Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ottawa SheForHe: Four Women Discuss Men and Boys' Issues

Real-life gender privilege, heard on a playground and related by panelist Meg Warren: "I can punch you, and you can't punch me back!"

Something that particularly interested me as someone who's had personal experience with a cultic group was her observation, as someone who's experienced both psychological and physical domestic abuse herself, that many women exert subtle, incremental control over their male partners in a way that wouldn't be tolerated if a man tried to do it to a woman. This gradual process of entrapment sounds remarkably like the brainwashing of a high-control group.

One criticism: here, as in many other egalitarian/men's rights forums, I hear some participants describe what they're up against as "cultural Marxism." This is the sheerest nonsense and only tells me that these people know nothing about Marxism. Radical feminism is based on a kind of ahistorical, idealist sociology that has nothing in common with Marxist dialectical materialism. In terms of program, they advocate treating people as representatives of a group assumed to have a uniform experience, whereas the Marxist dictum, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need," starts from the understanding that everyone is an individual. I hope that more Marxists will get involved in groups like this not only on the merits of their issues, but to educate the activists in a better understanding of what Marxism is; the current faulty usage is doubtless putting off some people on the left who would otherwise be open to the information they're discussing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh4XP_KeZ2E&t=1203s

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Gender as Moloch?

Recently, my Less Wrong meetup group (affiliated with the "community blog dedicated to cultivating the arts of human rationality") used as a discussion prompt Scott Alexander's "Meditations on Moloch." That essay uses a section of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" -- in which the demon Moloch serves as a personification of industrial capitalism -- as the takeoff point for a consideration of  how competition between agents to maximize some single value results in the inevitable ultimate sacrifice of all other values.

It occurs to me now that the same kind of analysis might be applied to the social system of gender. Notwithstanding variation between cultures, a similar sexual division of labor can be seen in all human societies, and many before me have cogently argued that this division reflects the interest, over evolutionary time, of each community in maximizing its reproductive fitness by putting priority on protecting females as the limiting factor of reproduction, and on a willingness to sacrifice the relatively overabundant males to this end.

This can be seen as an example of Scott Alexander's generalization of Moloch: the end result of the competition for communal reproductive fitness is, averaged over all societies, a wash with respect to their relative position, but a reduction of their absolute well-being in the sense that everyone's options are limited by the gender role to which they're assigned based on their sex.

One weakness I see in Alexander's essay is that he doesn't reckon with the way evolutionary competition has favored the growth of cooperation; the rise of eukaryotes, then multicellular organisms, then ever-higher levels of social organization as ways one aggregate of replicators (genes/memes) gains an advantage over others. In fact the beginning of consciousness, whereby our ancestors transitioned from experiencing mere pain, to suffering, is what makes it possible for us to conceive and coordinate strategies to overcome it, ultimately by evolving a unitary consciousness transcending internecine competition, as previously occurred on lower biological levels.

In the same way, we can imagine that the conscious awareness we are now starting to develop, of gender as a system that developed unconsciously in conditions of intercommunal competition, will allow us to collectively decide to transcend it through a cooperative project to that end -- that is, if we consciously decide to do so. I hope this essay may serve as part of that process.

A friend to whom I sent the above objected that sex roles have been around for a long time and so we should expect to have genetically adapted to them. I replied as follows:

I'm not claiming there's no organic basis for sex differences in behavior. But since memes can evolve much faster than genes -- and especially since we've been through a bottleneck or two -- I posit that we've developed socially/legally enforced norms that are often more extreme and rigid than is comfortable for many individuals. Now that we're in a period of relative abundance and safety, and especially with the much freer and more abundant flow of information apprising people of the existence of more than one way of life, people acquire growing consciousness of the ways gender roles act as fetters on their individual aspirations, and start acting individually and collectively to break out of those fetters. I think that's precisely why we now see men's and women's rights movements.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The "ATO Incident" Revisited

At a candidates' forum in Fishtown last night, I met Councilwoman Helen Gym, whose campaign I had supported. I expressed my appreciation for her role in initiating the protests at the Philadelphia airport, but also my disagreement with the fact that one of her criticisms of Betsy DeVos was for supporting FIRE's advocacy for due process in university adjudication of sexual assault allegations. She cited former Penn President Sheldon Hackney's conduct in a case while she was there as an example of why changes in procedure had been necessary. Here's the rejoinder that I've posted to her Facebook page:


In our conversation yesterday at the Fishtown candidates' forum, you cited the so-called "ATO incident" at Penn as an example of what motivated policies like the "Dear Colleague letter," which has skewed adjudication in campus sexual assault cases against the accused. You claimed that President Hackney "sided with" the alleged rapists in that case.

Well, I was an undergrad at the time and I clearly remember that claim's being made. I wrote a letter to the Daily Pennsylvanian explaining why it was nonsense: Hackney didn't ask the accused to his mansion; they came uninvited, and all he did was make himself accessible. And all he told them was that he would assure they'd be treated fairly. There's no reason to think he'd have done any differently if their accuser had shown up at his doorstep.

And, by the way, he didn't even keep his promise: they were punished despite the faculty adjudicator's NOT finding them guilty of rape, simply based on his paternalistic judgment that "multiple seriatim sexual intercourse" wasn't "appropriate conduct" -- applying the concept of in loco parentis quite literally by treating those involved, including the accuser, like children who couldn't decide for themselves what sexual activities they wanted to engage in.

What the "ATO incident" actually shows is that many universities were running roughshod over due process rights even back then [in 1983]; the "Dear Colleague letter" has only made it worse.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Disability Rights Protest Requested

My friend Deborah Kosak has been facing repeated denial of service to her as a disabled person by SEPTA at their Swarthmore regional rail station. It's supposed to be a handicap-accessible stop, yet trains persistently fail to stop where a person can board from the handicap platform -- even, in the most recent case, when she was accompanied by a reporter. She's been on WPEB's Jasper Jones show twice and hopes people and groups concerned about disability rights will organize a protest at the Swarthmore station.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ask Secretary DeVos to Restore Due Process Protections for College Students

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) is asking its supporters to urge the new Secretary of Education to rescind the "Dear Colleague letter" issued in 2011 by her predecessor. I've already written her and I hope that you'll join me.



Hello,

Since the release of the infamous Dear Colleague Letter in 2011, the federal government, through the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has eliminated procedural protections. Through their guidance letters, OCR has made the campus disciplinary process unreliable, thereby undermining the seriousness of sexual assault allegations on our college campuses.
Now, with a new Secretary of Education, we have a chance to drain the swamp at the OCR and restore due process and fairness to campus procedures. This week, we are asking you to reach out to Secretary DeVos and urge her to make meaningful changes at the OCR. Some suggested requests:
  • Allow students to have active attorneys during their hearings;
  • Use justice centered investigations;
  • Raise the standard of proof to "clear and convincing"
You can contact the Secretary at her direct email:
Betsy.Devos@ed.govor
You can call the Department of Education at: 
1-800-872-5327
Thank you for your continued support,
Jonathon P Andrews
Project Coordinator
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE)


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Real Integrity Looks Like

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student-run newspaper, ran an editorial today expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that one person chosen for an upcoming panel, a patient ambassador named Lori Alf, has been accused of ethnic discrimination. I submitted this comment:


To the editor:

The DP's opinion board writes, "We merely wish to attend a university which institutionally and consistently places accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience." But they have a strange way of showing it.

The fact is, it would be more expedient for Penn Medicine to have chosen someone other than Lori Alf as an ambassador and as a panelist. Obviously it makes things easier if you don't have to be distracted by questions about a representative who has had allegations leveled against her. It's easier to protect one's reputation that way.  Easier, more expedient -- but wrong.

The presumption of innocence isn't just a legal principle, but a moral one. Just as the father of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, argued that unpopular opinion, no matter how odious some may find it, must be free not only from legal, but also social and economic sanction -- lest an unpopular truth be suppressed, and society left unable to benefit from knowing it -- so, likewise, it's not enough that the legal system doesn't penalize someone until they've been proven guilty of a crime. It's also necessary that social penalties not be imposed until guilt is proven. Otherwise, anyone with an ax to grind has an incentive to make false allegations against another, since they could expect this to hurt the person even if they're eventually found to be false.

Such perverse incentives are to be avoided wherever possible. And it's easy to do so: just establish as policy that unproven allegations will not be a consideration in assigning any benefit, honor, etc. Only in this way are those with malicious intent denied any payoff for defaming others. And only through such a policy can Penn consistently place accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Paternal Responsibility and Class Privilege

In one of her recent videos presenting her unique and thought-provoking ideas on where we are in history, Alison Tieman made one statement I thought was seriously off, which provided a good occasion for putting down some thoughts I'd had for a while about the relation between gender and class. I won't claim they're original -- to a large extent they're probably just a rewording of things I've read in Marxist texts. But that was long enough ago that I no longer remember with certainty which texts they were. Anyway, here's what I posted in the comments under the video:

Your characterization of the "left" position -- as completely socializing the support of women -- is inaccurate. The mainstream left combines the worst of both: men are denied access to their children while still having to pay for them. That's exactly what's brought so many men into the MHRM [men's human rights movement]. The radical., i.e., fringe left -- revolutionary socialists -- is for completely socializing the support of children. But that's not taking from men as a group except insofar as we less often elect to take personal responsibility for them -- in which case it's our own free choice.

The bourgeois-feminist position isn't "inconsistent" or "halfway" -- it corresponds perfectly to the class standpoint it reflects. Capitalists may no longer see any need for intact heterosexual families in the working class, but they absolutely won't give up on the principle of paternal responsibility. To do so -- especially given that women earn less on average on account of taking time out of the paid labor force to raise children -- would by default shift the discourse toward the idea of collective responsibility for the young through the political process, where democracy would create pressures for progressive taxation to pay for it in an equitable fashion. By contrast, as long as children remain their parents' private responsibility, capitalists must pay for workers' children only to the extent they're compelled to through the private bargaining process with mostly unorganized individual employees. Hence, even the most liberal bourgeois ideologues will fiercely resist any abandonment of the concept of paternal responsibility -- to permit that would threaten the very foundations of hereditary class privilege.

Good to see you acknowledging the classical Marxist formula -- "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" -- as individualizing and nondiscriminatory. It's what some of us still believe in. And for those who don't know, it's worth pointing out that the author of the most brilliant punking of postmodernism ever, Alan Sokal, is neither conservative nor libertarian, but rather a self-described "old-fashioned rational leftist," a phrase I loved as soon as heard it.