Friday, March 31, 2017

I Try -- and Fail -- to Get a Straight Answer from My State Representative

Last night my state representative, Stephen Kinsey, held a town hall meeting featuring representatives of various government departments and agencies.

For the past couple months I've been researching the question of whether there are any shelters for battered men in Pennsylvania. A public assistance form I filled out last summer made reference to "a state program for abused women and children," but made no mention of abused men. This was not long after I had confirmed that PA has an equal rights amendment, so the failure to provide for some victims based on their sex would clearly be unconstitutional as well as unfair.

I brought a clipboard and sign-up sheet to the Philadelphia-area premiere of  The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's documentary on the men's rights movement, on which several people supplied their contact info to stay in touch. By the first ensuing group meeting in January, I had decided the apparently non-existent services for battered men would be a good issue around which to organize, if I could confirm my suspicions about it.

What I had ascertained by last night's town hall is that, of the four agencies listed by the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence as providing services in Philadelphia county, only two provide shelter, and in both cases it's only for women and children. At this point I should compare what's provided to the level of need: according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and the Psychological Bulletin, over half of those experiencing domestic violence in a given year, and about a third of those requiring medical attention, are male. So, even if Philly had only three shelter beds, one of these ought to be for a man. And Philly is the most populous county in the state, so even if services aren't evenly distributed, we should expect to find at least some of those for men here.

So, I related these concerns to the person speaking when I arrived at the town hall, a police captain. Her response was that shelter exists that moves from place to place, but locations aren't disclosed out of safety considerations. I explained I didn't need to know locations, but would just like to know how many of these shelters there are. She said they wouldn't tell me that either.

Rep. Kinsey spoke up at this point to explain that he didn't know that he wanted to engage his staff in looking into this if it was only for research as opposed to constituent service, and also repeated the point about safety considerations. My repeatedly pointing out that safety considerations obviously weren't preventing the existence of shelters for women from being publicized on the Web seemingly didn't register with them; they just repeated the same language without acknowledging the logical inconsistency of their statements.

A moment later, when the captain had moved on to another constituent's question, a staffer handed me a note saying, "The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects information not being disclosed regarding shelters." While she was still within earshot I commented, "Inconsistently, it would appear. They're not hiding the existence of shelters for women." She offered no reply.

It appears overwhelmingly likely to me that the reason they wouldn't give me any information about the purported shelters for battered men is that they actually don't exist. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that they do, the rationale for not publicizing their existence makes no sense; you're not going to convince me that they're actually more careful about men's safety than women's. Rather, the only practical effect hiding the existence of such shelters could have is to make it less likely those who need them would know to look for them -- especially when combined with how all the advertising about this issue relentlessly frames it in terms of male perpetrators and female victims. The message an abused man gets in these circumstances can only be that he doesn't exist, or doesn't count. It's invalidating.

I will want to spend a little time checking on whether there are men's shelters in other counties than Philadelphia. If not, that makes it a statewide issue. But even if there are, it's a serious misallocation of resources to have none of them here.

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.

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.