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Adaptation AND Mitigation

Joel Monka makes the case for focusing our efforts on adapting to climate change, rather than trying to mitigate the change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In brief, his argument is that the kind of negative impacts predicted to come about from climate change -- drought, famine, storm damage, etc -- are not qualitatively different from the kinds of hazards we already face. So we should be working on reducing our vulnerability to those kinds of hazards anyway, which will ultimately protect us from climate change as well.

I don't think you'll find an environmentalist or climate scientist who doesn't think we should be adapting to either already-existing hazards or to their climate-change-caused cousins. The world has already experienced a small degree of human-induced climate change, and the latest science makes clear that we're locked in to a substantial additional amount solely on the basis of the gases we've already emitted. At most, you'll find some who are leery of talking too much about adaptation because they think it will distract from the importance of mitigation, leading people to take Monka's position that adaptation alone is sufficient. I think such people are wrong about the distracting effects of adaptation talk, but right about the insufficiency of an adaptation-only approach.

The first problem with adaptation-only is that adaptedness is not a yes/no proposition. A given society is not "adapted to drought," for example. It's adapted to droughts within a certain range of severity, length, and frequency. So the level of adaptation necessary to deal with today's droughts may not be adequate to deal with the more severe, common, and long droughts that would occur as a result of climate change. Thus mitigation would limit the degree of environmental stress to which we're trying to adapt, making adaptation easier and less costly.

Exacerbating this is the fact that climate change is also not a yes/no proposition. We frequently hear climate scientists predicting things like "a 2-4 degree rise in temperature by 2100." This can create the misleading impression that the climate will go up a few degrees them stop at the higher level. But in fact it will keep going up as long as we're producing additional greenhouse gas emissions* -- perhaps 8 degrees above the present temperature by 2200, 16 degrees by 2400, etc. Given the point made in the previous paragraph, at some point the change will be too much and it will overwhelm our adaptation measures.

Another concern is the impact of climate change on non-humans -- wild animals and ecosystems. It's far easier to adapt human societies to climate change than it is to make similar adaptations for the rest of nature. If a climate-induced drought hits the northeast U.S. and dries up the Hudson, the people of New York City (and their pets and their gardens) can drink from a desalinization plant -- but what are the deer in the Adirondacks going to do? The natural adaptive capacity of animals and ecosystems is already stressed by human impacts. Their ranges and population sizes (and hence genetic diversity) are limited by human encroachment, and the fragmentation of the landscape makes it extremely difficult to adapt by migrating northward. Meanwhile the change is occurring too fast for the evolution of most species to keep up.

The final issue I'll raise is the questionability of proposing a strict tradeoff between mitigation actions and adaptation -- the implied model that there's some pool of money that we're willing to allocate to climate change measures, which must then be divided up among mitigation and adaptation policies. On the one hand, there are policies that do both -- for example, shifting from industrial monocultures to local organic farming is both adaptive (because monocultures are notoriously fragile) and mitigative (because less fossil fuels are used). But even with policies that are clearly located on one side or the other, the tradeoffs are not as stark as they may appear. There's good reason to believe that many adaptation and mitigation policies will be net economic boons, rather than costs. And even when they're costs, the costs may be borne by different actors, making them not fungible between mitigation and adaptation policies -- foregoing emission caps on coal plants does not free up the electric company's money to be spent by the water company in upgrading its system to deal with drought.

The proper response to climate change, then, is to adapt and mitigate.

*There's a possibility that other factors besides deliberate action to curb climate change may limit our emissions. The main candidate here is Peak Oil -- it's reasonable to imagine that by 2100 (or before), we'll be out of feasibly recoverable oil supplies. However, we have hundreds of years' worth of coal in the ground. Aside from climate mitigation, there's little political will to limit exploitation of coal to replace oil (either to generate electricity or for coal-to-liquid schemes). Considering that neither Clinton nor Obama is even willing to take a clear stand against mountaintop removal mining -- the most egregious and deadly practice of the coal industry -- I would predict that the government will end up subsidizing coal expansion in the event of a clear recognition that we've hit peak oil.


Nobody Cares If You're Attracted To Fat Chicks

If we actually managed to tattoo everything to people's foreheads that I found forehead-tattoo-worthy, we'd run out of space pretty quickly. But perhaps we can find a little room (around the temples or something) for this:

I hear from trolls all the time who complain that they don't want to be "forced" to find nasty, ugly fat women attractive--which utterly baffles me, since the last thing I want to do is encourage fat-hating dicks to date fat women. You don't find fat people attractive? Fabulous. Don't date them. I will find a way to pick myself up and move on without your love.

The point is not what characteristics you find attractive. It's that you feel entitled to be publicly judgmental about people who don't meet your standards of attractiveness, to tell them that they're objectively unattractive and have a duty to make themselves more attractive to you. It's not that hard, folks. I find women in glasses to be particularly hot, but yet I've managed to restrain myself from going around and telling people how they'd really look better with some nice frames (or telling them that I'm just very concerned about the potential danger to their health from contact-inserting fingers or surgical lasers).


Praying To Al Gore

Am I the only one who finds this whole "Earth Hour" thing -- where everyone was supposed to turn off their electricity between 8 and 9 tonight -- basically silly? This is more than my usual attitude of "your protest is stupid because it has no immediate concrete results you can point to." I'm too tired right now to put my finger on exactly why, but Earth Hour seems to reinforce the conceptualization of environmentalism as a spiritual practice rather than a movement for socio-political change, a closer cousin to observing Lent or Ramadan than to making fun of Sheriff Joe or taking pictures of people who stare at your disability. The "spiritual practice" trap seems to be an especially big pitfall for environmentalism and animal rights, more so than it is (in my admittedly idiosyncratic and incomplete experience) for other foci of agitation for social change.


Is It More Important That Torture Is Wrong, Or That It's Ineffective?

Batya makes the case* for focusing on "ineffective":

Here's the thing: Torture doesn't work. Not as a means of extracting reliable information. This is known.

Is it wrong that I think this practical question completely invalidates any ethical question on the subject? That I'm not interested in even addressing the moral issue of whether it is ever defensible to hurt people in order to achieve something good or necessary, because I'm convinced that hurting people is not in fact going to achieve it?

I found this statement of the issue interesting, because I almost always hear it the other way around: Torture is clearly morally wrong, so there's no point in debating its effectiveness, because we wouldn't be morally allowed to do it even if it did work. Discussing the effectiveness of torture concedes the pro-torture side's moral claim that torture would be OK if it gets important enough information."

An important consideration here is that the effectiveness-first argument assumes that "extracting reliable information" is the sole goal of torture proponents. Certainly their arguments are structured around the (alleged) information-gathering benefits of torture. But I suspect that important functions and motivations of torture lie elsewhere. I would suggest at least three other purposes that torture is used for: acquiescence, revenge, and entertainment.

By acquiescence, I mean that the torturer's real demand is not "where's the bomb?" but "who's your daddy?" By forcing the torturee to give in, the torturer is establishing his position as top dog, so powerful that he can forcibly extract from others a recognition of his top-dog-ness. In this context, the truthfulness of the information supplied by the torturee is beside the point -- indeed, a compliant lie is positively beneficial, because it shows that the torturer can get others to agree with his worldview. (Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish has a good discussion of how the acquiescence rationale works and how it differs from information-gathering, though he goes too far in placing them in different historical periods.)

Revenge should be pretty straightforward. We torture those who we blame (as individuals or through group guilt) for harming us in some way, building up our damaged sense of self and security by exerting power over someone else. The rhetoric surrounding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay -- "why do you care what happens to them, they're all terrorists" -- strongly suggests that revenge, not information-gathering, is a primary motivation for condoning harsh treatment. And it explains why torture proponents seem unwilling to consider less painful techniques even if they get better information out of the prisoner -- after all, the prisoner is a bad guy, so he deserves pain.

Entertainment is also straightforward. The guards at Abu Ghraib were torturing their prisoners to have a good time. Most humans have a sadistic streak, and so given the opportunity to exercise power over another being -- particularly one they can easily de-sentientize** -- they'll be tempted to exercise it just for the sake of exercising it.

The thing about acquiescence, revenge, and entertainment is that torture is in fact an effective way to pursue them. The very lies that foil attempts to extract truthful information are just what acquiescence-motivated torturers are looking for. And for torture to provide revenge or entertainment, all the prisoner has to do is feel pain.

Few people will admit (even to themselves) to having acquiescence, revenge, or entertainment motivations in supporting torture, so they'll hide behind information-gathering as the rationale for torture. But if there are those additional motivations, then a factual rebuttal of the information-gathering effectiveness of torture will fail to change their mind.

*I'm "acsumama" in her comment section.

**The vegan equivalent of "de-humanize."


Pat Buchanan Is Wrong About Africa, Too

There have been a lot of responses (e.g. here) to Pat Buchanan's recent claim that black Americans should be thanking white Americans for slavery, because it meant that they got to live here in America where the standard of living is better than in Africa.

The key points of the rebuttals are: 1) slavery was really, really bad, 2) post-emancipation racism was -- and continues to be -- pretty bad too, and 3) the idea that blacks are currently recieving some sort of net subsidy from whites is detached from reality. These are all good points. However, they are America-centric -- that is, they focus on rebutting Buchanan's argument by challenging his claims about the conditions of black life in America. But I think the appeal of his way of thinking comes not just from a "lucky duckies" view of black American life, but on the contrast between the quality of life of black Americans and black Africans. The implied question is, "if life in America is so rotten, why don't I see you immigrating back to Africa?" (I'll take as given here the simplification that the standard of living of the average black African is worse than that of the average black American, though the reality is far more complex.)

Buchanan's views of Africa can be challenged just as much as his views of America. The punchline is: If the ancestors of black Americans hadn't been carted away by white slave traders, Africa would be a much nicer place to live.

Buchanan's contrast between American and African standards of living assumes an endogenous developmental model. That is, regardless of what whites did to blacks, America was always going to be one of the richest countries and Africa home to many of the poorest. Slavery just shuffled some people (and their descendants) from one location to a (eventually) better one.

The endogenous model is false. Nations' economic makeup is as much a product of interaction with other nations as it is internal developmental processes. That is, economic development is not a 10,000 m race, in which each runner chugs along in his or her own lane. It's more like roller derby, in which players can grab each other and throw elbows and variously impede each other's progress. Africa lags behind because white-ruled nations held it back. Europe directly and brutally colonized Africa just at the moment that capitalism was taking off around the north Atlantic, forcibly integrating Africa into the world economy as a subordinate player. Even after official independence was achieved in the mid-20th century, white-majority-nation corporations used their power to set up shop in Africa in ways that prioritized benefits to American and European stockholders over benefits to Africans.

But the point is made most clearly if we push back to just before the era of official European colonialism in Africa, to the time of the slave trade -- Pat Buchanan's inadvertantly humanitarian rescue operation. The slave trade didn't just remove some black people from nations that whites would later visit economic ruin upon. The very slave trade that brought blacks to eventually-prosperous America also undermined Africa's chances at prosperity. The demographic shift alone greatly upset African economic systems, spiriting away masses of workers and consumers who were not yet interchangeable cogs. The influx of new goods from the slave trade distorted and imbalanced economic incentives. And the demands and threats made by slave traders skewed Africans' abilities to maintain their own political system. The end result was to make America richer and Africa poorer.

This is not to say that Africans bear no responsibility for the condition of their continent. But it is to say that the conditions that made the perfidy of various African strongmen and swindlers possible and so damaging were, to a great degree, the fault of Europeans and white Americans. So the contemporary African poverty that Buchanan uses as his foil is a long-term ripple effect of the very slave trade that he thinks rescued black Americans.


Of Beards And Pubes

The Angry Black Woman wants to start a conversation about how women deal with "the notion that beautiful = hairless below the eyebrows." My initial reaction is that this notion is a silly one that should be done away with* -- after all, I don't remove the hair from anything below my neck, so why should other people have to? But then I realized that there is hair between the eyebrows and the neck, and I do shave that regularly.

I'm far from having a comprehensive theory of body hair. But introducing beards into the equation does shed some different light on our culture's** views of it. One unfortunate thing it does -- and the reason I came back here to debitage rather than post this at ABW's -- is to tempt us to draw a false equivalence between the expectation of shaven cheeks on men and of shaven everything on women. A more positive thing it does is to prompt me to be a bit more understanding of the outlook of women who do opt to shave more than my (or ABW's) abstract feminist principles say they should have to. Specifically, I'm reminded of how certain aspects of culture, such as preferences about body hair, can become so integrated into us that the simple model of real internal desires thwarted by outside pressures becomes inapplicable -- after all, I don't feel forced against my will to shave, but neither can I easily claim my preference for a smooth chin is obviously naive and extra-cultural.

The most interesting thing that occurred to me is the incongruity encountered when trying to understand male shaving in terms of the most common explanation offered for female shaving -- that women are expected to shave so as to satisfy the patriarchal fetish for youth by appearing pre-pubescent. I've always been skeptical that this is the full explanation (after all, women are also expected to have large, clearly post-pubescent, breasts). And it collapses entirely in the case of male shaving, since I don't think our culture has a desire for men to look more like boys.

The beard case makes me think another important strain is the idea that hair below the eyebrows (hair above the eyebrows is an interesting exception that I'm not sure what to make of) represents dirtiness and unruliness. Think about who stereotypically has a beard -- hippies, homeless men, terrorists. While neatly-groomed beards are not verboten the way hairy armpits on women are (and indeed, may even connote fatherly warmth a la Santa Claus), a smooth chin communicates a sort of cleanliness and efficiency (and so it's perhaps no wonder that the U.S. hasn't had a president with facial hair since Taft***). Stephen R. Donaldson makes good use of this concept in his Thomas Covenant novels, as the titular character's shaving habits parallel his mental health. Facial hair connotes uncleanliness and lack of self-control -- as well as virility (think Ron Jeremy's moustache) which, while desirable, is also dangerous and improper to show off too explicitly. Because of its plasticity, its ability to be styled in many ways, hair also connotes individuality (distinct from individualism), which is another form of unruliness.

This theory may also explain the differing shaving expectations placed on women vs. men, beyond the fact that patriarchy oppresses women more. Men shave their public parts (their face), but can let the private ones (below the neck) go (though note that men who are extremely hairy are often looked down on if the absence or style of their shirt makes it too visible). Women, on the other hand, don't have a private sphere to the same degree -- their whole body is public (read: men's) property, and so the whole thing must be kept clean and hairless.

The root cause, then, is our old friend the mind-body dualism. Hair removal is pushed by our culture as a way of subduing physicality. So if you hate shaving, blame Descartes as much or more than Humbert Humbert.

*I should point out that opposing the idea that people should be expected to do something is not equivalent to thinking poorly of those who do it.

**By "our culture" I mean "the culture I was raised in and continue to operate in," however narrowly that may need to be defined for whatever point I'm making.

***Nor have we had a serious contender in my lifetime aside from Al Sharpton. On the other hand, two candidates -- Al Gore and Bill Richardson -- have grown facial hair after leaving the race and its intense spotlight, and in Gore's case his beard was explicitly treated (along with his weight) as a marker of "letting himself go" in the aftermath of his loss and "getting it together" when he shaved and lost weight to make An Inconvenient Truth. In Richardson's case, I recall a number of people saying the beard made him look more Latino -- which, in combination with the (failed and mustachioed) Sharpton vs. (successful and shaven) Obama contrast, could be a starting point for an interesting discussion of how race intersects with body hair if I knew enough to have anything intelligent to say on the subject.

A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

While I admit to being a fan of the "mocking Sheriff Joe and his cronies" in general, I think this post (via Man Eegee) is destined to be a classic in the genre. In brief, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez went over to some Minutemen who were attending a Sheriff Joe Spectacular and demanded to see their papers, then criticized their command of the English language.


Voices from Detention

I write a lot about the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention system. But I've never been detained myself (nor have I even gone in past the parking lot of a detention center). Everything you're reading here is filtered second-hand via my wife and her co-workers. More than perhaps any other oppressed group, detainees have trouble getting their voices heard, since in a prison where even newspapers are contraband, they're hardly going to be starting up blogs. So it's good to get the chance to read a detainee's own words, from a letter to his lawyer (the lawyer, Raha Jorjani, is a friend of mine and former coworker of my wife). The post doesn't say exactly what the legal grounds of his deportation and unsuccessful defense were, but I can safely say there's no plausible circumstances I can think of in which deporting a 26-year-old who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 9 months could qualify as just.

In other detention-related news, an Arizona bill to increase transparency at private prisons, many of which hold immigration detainees, has died, in large part (it seems) because towns like Florence and Eloy have become economically dependent on them.

Kate Beaton teaches us about sexism


Illegal, Unauthorized, or Undocumented?

Ampersand has decided to ban the term "illegals" from his blog, and to frown upon the term "illegal immigrant." He notes that his preferred alternative is "unauthorized migrant," but in the spirit of calling people what they want to be called, he will defer to the emerging consensus around "undocumented immigrant."

While I agree with the call-people-what-they-want-to-be-called principle, I think there's a good substantive case that progressives should favor "undocumented" over "unauthorized." "Unauthorized" takes the harshly judgmental sting out of "illegal." But it still puts the focus on the idea that they're doing something wrong. "Undocumented," however, puts the focus on the condition that makes them vulnerable to various forms of hardship and exploitation. I think progressives who want to be allies of the people in question should want to foreground the latter.

In other immigration-related news, yesterday my wife pointed out an inaccuracy in my post about a study showing that undocumented immigrants had the same crime rate as citizens. The study compared the percent of Maricopa County's population that's estimated to be undocumented to the percent of people booked by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office who are subject to ICE holds. But it's not just undocumented people who are subject to ICE holds -- people with visas or green cards or other forms of status may also be turned over to ICE if their crime makes them potentially deportable. So undocumented people appear to be arrested disproportionately *less* often than citizens.


More On White People's Ethnicities

Lynn Gazis-Sax has a nice post up about being "white ethnic" that is complementary to my post on the subject.


The Trouble With T-Visas

Holly at feministe did an interesting interview with Sienna Baskin from New York's Sex Workers Project. She says:

... victims of trafficking are still seen as prostitutes by the law. So they are arrested multiple times, treated like shit while in custody, threatened with deportation (prostitution is a deportable offense) and sent right back out—with another conviction on their record—into the custody of their trafficker. So that doesn’t work too well for them.

Then they—our clients—escape somehow. And they find us, and we start helping them get immigration status and counseling and other services. However, the only status they are usually eligible for is a T-visa, which requires that they cooperate with the police against their trafficker, which is a huge burden. They’re terrified of the police and of their trafficker, all for very good reasons. So many of them don't end up in the T-visa program either.

The other hitch with T-visas -- and S-visas, which are for people in similar situations with respect to some other crimes -- is that in order for the visa applicant to cooperate with the police investigation, there has to be a police investigation to cooperate with. If the police decide not to pursue your abuser, or decide that they don't need or want your help in their work, you're out of luck. The law seems primarily set up to help the police avoid losing useful witnesses, not to help victims.



OK. I think I'm done reformatting the main page for now, pending information from Blogger help about how to reformat the labels line (which was the original point of trying to alter my layout ...). If anyone sees anything funny, let me know.

I switched over to Blogger's comments and trackback, so hopefully Haloscan won't slow the loading of the page anymore. The downside is that all previous comments have been lost. If I'm feeling ambitious, I might to try to rescue them out of my Haloscan account and re-post them to blogger.


Fear of Change

This site will look a little funny for a while, as I'm trying to revamp my template.



My Ethnicity Is Mid-Atlantic White American

Maria Brumm makes a good point about the tendency for white Americans to treat "ethnicity" as meaning "where my ancestors were living in 1492":

Now, so far in the responses to Alice's prompt [for white people to address the fact that they have an ethnicity], and in other situations where this sort of thing comes up in conversation, I have noticed a tendency for white Americans to talk an awful lot about their ancestors. Some of them also talk about their multicultural childhood neighborhoods. But even though a majority of my ancestors came from Germany, and I can sort of mumble along to the Schnitzelbank Song, I am not German. Neither is my grandmother, despite the fact that that is her first language, or the rest of my family, despite the kitschy signs that proudly announce "You can always tell a German, but you can't tell 'em much!" to the users of our various spare bathrooms.

Having ancestors who immigrated from Northern Europe means that I saw my own genealogy reflected in the main narrative thread of the history textbook, while others got the "diversity boxes". There is absolutely no ducking the fact that my ancestry has granted me full membership in the institution of white privilege, but quite a lot has happened in my family since those cholera-ridden steerage-class Atlantic crossings. If I use stories about Germany or Scandinavia to give myself some culture, I'm not so much critiquing the way the cultural construction of whiteness has separated me from my heritage as I am perpetuating the idea that the North European-American whitebread mishmash culture I've got either doesn't exist, or isn't "ethnic".

I fall into much the same boat* as Brumm. My ethnicity -- in the sense of the cultural complex that I was raised to participate in and find meaningful -- is white American (of the mid-Atlantic rather than Midwestern variety**). Though a majority of my ancestors came from Sweden, the additional information you'd gain from me describing myself as specifically "Swedish" is mostly either wrong (I've never even seen lutefisk) or trivial (we always had a blue bird ornament on our Christmas tree). My three Swedish-descended grandparents could usefully be described as Swedish-American, but the specifically Swedish aspects are rather attenuated by the time they get to me, such that my cultural roots run as much back to England, Scotland, France, and Germany as they do to Sweden with my genetic roots.

This is not to deny that understanding where your ancestors are from and how they got to you isn't relevant. It's rather to point out that the cultural context into which their peregrinations and struggles thrust you is in fact a cultural context in just the same way as the one they started out from at whatever time you choose to treat as the beginning of your history.

*Pun unintentionally made but intentionally left in.

**Which I think mostly means that I grew up saying "soda" and "casserole" rather than "pop" and "hotdish."


Environmental Justice WRT Class And Race

This article makes some good points about the classism-dressed-up-as-anti-racism of many liberals' attitudes toward white rural people. But at times it gets a little too caught up in its own (unoriginal, but not therefore wrong) thesis about the need for coalition-building with the despised "rednecks." For example, the author criticizes the tendency of prevailing narratives of the environmental justice movement to focus on racial inequities over economic ones:

The environmental justice movement set out in part to rectify that. The founding notion was to address the way that environmental hazards—refineries, incinerators, toxic dumps—are often sited in poor communities and communities of color. But class and thereby poor white people very quickly vanished from the formula. Toxic dumping in a rural North Carolina African-American community is said to have launched the environmental justice movement in 1982, but the prototypical environmental injustice had been exposed a few years earlier, in the mostly white community at Love Canal in western New York. It wasn't an anomaly either. The 1972 Buffalo Creek flood occurred when a coal-slurry impoundment dam on a mountaintop in WestVirginia burst and killed 125, left 4,000 homeless, destroyed many small communities, and devastated the survivors—almost all of whom were white. And modern-day coal mining continues to ravage poor, mostly white regions of the South in what environmental journalist Antrim Caskey calls "the government-sanctioned bombing of Appalachia." Caskey describes how "coal companies turn communities against each other by telling their employees that the environmentalists want to take away their jobs."

Let's take the larger point about privileging race over class as given, though I find it hard to see environmentalists as ignoring Love Canal and Appalachian mountaintop-removal coal mining. There's more to the story than liberals' disdain for rednecks. One important aspect of the story is the efforts by people opposed to the environmental justice movement to push class as an alternative, and exonerating, explanation. Overt defenses of racism in the US are gauche, so it's tough to argue that there's nothing wrong with putting all the toxic sites in communities of color. However, the myth of the free market sorting the deserving from the lazy is still powerful. So opponents of the environmental justice movement tried to push the idea that the observed inequalities were all, at root, class-based -- that is, people of color live near toxic sites because they are poor, not because there's any specifically racial element to the siting. Examples like Love Canal and Appalachia are directly used to prove that environmental inequality is not environmental injustice. In this context, it's no wonder that people concerned with environmental justice spend a lot of time focusing on the fact that race is indeed a factor independent of class.

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Good Idea/Bad Idea, Wildfire Edition

Good idea: Having a special separate fund to cover catastrophic firefighting costs. This would reduce cannibalization of other Forest Service programs and the need to go begging to Congress after bad fire seasons. Having a reliable pool of money would also encourage and enable the Forest Service to approach firefighting with a longer view, rather than "OMG there's a fire burning right now!"

Bad idea: Enforcing immigration laws and cultural assimilation during a wildfire crisis response. You would think that in San-freaking-Diego they would be able to get all warnings and emergency communications at least in Spanish as well as English*, even if other languages are tougher to get together. And the last thing you want to do when there's a natural disaster on is have people afraid to seek aid because they fear they might be hassled about their immigration status.

Here's the most ridiculous moment in the article:

San Diego police do not typically ask individuals for their immigration status, but when someone is suspected of a crime, "if they are asked for identification and they can't provide what would prove them to be in this country legally, the existing policy allows us to go ahead and call" U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Sainz said.

Let's think of some other reasons that someone might not have their papers on them -- perhaps because they're fleeing for their lives from a wildfire?

*Given some of the troglodytes in the comment section on the original article, my cranky side is tempted to recommend a policy of issuing the warnings only in Spanish.

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All of the Gary Gygax obits have led me to conclude that I'm the only person on the whole internets that has never played D&D.


Species Favoritism

In the comments to my previous post, Joel Monka raises a different sort of justification for speciesism. I made a pretty flip response in the comments, but I decided I ought to pull it out onto the main blog to deal with it at more length. Monka said:

What about speciesism that is not concerned with "moral" worth? I do not consider mankind to be morally superior to other species- but it is MY species, and I will favor it, just as I favor MY wife over other women, or MY family.

I'm not entirely certain what he means by describing this argument -- I'll call it the "favoritism argument" -- as not being "moral." It could be that he thinks favoritism is an irresistable instict that people will follow regardless of moral exhortations -- which I think is empirically false. It could be that he is asserting that in some cases he will simply insist on disregarding the demands of morality -- which takes us deep into "why should I be moral" territory and nihilism. Or, most interestingly from a blog-about-it perspective (and most likely) he means that it is not a moral consideration in the narrow sense by which "morality" refers specifically to universalistic, relatively context-insensitive rules, which are being balanced against particularistic claims. I would call such claims moral as well, but that's just a semantic dispute. The interesting thing here is the substance -- are there particularlistic claims that humans, by being of the same species as the actor, have that override universalistic duties to other species?

Monka provides an example in which the importance of particularistic claims seems obvious -- he will favor "MY wife" over other women. In my response, I raised an example in which I think we'd agree the particularlistic claims do not apply -- favoring people of "MY race" over people of other races. The question, then, is where "MY species" lies on the spectrum defined by those two endpoints.

An important consideration to note is the difficulty of defining which category is relevant in such invocations of favoritism. Take, for example, making a choice between a cow raised on a farm down the street here in Arizona, and a human in New York who wants to eat it. I could favor the human, who is a member of "MY species." But I could also show favoritism to residents of "MY state," regardless of species, and discount beings living far away. After all, while the New York human and I have similar DNA, the Arizonan cow and I have lives that are entangled -- through sharing a local ecosystem -- that in some ways is more similar to the type of closeness by which I would claim justification for favoring "MY wife." One reason that showing favoritism toward "MY wife" seems straightfoward is that the MY-ness of one's spouse is something that's deliberately institutionalized -- we have a whole set of practices by which we pick out a person and commit ourselves to showing favoritism toward them.

The reason that favoritism is often relevant and justified is that there are certain goods that can only be secured through allowing favoritism. Sometimes this is for pragmatic reasons -- for example, I would be justified in working to improve the civic culture of Casa Grande rather than of some other city that may objectively need the help more, because being a resident of Casa Grande gives me access to information and connections and saves on resources as compared to trying to help out another city, whose residents would on the same grounds be justified in helping out their city in preference to Casa Grande. Other times it's because showing favoritism intrinsically produces certain goods. In the spouse example, the kind of closeness and intimacy that makes marriage worthwhile can only be obtained by singling out a small number of other people (most commonly just one) to engage in favoritism with. On the other hand, the benefits produced by favoritism toward one's own race are either intrinsically illegitimate, outweighed by the disbenefits, or quite capable of being shared with all races without being diminished or undermined.

So the question then becomes, are there those sorts of favoritism-dependent goods in the case of speciesism? I don't think there are, but perhaps someone else has an argument for why it's intrinsically good to favor other beings that have a specific degree of genetic similarity.

Another consideration is that particularistic justifications are not absolute. I can favor my wife by buying her diamond earrings* while not buying earrings for any other women. I cannot, however, murder another woman and take her earrings to give to my wife. The justification for favoritism is not strong enough to override the universalistic prohibition on murder. So in the case of favoritism-based speciesism, we would need to establish not just that there is a particular good that can and should only be gained through showing species favoritism, but we would also need to assess that favoritism's strength against universalistic claims of animal rights. It may be that it's OK for humans to show favoritism to other humans if, say, you're in an overloaded lifeboat and have to throw either a human or a dog overboard, but not OK to favor humans if those humans just have a craving for a steak.

*Or I could if she a) wore jewelry often and b) had her ears pierced.



Speciesism Hurts Humans Too

Animal rights arguments typically frame themselves as challenges to the prejudice of speciesism -- the improper use of species membership as a marker of moral worth, parallel to sexism, racism, etc. Attempts to justify speciesism tend to be circular or question-begging appeals to the very speciesist intuitions that animal rights arguments are meant to challenge (the equivalent of showing an atheist 2 Timothy 3:16 to prove that the Bible is true).

It's generally accepted that speciesism benefits humans -- it gives us the psychological benefit of being able to feel exalted above other beings, as well as the physical benefits that come from exploiting animals for various purposes, particularly food. What's more, speciesism can specifically benefit those humans whose status within humanity is lower. People of color, women, disabled people, etc. can all demand an end to their oppression by pointing to the fact that they are just as much Homo sapiens as whites, men, and non-disabled people.

But it seems to me that speciesism hurts at least some humans, as well. (I should caution here that I'm not positing "speciesism hurts humans too" as a primary reason to oppose it, any more than "patriarchy hurts men too" is a primary reason to oppose sexism -- indeed, to treat oppression's negative effects on the oppressor as particularly important seems to reproduce that oppression by continuing to make the oppressor's interests and perspective central. This conclusion is mitigated somewhat when the hurt hits different members of the oppressor group in different ways, because then it has as one effect relieving sub-oppressions within the larger oppressor group. So we can contrast the argument that sexism hurts all men by reducing their ability to love (less important) with the argument that sexism hurts men because effeminate men are mistreated (more important, although still not as important as the greater level of mistreatment that sexism causes toward women).)

In order to uphold a moral hierarchy between species, speciesism must homogenize within species. Rather than thinking in terms of individual creatures, speciesism tells us to treat each individual in accordance with the archetype for that species. Thus the "marginal cases" of individuals that deviate from the species norm, on which so many animal rights arguments rest, are ruled morally irrelevant.

Setting up this single archetype of humanness is detrimental to those humans who do not, or do not want to, fit it. They are simultaneously assured of their rights and reminded that they only get them by proxy since they are not individually deserving of them.

This homogenizing aspect of speciesism can persist even when animal rights are granted. For example, Martha Nussbaum advocates greater rights for animals than Western society allows currently. But she also defends speciesism. She asks us to imagine a person with a case of Down's syndrome whose severity places that person's mental functioning on the same level as that of an adult chimpanzee*. She says the human's case is tragic in a way that the chimp's is not, because the human is deprived by the disease of the higher functionings that normal humans have, whereas the chimp has the normal functionings that you would expect from a chimp. The human is thus entitled to interventions that would improve their functioning (such as intensive therapy and classes), whereas the chimp is not.

Nussbaum's conclusion seems wrong to me. In choosing a person with Down's syndrome as her example (as opposed to, say, a person who sustained brain damage in a car crash), she actually weakened her argument. Down's syndrome is a genetic condition, which the person has had since conception. Being a normal human or a normal chimpanzee are, likewise, genetic conditions. So it's unclear how you would support, in a non-question-begging way, the idea that Down's syndrome is a tragic deviation whereas chimp-ness is normal. Indeed, given the huge population of humans as compared to apes, one could say that chimpanzees are tragic deviations from the norm for members of Family Hominidae.

Speciesism is often analogized to racism, but I think an instructive parallel can be drawn with sex. In most cases, having either male or female physical sex characteristics is not tragic, and no-one would think of wanting to change those characteristics. But in some cases -- both male and female -- those sex characteristics are tragic and there is consequently a reason to change them. I'm talking, of course, about the difference between cissexual and transexual people. The point to note here is that the difference between trans and cis is a subject-centered one made by the person themselves ("I feel comfortable/uncomfortable with the sex organs my body has"), not an objective one based on whether their physical condition is deviant or normal for their category.

To take the trans/cis idea back to the Down's syndrome human versus normal chimp scenario, we have to imagine four cases. A person with Down's syndrome who sees themselves as deviant and wants to be normal is tragic, just as Nussbaum says. But imagine if we were dealing with a person with Down's syndrome who is quite happy with their condition, and has found a form of flourishing consistent with it, and would not want to be made normal. What sense would it make to insist to this person that they are deviant and tragic? On the other side, I would assume most chimpanzees don't aspire to normal-human-ness, and thus having a chimp brain is not tragic for them. But we can imagine a creature who is some sort of "chimp-to-human transspeciesist," saddled with a chimp's brain but wanting to be a normal human**. Such a case would be tragic despite the "normalness" of this creature's brain, and I think we would have a prima facie reason to fulfil the desire to be human if it were possible.

* I have no idea whether this would be a normal, severe, or mild case of Down's syndrome, but my future references in the post to Down's syndrome are meant to apply to this particular chimpanzee-type-functioning level of the condition.

** Perhaps because they were raised in a human home, and thus identify with their human foster parents. I seem to recall reading some things that suggest that apes that have been taught language sometimes prefer the company of humans to that of other apes. This raises some potentially interesting ethical issues about pets that "think they're people."



Philosophically Unitarian Vs. Institutionally Unitarian

The recent Pew survey on Americans' religious views estimated there were about 677,000 adult UUs in the country, whereas the official membership rolls only contain 157,515 adult members. This prompted some discussion about who these people are who identify as UU to a survey-taker, but aren't part of a UU church. My theory is that a significant number of those people can be accounted for by the fact that "what religion are you?" is both a philosophical question about what you believe as well as an institutional question about what groups you're involved with. As I said in the comments to Philocrites' post:

I don't know how typical I am of the elusive identify-as-UU-but-don't-join-a-congregation demographic, but for what it's worth, here's my experience:

I took to identifying as UU many years ago for philosophical reasons, long before I ever set foot in a UU church. My theological views had liberalized out of the orbit of Lutheranism, but I didn't want to reject religion. So UU was (due to its breadth) a useful label for what I believed even though it didn't describe what I (being still a member of a Protestant church) did. I gather from the blogs that institutionally-affiliated UUs are highly self-conscious about their inclusiveness/welcomingness/etc, which is great, but don't let it obscure the fact that there are some of us who formed out here in Enrique's metaphorical Kupier belt*. I've encountered a number of people over the years who don't have much of a religious identity on a day-to-day basis, but have settled on "UU" as an answer when someone asks them about their religion because it's a pro-religion answer without committing them to the doctrine of any particular church or sounding too new-agey (as "spiritual but not religious" would).

That said, I would like to join a congregation, but I'm not about to drive an hour to the nearest one (in Chandler, AZ) every Sunday. I imagine a significant part of the issue is that UU churches are pretty spotty over much of the country, but potential converts like myself pop up everywhere.

*Commenter Enrique had analogized the question about UUs to astronomers' debates over whether objects in the Kupier belt had formed out there or had formed closer to the sun but got flung out due to the gravity of the other planets.