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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Male-Shaming on WBEZ's _Sound Opinions_

The latest edition of Sound Opinions, WBEZ's talk show about popular music, was on the theme of "First Impressions," and one of the picks in this category was The Doors' "Hello, I Love You." Yet at least one of the hosts felt compelled to describe it as "objectifying" and "very silly," and to call Jim Morrison a "male chauvinist pig." I left this on their comment line:

Hi. Enjoy your show, but I have a bone to pick with your discussion of Jim Morrison's "Hello, I Love You." There's nothing "silly" about honestly portraying sexual desire, and nothing "chauvinist" (which, need I remind you? means supremacist) about responding to someone's visual characteristics, especially when that's all you know about them. In fact the one desired holds the power, especially if the other doesn't hide his desire. At the same time, I never hear you criticize female singers who sing similar lyrics. So, let's stop with the shaming of male sexuality, and let's stop with the double standard. Thank you.

Interestingly, another song discussed on the same show was The Exciters' (girl group) original rendition of "Do-Wah-Diddy," which arguably describes more aggressive behavior (touching without asking permission first, as opposed to merely verbalizing) Yet, because it's sung from a female point of view, they don't criticize it.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Review: The Red Pill

Surely the most important documentary released last year is Cassie Jaye's The Red Pill. I mentioned before seeing it that I'd write a review, and now I've seen it twice.

I learned of it two years ago, while it was still being made, after some of the online comments under an NPR story pointed me toward the website A Voice for Men. The story was about the "red zone," a period early in a college semester in which freshmen women are allegedly especially vulnerable to sexual assault. The emphasis on the role of alcohol particularly drew my attention and desire to comment, since I'd noticed logical inconsistencies in the most prevalent feminist narrative about this for decades, since the notorious "ATO incident" that occurred at Penn in 1983, while I was attending school there.

While my initial reaction to reports about this alleged gang rape was the intended queasiness, after a few months of coverage in the campus paper I was wondering: why did (most) everyone seem to think that drunkenness, while still conscious, made a woman unable to judge whether she wanted sex -- but didn't make a man unable to judge whether a woman was too drunk? For that matter, I wondered why a person's desire in the moment, even if influenced by a substance they'd knowingly ingested possibly for the precise purpose of becoming less inhibited, should be considered less important than how they might feel about it later, or even whether they would remember it.

It was even more disturbing that -- when the faculty member appointed to adjudicate the matter ruled there wasn't proof of rape but only of "multiple seriatim sexual intercourse," yet still penalized the fraternity with expulsion because he found this to be "inappropriate conduct" -- campus "liberals" objected only to the fact that the sanctions weren't heavier and not to the fact that the university was treating its students like children (quite literally, invoking the in loco parentis doctrine).

Such thoughts were amplified a few years later after I got back in touch with a slightly older woman I'd known while I was in the Young Socialist Alliance; we'd been pretty close, talking at length on the phone most days about this and that, particularly what was going on in the group. When I brought up my thoughts about the ATO case, Amy (who, by the way, identified quite strongly as a feminist) shared her opinion that "many women just aren't willing to take responsibility for their own sexuality." She proceeded to describe a few incidents from her personal experience. In one, a couple had been on the other side of a thin wall, allowing her to hear their hot and heavy lovemaking very clearly; in another, a couple had been in the back seat of a car while she was in the front seat, able to see as well as hear what was happening. (This was during a period when she was doing a lot of partying.) When I asked if it was clear the sex was consensual in these cases, she said it was "enthusiastically" consensual --  and this conversation was long before that became a catch phrase. The kicker was that in both cases, on the following day the female half of the couple complained to Amy about how she'd been "raped."

In a third instance, the boyfriend of a woman who went to the same class as Amy approached her out of concern over his girlfriend's having been raped by a man in the same class. Amy hadn't heard about this from the woman and asked him for details. He gave a description of the assailant that didn't correspond to anyone taking the class. Amy's opinion in this case was that the woman had invented the story to evoke a protective response from the boyfriend and thereby secure his attachment to her. (It's interesting that the primary assailant described by Jackie Coakley in her UVA rape hoax appears to have originally been invented for a very similar purpose.)

In the intervening years, I'd noticed some other seeming inconsistencies and hypocrisies exhibited by feminists, but was never focused on them because my own activism was in different areas. Still, this made me receptive when for the first time I actually visited a men's rights site, and soon discovered that it seemed to offer a pretty coherent alternative view about gender relations that was more consistently opposed to sexism regardless of whose ox was gored, and also articulated better with evolutionary theory. And, as it happened, the very first article I saw on AVfM, when I first visited it, was about this movie that was still being made called The Red Pill, which would be the first documentary ever on the men's rights movement. I was favorably impressed by the fact that the author, Paul Elam, seemed willing to believe that Jaye was trying to make an honest, even-handed documentary, notwithstanding her identification as a feminist (although some commenters were certain she wasn't).

So I started paying a lot of attention to the men's rights movement, particularly as represented by AVfM and the Honey Badger Brigade, and soon was starting to think of myself as an MRA and not so comfortable with the label "feminist," although for a while I was still thinking it might be possible to salvage a consistently anti-sexist version of it. I learned about other issues than those I mentioned above, such as the ideologically motivated belittling and "disappearing" of male victims of domestic and sexual violence, and the double standards concerning genital mutilation. And so it was saddening, though none too surprising, when about a year after first hearing of it, I learned the film was in jeopardy of not being completed because foundations that had previously supported Jaye's work had demanded she concede creative control if she wanted funding -- something they hadn't done for any of her previous works. I read on the Honey Badgers' website that a Kickstarter had been launched, but it looked unlikely that she'd reach the goal by her deadline. And I didn't feel I could afford to contribute anything myself, which made me even sadder. It was with great happiness that I learned several days later that the film had been saved by a sympathetic article by blogger Milo Yiannopoulos and a flood of donations from his readers and others that followed, literally overnight taking the Kickstarter from something like 27% to over the goal.

With this backdrop, you can understand my eagerness when I learned the film was completed and a world premiere announced, on 7 October in Greenwich Village. Although I'd never left the Philadelphia area just to attend a movie before, I felt that I absolutely had to be at this historic event --  and the possibility there might be disruptive protests, as by now I well knew from things I'd seen on Youtube, only made it more essential that I be there, to help defend the public's right to see it.

So I purchased a ticket for the very first screening (1:15), on the first day they became available.(That day was 26 August, also known as Women's Equality Day; I don't know if this was intentional.) As the date approached I learned there'd be a Q&A after the 6:15 screening, too late to get a ticket for that; fortunately the management said they'd let me in for it once the film itself was over. In the meantime, the small crowd (of five) for the 1:15 (unlike the 6:15, which was packed) meant I actually got to meet the producer, Nena Jaye, before even seeing the film.

So, for the film itself: I definitely think director Cassie Jaye made the right choice by framing the film with her own journey into the subject. Especially for those with a feminist background, this should make it easier to open their minds to a different perspective on current gender relations. It shows her going back and forth between MRAs and feminists, hearing unfamiliar (but well-documented) information about all kinds of issues from the former, and little more than summary dismissals from the latter, usually in a way that conveyed they knew nothing at all about the actual MRM, instead basing their statements on negative stereotypes. And we're not talking "coffee shop feminists" here -- we're talking prominent, presumably informed figures like scholar Michael Kimmel and Feminist Majority leader Katherine Spillar. And the information from the MRAs isn't just dry data -- there are also several individual cases of outrageous injustice, some of which she learns about directly from the men affected. (As well, there's a clip from an instructional video about circumcision that may have some averting their eyes.)

And since Cassie Jaye had identified strongly with feminism for many years, this means we also see her struggling with great difficulty to absorb the new information, and with the quandary of her own resistance to it. Again, showing that this can be a challenging thing to confront, but also that it's possible to own that difficulty and work through it, should make it easier for others to do the same. She models real strength by wrestling with what challenges her instead of shrinking back into a comfortable ideological shell.

It's no longer a spoiler to mention that, at the close of the film, Jaye announces that she no longer calls herself a feminist, because she finds that that ideology is incapable of looking at gender issues as they really are in a balanced and intellectually honest way. Given the chronology, my evolution on this was probably over approximately the same period, although mostly just from reading and hearing MRAs online, not traveling to interview them in person. When I started preferring the designation gender-egalitarian over feminist, I explained it purely in terms of wishing not to be misunderstood: I no more wanted to be thought an endorser of "affirmative consent" laws or Twitter mobs against someone for a shirt his woman friend made for his birthday, by calling myself feminist; than to be presumed an opponent of abortion rights or employment opportunities for women, by calling myself anti-feminist.

But a few weeks before seeing this film, I learned a Meetup group I belong to called the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society was going to have a meeting on the topic, "We should all be feminists." This forced me to think a bit harder in preparation for defending my position, and I came to this understanding: it doesn't do merely to insist that feminism live up to the dictionary definition it always trots out in self-defense, the gender-neutral "equality of the sexes." Even if someone who self-identifies as a feminist sincerely believes that that's what they're supporting, the very fact that it's called feminism will get in the way of their being consistent about it. To say you have a movement for gender equality, and then name it "feminism," is to imply that being for gender equality is fully satisfied by "carrying a brief for F," as I saw it defined once in a philosophy journal. And that would be true if and only if the gender system were really all about one group having supremacy and across-the-board advantages over the other, as is more or less true for some other categories such as class and caste.

But that's actually not true at all about gender, and so to name a movement that purports to simply be for gender equality after just one gender, is to mentally blind oneself to all the information that contradicts that one-sided view of things. One can very much, in other words, be both "an MRA and a WRA," as a fellow attendee at the world premiere put it. But one ultimately cannot be both an MRA and a feminist -- to which it should be added that one can't really be a feminist and a consistent WRA either, since feminism has a systematic tendency toward infantilizing women rather than really freeing them. So, by the time I heard Cassie Jaye saying she no longer calls herself a feminist, I was on the same page with her on that.

To summarize: The Red Pill is a powerful film that I strongly recommend to anyone who cares about the state of our society.

A Civil Rights Bill for Georgia Students

A bill has been introduced in the Georgia house of representatives that would restore constitutional protections to students in the state's universities. This would correct the current lack of due process protections that has not only damaged or ruined the careers of some students, but also has a chilling effect on consensual relations by imposing on them an insuperable burden of second-guessing. I've just sent a note of support to the five sponsors as follows:

Dear Rep.-----,

I'm very pleased to learn of your sponsorship of H.B. 51, which will help restore fundamental constitutional rights to Georgia students. It's refreshing to see that some elected officials still care about them.

Support GA House Bill 51 to secure due process in universities



You can find contact information for the sponsors, whose names appear at the top of the bill linked from the above article, at http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/HouseMembersList.aspx.

An Anti-Death-Penalty Candidate Is Now Challenging Seth Williams for Philadelphia District Attorney

A defense attorney who's represented many protesters has joined the Democratic primary for DA:




None of the other challengers is a clear progressive alternative. I hope people will get behind him.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Justice Democrats Announce a Push to Take Their Party Back from the Corporatists

This certainly looks like a worthy effort. I'm going to suggest they run Sherrie Joyce Cohen​ for Congress.