved in a childish penis-size contest, both insisting on looking like the tough guy who's overtly in control of the framing of the discussion. And Santorum was making a legitimate point (I assume from Casey's refusal to give even a pseudo-answer that he is in fact guilty of goofing off on the taxpayers' time).

Which Oppression Is Greater?

From the department of "Alon Levy posts I meant to link to a while ago," I liked his analysis of why "this oppression is more socially acceptable than that one" arguments are so common yet come to such different conclusions:

The reason both gender-trumps-race and race-trumps-gender arguments can come off as reasonable is that racism and sexism don’t work exactly the same way. In some areas, gender dominates - for example, there’s more awareness of racially motivated hate crimes than of gender-based ones. In others, race dominates - for example, the irrational fear of The Other is much stronger with race than with gender.

... To see why, look at the criteria people use to establish trumping hierarchies. It’s natural for feminists to be aware mostly of gender-specific forms of inequality: sexual puritanism, ignorance of hate crimes, traditional values; job discrimination against mothers and pregnant women, devaluing female labor, anti-working mother sentiments. These are as far as I can tell much more acute on gender than on race, so someone who’s acquainted with these can easily be misled to believe that gender trumps race.

Contrariwise, antiracists, who are more aware of race-specific inequality (overhyped fear of BOW crime, police racism, intolerance of mixed-race relationships; high unemployment among most minorities, employment discrimination among people with ethnic-sounding names, low spending on majority-minority schools), will similarly tend to evaluate other forms of inequality based on the criteria familiar to them, again reaching the conclusion that their situation is worse.


It Doesn't Matter Why You Want To Do It

The feminist blogosphere is once again discussing the perennial question "can you be feminine and feminist?" The central question is framed as whether certain preferences, such as shaving, are endogenous or imposed by the patriarchy -- with the assumed corrollary that the former are acceptable and the latter should be rejected, even if the behavior they cultivate is the same.

But I think the origins question is not the most important thing (which is not to say it's not useful to examine). On the one hand, the dichotomy between "real" endogneous preferences and external imposed ones is false -- all of our preferences are the result of an interaction between internal states and our environment. More importantly, the advisability of satisfying, thwarting, or changing a preference is not a function of the preference's origin. More important than their origins are your preferences' structure and consequences.

Structure-wise, we can divide preferences into base-level and instrumental. Base-level preferences are those that we want for their own sake. Mostly this will be general things, like security or recognition or happiness or leisure. Instrumental preferences are things we want because they contribute to base-level satisfaction (or to another instrumental preference which contributes to a base-level one, etc.) -- so, for example, I want lots of people to read and link to this post because that contributes to my desire for recognition. Base-level preferences are not necessarily endogenous -- a socially-constructed preference can easily become lodged so deep in our minds that it's felt just as strongly, and as genuinely, as any other preference. And it therefore has the same moral status. Note also that (presumably due to a psychological mechanism for reducing the brain's workload) instrumental preferences masquerade, in day-to-day life, as base-level preferences.

When we ask "why do I want X," the most useful answer is in terms of the logical structure of our preferences. In this way we can clarify whether the things we want on the surface are really the most efficient way of satisfying our base-level desires. One key mechanism used by patriarchy (or any other social system) is to convince us that certain things contribute to base-level preferences even when they don't. Such mistaken preferences -- whether imposed by patriarchy or our own innocent ignorance -- can then be thwarted or unlearned.

However, that's not patriarchy's only mechanism. Patriarchy can set up our environment -- the structure of the options available to us -- so that certain behaviors truly do contribute most efficiently to our base-level preferences. The key question then becomes what the effects of satisfying, thwarting, or unlearning that preference are on all concerned. Say (to jump into another domain) I have a preference for having veal parmesan for lunch. What matters is not whether I prefer veal because my tastebud genes are such that veal is very tasty, or because given our culture it makes me feel sophisticated to eat the fanciest dish on the menu*. What matters is the consequences of my actions -- my own pleasure, the suffering of the calves and slaughterhouse workers, etc. Depending on how those consequences stack up**, it may be that I ought to order eggplant parmesan instead.

So can a feminist be feminine (or a male (pro)feminist be masculine)? I can't issue a blanket statement. But the answer in specific cases is to be found by asking whether the behavior in question advances your base-level goals, and feminism's goals, more than thwarting your desire to do it.

* Assume for the sake of argument that my actions in either case are identical, though of course in practice it's quite plausible that they would differ in detail. What's important is the actual, rather than the intended, content of the actions.

** I'm presenting the issue in simple utilitarian terms, but the point holds if the consequences at issue include rights violations, and if certain consequences are a priori ruled morally insignificant.


"Immigrants Are OK, Because We Can Exploit Them"

It bothers me the way "immigrants will work for low wages" gets turned around and used by ostensibly pro-immigrant people. They tell their opponents that we shouldn't worry about the brown horde swamping our McDonaldses with Spanish, because we citizens benefit from having our vegetables picked and our children cared for by people working for a few dollars a day.

From a pragmatic perspective, it's a step in the right direction insofar as it stymies attempts to restrict immigration. After all, immigrants' own behavior is a pretty clear indication that if given the choice between crappy working conditions in the US and returning home, they'll take the former. But immigrants' acceptance of those poor working conditions shouldn't become the justification for allowing them to enter and stay in the country. It says "Immigrants are OK, because we can exploit them."

Indeed, it seems that any viewpoint that would claim to be pro-immigrant (rather than just pro-immigration) has to oppose those poor working conditions. At a bare minimum, it has to oppose the way that fear of deportation undercuts immigrants' ability to access the basic protections provided to citizens. Freedom from sexual harassment and poison fumes (for example) are human rights, not special privileges of citizenship.

Animal Rights Once More

(I wrote this post a while ago but left it saved as a txt file on my desktop and forgot about it.)

Alon Levy responds to my earlier post in which I claimed that liberals reject the ecological fallacy in the case of same-sex marriage and gender discrimination in jobs, but not in the case of animal rights. His first line of attack -- denying the second premise of the first argument -- is a bit beside the point, since my post was about the internal logic of the arguments. And in any event, I would deny the second premise of the animal rights argument (only things which have "reason" have rights).

Levy's second line of attack is pragmatic. He says that one the one hand it's possible to directly measure fertility or upper-body strength, but that "reason" is too vague to measure directly, so we need to use the crude proxy of defining reason as a property of humans. On the other hand, he says that despite our inability to clearly define it, the overlap in "reason" between humans and animals is small enough that we can be categorical about it. While I disagree with Levy's assessment of how small the overlap is, it's true that the ecological fallacy is less of a fallacy the more significant the difference between the groups is -- or in other words, a strong first premise can rescue an otherwise fallacious argument, since an argument beginning "all and only" rather than "most" would be sound. (I would note as well that the first premise of the marriage argument is also quite strong.)

However, just showing that there's a difference in the degree of "reason" between humans and animals isn't enough to make the first premise strong. One also has to show that that gap occurs at the morally relevant point. After all, the degree of harm done by speeding is far less than that done by murder, but that doesn't mean that speeding isn't still a crime. (I would base rights on interests rather than ability to reason, in which case it's clearer that, while humans generally have much more complex and important interests, animal interests are not therefore non-entities.)

Levy wraps up his post with a version of the argument I criticized in my follow-up post -- according a vaguely-defined lesser moral status to animals. He says that human interests should always trump those of animals, but that ceteris paribus we should protect the well-being of animals. Taken strictly, this claim effectively does nothing for animals, since anything we do to protect their well-being will decrease human well-being in some amount. Just administering anaesthetic to a lab monkey, for example, costs money and researchers' time (as well as the time and patience of those who have to listen to them moan about how PETA makes their lives so hard). To avoid triviality, animals' interests would have to be able to trump humans' -- either by establishing a certain level of human interest that can be overruled, or an exchange rate favorable to humans. (This could be perhaps done within a pluralist system in which some interests are protected by absolute rights. In this case human rights would trump human non-right-interests and the rights (if they exist) and non-right-interests of animals, animal rights (if they exist) would trump the non-right-interests of both humans and animals, and when only non-rights-interests are at issue we use an exchange rate favorable, but not overwhelmingly so, to humans.)


In Defense Of Lieberman Again

I'm no fan of Joe Lieberman. He tends to do the right thing when the cameras are off (his environmental record, for example, is quite good, and he recently introduced a bill to provide domestic partner benefits), but his desire to present himself as a centrist through allying with the GOP gets prioritized on anything high-profile. I'm glad Ned Lamont got in the race, since Lieberman's support for . But I remain baffled by the people who seem to feel that Lieberman's worst crime is to stay in the race after the Democratic Party turned him down.

For example, olvlzl proposes making candidates sign a pledge to drop out of the race if they lose the primary. He explains the underlying premises as follows:

We have to reclaim the Democratic nomination as the property of enrolled Democrats, we have to reclaim all political offices as the property of the voters at large. We might lend them to people but that doesn’t make them their property. Joe Lieberman doesn’t have ownership rights over the Senate seat he’s been borrowing, no matter how much he might think so.

I agree with those premises. But I don't see how they're addressed by limiting candidacy to people endorsed by the Democratic Party*. Despite Lieberman's whining, he is in fact abiding by them. Since he is running as an independent, and not using any of the Party's resources, I don't see how he's violating the principle that the Democratic nomination belongs to the Democratic Party. And since he can only win the seat by getting the people of Connecticut to vote for him, the principle that offices belong to the voters seems pretty secure.

I have two hypotheses as to what the real principle at issue is. First, it may be whether ballot access is the property of the two major parties. I don't think it is. The ballot should be the property of the voters (expressed through petitions), not of the parties, or the NRA, or the AFL-CIO, or any other interest group that picks a candidate it likes and devotes resources to helping them win.

Or perhaps what's at issue is whether the votes of everyone left-of-center, or at least of registered Democrats, belong to the Democratic Party. They're free to support whoever they like in the primary, but once the Party's candidate is chosen, you're bound to support him or her. The funny thing is, this kind of entitlement to your own wing's votes is a highway straight to median-voter politics of just the kind that Lieberman is excoriated for practicing. After all, if you already own your side's votes, why not swing to the center to pick up independents? I'm no fan of Lieberman, but were I a CT Democrat I'd be tempted to vote for him to show that my vote belongs to me, not to olvlzl or Howard Dean.

Then again, my befuddlement at the demand to toe the party line is why I never have been, and never will be, a registered Democrat.

* olvlzl's post technically leaves open the idea that it would be legitimate for someone to run as an independent if they never tried to get the Party's nomination. But the same sort of "how dare you run against the Party's candidate" anger is directed at such candidates -- witness the concerted efforts to keep Green Party candidates and Ralph Nader off the ballot. Such efforts are fine as nakedly partisan tactics, since Green candidates do marginally hurt Democrats, but don't dress it up in the language of principle.

Racial Stereotypes

In the little message board attached to a story in the Arizona Republic, the discussion turned to immigration*. Anti-immigration posters brought up the usual litany of evils brought to this country by illegal aliens or Latinos** -- stealing jobs, crime, poor sanitation, putting up signs in Spanish, etc. One person's big complaint, though, was that his illegal neighbors would spend 20 minutes revving their truck engines in the driveway every morning***.

As it happens, I had the pleasure of being woken up a few days ago by 20 minutes of truck-engine revving. I live in a racially mixed apartment complex, but my assumption was not that it was a Latino. The image in my head was of a redneck-type white guy.

* I don't recall which one, because every discussion on the Republic's site turns into a debate about immigration.

** They have quite a time telling these two groups apart, depite their constant lecturing on the difference between good legal immigrants (like their own families) and bad illegal immigrants.

*** Apparently when you get your green card, they give you a coupon for a hybrid.


Fire Reporting

First couple paragraphs of Washington Post story: "A GAO study found that it's not environmentalists' fault that the government loses money on salvage timber sales."

Remainder of the story: Quotes from Republicans about how we need to pass a new law to keep those environmentalists from interfering with timber sales.

It's like they wrote the second half of the story a few days ago, then slapped a new lede on it when the GAO report came out.


Nature Can Hurt You

Via Majikthise, the EPA says "if your water is being poisoned by raccoons, maybe it isn't actually poisoned after all":

Scientists have run high-tech tests on harmful bacteria in local rivers and streams and found that many of the germs -- and in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, a majority of them-- come from wildlife dung. The strange proposition that nature is apparently polluting itself has created a serious conundrum for government officials charged with cleaning up the rivers.

... "You need to go back and say, 'Maybe the standards aren't exactly right' if wildlife are causing the problem," said Thomas Henry, an Environmental Protection Agency official who works on water pollution in the mid-Atlantic.

This reasoning interestingly parallels some of the reasoning used in the great dispute over arsenic standards several years ago. Then, the administration claimed that some locations naturally have arsenic levels that exceeded environmentalists' preferred lower standard, so therefore a higher standard was appropriate.

There are two angles to take on this, both of which involve anti-environmentalist cooptation of popular environmentalism.

Most obviously, Henry's logic involves a naive implementation of Barry Commoner's "Third Law of Ecology" -- "Nature knows best." Commoner made the more modest (albeit in my opinion excessively adaptationist) idea that any chemical present in nature can be metabolized by nature, but any chemical not already found in nature is inevitably harmful. In pop-environmentalism, this idea manifests as the belief that anything "natural" is therefore good for you. The arsenic and racoon poop examples clearly show that this is at best a rule of thumb. But Henry proposes using the rule of thumb to revise the data. If it's "natural," the authorities can't be expected to do anything about it.

Less obviously, Henry's strategy plays on environmentalism's need for a villain. Environmentalism has gotten good mileage out of identifying human agents as culpable for environmental problems. But when there's no agent, or nature itself is the agent, this adversarial structure breaks down. So it's easy for those who favor inaction to throw up their hands and declare that since it's nobody's fault, it's not a problem.

It's true that there may be reasons why it would be unwise to seek as strict a cleanliness standard if the contamination is natural -- for example, because of an inability to manipulate the natural process at an acceptable cost (or an unwillingness to risk it). But this needs to be conceptualized as a tradeoff between values (health versus the costs -- including potential side-effects on health -- of correcting the problem), not a case in which a natural origin makes harms into non-harms.

Wanting to be Othered

A white acquaintance recently told me about something that happened when her daughter was very young. The daughter went off to summer camp, and found herself the only white girl in a cabin of mostly black girls. The black girls, who had grown up in a fairly segregated community, were fascinated by my acquaintance's daughter's hair, and spent a fair bit of time touching it and commenting on it. My acquaintance told the story with an air of amusement.

This story contrasts, of course, with the subgenre of "hair politics" written about white people's reactions to black people's hair. These reactions range from unwanted touching, to grooming rules that ban black hairstyles like dreadlocks, to questions and comments that frame the black person as an oddity on display for whites' edification. The black people in question are pretty consistently not amused.

The first point of this story, then, is an illustration of why the "power" element in "racism = prejudice + power" is important. Superficially similar acts can be an agent of oppression in one case, but not another, because they link into larger structures and histories of power. Forgetting that is what allows whites to reason "if such-and-such a narrowly defined act was done to me, I wouldn't mind, so therefore it's not racist to do it to a black person."

The second point of this story comes when we look into the nature of the narrowly-defined act. This sort of fascinated hair-touching is a form of Othering. It treats the hair-owner as a deviant object. Deviant, in that she differs from a norm of how hair is supposed to be. An object, in that the deviance is explored without full consideration for the fact that it belongs to a person, and often by reducing the Othered person to a physical body.

We're used to seeing Othering as a purely negative thing. And indeed, the vast majority of Othering functions to create and maintain oppression. But that's not always the case. There are two things that can happen when a member of a dominant group faces the possibility of being treated as the Other. The most commonly recognized is fear. The fear of having the tables turned always haunts dominant groups (hence the hand-wringing about "reverse racism" and the "emasculation" of society).

But members of dominant groups also have a latent desire to be Othered. It's well-recognized that whiteness is set up as the norm -- both in the sense of "you ought to be like white people" and "white is unremarkably normal" -- while other races are defined by their deviance from the white model. On the one hand, this is a source of great power and privilege for white people, since social structures and cultural expectations are set up with us in mind, and we're freed from having to think about race issues.

But the normality of whiteness is also a source of a bit of existential angst. It thwarts the natural human tendency to want to be seen as different and special. So when Othering happens in a safe environment -- such as a short stay at camp, where the counselors are presumably unwilling to seriously challenge the basic racial hierarchy of society -- white people enjoy being a little Othered. We enjoy having our characteristics not taken for granted, while not having to worry about being defined and limited by them. (Obviously this is more true for those of us who are also members of the dominant group with respect to gender, class, abledness, etc.).

The point is not, however, (just) that "racism hurts white people too." I think the desire to be a little Othered reinforces whites' tendency to conclude that racist acts aren't racist through a simplistic and narrow attempt to put oneself in the other person's shoes. We wouldn't necessarily mind being Othered a bit not only because Othering us wouldn't be backed by power, but also because it would be a desirable counterbalance to our normality.