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Dancing and Assault Are Different

Everything I’m about to say is that obvious. Rights are rules that benefit everyone the same way and make life easier. All the rest — privileges, abuse, crimes — don’t work that way. Considering how simple it is, I’m convinced that when people pretend not to get it, it’s because they don’t want to. That implies talking about it isn’t very useful. The problem lies deeper. But since I don’t know how to fix the actual problem, I’ll talk about it anyway.

Planting seeds

First a few definitions. Rights, the way I’ll be using the word, are based on a given concept of fairness. In a grim development, “fair” is losing its meaning through overuse as every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and especially Donald, uses it to whine about not getting their own way. For the purposes of this discussion, I have to ask you to forget all the abuse of the word and pretend it could actually mean something.

Fairness intuitively means equal treatment, but there are problems with that definition when context is willfully ignored. If a nonexistent equality of circumstances is assumed, then in no time the magnificent impartiality of the law allows rich and poor alike to buy their own fast internet. Willful ignorance always leads to bad consequences, so keeping in mind that context is an integral factor of fairness, let’s look at equal treatment specifically.

The simplest definition of equality is the absence of double standards. What is allowed or punished for P is the same for Q. It’s not a rigid list allowing only specific things. It’s the equal application of general rules to specific situations as they arise.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to keep email secure. You could tell everyone, equally, that they must have their correspondence on a specific IBM server running a specific operating system and use two-factor authentication. But then Person A, let’s call her Amanda, uses a Hewlett Packard server, which is not the one specified. Bad, even though everything is still secure. Person B, on the other hand, let’s call him Egbert, uses the right setup, but has an automated script accessible to anyone to avoid the authentication bother. The specifics are all fine, he’s just added a layer that’s not in the book, so he’s good, even though nothing is secure. Everybody’s immediate reaction to that is, well, that’s stupid. That’s what I mean when I say the specifics of the particular situation are not the point.

Even less fairness can be achieved if Amanda is punished for incorrect email handling, while Egbert keeps his work on AOL and nobody cares. Equal treatment requires the relative distance of each from the goal of security to be judged and for the punishment to be proportional to that distance. That would be equal application of the rule, without double standards.

Keeping the avoidance of double standards firmly in mind, the distinction between rights and not-rights is easy.

Rights are those things we can do which do not curtail anyone else’s ability to do the same thing. They require no double standards, no inequality. My freedom to speak does not limit yours. My need to be free of physical harm doesn’t change your life in any way. My intention to marry someone doesn’t affect your ability to get married. None of those limits others’ abilities to have the same benefits or protections. Those are rights. I’ll go into some examples in a bit.

Privileges, on the other hand, depend on an asymmetry of power. If they’re applied to everyone equally they lead to absurdity in a couple of steps. The asymmetry can come from subtle social privilege or not so subtle economic or military force, but whatever the source, it’s used to allow some actions that would cause impossible situations if everyone did them.

For instance, if you insist on a right to make others live according to your religion, then, since it’s a right, I can equally insist that you live according to mine. But my religion is to kill all members of your religion. (That’s not just an impossible thought experiment. Both Christianity and Islam have clauses, best ignored, about holy war against heathens.) We’ve reached an absurd situation in exactly one step. There’s no way to resolve it on the basis of rights. One side has to have more power to force compliance from the other.

The crowning irony is that nobody has freedom of religion in that system since at any moment others could grab enough power to impose their will instead. Rights impose limits but allow more freedom than a complete free-for-all.

Violence is another easy example. It’s sometimes necessary to stop criminals or invaders, and yet if everyone had license to kill it would be impossible to have any kind of a society. Even the top banana, the last one standing, would soon die. That’s why the state is given a monopoly on the use of force, because some force is necessary but it cannot be a right. Freelance gun nuts are incompatible with having a life, as we’re finding out in the U. S. of A.

Another current example is vaccination. If it’s not voluntary, it’s taking away a person’s control over their own body, which is a very bad idea. There’s no way to apply that loss equally to everyone, and it has to be based on mere power to force compliance. On the other hand, an unvaccinated person can spread preventable disease, which is another kind of attack on a person. Given that spreading disease is a hugely bigger harm than a vaccination, that’s one case where it’s appropriate for the state to enforce compliance.

(Medically, voluntary compliance is much more effective. But purely as a matter of rights, there is no right to spread disease. Vaccination is a good example of how seamlessly rights come to mean what-I-think-is-good-for-me rather than what is good for everyone. We’re all susceptible to it, not just corporate executives and Donalds. Another tangent: obviously, if vaccines caused neurological problems that would be a major harm and change the balance of rights. But they do not. Vaccines do not cause autism. The links are a scientific article and a pdf that list many studies showing no connection and including millions of people. And on the other side is the one Wakefield study which did say there was a connection. That was based on 12 patients, with no controls in the experimental sense, and which turned out to be fraudulent. Developmental neurological issues do happen, unfortunately, but not due to vaccines. Disbelieving the mountain of evidence on vaccines is somewhere between rejecting evolution and rejecting the reality of climate change.)

Rights, unlike the previous examples, involve those actions which can be done by everyone equally. That has an important corollary. Once they’re applied in a way not available to everyone, they’re no longer rights. They’re the abuse of one or another kind of privilege.

Consider, for instance, free speech. It’s mainly interpreted as a right not to be silenced, and that is important. But our bigger problem now is being drowned out. With ads and clickbait shouting at us 24/7, what we need is a complementary right to silence. (Some of my thinking on that and the following issues here.) If we could all broadcast all the time, there would be no point trying to communicate at all. It’s a less bloody version of of the murder free-for-all. Nobody is heard, not even the person shouting.

Another current perversion of the right to free speech is spewing hate speech. The confusion between the two is in the process of destroying democracy, but we’re petrified to do anything about it in case it opens the door to government control over what can be said. That’s not an idle fear. Look at how quickly every resistance to people in power was labelled terrorism, whether it had any of the hallmarks of terrorism or not. Look at how quickly the Donald started labelling everything he didn’t like “fake news.” If he had a hope of shutting it down, he would. It is very important not to go down that road.

But it’s equally important to preserve democracy, which depends on free speech. Somehow, the right to free expression has to be limited to communication and has to exclude hate. I think we could make a start by improving the definition of what constitutes speech. At its essence, it’s about communicating something. Sharing ideas is a fundamentally different process than bamboozling or hurting people. Communication can be universal, hatred cannot be (in a functioning society). It ought to be possible to draw a more accurate line between them.

It’s interesting in this context that the people who use hate speech seem to know quite well what they’re doing, even if they won’t usually admit it. I’ll never forget when Steve Bannon left the White House to return to Breitbart where he’d once again be free to spout anything. “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said. Speech as a weapon should be no more protected than knives can be used to “communicate.”

If we could wrap our minds around the rights of the situation, we could stop getting sidetracked into thinking punching Nazis will get us anywhere except down the spiralling hole where violence always leads. If we have a right to punch them because we think they’re bad people, they have the same right to punch us because they think we’re bad people. Might makes right is not the route to a fun life. Instead, understanding rights means we know the solution is to figure out the definition of hate speech and then to shut the poison down.

One last example of how not to twist free speech is the policing of discussions of trans issues. Part of the trans activist community feels that transwomen must be considered women in all respects, not just socially but also when biology is in conflict with that categorization. (There is no noticeable equivalent pressure on behalf of transmen, i.e. people born female.) To do other than that is considered transphobic which has such a severe impact on transwomen it can lead some to suicide. Therefore any discussion that does not accept those assumptions is lethal hate speech and must be stopped.

That thinking requires an obvious double standard. We can’t all be on the edge of suicide and demanding from others that they do everything our way or they’re guilty of pushing us into it. Nobody would be able to do anything if emotional blackmail was a legitimate tactic to shut people down.

Transpeople, men and women, do suffer violence, but as with most violence, it is committed by men. (For instance, globally 96% of homicides are committed by men p.95.) Assault and murder are already illegal. They’re also in a different class than speech one doesn’t like. Free speech definitely covers unpopular topics. Trying to police women, for instance discussing pregnancy, by using emotional blackmail because men are committing crimes is very much an illegitimate suppression of speech that should be free.

As the free speech examples show, distinguishing between rights and their abuse gets into some gray areas. But just because there are murky zones doesn’t mean we have to give up on the clear ones. When there is actual doubt, by all means let’s give that area the benefit of the doubt. When it’s pretty clear that something is nothing but trash talk, we should stop protecting it and throw it out.

I’ve tried to show how it’s possible to distinguish rights from privilege by seeing whether the action in question can be done by everyone equally. When not, people aren’t demanding their rights. They’re demanding special treatment. The title isn’t totally facetious. Rights are like a dance where everyone follows the same rules to everyone’s benefit.

Crossposted to Skydancing/a>



The Good and the Pit of Hell

The good part is the Irish referendum to repeal their forced pregnancy 8th amendment. Marvelous photos of people converging to vote (they don’t have absentee ballots, I guess??). #HomeToVote. The hashtag is worth reading on the twitter machine, but have a box of tissues handy. The wonderful women and men of Ireland buried, just plain obliterated, the bigots who think women are a cheaper version of artificial wombs, who refuse to see that women are human beings.

Going home to vote

(Alastair Moore)

+ – + – +

The appalling, horrible, devastating, dire, harrowing, terrifying part is the US government forcibly separating mothers and fathers and children. Some of the children are just a year old. One. year. old. And some have been handed over to somebody, anybody. Some unaccompanied minors given to human traffickers.

Earlier on my blog I had a post about the USA’s continued slide into depravity.

 

Burned mosque in Victoria, Texas. January 2017

(Bob Daemmrich)
 

But bad as a hate crime is against a symbol of religion, a hate crime against living, breathing children is even worse.

The sad thing is I think all of us screaming about the atrociousness of it are missing the point.

It’s not like they (the Bully in Chief, his administration, ICE, etc.) didn’t realize the suffering they would cause. It’s not like us pointing it out is going to lead to a big “D’OH!” moment and they’ll quit it.

The suffering is the point. That’s the worst of it. This is fully intentional.

The point is to stop immigration. And I can see where it could slow it way down. If the choice is murder by a local drug gang or losing your children to traffickers, I could see deciding to take a chance on avoiding the murderers. And then the monsters running the US will crow about how well their crimes of state worked.

I just … this has to stop … I wish I knew how. Yes, November. But November is not now. It has to stop now. It has to. It won’t.

Crossposted to Widdershins



And now for something completely different

Let’s talk about bitcoin. This was brought on by the news that the hunt for bitcoins is using as much energy as the entire country of Ireland now. And, at the current rate of growth one possible trajectory has it using all the world’s energy by 2021.

Which it won’t do, of course. People are going to insist on having a little bit of heat to cook and stay warm, but it does tell you how crazy the bitcoin path currently is.

What is bitcoin? The idea behind it is to have a cash equivalent when financial transactions are increasingly electronic. There is a value to having anonymous, untraceable money, just as there is value in anonymous, untraceable speech. It makes it harder for anyone to grab control over people. The downside, of course, is that it also makes it easier for criminals and hatemongers to do their thing.

Without going into the computerese of it all, you’re using processing power to do the calculations necessary to keep a transaction both secure and untraceable. (Although there’s some dispute about the perfection of the untraceability of it in all cases.) Secure untraceable transactions could actually be very useful in the case of, for instance digital voting.

A couple of points about bitcoin: there is a finite number of bitcoins allowed by the bitcoin system. I think the idea was that this was necessary for it to retain any kind of value. Obviously, if you can just “print” infinite numbers of bitcoins, they’re meaningless. It’s the same characteristic that makes gold valuable. There’s just so much of it and no more.

The second thing is that the closer you get to that limit, the more processing you have to do to get the computer to say it’s produced a secure untraceable transaction, a bitcoin. Producing a single bitcoin now takes as much energy as a US household uses in a month, very approximately. When this folderol started, I could have generated a hundred of them on my little laptop in minutes.

What is money? To understand what bitcoin actually is, I think it’s helpful to think about what money actually is. There’s a lot of dispute about the latter, so this is my view. (Which is right, of course. You at the back, pipe down.) It agrees with some of the Great Grandads of Economics (Keynes, for instance, unless I’ve totally misunderstood him), but not others.

At it’s most basic, money is a measure of value that allows us to exchange things that have real value — cabbages and houses and medical services and classes in Japanese flower arranging — without having to use barter. Barter isn’t bad, it’s just terribly inefficient. It depends on the buyer happening to have whatever the seller wants in exchange, and then both agreeing how much of A, say 5 cabbages, is worth how much of B, say on class on flowers. (And then, if you’re the teacher, what are you going to do with the 50 cabbages your students have given you?)

If money is a measure, then someone has to define what it’s measuring. With feet and meters that’s not a problem because we all know how and where to use yardsticks. But measuring value is a whole different ballgame.

There are fleets of economists who work on that sort of thing. And they can actually get reasonably close to what a given economy is producing. Money, at its best, then measures that and makes it easy to exchange things at sensible prices.

 
Wealth

(Katelyn Wang)

The trouble comes in because money is also used as a store of value. You can put it in the bank and use your “rulers” of value later to buy things you need. People tend to confuse the storage function with the measuring function, even though storing value has to be (very) secondary to how money works. If not, you get the absurdity of people storing all the rulers, which are useless in themselves, and grinding the economy to a halt. In the case of real yardsticks, nobody would be able to make clothes or build houses or bridges or do anything else that requires measurement. In the case of money, too many people don’t have enough to keep the economy turning and depressions happen.

That is why countries abandoned the gold standard. There’s a finite amount of gold. What happens when you invent steam engines and telephones and computers? You get into the stupid situation of not having enough gold to measure all that. (Or the even stupider situation of making a unit of gold near-priceless and bestowing vast wealth on people who happen to hold gold. Needless to say, the holders of gold preferred this alternative.)

So countries have gone to a system where the money supply is supposed to reflect the size of the economy.

What does this mean for bitcoin? You see where this is headed. Bitcoin explicitly measures nothing. Its whole function is to store some-kind-of-value but it’s finite. So, like gold, it cannot reflect changes to the underlying economy.

It has no means of defining value. No fleets of economists. The whole principle is “stuff costs what any fool will pay for it.” That does not work for a real economy and just gives all the “rulers” to the people who already have them.

And, finally, it has no means of enforcing legal trade. If someone rips you off, there’s zero recourse. As a subset of the lack of enforcement, it also facilitates extremely sketchy trading, such as trafficking, pedophilia, and counterfeit medicines. Much as I might like to stop the GOOG and everybody else from spying on my every purchase of deodorant, I don’t think facilitating pedophiles is an acceptable price to pay. We could, you know, just have regulation that outlaws tracking.

So, in conclusion, this is where bitcoin stands. It’s a fun idea. The computer process involved could be useful in things like voting. It’s not money, because it does not measure value. It’s a digital analogy for gold: an arbitrary something people have decided to use instead of money. It could have been (and has been in the past) conch shells. It the future it might be tobacco plants genetically engineered to grow stained glass leaves. You can’t base an economy on stuff like that.

An economy has to be based on actual value and money has to be something that measures that.

So bitcoin, and all the other cryptocurrencies, are not useful for the real economy and, as currently constituted, are using up so much energy that they’re cancelling out all the gains made by the shift to renewables.

You know what? That crap needs the shit regulated out it.

 

Crossposted also on Widdershins



It’s a tragedy. Men are learning to cook

I am a horrible person. When I saw this, I laughed out loud.

[Sexism and misogyny has caused men to] outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.

The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching …

Among men, loneliness and depression are widespread. Villages are emptying out. Men are learning to cook and perform other chores long relegated to women.

(The misogyny has always been there, of course, but modern medical technology has made it much more effective at preventing or destroying female embryos.)

So now the appalling, outrageous, gobsmacking consequences. Men, men!, have to perform chores formerly done by women.

The horror. The horror.

But this is not the end of our hero’s suffering. The shortage of women means the price is going up. You have to build bigger houses to get a bride or pay more to the traffickers if you’re using the mail order system.

What’s that? The woman’s sufferings might be a few orders of magnitude worse? Not really. It’s a well-known fact that women don’t feel pain. Or if they do, they like it. Or if they don’t like it, they put up with it. They’re weird that way. You can’t understand them.

Men are of course not helpless in all this. With their superior intelligence they’ve found methods that are sure to attract women. They harass schoolgirls. They commit rape.

Strangely enough, that doesn’t lead to relationships. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Sooner or later even those bizarre creatures known as women will figure out what they’re supposed to do. Right?

– + –

 

If this was not reality causing unimaginable suffering to billions of people, if it was just a movie, I’d be curious to see whether societies would stick with sexism until it killed them. Or whether the prospect of existential suicide would give them a big enough dope slap to see new worlds.

All I hear is laughter and “Good luck with that.”



Taking up Michael Avenatti’s challenge

Stormy Daniels’ attorney said this:

 

For those that criticize my client for her profession, let he or she who has NEVER voluntarily viewed ANY form of pornography or gone to a strip club or burlesque show throw as many stones as they wish. As for the others (dare I say over 95%) – BASTA!!! #ownit #dontbeahypocrite

 

As a member of that tiny percentage —

I’m going to interrupt myself to say I bet it’s a lot larger than 5%. You do seem to be including women in “those” by saying “he or she.” Women are 50% of the population and only a minority have enough Stockholm Syndrome to watch that stuff according to research I remember seeing somewhere. (Yes, impressive, I know.) It was 25% or so. Which right there means about 38% of adults don’t do porn. Add in the 5% of men you generously credit with sense and we’re up to 43%.

Where was I? Oh, right. As a member of that not-so-limited class I get to throw stones.

But why would I want to? All I see of her is a person of huge courage and a sense of humor. (Troll: “your uterus fell out.” Stormy: “Oh shit. Could you pick it up for me?”) It takes a lot of training, whether by porn or otherwise, to despise women so much you can’t even see the stature of someone like Daniels.

So the irony is most stonethrowers are going to be exactly the people with no right.

It’s almost like there’s a pattern. White supremacists are the least supreme whites. Men’s “Rights” Activists are the ones with zero understanding of anybody’s rights. Snooty hipsters putting someone down for lack of cool are the uncoolest people on the planet. It’s always the same.



Does conservatism have a point?

At this point the word “conservative” has lost its meaning. The people it’s applied to have made it synonymous with moneygrubbing bullies who have the moral code of an earwig.

Conservatism does have a dictionary definition, however. It’s obviously about conserving. The only question is what.

Officially, officially, they’re supposed to be just as solid on foundational rights as everybody else. They’re supposed to have the same respect for the Magna Cartas, Bills of Rights, Constitutions, and rule of law in the world as all the other stripes of democratic political thought.

They’re called conservatives because they’re supposed to place a higher value on conserving existing institutions rather than changing them when there’s not enough evidence that would solve problems. They’re not supposed to be against all change. They’re just supposed to be more cautious about fixing things that may not broken.

Anyone who’s aware of what happened with the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, ISIS/Daesh, Lord’s Resistance Army (which started out with some idealism!), and on and on and on, should be able to see why smashing the paradigm, or whichever buzzwords one prefers, does not necessarily end well.

Conservatism in the dictionary definition does have validity.

Granted, most of the systems in our current world are irretrievably broken. Start with the existential threat posed by climate change. On its own, even without the dozen other urgent problems, that requires changes in capitalism, social structure, and almost all industrial methods. (I have ideas on the full scope of that. Of course I do.) Climate change desperately needs a real, well thought out global revolution with funding levels appropriate to a global war. (See e.g. me twelve — 12! — effing years ago.)

Classical conservatism is not the solution now, but even now it is still good — it is always good — to tread carefully and to make sure that creative destruction is actually creative and not just destruction.

Modern “conservatism” is never a solution. It’s nothing but a grab to own women, weaker countries, anybody who doesn’t count. It’s conservative only in the sense that it’s the same thing tyrants have always done.

But it’s vital not to get carried away. It’s vital to remember that actual conservatives could have a point. In future, as the problems pile up and we get more desperate, it may be a very important point.

 

Brought on by David Roberts, Ed Burmila, neither of whom I disagree with at all in their analysis of what modern “conservatism” has become.



I am going to be ungrateful

Today is International Women’s Day.

 

Spanish women’s strike, March 8, 2018

photographer unknown. Reuters

 

Meanwhile, men (with female assistance, you can always find some who assist in any underclass, as well as some men who do not) use every tool in the book to make sure women don’t count. Women should be baby-producing chattel who shut up and are nice about it. There is a mountain of daily murders to make sure they are, as well as sexual terror. Such crude methods should not be mentioned in polite society, so they’re often denied against the evidence. (Yes, it’s worth noting that those two examples are from the US, where the mass of crimes is not as massive as other examples that are easy to find.) The list goes on. Genital mutilation. A slave trade that spans the globe and sells mostly women and girls.

There are forced marriages of girls. They’re not sold, of course. There are just economic incentives. The women are beaten to force compliance, can’t leave, and get nothing for their work except permission to go on living (sometimes not even that). But people don’t call it slavery because it’s labelled marriage.

Women do some 70% of the world’s work, lots of it totally unpaid, get some 30% of global income, and own a small fraction of the world’s assets (WEF 2016, and estimated at 1% in this WSJ summary of a World Bank Development Report on Gender Equality 2012.). That is trillions of dollars every year robbed from women.

One day a year is not enough for half the human race.



The cost of war

The cost of war

Andrew Harper (? not sure, see image)

 

This little four year-old was found by the UN workers in the photo, walking through the desert from Syria to Jordan. All he had was the shopping bag he carried, and all it contained was some clothes belonging to his dead mother and sister, killed in Syria.

(Seen here.)

We need a new world. STAT!



Democracy works

We should try it sometime.

From Kaivan Shroff:

  • He used rallies often
  • He fed off of white male rage
  • He refused to release his tax returns
  • He had no detailed policy plans
  • His campaign was illegally supported by the #Russians
  •  
  • Hillary Clinton beat him by millions of votes
 
Bernie Sanders on the left, Trump on the right, both in the same 'I'm holding forth' attitude.

 


About the Debrowning of the USA

After all the testerical yelling about ridding the country of aaaaack-CRIMINALS-!!!!! we’re deporting people brought in as toddlers, who hold jobs (doctors, astronomers, teachers), and have families.

Most recently, a father of five has been in the news. Sole support of his family, his wife is pregnant, and one of his children is struggling with leukemia. The father has not held up a pharmacy or anything. All he’s done is be brown in the USA. So ICE has to get rid of him.

Let us, just for a moment, entertain the fantasy that something is to be gained by debrowning the country.

People who’ve done the arithmetic point out that it’s impossible, merely by the numbers. Forget the cruelty involved.

But just as a thought experiment, what happens when you give the project your all and throw out every brown person you physically can? Not taking any legal or other resistance into account. This is about ideal conditions according to the Trumpalo philosophy.

You reduce the browning of the country by five years.

Five years.

That’s all. You buy yourself a slightly whiter country for a grand total of five years. And the price is endless suffering and a shredded Constitution.



Inching closer to a cure for some cancers

So long as you avoid politics, there are some interesting things going on in the great wide world.

Sagiv-Barfi and Levy led the work on a possible cancer treatment that involves injecting two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors.

The bottom line is this: 87 out of 90 mice were cured — as in they had no cancers after treatment. The three that weren’t did respond to a second treatment. These results are phenomenal.

Yes, humans don’t always respond as well as mice, etc., etc., etc. Even with all the caveats, these results are phenomenal.

What’s equally phenomenal is that the treatment does not cause the whole immune system to go into overdrive, which has caused problems, even fatalities, in some immunotherapies. It just kicks the responsible immune cells already in the tumor into recognizing the culprits. And then those T4 cells kill that cancer wherever it’s found in the body.

There’s no need to design proteins, culture patients’ cells, or do any other fancy, expensive and customized-to-each-patient procedures.

The treatment also worked on mice genetically engineered to develop solid tumors.

It was tested only on solid cancers, not, for instance, leukemia.

Both of the immune-stimulating agents have already been used in humans, one is already an approved treatment, so the regulatory slog is likely to be less sloggy than normal.

Can’t wait!

Ronald Levy and Idit Sagiv-Barfi, Stanford.

(Steve Fisch)

Eradication of spontaneous malignancy by local immunotherapy, by Idit Sagiv-Barfi, Debra K. Czerwinski, Shoshana Levy, Israt S. Alam, Aaron T. Mayer, Sanjiv S. Gambhir and Ronald Levy. Science Translational Medicine 31 Jan 2018: Vol. 10, Issue 426, eaan4488
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan4488



#MeToo and why sex is in no danger

The status quo is beginning to regroup after the initial onslaught of the #MeToo movement. Of course, it’s more effective to have women to make its case. Keeps everything polite. It’s just a bunch of women with different opinions, right?

Recently, for instance, Catherine Deneuve, who has been a movie star since the 1960s, and her co-signatories lamented the loss of sexual fun if men had to start paying attention to what women want. As Laura Kipnis points out at the end of her excellent article:

It’s the historical amnesia of the Deneuve document that’s so objectionable. To the extent that women’s bodies are still treated as public property by men, whether that means groping us or deciding what we can do with our uteruses, women do not have civic equality. To miss that point is to miss the political importance and the political lineage of #MeToo: the latest step in a centuries long political struggle for women to simply control our own bodies. …

The political requirement of the post-#MeToo moment is insisting that control of our bodies is the beginning of freedom. Not its terminus, but a starting point. Freedom needs to be more than notional, it also needs to be embodied.

Autonomy, freedom, civil rights are the substance of #MeToo.

But I wanted to address the silly end of the spectrum: the concept that somehow sex will become a robotic interaction requiring permission slips signed in triplicate.

The problem is that we (humans) don’t have a reality-based concept of what sex is.

No, really. Hear me out.

One school of thought imagines that it’s anything to do with sex organs. So, if sex organs are involved, rape and torture are somehow about sex. As if anyone spends their days dreaming about how to be brutalized. To paraphrase Kipnis a bit, “It sounds like an especially Catholic form of [sex], involving much mortification of the flesh.”

The intense stupidity of that definition has led to the recent refinement centering consent. Sex is still about using sex organs, but it has to be preceded by the people involved saying, “Oh, awright already.”

That means out-and-out crimes can’t hide behind sex, but it doesn’t solve the problem of jerks or of the social power they hold. Jill Filipovic wrote an insightful article pointing out that “sex in a misogynist world” has thousands of ways of giving women colorless unsatisfying experiences at best. They may not be assault, but they have the same philosophy: women don’t count.

#MeToo exploded at that attitude. The movement wants the end of the entire steaming pile of crap, and that’s what has some people so worried. They may not really see why sex crimes are crimes and not sex, but they’re learning to shut up about it. They’ve heard of the concept that the woman should be getting something she wants out of sex and they’re so broadminded they’re fine with that if it doesn’t require anything from them.

But the #MeToo movement is also objecting to, well, what can you call it but plain old rudeness? That lack of consideration you dump on worthless people because there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Where will it all end? (Yes, of course those same men are quite capable of being polite to bosses and policemen, but women are so weird and mysterious, you know? They don’t understand jokes. They take offense at mistakes.) Nobody will be able to do anything and you’ll never get any sex again.

(In one limited respect it is a valid concern. We’re dealing with a scale that goes from criminal to socially unacceptable to rude. At the nether ends of the scale, the sorts of situations where exposure or job loss or jail are good consequences, due process is a real concern. Margaret Atwood was jumped on by the twitverse for having the temerity to point that out. Due process may not always entail the full nine legal yards. It might be less formal ways of verifying the truth of complaints. But whatever its precise form, the point is to avoid lumping the innocent in with the guilty. How can anybody, whose whole complaint is an inability to find justice for themselves, insist on depriving others of justice?)

So, to return to the worry that sex as we know it will vanish and nobody will ever get any again, that would be true. If sex is something to get, there’s no part of that spectrum that’s any use to the thing being got. Not the relatively less harmful end of intravaginal masturbation, and growing worse all the way down till it disappears into criminal types of getting. That’s why Rebecca Traister in her excellent article points out that consensual sex can still be bad and quotes Dusenbery saying that what’s needed is to “promote a specific vision of what sexual equality could entail.”

Well, here’s my version of that vision.

Have you ever been with a group of good friends, sharing jokes that just get funnier and funnier until you’re all helpless with laughter? Possibly the individual jokes aren’t even all that hilarious, but the mood catches everyone and gets stronger in the sharing. If you told yourself the same joke in an empty room, it might be funny but you’d barely smile.

You see where that analogy is headed. That’s how to view sex. It’s a feeling of play, and fun, and delight, and pleasure that’s gets stronger in the sharing. And it’s definitely not the same by yourself in an empty room. Sex organs help trigger the feeling, but the feeling is the point, not the organs. Just as breath and vocal cords enable laughter. The feeling of fun is the point, not vocal exercise.

Another way the analogy is useful is to demonstrate that sex is not and cannot be on any spectrum where sharing is impossible. If the boss tells a joke and everybody has to dutifully laugh, it’s not fun at all. And that’s analogous to the relatively benign, masturbatory end of the scale of unshared sex. There’s no equivalent for the tortured end because nobody ever terrorizes someone into immobility and chokes puffs of air out of them and tries to call that laughter.

Power differentials preclude sharing, and the bigger the difference the less sharing is possible.

But wait, I hear objections at the back. Men get off. They don’t care about the rest of these fancy sex feelings.

That would be like saying sneezing is the same as laughter. It is not. Laughter happens when you’re having fun. Sneezing, like orgasm without feelings, is just a reflex. It’s a release, but it’s not exactly fun. The two are not the same. One doesn’t feel like happiness. The other does.

Besides, if getting off was the only requirement, everybody would simply masturbate. Much simpler, if the result was the same. It’s not. Instead, women turn themselves inside out and their lives upside down in the hope of sharing good time with men. And men bend the whole society into making sure women need them and will be there for them. If men didn’t care about loving feelings, they wouldn’t need to try to turn women into some kind of domestic pets trained to provide them.

Trying to keep humans as sex pets requires crosslinkage between dominance and sex. That may work to justify keeping human pets, but it doesn’t change the fundamental incompatibility between sharing fun and forcing submission. You can crosslink the use of sex organs and dominance all you want, it’ll never bring happiness. It’s like crosslinking a bicycle and a sledgehammer and expecting the combination to bake a cake. None of those things work together or achieve any result. It’s a fundamental error about what sex is.

The result is an irony floating on top of the cosmic waste that is patriarchy: you’ll only get the highs it promises when you ditch it.

The thing is, love and life and laughter will always pull people like the sun pulls the earth. People will always stream toward sex that feels good and away from pain and humiliation. Sex is in no danger. The patriarchy is.



We’re having a slo-mo Kristallnacht

The parallels have moved on from words to deeds.

There’s a huge difference of course. The US approach is not systematic. It’s scattershot. And it relies on non-state actors to commit the actual rapes, tortures, and killings. For the most part.

Ask any woman who has to avoid dark streets, subway stations, buses, parking garages, and who has to put bars on the windows and doors of her home how effective non-state terror can be.

Disorganization and using other people to do your dirtiest work does not actually prove you are better than the classical Nazis.

It just proves you’re more dishonest.

 

Burned mosque in Victoria, Texas. January 2017

(Bob Daemmrich)
 


Not even close

I love Joy Reid. Funny, true, insightful, informed, everything you could hope for in a journalist.

She’s not always deathly serious (laughter is the only balm these days) so on her twitter feed I found this, which led to many photos along these lines:

 

 

I was laughing till my stomach hurt at the whole series and many of the priceless comments, in spite of being clear on how likely compensatory (BIG) button-pushing would be in consequence.

But then further down in Joy’s feed was a link to an article in The Economist:

Conserve elephants: they hold a scientific mirror up to humans.

 

Fording the Ewaso-Nyiro River in Samburu, Kenya. 2013. Carl de Souza

 

You really can’t talk about the species in the first picture and elephants on the same page. It’s just lucky they’re too advanced to hire lawyers.



A thousand thanks to black people

You’ve saved us all from the worst. Again. Talk about the value of diversity.

I remember the first time this hit me between the eyes. David Duke decided to challenge Edwin Edwards for the governorship of Louisiana. Duke, card-carrying Nazi white supremacist. Edwards, not totally awful, fairly competent incumbent governor who’d used his position for some truly massive corruption. It was so bad he eventually got sent to Federal jail for ten years. But at the time he was out and about. And we all had bumperstickers: Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.

Well, Edwards won, but I was aghast to see that if it had been up to whites we would have woken up to the Nazi. Sixty percent of the white vote went to the card-carrying Nazi. Sixty percent.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the blacks of Alabama. Thank you to the NAACP who had the sense to work on voter registration and turnout. Thank you to all the other groups who helped facilitate voting. Thank you to Doug Jones who had the sense to understand that people needed help voting. And thank you to the large minority of white women and the smaller minority of white men who were capable of telling right from wrong. At a time like this, it’s useful to remember that good people come in all shapes and sizes.

We really are stronger together.

black woman hugging white woman in a crowd

 

(Mickey Welsh)



There’s a lesson here

Somewhere. This is why science is useful. Scientists go to the bottom of the ocean (reported via Oceanwire and @azula) and find:

 

 

The redlipped batfish. A fish that’s serious about make-up. And here’s the thing: It uses those outrageously plumped up and fire engine red lips to lure predators toward its mouth. (No doubt they swim up expecting a meal and instead they become dinner.)

There’s a moral to this story, I think, if I could just remember which other species sometimes has this kind of display.