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Keeping the T in ENDA

In a strange turn of events, Congress appears to have listened to public outrage over a proposed bill, and responded by reconsidering its stance. The bill in question is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which initially aimed to protect people from being fired for being LGBT. The outrage came when Democrats tried to drop the T, on the theory that it would be too difficult to pass otherwise. Votes on the bill have been postponed while the leadership works out how to address the pro-T objections.

I find the pragmatic rationale for dropping the T unconvincing. No ENDA will make it into law before January 2009, because either version would be vetoed by President Bush (assuming Republicans aren't able to use procedural tricks to kill it in Congress -- tricks which they'd use against either version), and neither version would have enough votes to override.

This year's ENDA fight is not a matter of pragmatic law-creation. It's a matter of clarifying where people stand and establishing the agenda, preparing the terms of debate for the day when the pragmatic battle is winnable. The version of ENDA that goes forward this year will set the standard or benchmark for the ENDA that is voted on in 2009.

Why, though, is it important for protection for trans people to be included in that benchmark? Many LGB people don't see why Ts don't have their own, separate movement. What does a gay man have in common with a straight cross-dresser?

The link between LGB and T is the grounds of discrimination against them. Homophobia and transphobia are both about resistance to non-conformity with gender norms. To the bigoted mind, being attracted to members of the same sex (that is, being attracted to the people that a member of the other sex should be attracted to) is just one among many forms of gender non-conformity. That's why lesbians are stereotyped as being extremely butch, and gay men are stereotyped as being highly effeminate. That's why bigoted parents will read a son's interest in (feminine) dance as a sign of gayness and enroll him in (masculine) little league as a corrective. It makes little sense to say that the fight for the right to be nonconformist in your choice of romantic partner should be separated from the fight for the right to be nonconformist in your way of dressing, choice of name and pronouns, chemical or surgical alteration of your body, etc. (And this is why feminism is at least a half-sibling to the LGBT movement, since resistance to gender nonconformity is a source of resistance to women's rights alongside resistance to the equal value of women qua ("normal") women.)

The gender nonconformity link also means that leaving the T out of ENDA creates a potential loophole for discrimination. Under the T-less ENDA, you can't fire someone for who they want to date, but you can fire them if you can find some other type of gender nonconformity. If a person is LGB, a bigoted employer will be extra-attuned to any other gender-nonconformity that they exhibit, including things that would pass unnoticed in a straight employee. This loophole won't be exploited in every case (either because employers don't think of it, because they fear courts wouldn't buy it, because many LGBs do conform in other ways, because the nonconformity in question can be classed under the giant exception for dress codes that the ENDA-with-T unfortunately still includes, or because their conception of their employee's nonconformity is too tied up in their identity as LGB so they can't separate out any other nonconformities). But it's not quite right to say that we can fully protect LGBs now and address Ts separately at a later date.


Poorly-Defined Hobgoblins

Hugo Schwyzer is a fan of one of my least favorite aphorisms* -- Ralph Waldo Emerson's claim that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Hobgoblinism makes a lofty-sounding reply to any accusations of inconsistency, but I think it's problematic.

If hobgoblinism means the denial of any relevance for consistency -- as seems to be suggested by Schwyzer's comment that the word "foolish" in the quote is redundant -- it leads immediately to relativism. Rational argument works by demanding consistency between propositions, evidence, etc. So it's not surprising that few hobgoblinists (including Schwyzer himself in a later comment) would hold that hobgoblinism applies universally.

But if hobgoblinism's scope is limited, the critical question becomes defining its scope. What forms of consistency count as "foolish"? I have yet to find anyone even attempting to put some substance on that criterion (not even Emerson himself, as Bartleby's snarkily notes) -- either in terms of universal standards of foolishness, or in terms of why the specific consistency at issue is or is not a foolish one. Quoting the aphorism is treated as a final word. But without some specificity to the idea of foolish consistency, limited hobgoblinism collapses into universal hobgoblinism.

I do think there's a grain of truth to hobgoblinism. Truth must be consistent, and so inconsistency is always a marker that we don't quite have things right. But consistency need not be pursued at all costs. Consistency in one obvious context may force us into more significant inconsistencies somewhere else. There may be reasons we have not yet clarified that show why an apparent inconsistency is not actually inconsistent. We may have other good reasons to hold each of the inconsistent beliefs in their own domains. How a given inconsistency should be resolved may be unclear at the moment. In each of these cases, however, the acceptance of inconsistency is a provisional reservation of judgment, not a high-minded rejection of hobgoblins.

*My very least favorite is the Margaret Mead quote about small groups changing the world, which I think would make a good motto for al-Qaida.


Making The Best Of Bad News

Yesterday Larry Cirignano was acquitted of pushing my friend Sarah Loy while she was counter-protesting an anti-marriage rally that he was involved in. I think this is the wrong result, but there are two silver linings. First, the decision was made by a jury following a trial in which both sides got to present their evidence. None of the repeated attempts to skirt the judicial process by having the charges thrown out, making a settlement, or intimidating Loy with a last-minute criminal complaint were successful.

Second, the decision appears to be based on the theory that Loy tripped over someone's foot while Cirignano was escorting her out. This is the most plausible of the many ridiculous and inconsistent theories that have been expounded by people on the anti-marriage side both outside and inside the courtroom (theories which include that Cirignano never even touched her, and that she's a professional actress who deliberately took a dive).


Which Brings Us To Tonight's Word ...

Duke1676 raises an interesting issue with respect to how the pro-immigrant movement has trouble controlling the terms of debate. As the anonymous friend who raised the issue to him put it:

The word for what abolitionists fought was "slavery." The word for what South Africans fought was "apartheid." Words for what the civil rights movement fought (and fights) include "racism" and "discrimination." Those words convey a clear, one-word enemy. A wrong that needs correction.

In one word, can you say what the wrong is that needs correction in our fight for immigrants?

Duke suggests "welcoming" as a good candidate for a one-word description of what we're for, and I agree. Finding the word for what we're against is harder. It has to be broad enough to capture the whole range of concerns that the pro-immigrant movement has, yet specific enough to evoke (and be evoked by) the particular problems that this specific movement is attacking (i.e. it can't be something that could as easily apply to feminism or the disability movement -- although it's also important to understand the larger principles that do unite the various social justice movments). It needs to be negatively loaded, of course. And it needs to be something that doesn't come off as an awkward neologism -- both to avoid turning off potential sympathizers and (more importantly) because the word should automatically fill in a sketch of the movement's content for a hearer, rather than requiring us to explain the movement's content so that they can fully understand the enemy label.

I like a word that Duke actually used in the headline of his previous post: "nativism." It references the idea of national boundaries more than the similar "xenophobia" (and also avoids implicitly psychoanalyzing the enemy, which is a known difficulty with "homophobia"). And it's got the pejorative suffix "ism," a la "sexism" and "racism," but it doesn't (at least to me) come off as an awkward neologiosm a la "ageism" or "ableism" (not that ageism and ableism aren't serious problems, it's just that their words sound silly and PC to outsiders). And it gets at what I see as the core of the problem, which is an exclusionary privileging of one way of life and of the set of individuals who are already practicing that way of life.


Two Kinds Of Christian Homophobia

Slacktivist points out some research showing that the dominant image of Christians by non-Christians is that they hate anyone who's not straight. The archetypal Christian these days is Jerry Falwell or Tom Haggard, fulminating against gays as the number one menace to our society. Slacktivist is in the midst of a series of posts analyzing the causes of Falwellian gay-bashing.

It seems to me, though, that Christian homophobia is being defined too narrowly here. It's easy to see how the foaming-at-the-mouth crowd is homophobic, because they're always talking about same-sex sex. What gets ignored is the homophobia-by-omission that characterizes much of Christianity.

Slacktivist's background is in "evangelical" churches (Southern Baptist, IIRC), so it's natural that he'd focus on the Falwellians. But my church-going experience is quite different. I've spent a lot of time in "mainline" churches, mostly ELCA. (Despite the name, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not "evangelical" in the way we usually use that term to describe a subset of Christianity.) In all the sermons I've listened to growing up, and peripheral literature I've seen, I cannot recall a single mention of homosexuality*. I arrived at college with only the barest conception that there were people out there who were attracted to members of the same sex.

It would be easy to point to churches like the one I attended as evidence that Christianity is not anti-gay. To do that, though, is to conflate homophobia in general with the particular form of overt homophobia practiced by Falwell et al. That would be an error similar to the way white liberals assume that anyone who's not wearing a white hood or endorsing racial IQ disparities is not racist. But in fact you can be homophobic** without directing active hatred toward non-heterosexuals.

The churches I've attended can be described as "unreflexively heteronormative." The Falwellian strain of homophobia recognizes homosexuality as an alternative way of life in opposition to the conservative Christian one -- Fred Phelps has to highlight homosexuality and describe its contours (in whatever twisted way) in order to actively attack it. Unreflexive heteronormativity, on the other hand, represses homosexuality by failing to acknowledge its existence. I'm not saying that the people at the churches I've gone to don't know about the existence of LGBTs. What I'm saying is that that knowledge is detached from everything else in their lives. If nobody is specifically raising it as an issue, they go about the life of the church on the assumption that everyone is heterosexual (and, to a lesser degree, that they come from and desire to start a "normal" nuclear family). Accommodation for LGBTs has to be created by carving out exceptions on a case-by-case basis, and will only be done when a person specifically raises the issue.

I'm not interested in debating which type of homophobia is how much worse than the other (though this post would be a lot more powerful if I were LGBT and could describe the particular pains of growing up in an environment that, instead of actively attacking me, simply failed to acknowledge that I and my struggles existed). The point is that homophobia comes in more than one flavor, and over-focusing on the Falwellian typw can lead to ignoring the need to address unreflexive heteronormativity (both inside and outside Christianity***).

*This was my experience in the Boy Scouts as well. Much of my analysis of the two forms of homophobia in Christianity could doubtless apply to the Scouts as well.

**I describe people as "homophobic" and "racist" for convenience here, though in engaging with such individuals I would be more likely to describe them as "doing things that perpetuate oppression on the basis of sexuality/race." The longer phrasing is better because it doesn't imply any presuppositions about the person's motivations, and because it keeps the focus where it belongs -- on the effects of one's actions on LGBTs or POC, not on the purity of one's soul.

***The fact that Falwellian homophobia is so closely linked to one sect of Christianity while unreflexive heteronormativity crosses religious lines may be part of the explanation for why it gets so much attention -- it's a lot easier to identify an attack an overtly hostile Them than to do the therapeutic work of overturning more widespread harmful assumptions.


Don't Run, Al

Hugo wants to know what I think about Al Gore. The question of the hour, of course, is whether he should run for President of the USA. I suspect he won't, and I hope he doesn't.

If Gore did enter the race, I would probably root for him (I'm registered independent, so I can't actually vote in the primaries). I'm not especially impressed with any of the current candidates. However, I think it would be better for Gore and for the country if he doesn't run.

During his political career, Gore was cautious and calculating, and often disappointed environmentalists. But after giving up politics and moving to the realm of activism, he has blossomed. Many people read this as a personal transformation, such that Gore 2008 would not be the awkward and centrist candidate of 2000. I think it's much better explained as an effect of the context -- as an activist, Gore does not feel the need to please voters or make pragmatic compromises to get policies enacted. So he's free to focus on inspiring people and making a passionate case for what he sees as the best policy. Returning to electoral politics would throw him back into that compromising mode, deflating his persona (and perhaps leading to a dissipation of his support much like fellow drafted Tennessean Fred Thompson). What's more, a presidential candidate must have positions on every issue. But an activist can and should focus on one or two issues that really inspire them -- in Gore's case, primarily the environment and secondarily the war. The shift to a more well-rounded portfolio of concerns would further deflate Gore's aura.

There is a necessary symbiosis between activists pushing for change and politicians carrying out the logistics to make that change happen. While Gore would be superior to any of the other candidates on the political side, he stands nearly alone in terms of environmental activists with his international stature and access to power*. The law of comparative advantage thus says that he would do more good in his current role, standing outside but bestowing advice and endorsements upon the political work of other candidates and officeholders.

I also think that entering the race would retroactively cheapen everything that Gore has done since losing the 2000 election. One of the key storylines about Gore up through 2000 was that he was a congenital politician, hungry for power, who had been running for president since he was born. His activism in recent years can be read (i.e. in my second paragraph) as striking out in a new direction that is more productive for himself and for the country, and which expresses a genuine commitment to addressing the problem of climate change. But it can also be read as an attempt to rebuild his brand in preparation for a third shot at the White House. If Gore gets back into politics now, that second reading will become very powerful. It would cheapen both Gore -- who would be seen as phony and grasping -- and the environmental cause -- which would be seen as a pseudo-problem whipped up to feed a demagogue's ambition.

As for whether Gore will run, I think even Gore himself isn't completely sure. In 2003, he took himself out of consideration early and decisively. This year, he has tried to downplay speculation about a run, but he has refrained from making an unequivocal statement of non-interest, either publicly or in private to the people expending much effort and resources in the Draft Gore movement. My sense is that he leans against running, but he's leaving the door open while he watches the dynamics of the race. One appealing scenario is that if Barack Obama can make up some ground in the polls and Hillary Clinton's environmental proposals prove lackluster (Obama's, from the little I've read so far, are fairly good, though he lacks the easy command of the issue that Gore has), Gore may throw his endorsement behind Obama.

*I'm trying to phrase this carefully so as to make clear that Gore's role within environmentalism is unique and important, without disparaging other environmentalists who are doing excellent work in other roles within the movement.


The Mere Fact Of Dissent About Animal Cruelty

I find it strange when, in political arguments, people want to stop at the fact that people hold a certain opinion to justify something when the thing in question can only really be justified by advancing the reasons for that opinion. I noticed this phenomenon first in discussions of embryonic stem cell research and related technologies. Opponents would argue that this research should be banned because some people have moral qualms about it. This argument sets aside any probing of what the rationale for those qualms is, much less whether that rationale is a good one. The mere fact of dissent becomes a reason to ban the thing the dissenters dislike.

This phenomenon comes up again in this Stephen Bainbridge column. Bainbridge seeks to defend our current inconsistent animal protection laws against the arguments of libertarian anti-vegetarians who say that if we allow torturing geese to produce foie gras, then we should allow dog fighting*. After rambling for a while the fact that (but not precisely how) conservatism can blend the ideals of limited government interference and of government as an expression of collective morality, Bainbridge concludes:

Although dogfighting has a long history, so does opposition to it. England prohibited it and other blood sports as early as 1835. There is a longstanding consensus in the Anglo-American tradition that blood sports are cruel and ought to be banned.

The debate over foie gras is newer and far less well settled. Hence, at this point in time, I think one can make a case for morals legislation banning blood sports while exempting foie gras production from animal cruelty laws. Whether our evolving understanding of the moral order will eventually justify a banning production of the latter, only time can tell.

In other words, there are lots of people who dissent from dog fighting, so the fact of their dissent is sufficient cause for banning it. On the other hand, the number of foie gras dissenters is small enough (and they are peripheral enough to the core of our culture due to their unusual beliefs and habits) that the basis for banning foie gras is weak. Bainbridge's reasoning here is like the person who, when asked who they think the next President of the USA should be, will say nothing more than "whoever a majority of voters in states controlling a majority of the electoral votes prefer." Certainly that is correct as far as it goes, but it's unhelpful to anyone (including the answerer him- or herself) making a decision about whether their vote in one of those states should be cast in favor of Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney. Indeed, if such deference to what others think consistently trumped attempts to examine the basis of those beliefs (a direction in which Bainbridge seems to be heading when he tells us "the species is wise even if the individual is foolish"), we would be buried in Emperor's New Clothes fallacies**.

The simplest interpretation here is that Bainbridge just doesn't have room to get into why we dislike dogfighting but don't mind foie gras. His larger point is that conservatism is superior to libertarianism because it allows morality-based legislation***, and so perhaps it's enough for him to make conservatism appealing to readers by illustrating a case in which we would like the implications of conservatism better than libertarianism, because conservatism leaves the door open to making our preferences (which are implicitly assumed to be justified) law.

Another interpretation is that Bainbridge sees the development of ethics and culture ss something arational and uncontrollable. We just do happen to come to believe certain things, which may be inconsistent with each other in some way. All we can do in making laws is look at what moral commitments the culture in question has actually acquired. This is a sociologically odd position, because whatever irrationality or hidden forces may be at work in shaping a culture, it seems obvious that people do in fact believe that they have good reasons for what they believe and how they act, and they spend a great deal of effort making reasoned appeals to each other (such as Bainbridge's own column) and responding to others' reasoned appeals. And if our ethics are not rationally based, then the justification for basing law on them seems quite weak.

At best -- and I realize this is a very speculative extrapolation from his brief comments, so take it as my own exploration of the issues raised by the column more than an exegesis of the column itself -- Bainbridge might be taken to be arguing for a regulated wall between the political and ethical spheres. You can have an ethical argument about a given use of animals, with the full panoply of reason-giving and critique. But only the conclusions -- "dog fighting is wrong," or "foie gras production is acceptable" -- can be passed through the filter into the political realm. The political realm, for its part, can't examine or critique the reasoning exercised in the ethical realm. It can only respond to the conclusions that ethical debate produces, acting to implement and protect them. (And the barrier may be reciprocal, so that debates over whether a given practice is right or wrong should not be influenced by considering whether that judgment would or should lead to laws against it.)

There's something to this conception, in that the law can't possibly be based directly on what's right, but rather on what some collectivity of people have decided is right. And a lawmaker casting a vote on the floor of the legislature may be justified in basing his or her vote solely on the fact of his or her constituents' views, rather than on whether their reasoning for their views is persuasive. But applying this separation of law and reasoning to everyone also imposes an excessive separation in public debate. As soon as Bainbridge asks the legal question -- should X be banned -- he is made unable to cross the barrier into reasoning about whether people should oppose dog fighting or foie gras, but instead can only refer to whether people do currently oppose it. Raising the inconsistency in our animal cruelty laws should open the door for reconsidering the moral beliefs that underly those laws.

Stopping one's argument at the mere fact of dissent is not universal in conservatism (or liberalism, where this style of argument can also sometimes be found) -- just look at any conservative argument for laws against homosexuality or abortion. So insofar as Bainbridge relies on this type of argument in his attempt to distinguish libertarianism and conservatism (in general or in the dog fighting versus foie gras case), he has left something out.

*For the sake of disclosure -- though my argument in this post isn't really about the substantive question of what animal cruelty laws we should have -- I would ban both dog fighting and foie gras production.

**Here I am using a well-worn proverb from Anglo-American culture to warn against trusting the consensus and traditions of that culture.

***I find the libertarian idea that we shouldn't legislate morality to be vacuous unless you define morality in some narrow way that saps the principle of its appeal and may even render it question-begging. Any law has a moral basis -- even "don't harm others, and don't coerce them except to prevent them from harming others," libertarians' supposed substitute for morality as a basis for law, is itself a moral principle. I agree with the conclusions that the left uses opposition to legislating morality to arrive at. But "the government should not endorse religion" and "homosexuality should be allowed" are inescapably moral claims.


Australia Closes the Door to Africans

I'd like to thank the Australian Government for choosing this week to be racist against Africans*. I'm not nearly as conscientious about following African issues as Lynn/Sappho, but since Australia is getting embroiled in an Africa-related controversy, I can do a little Africa-related blogging.

The issue is Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' revised explanation for why Australia will be cutting the number of African refugees it will accept, from 70% of its refugee intake to 30%. The original explanation was an unremarkable (albeit debatable) assertion that the need for refugee resettlement had shifted due to changes in the situation in different countries. But for reasons that are unclear, Andrews decided this week to tell us that the real rationale for the policy change is that Africans are troublemakers. Specifically,

"Concerns about the establishment of race-based gangs, reports of altercations between African groups in nightclubs and at community functions, disagreements among prominent African community organisations over accusations that some are receiving favoured treatment in accessing community services," he said, listing the points in his dossier.

"Tensions have arisen between some African families involving conflict and assault, concern among some community leaders as to the increase in crime among some African youths, and reports of a developing trend of young African males congregating in parks at night, often to consume alcohol."

I'll pause a moment to let that sink in. They're decreasing the number of refugees they accept because, among other things, some African community leaders think there's favoritism in the distribution of resources between African organizations. Needless to say, actual members of Australia's African communities don't think that leaving people in refugee camps in Sudan and Somalia is the answer to whatever internal problems their communities are having, or that their problems are worse than any other group's.

John Howard wants to have it both ways, clinging to the old explanation as a shield against critics:

"The critics who shout 'racism' are bereft of real arguments," he said. "Having a more equal focus across Africa, the Middle East and Asia hardly constitutes 'racism'. Australia has the right to ensure that those who come here are integrating into a socially cohesive community."

Pauline Hanson*, meanwhile, likes what she's hearing:

Ms Hanson, who is standing for the Senate in Queensland, said yesterday the cut to the intake was vital to protect the Australian way of life. "If we want to do things for the Sudanese people, then let us send medical supplies, food, whatever they need over there - but let them stay in their own country," she said. "You can't bring people into the country who are incompatible with our way of life and culture."

What's hilarious is the Assistant Minister's attempt at damage control. She says Andrews should have nuanced his statements a little more, and basically said the opposite of what he did say:

Ms [Teresa] Gambaro, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, said African migrants were keen to integrate and Mr Andrews could have emphasised their successes in adapting. "He could have put it differently," she told the Herald. "It is something I would have been mindful about. We have to support our humanitarian settlement program. They are no different to migrants of the past. They want a job, a future for their children and their children to be educated."

Ms Gambaro, who oversees the settlement program, said she believed Mr Andrews was only trying to state the difficulties in assisting African refugees, who come from war-torn countries and are often young and illiterate. "They need an enormous amount of assistance," she said. "The settlement has not been smooth across the board, but we have had some successes as well. It all takes time. There are pockets of concern and we need to provide opportunities for those people, but the Africans and Sudanese are making a good contribution."

Gambaro's statements are all nice to hear. The problem is, "Africans are making good progress in adjusting to life in Australia" is not a rationale for reducing the intake of African refugees. Then again, neither is "Africans fight with each other." Hanson's take on the issue at least has the virtue of making sense, since we can understand how xenophobia works. Andrews tries to frame the rationale in terms of the problems Africans have with Australia and each other, rather than the problems Australiams have with Africans. The bottom line is that refugee policy should be based on the refugees' need, not on whether the reciever country stereotypes them as good or bad assimilators.

As an aside, I find it interesting that in condemning Andrews, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh drew an analogy with the 1950s American south -- despite the fact that Australia's own history contains an even more apt metaphor in the form of the White Australia policy, under which the Chinese were banned based on accusations much like those Andrews is making against Africans. I hesitate to read too much into this one instance. But I bet there's something interesting to be said about the way the narrative of Jim Crow and the US civil rights movement has entered the lexicons of other countries as a "safe" reference point in talking about race.

*Obviously it would be better if they weren't racist at all, but if they're going to do it anyway, they might as well time it for my guest-blogging convenience.

**The Tom Tancredo of Australia, except that the Liberal Party had the good sense to kick her out.


Jesus Should Care About Caesar

Hugo Schwyzer says that "Jesus doesn't care who the current Caesar is." He believes that one's Christian faith should radically transform every aspect of one's life, but should be set aside when one enters the voting booth.

Schwyzer's argument is not the usual liberal separation of church and state argument that bars people from making public policy based on "private" reasons (i.e. reasons that can't be used to persuade others because they're based on special revelations, unprovable assertions, personal faith, etc.). And it's more than just a call to be humble in one's inferences about who Jesus would want you to vote for, and to avoid misusing claims of divine authority to support political positions. Schwyzer is arguing that Christianity has nothing to say about public policy.

It's difficult for me to talk about what Christianity really is or should be. "Christianity" is a diverse set of interpretations of a set of texts and traditions whose creators were not even in agreement with each other. But I think Schwyzer is right to point out that there is a strong theme of apoliticism in Christianity. This theme is too easily overlooked by people wanting to make "prophetic" calls for social justice. It's connected to the individualistic and otherworldly aspects of the religion. One of the messages of Christianity is to keep your head down, make sure you're personally free of wrongdoing, and wait for the deus ex machina.

The apolitical streak is not all bad. It's a useful counterbalance to the temptation to hubristic social engineering. It was historically important in opening the door to the transition from theocracy to liberalism. And it can serve as a brake on attempts to misuse religion in the political sphere. Nevertheless, an apolitical outlook is at root a false one. If Jesus really doesn't care who Caesar is, then so much the worse for Jesus.

Certainly perfect justice is unlikely to result from any human government. But that doesn't mean that how human governments are organized, and who holds the various offices within them, doesn't greatly affect the level of injustice in the world. What kind of deity would be indifferent between the state of Iraq today and the state it would have been in had we not invaded? Or does he just weirdly compartmentalize our actions, so that he can't see the connection between voting for George Bush and the violence in Iraq? Does Jesus really not see that there is a great deal of suffering in our world that is due to, and can be relieved by changes in, our political leadership?

Perhaps so. Jesus is widely regarded as having compassion for the poor and suffering. But he also didn't seem to think there was much to be done for them in this world (and IIRC, throughout the New Testament, Jesus is practically the only person who ever directly helps a suffering person). Blessed are the meek -- but they'll have to wait to recieve their blessing in heaven. Even the acts of benevolence that believers are called to do -- sell everything and give it to the poor -- can be read more as ways of demonstrating one's faith (and hence preparing onself for the next life) than as aimed at producing good results for the recipients in the here and now.

Maybe Jesus is just a glory-hog. He doesn't want any humans -- even humans acting in his name -- to get credit for the improvements they make in the world. Instead, we have to wait for Jesus to do it himself. Maybe, being a timeless being, he only cares about whether things turn out OK in the end (after all, he took his sweet time in getting around to being incarnated and crucified after the Fall made that somehow necessary).

Or maybe, being a person in a premodern society who we know through the writings of other premodern people, Jesus simply had a very naive social theory behind his preaching. Today we easily understand the great variety of possible social orders that can exist, since we know about diverse cultures all around the world, and we've lived through major history-altering social changes. We're aware of the possibility of society being altered so as to be far more, or far less, just. But in premodern times, people were not so aware of the social possibilities. The way their own society was organized seemed to be pretty much the only way to do things. You could have a good king or a bad king, but they pretty much did the same things (and in those days the king had far less direct influence over daily life than modern governments).

Not caring who Caesar was may have made sense in Jesus' day. But insofar as apoliticism is a genuine element of Christianity, I find Christianity lacking.


Guest Blogging And A Question About Affirmative Action

Lynn/Sappho of Noli Irritare Leones has asked me to guest blog at her place for the next few weeks. I'll be cross-posting everything to debitage, but you can click over if you'd rather read my posts on a white background. Here's my first NIL post, minus the self-introduction:

For now, I'll just throw out a question that's been bouncing around in my head for a while. When we talk about affirmative action, the focus is (rightly) usually on the responsibilities of the chooser (the university or employer). But that leaves open the question of what, if anything, is the responsibility of the applicant? The responsibility of an applicant from the underrepresented group is not terribly controversial -- to compete to the best of their ability for one of the openings. A privileged applicant, on the other hand, is in a position to potentially conduct their job or college search differently in order to aid the cause of affirmative action. Is there some way that one can waive one's privilege in how one completes the application? Is there a responsibility to boycott employers or colleges whose affirmative action policies are inadequate? Or should we be compartmentalizing, so that applicant-qua-applicant (as opposed to applicant-qua-voter, for example) has no responsibility for correcting the imbalance in representation of certain social groups? How do we weigh the small benefits that might be obtained from applicant-side affirmative action against the costs of risking unemployment (and of wallowing in privileged person guilt and/or resentment)?

I don't have any answers to these questions, but maybe someone else does.


Speaking of government contributions to causing environmental destruction, it looks like logging in New South Wales violates FMSQA as well:

At a time when there are fears native forest logging is fuelling climate change, the Government is selling native timber from South Coast forests for between $6.90 and $16 a tonne to an Eden woodchip mill owned by Japan's South East Fibre Exports.

... The native timber prices for the 2003-04 year were so low they did not cover Forests NSW's own costs, leading to windfall profits for the mill, said a forestry analyst, Terry Digwood. The figures were revealed following a freedom of information application to Forests NSW.

The Government made a loss of $3.5 million in 2005-06 supplying native pulp logs to the mill, analysis done by Mr Digwood showed.