Free College? I’m In!

I heard a guy in Subway a couple of years back loudly ranting about public schools. He finished with “They want us to pay to educate other people’s kids! That’s how you destroy a country. That’s how you bring down America.”
He was talking about PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
I had this brief happy vision of a giant Monty Python thumb coming down from the ceiling and just crushing him into jelly. Silly ninny. Those young people — other people’s kids — are the ones who will eventually shoulder the load of making the world work. Not just doing all the physical and mental labor, but learning about the world, understanding it, and making decisions about it. They will be tomorrow’s movers and shakers and VOTERS. Tomorrow’s doctors and inventors and scientists and, hell, DMV workers.
Having them educated — as opposed to ignorant and helpless — is a damned good thing. Having them educated a LOT is a double-damned good thing. That part of my taxes that goes toward education — as opposed to, say, military spending or giving tax breaks to big corporations — oh boy am I happy about that.
This business about free college that’s come up lately — I see people reacting to it as if it’s some monstrous idea proposed by people who hate America. But I can’t help but think that investing in the minds of the people who will someday soon run the country and some significant portion of the world, that would be a good thing.
Yes, somebody has to pay for it. But no, it’s not the sort of point-of-a-gun robbery some people are making it out to be. Education is not an Xbox or a Ford that starts to lose value the day you take it home. It’s not you paying for your neighbor’s above-ground pool. It’s an INVESTMENT IN THE WORLD, one that pays off and pays off and pays off, over and over, for all the time to come.
I’d rather live in — and grow old in — a society filled with as many educated people as possible.
So: Free college? Yeah, count me as a supporter.

Hillary, This Time You’re Goin’ Down! I Mean It! Really Really!

This bubbled up elsewhere, shared by someone I like.

Tell you what I think:

More than 20 years of investigations, accusations, smears, and innuendo have resulted in exactly zero charges. Is it because the fix is in, or is it because none of that stuff is true? Here’s the thing: If any of the accusations were true, Congressional Republicans — who hate Hillary and Bill with rabid passion, and who not long back CONTROLLED THE WHITE HOUSE AND BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS and had a free hand to do any darned thing they wanted — would have made sure she (and anyone else they deemed culpable) was arrested and charged and tried.

They would move Heaven and Earth TODAY to make it happen.

This woman is likely going to be the next President of the United States. Not because of some “fix,” but because a majority of American voters prefer her to all the alternatives. She’s one of the most admired Americans in the world.

Gonna be interesting to see how the real “patriots” react to her election. Will they attack and undermine her at every turn, the way they’ve done with Obama, or will they decide to support her? I’m predicting a breathtakingly vicious attack that will last every second she is in office, just as they’ve attacked Obama every second he’s been in office, further undermining American stature, effectiveness and progress.

And damn, I wish that wasn’t so. It’s disturbing to see even good friends, people I otherwise respect, falling into line on this never-ending nonsense.

Obama and Hillary aren’t the problem. The problem is that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and company would rather get ratings by broadcasting outrageous paranoid crap than they would help America succeed. The problem is that too many of US would rather attack and attack and attack, rather than cooperating and trying to get things done. Too many of US hate Obama — and Hillary — more than we love and support America. We would flush the entire country down the toilet before we’d believe in them or work with them on the least little thing.

Here’s something I’ve realized: If John Smith can’t think of a single good thing to say about some supposedly evil person, unless that person is Hitler himself, it’s not the “evil person” who is the problem. It’s John Smith. NOBODY is as underhanded and deceitful as certain conservatives paint Obama and Hillary. Hell, I hated Richard Nixon with a passion, but even I had to admit he did some good stuff.

People are STILL claiming Obama is a secret Muslim, born in Kenya, bent on destroying America, avidly trying to take all our guns and put us in FEMA camps.

At some point, you just have to start thinking “Wait, if this accusation was a lie, and that accusation was a lie, and this OTHER accusation was a lie … maybe all of this stuff is just lies. Maybe whoever’s sending out all these lies, maybe THEY are my real enemy, manipulating me for their own ends. Making me so angry or scared I can’t think anymore.”

What’s really destroying America is the unrelenting hate, the constant lies. The hatred and suspicion of government itself.

And I really don’t get why it’s all happening. We are freer and richer and safer than any moment in history, and some large part of that is because American government, and government regulation, WORKS.

And just FYI, I’d bet the Clinton camp itself worked to make this investigation happen, with the FBI carefully examining every detail and bringing the whole thing out in the open, so it would be determined OFFICIALLY she did nothing very wrong. It will be a non-issue by November — again not because of any fix, but because it really is a relative non-issue.

Four Reasons I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

Hillary SandersSomething interesting happened today and it opened my eyes to something I didn’t know I didn’t know.

I was reading news headlines and came across one that said, basically, that Bernie Sanders was gaining on Hillary and might present a serious challenge. There’s been a steady flow of these stories since Bernie entered the race. For sensationalistic reasons — a tight race is more exciting to the yahoos — the news media insists on framing the competing campaigns as a neck-and-neck run, with the winner wholly up in the air.

But it hasn’t been. Clinton has had a huge advantage over Sanders, and probably still does have a huge advantage. But he IS gaining ground, it seems, and today I had an uncomfortable moment of thinking he might actually beat Clinton.

For that moment, it disturbed me greatly. But then I thought “What am I worrying about? If it’s not Hillary, I’ll be overjoyed to have it be Bernie.” He’s still one of my preferred candidates, about ten thousand times more than anyone in the GOP stable.

But that led me to thinking about why I actually do prefer Hillary.

1) I want a Democratic President.

It’s imperative the presidency stay in Democratic hands until the GOP is over its teabagger insanity. I think Hillary is the best bet for achieving that. The GOP thinks that too — it’s obvious to me some large fraction of the pro-Bernie-anti-Hillary rhetoric comes with conservative backing. The GOP thinks Bernie is beatable — What? A SOCIALIST president?? — but they are shit-scared of Hillary.

2) I want the Hate Machine to lose.

There have been near-ceaseless attacks against Hillary Clinton since 1992 — 24 years! Fox News seamlessly picked up the hate at their inception in 1996, but the GOP started Hillary bashing even before Bill Clinton was elected. Here was this successful career woman, relatively unknown to national politics, who became the target of a flowing river of slime that continues to this day.

I have to imagine some large part of it is purely sexist. Conservatives don’t like women in positions of power.  When those women simply keep on with what they’re doing, handily ignoring the GOP hatefest, it sends conservatives into spitting rage. I love to think of them conducting this hate campaign for decades, and losing anyway.

3) Hillary is not only qualified, she’ll make a great president. Not only does she possess an admirable personal and professional history, her current candidacy is nicely encapsulated by a non-fan, Dan Holliday:

  • Experience.  However you slice it and dice it, her 20-ish years as first lady (to a pretty spectacular Governor cum President), 8 years in the US Senate and 4 years as Secretary of State are nothing to turn your nose up at when it comes to exposure to our political system, how it works, how to make it work and implement its power around the globe.
  • Specifically, her time as Secretary of State, demonstrates her presidential behavior. Beyond her combativeness in addressing the Congress over the Benghazi affair, she had a reputation for stately behavior.  As my very conservative friend at State told me:  nobody fucked with Clinton and she never let anybody in Congress push her around; when she went to the Hill, she always came back with everything she asked for — they denied her nothing because she was a stateswoman, a savvy politician and knew how to sell herself and the department. He had a very good respect for her as SecStat despite hating her political positions because she basically carried the Obama Admin’s foreign policy on her shoulders and ran circles around anybody doubting she couldn’t hold her own.
  • Less specifically, her time in the Senate, while not revolutionary in terms of legislation she championed and committees she headed, was nevertheless 8 years in the most powerful chamber of Congress.  She acted with grace and intelligence while in that body.
  • She was a highly regarded attorney working for a very powerful firm. She was known for her thoroughness and intelligence.  This career gave her a foundation for understanding American law.
  • Personal abilities: Intelligence, Drive, Character.  An interesting anecdote communicated to me was in how she rarely needed State Department briefs on the internal details when visiting a country.  A passionate student, she retained information from one visit to the next and typically knew the political details long before arriving.  She got on very well with foreign leaders and worked tirelessly around the world building and rebuilding our relationships.  She saw amazing results in places like Myanmar and in our now improved relationships with our key European leaders.

4) I want a woman president. Not only do I want the world to see Americans electing their first female president, I want to see a woman in the office because … well, because it’s time. Isn’t it? We’ve had an unbroken string of 44 male presidents, some of them unqualified dullards (coughGeorgeWBushcough). Surely there are female candidates fully qualified to hold the office? Yes, there are. Hillary Clinton is one of them.

Power: The Source is the Limit, the Source is Us

powerWould you believe me if I told you “government” doesn’t really exist? That when we talk about government, there’s nothing really there? It’s as fictional as religion?

So where do I think all those government buildings come from? What’s all that business you see in Washington DC — Congress and the White House, the Supreme Court and all those museums and monuments and stuff? What’s the deal with all the cop cars, and the uniformed people driving them? What do I think the IRS is, or the U.S. Army? What exactly is the local fire department, the school district, the Water Board, the city and county office buildings? What about all that sheer government POWER??

It’s just this: People pretending — or agreeing — government exists.

Oh, the buildings are there, sure enough, but they’re really no different from other buildings. They’re things people build for some purpose. But the something-or-other inside them, that’s just a bunch of people playing an elaborate game of make-believe. The game of “Let’s Pretend Government Exists.” And the power?

Let me see if I can explain it.

Say John Smith wants Bob Jones to do something for him. There’s a range of persuasions that can be called into play to make this happen. At one end is the generosity and goodwill of Bob toward his friend John, and all John has to do is suggest he needs the thing done, and Bob will jump to do it. At the other end, John holds a gun to Bob’s head and orders him to do it.

In between is John the cop flashing his lights at Bob the driver, John the distant tax collection official and Bob the annual tax-return-filer, John the teacher announcing a pop quiz to Bob the student, John the storekeeper telling Bob the shopper the total will be $27.16, John the preacher telling Bob the parishioner to say ten Hail Marys.

But in each case, and all the cases between those two extremes, there’s a hidden agreement. Bob agrees that John has the power over him. He PERMITS it.

The agreement is “You pretend you’re a teacher, I’ll pretend you’re a teacher, and we’ll proceed as if that’s something real.” For human social reasons, it’s real. But in any other way, it’s a pretense.

Even if John is President of the United States, or a four-star general, he’s just one guy, right? And so is Bob. Discount for a second the fact that one of them might be physically stronger than the other, and you have one unit of human power facing one unit of human power. EVERYTHING ELSE is that agreement. Bob agrees that John has the right to tell him what to do. Bob agrees to do it.

He doesn’t have to. He can say no. You might say “Well, John might kill him for it,” and yes, that’s true. But how many civilized situations really involve the imminent threat of death? Very few.

But in reality, John has one unit of human power, and only one … until Bob AGREES that he will lend John his power by doing what John wants.

Toss some other people into the mix. Say John is a four-star general. Surround him with a thousand obedient soldiers. In addition to his own single unit of human power, now John has the power of a thousand soldiers, plus the power of Bob. But only so long as the thousand-and-one people AGREE they will obey John. Only as long as they willingly PERMIT the general to have that power over them.

Fame is a sort of power. So is wealth. Every aspect of human social and political power is this same sort of thing. Put a billionaire — or a rock star, the leader of a country, a military dictator, any sort of powerful person you might imagine — into a huge empty stadium by himself, and he will again have only one unit of human power. This is why “powerful” people MUST be constantly surrounded by legions of sycophants — servants, toadies, secretaries, guards, henchmen, flower girls and all the rest.

Power in the human sphere comes only by the agreement of the people in the sociopolitical structure within which the power displays.

The democratic model of government is fairly open about this. In nations where political office depends on voters, there’s a recognition that “the people” are the ultimate deciders as to who has power and who doesn’t.

Every “rise to power” — think political campaigns, but also the rise of Hitler — occurs along a lengthy road on which the people being powered-over become gradually convinced, one by one, that they’re willing to cede their own power to the leader. They PERMIT the leader to become powerful by agreeing that he is powerful, and by acting, or refraining from acting, according to the leader’s wishes.

A totalitarian government works no differently as far as the source of power, but it conceals from the underlings any suggestion that their leader — or tyrant — is anything but massively more powerful than them. Yet his power comes only through consent of the henchmen and carriers-out-of-orders, and the fearful-but-willing acquiescence of the populace. You can scare people into fearful obedience, and it works for exactly as long as you can keep them scared.

No one enjoys being afraid, though. It’s why we came up with the democratic social model in which leaders are chosen by the people, each with his one vote which says “Yes, I’ll pretend you have the right to tell me what to do, and I’ll allow you to pretend to lead me.”

But in this social model, just how much “right to tell me what to do” do we give away? To answer that, we first have to realize that in the democratic model, the “leader” position exists not for the purpose of ruling over people, but for doing certain larger social work the individual knows needs to be done, but is unable to do, or chooses not to do, himself. The “ruling over” part of it exists ONLY in the pursuit of that larger work.

So here I am, John Q. Public, and I’m lending out some power to a police officer. How much do I lend him? Exactly the amount needed to do the job of keeping the peace and enforcing the necessary regulations. No more.

If you picture power as gasoline, and imagine a cop needs 13 gallons to do his job each day, we-the-public would provide him 13 gallons, possibly a touch more for unforeseen circumstances. But no more. We wouldn’t give him 38 gallons, or 70 gallons.

So a police officer does NOT have any extra power outside the bounds of his job. And even in his job, there are limits.

We don’t give him permission to beat his wife, for instance, to intimidate his kid’s schoolteacher into giving all A’s, or to beat down some guy he takes a dislike to in an after-hours bar disagreement.  All of those are clearly abuses of power, and we cut it off as soon as we find out about it. If the driver in a traffic stop gives him lip, we don’t agree that he can shoot the guy 36 times, killing him.

There’s some inevitable slop. You and I don’t have free rein to drive 90 miles per hour on the highway, but we somewhat grudgingly allow cops to do it. Not to race to get donuts, or to pick up his laundry before the cleaners closes, but to attend to NECESSARY duties which we assume he’s doing. As we don’t know what he’s doing, though, he’s free to skate over the line at least a little bit for his own purposes.

It’s this “skating over the line” I really want to talk about, though.

The job of policing, tax collecting, being a Congressman, operating a toll booth, all require a certain amount of lent power to accomplish the official duties. We lend exactly the amount necessary, and not one jot more.

A police car is a bit of borrowed power. We might agree that a police officer could need to take his patrol car home with him, but we’d end his power to drive it after he gets home.  If he leaves home for a shopping trip, or to take his daughter to a Little League game, we’d expect him to take his own car. Taking his patrol car would be a clear abuse of his borrowed power.

One of the consequences of such actions, if we assume power lent to do a job comes in limited amounts, is that every bit of power diverted to private goals makes the person less able to do his job. There just isn’t enough power.

There are two main points here.

One is that borrowed power has limits, the limit in each case being the boundary of permission of those lending the power. We all of us lend out our power for officials to do their jobs, but we lend out EXACTLY the amount of power to do the job, and no more.

So every official who uses the power of his position to accomplish his own private goals or feather his own nest is not only abusing the power of his office, he is also making himself less able to do his job. Just as if he used 5 gallons of provided gasoline to run his own private errands, he’d be 5 gallons down on the amount needed to perform his duties.

Second is that the power can be taken back. We can do it through the voting process, by removing the person from that office. Or we can do it ourselves by refusing to recognize the power of that one PERSON to order or rule us.

So what does all this have to do with day-to-day living? Not much, admittedly, under normal conditions.

I still think it’s important to keep in mind the situation, though, the origins and limits of power, in case you (we!) ever decide to make other choices about how much and to whom you’re lending it.

Power is purely a belief. There are no powerful people, except those we pretend are powerful. 

Zoning Out on Liberal vs. Conservative Issues

Con vs LibI woke up this morning with this diagram in my head.

I tinkered it up in Illustrator later. Probably could have chosen brighter colors or a better layout, but I got tired of messing with it. You may have to click-and-embiggen it to see all the details.

Especially note that the center vertical bar is labeled to indicate a gradation from Greater Factual Information (More Informed) at the top to Lesser Factual Information (More Ignorant) at the bottom, whereas the center section is labeled (along the bottom) for Lesser Emotion, while the left and right borders indicate More Emotion. In other words, in both the Conservative and Liberal worldviews, you can be more or less informed about issues, and more or less emotional and excitable about them. There are important social and political consequences that flow out of positions in each area of the graphic.

This is based on a great deal of thinking I’ve been doing lately — reflected in several recent posts — about liberal and conservative approaches to certain issues.

Mainly in this diagram, I was thinking that there’s that obvious place (lower left) on the conservative side of the line where people are both uninformed and excitable, the crazies and teabaggers and gunny Christian patriots who form the natural audience of FOX News.

Then there’s that zone up above and to the right of the Foxbaggers, a Platonic Ideal conceptual territory where rational people — Reasoning Beings — can be equally well-informed, and equally calm about certain issues, and yet still trend either conservative or liberal, according to their own personal history and experience. It is in this (sadly not-well-populated) zone that liberal-trending and conservative-trending people can meet and discuss issues calmly, and possibly reach compromise positions.

Interestingly, this is also a place where liberal people who disagree with other liberal people can meet and calmly discuss issues. On the conservative side, conservative-conservative meetings could conceivably take place to iron out differences, but that appears to be politically impossible right at the moment.

Low down on the right, there’s that other space that’s been bringing itself to my attention in recent months, the zone of the strongly liberal, excitable “OMG Screamers.” These people, with whom I would otherwise identify as fellow liberals, have begun to fall outside my fellow feeling because they react with great emotion but little thought. More than once I’ve found myself outside the apparent liberal mainstream on issues such as feminism, race relations, the homeless —  hell, even pit bulls.

I’m much in favor of marijuana legalization, for instance, but I don’t kid myself that young people smoking pot is some sort of wonderful positive end-result. I got into a discussion about feminism a year or so back in which one of the participants declared that no male, however staunchly in favor of women’s rights he might be,  should ever attempt to explain feminism to another man unless a woman was present. Despite my strong feelings about women’s rights, safety and choice, that (and a steady flow of other ridiculous assertions) persuaded me to drop out of the feminist (but not the women’s rights) conversation.

And yet I’m not, and never will be, a conservative. What I am is someone who insists on being liberal — compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded, commitedly non-religious — while at the same time paying close attention to the broader array of facts of each issue, facts that can sometimes lead you to disagree with a loud-voiced, knee-jerk mainstream.

There are people on my side of the line who believe you cannot be both liberal and wrong. Yet if you’re misinformed, if you fail to understand the entire situation, you can be not only wrong but malignantly wrong.

In addition, I’ve become aware — and I hope you have too — that quite a lot of the stuff projected at the liberal audience is designed to excite powerful emotions, while at the same time deliberately (or apparently so) failing to inform us of the full facts of each issue. I don’t like being manipulated in this way. I especially don’t like being herded to and fro by my own team.

When the manipulation comes at me from the conservative side, I can see it and defend myself by fact-checking, but when it comes at me from the liberal side, not only am I less apt to fact-check, if I DO fact-check and then disagree, even slightly, the price of that disagreement can often be a fairly nasty attack or dismissal from my own people.

There’s an over-dramatic act of line-drawing that happens in the presence of the OMG Screamers, where if you disagree with them even slightly, you get shoved over into the Conservative category and accused of hating the downtrodden of whatever issue is under discussion. This is an exact mirror of the same situation on the conservative side of the line, where, for instance, if you disagree about people with known mental illness being allowed to open-carry assault weapons, you’re a commie-fag-hater-of-America and probably deserve to die.

But obviously you can disagree with others around you on issues, in greater or lesser degree,  and yet still be arguing from within the same philosophical ballpark. Equally obviously, and in my view necessarily, you can disagree with people on details and yet still see them as allies in the larger struggle.

abortion restrictionsAs a for-instance, this graphic detailing U.S. states that have enacted strong anti-abortion legislation over the past 14 years shows a clear loss of ground for “our” side. We’re winning on gay marriage and marijuana legislation, but losing dramatically on reproductive rights, which has the potential to cause vastly more actual misery for women — but also for men, children and families. Not to mention the real social and economic cost of an unavoidable rise in numbers of unplanned or unwanted births.

Comparing the progressive loss of reproductive rights to catcalling, another subject dear to feminist hearts, one of them strikes me as something that should energize the concern of every reasonable person, the other — which probably received a thousand times more attention through the recent catcalling video — seems a minor issue designed to spur directionless outrage.

I think we liberals have to do a better job of THINKING about our issues, not only picking our battles but considering each issue and event carefully to see if we actually support the apparent mainstream position. More than anything, we owe it to our individual selves to be informed — well-informed — on any issue that we choose to speak out on.

I would much rather see myself up there in the company of Reasoning Beings than down in the region of the OMG Screamers, however effortlessly teamlike that second choice might feel.

Catholic Church Flexing Muscle in U.S. Hospitals

According to Wikipedia:

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 per cent of them located in developing countries. In 2010, the Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of the world’s health care facilities. The Church’s involvement in health care has ancient origins.

What a sweet bunch of guys, huh? Actually yes, I’d say.

But check this out:

US Bishops Working To Ban Hospitals From Providing Women With Common Form Of Birth Control

Last month, seemingly without notice or reason, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops changed its policy and banned Genesys Health System, a Catholic medical center in Michigan, from performing tubal ligations, the second most common form of birth control for women in their 30s and 40s in America. Upon a woman’s request, immediately after she had given birth, doctors would “tie her tubes” to prevent future pregnancies. 700,000 are performed annually across the country.

According to ProPublica, quoted in the article, “Ten of the 25 largest health systems in the nation — and four of the five largest nonprofit networks —are now Catholic-sponsored.” This is important, as the article says, because Catholic Bishops control policy in Catholic hospitals in thousands of communities across the United States.

It matters what’s legal, and we’re all behind maximized access to reproductive care for all women. But what’s LEGAL and what’s AVAILABLE are unfortunately two different things. And may soon be even more so.

The Catholic Church of course believes it has the right to limit health care to women according to various tenets of its core doctrine. But isn’t this the same thing as a cab driver in Alabama refusing to pick up a black man, or a bakery owner refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding? The driver and baker have every right to their private views, but out in the public sector, they MAY NOT USE THOSE VIEWS as grounds for refusing to provide full and equal service to members of the public.

If these are public hospitals — and they are — this policy is intolerable.



Beta Culture: A Third Approach to Gender Equality

Unequal copyI’ve been thinking about feminism for a couple of years, and I’ve actually felt a certain amount of dread when I attempted to relate it to my conceptual work on Beta Culture. It’s completely obvious that Beta can’t work without a healthy respect for the needs of women, something better than what our western society has now, but I couldn’t see how ‘feminism’ – not the thing I want feminism to be, but the thing that it presently is – could be integrated into it without overwhelming the welcoming, inclusive vibe I wanted it to have.

I may have figured something out:

Many times over the years, I’ve wondered why we humans find dichotomies so easy. Everything is

THIS thing, or the OTHER

My best guess is that it’s biological. We have two-lobed brains and bilateral symmetry, with a left side and a right. Presented with two-value choices down to our very bones, it actually takes a bit of work NOT to see things as just that simple.

And yet, very few things are as simple as Yes or No, Column A or Column B. In fact, any time you do see something as a simple dichotomy – Republican or Democrat – it’s a good bet you’re doing a disservice not only to the subject but to your own rational mind. Heck, even Alive or Dead isn’t as simple as it once was. There’s an infinity of real stuff between every one-or-the-other choice, and this is never more true than when you’re dealing with human social matters.

Black OR white: As I wrote in a recent post, if you view people through the filter of “race,” you will see “black people” and “white people,” despite the fact that none of us are actually black or white. Just the “black” people alone come in shades more varied than the rainbow. Besides which, there are many more “races” than just the two.

Liberal OR conservative: I consider myself a fairly liberal person. Yet if there was a list of 20 items that make up a staunch liberal in today’s sociopolitical atmosphere, beliefs and attitudes and goals, I might fit only 80 or 90 percent of them. There are things I disagree with fellow liberals about. Given that same list for identifying conservatives, I would fit only a small percentage of them … but I think there would be some.

The fact is, if you’re the type of person who actually thinks about things, you will – in fact, you MUST – often come up at least slightly at odds even with the people you most identify with. I loved my Cowboy Dad out of all reason, but more than once we got into discussions I cut short with “We better not talk about this.” Neither he nor I wanted to like each other less, and we could both see an argument coming that neither would back away from. It was better simply to avoid the dicey subject.

Just so, I have largely avoided the subject of feminism, here and elsewhere. Talk about a black and white issue! The way it works at the current state of the subject, you’re either 1) a feminist, or 2) you hate women. No third choice.

If you’re a feminist reading this, I know you’ll instantly want to argue that, but it’s about the truest thing about feminism I know. Every disagreement you might have with feminism in a public space will very soon spark the question – more likely the accusation – of why you hate women.

(There’s a much rarer response, only slightly more generous, that goes something like “Well, I don’t think you’re a bad person. You probably fail to understand this because you can’t see past your male privilege” – which is sort of the kindly feminist version of that Christian chestnut, “Jesus loves you anyway; I’ll pray for you.”)

Miss O. Jenny

Read the following word carefully, because you will find it in every discussion of feminism: Misogyny.

The word does not mean temporary irritation, willingness to argue, or disagreement about facts or strategy. It means “contempt,” “ingrained prejudice against” – in simplest terms, unconsidered, automatic hate.

Misogyny is to feminism as bacon and eggs is to mornings, or aspirin is to headaches. Misogyny is the opposable thumb of feminism’s grip, the stars and planets of the feminist galaxy.  If feminism was a paint store, misogyny would be Eggshell White.  If feminism was a camping trip, misogyny would be a Swiss Army Knife.

You hate women. He hates women. They hate women. Why do you hate women? She’s a self-loathing hater of women. Stop hating women. I just don’t know why you have to be such a hater of women. Misogyny! Misogynist! Misogyny! Misogynist!

And yet, in the sociocultural universe I live and move in, the true misogynist – I’m sure there are some out there, just as I’m sure there are 300-pound pumpkins – seems to be fairly rare.

I don’t actually know anybody who hates women. I know a shitload of people who have been accused of it, online at least. I know a certain number of people who disagree with feminists about certain facts or nuances. But in my social universe, I don’t know one person that actually HATES women. Even among people who sometimes strongly disagree with feminists, I don’t see them.

The conservative sociocultural universe certainly seems to contain them. All the effort spent on limiting women’s reproductive rights has to spring from the purest desire to control and limit women. I can’t see that as anything less than an arrogant disdain that sees women as things – property, or domestic slaves. That certainly qualifies as contempt, the 180-proof version of it. Hate.

But over here where I live and think, nobody wants to be like that.

And yet about 90 percent of the heat and light of feminism, the accusations of hatred of women, seems to occur well away from the conservative universe. In fact, my direct experience is that the accusation is USUALLY leveled at fellow reasoners, liberals and freethinkers.

If you disagree with anything a feminist says – say that Shirtstorm is a worthwhile discussion – you hate women. It’s one or the other. No third choice. No spectrum of nuance. No other views allowed.

1) You agree. OR …

2) You hate women.


The drawing of that line is quick and final. You could strike up a conversation with a feminist about the proper treatment of dogs in the winter, or your feelings about organized religion, or your thoughts regarding events in Ferguson, Missouri, and find yourself warm kindred spirits, both well on the same side of the liberal-conservative divide. But disagree about ONE feminist issue, however minor – “I’m not sure this NASA guy’s shirt is worth getting all hot and bothered about. It just seems silly.” – and in short order you’re branded a raging woman-hater, shoved over the line into the company of career rapists.

And that’s the thing I can’t accept about feminism. Aside from the validity of any of the internal arguments, this one first fact spoils it for me, ensures that I can’t be a part of it.

So I’m not a feminist. Not going to BE a feminist. But I’m also not a hater of women.

Imagine that there’s a third choice, though, a conceptual space in which you can  1) be a non-feminist, and yet 2) care about women.

Is such a thing even possible? If you’re reading here, I have to believe you are rational enough, intelligent enough, to know a third option is possible, even likely. You know the world is not black and white, divisible into two perfectly separate camps or concepts. So what is that third choice? Here’s my answer:

Equality and Ethicism

I actually believe the fate of civilization rests in some large part on educating and providing reproductive choice – billions of dollars in condoms, contraceptives and sex education – to women worldwide. Further, I believe there is an easily explainable reason why a woman hitting a man is categorically different from that same act in reverse.

Even if I cared nothing about women, the equality and opportunity of more than half of humanity strikes me – at this incredibly dangerous moment for civilization – as important to the survival of all of us. I’m an avid supporter of women’s rights, safety and reproductive choice.

But in my mind, there are three SEPARATE movements now occupying the social justice landscape that relates to women.

First and loudest, there is feminism. Which is quite a bit about women’s rights, but is undeniably based on a foundation of with-us-or-against-us, and contains a very big, very angry scoop of “every problem is the fault of men.” It can get spitting-nasty in an instant if you question or mistake any part of it. Wear the wrong shirt, even, and you’re international toast.

Second, there is the women’s rights movement, which focuses on the rights and needs of women, but which seems to contain dramatically less of the “you dare not make a mistake” element. It’s a sort of women-and-men together, everybody-can-pitch-in, Big Picture movement aimed at bettering the lot of women. I support it for what I consider obvious reasons.

(Whatever it was in the past, today’s feminism is NOT the women’s rights movement. It is feminism first, last and always, often rising to a level of pure rage that has nothing welcoming in it to anyone, man or woman, who attempts to disagree, question or doubt. You can get on feminism’s Shit List by using one wrong word.)

Third is something else, an alternative to feminism I refer to as “gender ethicism.”

Gender Ethicism aims at equality, but it aims at equality predicated on the needs – both common and unique – of both women and men. It’s based on the idea that well-meaning men and women must work together amicably on common issues if any useful and rational – and lasting – end result is to be reached. It is everything about goals, nothing at all about blame.

How does Gender Ethicism work?

As I would like to avoid hot-button issues for the moment, I’ll focus down on a minor, possibly even comical illustration of the idea: Public restrooms.

Gender Ethicism would make public-space restrooms fair for women.

If you’ve ever gone to a theatre or stadium and had to go to the restroom, here’s what you may have seen: There will be a men’s room, with men cycling in and out fairly rapidly, but nearby there will be a women’s restroom with a long line.

Why? Because the architects who designed the thing thought that giving each gender a 400-square-foot restroom was “equal.” But given our anatomical differences, which MUST be taken into account, those restrooms are actually a cheat for women. Inside the men’s and women’s room both, you will find five stalls and several sinks for handwashing. Equal, right? But in the men’s room, you will also find five compact urinals tucked up against the wall in front of the stalls. So if you’re talking about the number of people who can cycle through the restroom in any given period, the men’s room has twice the through-put of the women’s. Which means, out in the real world, that women’s restrooms should be about twice the square-footage of men’s, and contain twice the number of stalls.

This is an example of something I call “gender asymmetry,” and it seems to me that any approach to equality between the sexes must be based on it.

The thing I mentioned earlier, the easily explainable reason why a woman hitting a man is categorically different from that same act in reverse, is another good example of gender asymmetry.

A teenager might look at the question of equality vis-à-vis one person striking another and conclude that a woman giving a man a good slap would be no different than the same situation in reverse. Hey, if a girl hits a guy and he hits her back, it’s same-same, right? But due to our evolutionarily supplied sexual dimorphism – gender asymmetry – the average man’s MUCH greater strength means he could seriously injure (or even kill) her with a slap, whereas she, exerting herself with the same amount of anger and avidity, might only leave him with a stinging cheek.

(And no, I don’t think either sex should be hitting the other. But I recognize that it will continue to happen. A social rule “It’s never okay to hit your partner, but it’s REALLY wrong for a guy to hit a girl” is a real-world-fair rule.)

The idea of gender asymmetry is that you simply cannot make rules pertaining to equality without taking into account the actual facts of men’s and women’s biological strengths and weaknesses.

I actually don’t know why women 6 or more months pregnant shouldn’t be issued a handicapped placard so they can park close to stores and entrances. No, they’re not crippled. But they’re not in marathon-running physical condition either, are they? I would not favor the same placards for any class of men not actually handicapped according to current law, but pregnant women, in my view, deserve a little extra social consideration. If you’re carrying around an extra 35 pounds and need to get to the bathroom NOW, I want you to be able to park close. In this case, the asymmetry works in favor of women.

I am way in favor of battered women’s shelters, in every city in the country, which obviously would not admit men. On the male side, though, there are huge numbers of homeless ex-military – men, who go into the military and into combat in numbers greater than women – suffering from PTSD. I would like to see a proportionate number of shelters – in every city in the country – that focus exclusively on the psychological and emotional needs of these MEN.

Though men and women both get breast cancer, only men get prostate cancer. A gender-ethical approach would devote attention and money to breast cancer, but it would also parity-invest in research and treatment of this deadly male-only disease.

The idea of Gender Ethicism is this: In those real ways in which we are NOT biologically equal, you take those facts into account in designing fair gender-specific solutions, accepting that there will be situations where one sex could or should get certain playing-field-leveling social considerations the other sex would not.

And also that we can actually talk about this stuff, working out the details in order to be fair and generous to both halves of the human condition, without shouting and blaming.



A little final note here: In everything I write about Beta Culture, my goal is to examine each idea, to explore it by teaming up, hopefully, with a group of playful optimists and conceptual gamesters, as I/we work out some of the details of the thing.

I’m aware that feminism is a furiously hot, hair-trigger issue right now, so I will allow only reasonable, good-willed replies to this post, or to comments. I want people to be able to talk, to explore the idea, to agree or disagree, without having to tiptoe around each other. Male or female, if you want to post one of those hit-and-run zingers, I’ll delete it and sleep well that night. And yes, fuck me, but you have an entire Internet out there to do your thing. In this place right here and now, I get to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. Pitch in or go elsewhere.

But hey, nothin’ but love for yah! 😀

(PS: I’ve also been told that Thomas Jefferson never said that thing. But it must be true — I found it on the Internets.)



Wait … What? —Take 2

Plane JewMan, those ultra-Orthodox Jews must NEVER get laid.

Ultra-orthodox Judaism forbids physical contact between men and women unless they are first-degree relatives or married to one another

They don’t fly well either.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Men Cause Flight Delay By Refusing To Sit Next To Women

I’m not even sure what to say about this that probably isn’t already obvious. The story itself says the women felt “bullied and harassed” — which is precisely how they should have felt.

I’d feel better if one or more of the women were quoted as saying “I told the cheeky bastard to buzz off. I’m not moving. If he doesn’t want to sit next to a woman, he can take a boat.”

There’s a petition to El Al Airline that is almost too even-handed, seems to me, suggesting fair solutions to solve the dilemma of the men. But the title is just right:

Stop the bullying, intimidation, and discrimination against women on your flights!

Grieving Mother Mistreated by Heartless Atheists

Here’s this article: Atheists Fight With Grieving Mom Over Roadside Crosses.

Son dies in a auto accident at the age of 19, grief-stricken mother erects a memorial of crosses and flowers on city property, humanist group asks city council to disallow it.

Good call? Bad call? Commenting on Facebook, Sinis Tergrin weighs in:

I think it’s pretty mean spirited to target a grieving mother. What kind of person complains about this based on the “separation of church and state”?? I thought we in the atheist community were supposed to uphold certain values, compassion being one of them.. Ridiculous. I can think of better fights to take on than this.

Yeah, nice Christian mom puts up a religious monument on public land, and the wicked mean atheists ask for public land to NOT be used for religious monuments. How could they be so SELFISH?

But another commenter agrees with Tergrin:

For sure. This is the sort of thing that makes people hate atheists before they even know them. I don’t like all the wind blown half ass memorials thrown around, but I would never remove one out of consideration to the family.

As someone who has experienced death of beloved family members, I understand grief. Oh boy, do I understand it. But look, people die every day, in horrible ways. EVERYBODY you know is a family member of someone, EVERYBODY you know feels such grief at one time or another.

And as far as I know, every single person in the humanist and atheist community respects the rights of family members to express that grief in any way they care to, and as long as they care to, privately, among their friends and family, and on their own property. Additionally, they can carry out ceremonies in their church ranging from simple to extravagant.  They can participate in funerary processions along public roadways, and most of us will respectfully give way. They can place monuments in cemeteries that will last hundreds of years. They can even travel to the public site of the loved one’s death, and linger there in respect and sadness.

We all understand that every grieving person, mom or not, shares those same rights. But no matter how much you’re hurting, your private grief is not acceptable justification for using public land for a private religious display. No single one of us, not a hundred of us, not even a million of us, can eclipse public land for permanent, visible expressions of our own private grief. As the story says:

The council conceded that the large, handmade plywood crosses violated the separation of church and state.

The principle at stake here is bigger than one grieving mother. It’s about equality, equal protection on the public stage. The fact is, the mother has no legal right to put a cross there. She never did. It was against the law from the beginning. It was only because this was an expression of the Christian faith, and because of our innate respect for mothers, especially in this tough situation, that it got a pass as long as it did. The authorities deliberately looked away … until they were reminded that we can’t afford to allow our government to play favorites based on private religious principles, even those of grieving mothers.

… Ann Marie Devaney [mother of 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, killed while crossing the street], tearfully removed the crosses white crosses (sic) she had placed near the spot where he was struck after the decision came Thursday.”It’s like I’m losing my son again, pretty much,” Devaney said. “It hurts when you lose a child.”

“It’s so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross,” she said. “It’s his personal preference that he was Christian. What’s wrong with having a cross up?”

I think I’m as compassionate as the next guy, and probably more compassionate than most. Speaking just for myself, I’d be inclined to look away too. Hell, what’s one little cross given a pass to salve the feelings of a grieving mom? But the thing is, it never stops with just one grieving mother. It never stops with just one cross:

Immediately after she removed them, another group came and replaced the crosses with six more.

In your face, hateful atheists! Screw that separation of church and state that benefits people of every faith, and no faith at all. These are Christians we’re talking about, and THEY have a right to have crosses on public land. They will dang-sure demonstrate that to the entire world.

This time because it’s a grieving mother, next time because a vocal majority of Christian locals agree, the time after that because they damned well feel like it and the rest of us can just shut the hell up.



The Dark Side of the Sun

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups on Transhumanism and the Singularity, and I avidly read the articles and posts. But I don’t buy into every one of them. Yes, I want fantastic things to happen. Hell, I fully EXPECT fantastic things to happen. But … a lot of the articles are more about possibilities than realities.  For instance, I think we’ve been predicting safe, abundant fusion energy — any time now — for the past 50 years. I’ve kinda begun to wonder “What if it just isn’t possible?”

As to the idea of uploading human consciousness to computers, even I can think of some serious challenges to the idea: Considering that most of us isn’t exactly conscious, I have my doubts you could get a real person, warts and all, shifted over into an electronic domain.

The truth is, in the midst of my hopeful positivism, there’s a healthy helping of the negative. Because there’s some bad stuff coming too. A surprising amount of it is already happening.

If you take a fragmented view of the world, as so many of us do (most of us are so caught up in the noise of our own private lives we don’t even bother to pay attention to larger matters), you see a lot of little individual things going on. But if you look for patterns … oh, boy they’re there. And some of them are scary.

Here’s a couple of things, Little Scary instead of Big Scary, but also part of a pattern that, to me at least, appears related to human numbers. And what if, once you click together all the Little Scaries — like Dark Legos — you find you’ve built a Big Scary?

Little scary: Where Have All the Orange Roughy Gone?

As the following graphic shows, the orange roughy arrived with a bang and is now leaving with a long, drawn-out aquatic whimper.  The first sizeable catches were recorded in 1979.  A decade later the world catch peaked at a massive 91,000 tons.  And then, just as quickly, catches plummeted and now they linger around 13,000 tons a year.

The problem is that the orange roughy is a deep-sea species that cannot sustain the level of exploitation that our technology and policies have made possible.  It simply reproduces too slowly.  Orange roughy typically don’t start breeding until they’re 30 years old and can live up to 150 years. So catching orange roughy is much more like mining than fishing.  In effect, it’s more like a non-renewable resource!

Little scary: How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favorite fruit

During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they’d been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: [picture]

Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana plants into this rotting, fibrous mass in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Since then the pathogen, known as the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease, has slowly but steadily ravaged export crops throughout Asia. The fact that this vicious soil-borne fungus has now made the leap to Mozambique and Jordan is frightening. One reason is that it’s getting closer to Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s $8.9-billion-a-year worth of exported bananas is grown.

[ … ]

And we don’t need to imagine what that would mean for banana exports—the exact scenario has already happened. Starting in 1903, Race 1, an earlier variant of today’s pathogen, ravaged the export plantations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within 50 years, Race 1 drove the world’s only export banana species, the Gros Michel, to virtual extinction. That’s why 99% of the bananas eaten in the developed world today are a cultivar called the Cavendish, the only export-suitable banana that could take on Race 1 and live to tell.

One of the strong possibilities of human transcendence has to do with human population. Yes, I’ve heard all the cool assertions about what educated, empowered women do: they have fewer children. And I’ve read that human population is even now leveling off. I sure do hope it’s true.

But what if, as I suspect, we’re already well over the carrying capacity of the Earth? What if we’re at 7 billion and still headed skyward (to 11 billion!), when the sustainable population is more like 5 billion? Three billion? Less?

What if we TRANSCEND our own homeworld’s welcome?