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Why sexual assault is fine and abortion is not

Honestly, people. This isn’t hard. You just have to keep your priorities straight.

Sexual assault makes everyone without a man card try to be invisible. That makes life much easier for real people who do have man cards.

Forced pregnancy keeps women chained to their biology and, bonus!, can never be used against real people with a man card.

You could of course use any part of biology to accomplish the same thing. You could withhold food or air or keep the nobodies immobile in a cage. But that’s crude. And besides, this way you can give yourself a nice little halo for caring so much about something that doesn’t exist while making sure that women, who do exist, don’t count.

So, if you’re trying to keep your cozy, nice high status man card, of course assault is okay and abortion is the end of all things.

For God’s sake, if women could just walk around loose, how would you keep them down on the farm?

“End sarcasm” tag perhaps. See comments.

 

Equality is poison when your worth depends on power over others.

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Just call US a Dark Age dictatorship

The global gag rule the Dump in the White House signed not long ago will kill women. But officially that’s an unfortunate unintended consequence.

Not this. The whole point is to go out and find people minding their own business and kill them. [Update 2017-10-08] It’s about more than gays. It also supports the death penalty for apostasy (leaving a religion), blasphemy (saying things like “Christ on a bike!”), and adultery. At this rate, the planet’s overpopulation problem could soon be solved. (Ostensibly, this US vote is because of the dreadful risk it might interfere with their ability to off prisoners when they want to.)

US votes against UN resolution condemning gay sex death penalty, joining Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The full list:

 

And you shall know them by the company they keep.

 
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This dude. And his kidneys. Should run for US Congress.

Sometimes you just stand there, with a mouth full of teeth, gaping, dumbfounded.

The following thread happened on twitter:

The Motherhub: So furious everytime I hear reference to the ‘debate’ on abortion. How come the whole country gets to debate on my body? My rights?

Stephen McKillop: In fairness there’s more to it than just that. There’s an unborn child whose life and future is also affeccted by this issue.

Victoria Smith: Do you worry this much about the lives and futures of those who might benefit from that extra kidney of yours?

And the dude’s gobsmacking response:

“But I’ve genuinely no idea what relevance the kidney point has to pregnancy.”

Jesus take the wheel.

Really? I mean, really?

What do you think pregnancy is? The woman as some kind of ceramic pot? She carries a homunculus around until it’s grown big enough, no doubt by absorbing quintessence straight from the aether, to be born?

There’s this thing called a placenta. It’s a stupendously complicated organ that interfaces with the fetus’s circulatory system and allows the mother’s lungs and digestion and kidneys to perform all the vital functions for the fetus.

The fetus is using her kidneys, as if she was a human dialysis machine. Her kidneys allow it to live.

Just as your spare kidney could be removed and given to someone who’s dying for lack of a transplant.

So, now that you know she’s not just a pot, and you apparently feel people must save others’ lives at the cost of their own bodies, you’re going to understand when a kidney is surgically removed from you, right?

After all, there’s an adult human whose life and future are affected by that issue.

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Women are human or chattel. Not both.

We have a choice. We can do what it takes to live among equals, and benefit from all the fun and fascinating things some of those people will come up with. Or we can live in a Handmaid’s Tale, but without uniforms, of course, I mean, we wouldn’t want to be obvious about it, right?

There’s one very simple test of where you fall on the spectrum of believers in slavery.

Human beings have rights. They can’t be bought or sold or deployed as some master sees fit.

Slaves, on the other hand, don’t own themselves.

So, do you think women have control over their own bodies? Or don’t you?

If you do, you want to live in a world of equality. If you don’t, you think women are properly chattel, there to serve at someone else’s discretion.

It’s really that simple. You can’t be a “pro-life liberal.” (The crap about how Democrats should accommodate that drivel was the last straw and brought on this podium-thumping rant.) You can’t say the right to make your own decisions about your own body is some tertiary issue. If you think other people’s rights to their own bodies are unimportant, you’re pro-chattel.

We call the right to make your own decisions “pro-choice,” but that obscures the issue. The essence is that the choice has to rest with the woman who has the body that necessitates the choice. You might be against abortion in your own life. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what you can’t be is against abortion in someone else’s life.

You cannot make decisions about somebody else’s body without turning her into a slave. It’s the very definition of slavery. You have taken away her ownership of her own body.

We’re so used to thinking of women as some kind of not-really-humans that it’s easier to understand the point if it’s translated to general terms.

Taking that choice away from the woman involved is exactly equivalent to hauling people off the street and hooking them into a dialysis machine to act as a filter for someone else’s blood.

The mere thought is horrible.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s necessary to save someone’s life or not. That’s not the point. Not when it’s real humans dragooned into being dialysis machines.

It’s only when it’s women that suddenly somehow a fetus takes precedence.

And note that it’s only since the invention of the birth control pill that some people got into a lather about the personhood of the fetus. Before that, injunctions against sex, which did not apply to men, were enough to control women’s bodies. It’s never been about the “life” (read “personhood”) of the fetus. If it was, they’d care a lot more about what kind of life that fetus has once it’s born. It’s always been about trying to stop women from owning their own bodies.

Note also that all the measures pushing fetal personhood necessarily take that status away from the woman involved. The fetal personhood bills are really Women Are Non-Persons bills, but their authors try to avoid plain speech.

So, as I say, it’s a simple test whether you’re pro-equality or pro-slavery. Do you think abortion is a woman’s decision or not?

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How to stop weaponized speech?

Free speech defined as whatever anyone wants to say has got us here. A Chatbot sits in the White House. It’s not a theoretical question anymore whether the marketplace of ideas works and whether good ideas win out over bad ones. It all just got real and the answer is no.

But the answer is obviously not to shut down the right. There’s a reason freedom of speech is right up in the First Amendment. A society that loses its grip on reality is not long for this world, and self-serving groupthink among elites has doomed societies throughout history. The idea behind free speech is to avoid that fate. If everybody can provide insight, the truth is likelier to come out than if just a few people are looking. Many heads are better than one.

(I know. There are a mountain of issues to unpack in that too-simple summary. “What is truth?” for one. I’ve explored this a bit in Rethinking Democracy and in a number of posts on this site, listed at the end.)

The point here is that as a matter of practical fact free speech is foundational and the current approach is not working. We need to fix it. We don’t know how many dumpsterfires civilization can stand and it would be nice not to find the breaking point the hard way.

Fixing it requires identifying what’s wrong, and without an exhaustive list there are at least a couple of obvious reasons why the current approach to free speech does not work. The so-called marketplace of ideas assumes we’ll study all the ideas out there, weigh the evidence in favor of each, and come to the logical conclusion about which ideas are best.

There is so much wrong with that, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s impossible to study all the ideas out there. Who would have the time? Leave aside all objections about insufficient education, or intelligence, or poor presentation in the media, the simple limitation of time is enough to make nonsense of the assumption. Everything else could be perfect, and the time limits mean it still could never work.

Then there’s the psychological factor that people hate to be wrong. That means rethinking one’s opinion is much less likely to happen than forming an opinion to start with. Reserving judgment is difficult — both scholarship generally and science specifically are simply years of training in how to reserve judgment — and it’s the last thing we humans are naturally good at.

So if there is a lot of appealing garbage in this marketplace of ideas we keep hearing about, they’re not going to give way to the good ideas hiding in the back stalls. On the contrary, once people have heard it and thought it sounded plausible, they don’t want to re-examine it.

And that gets us Chatbots in the White House.

So what to do? How do we stop this travesty of one of the foundational rights? How do we get past the paralysis of losing free speech because we’re so desperate to preserve it?

One obvious point to start with is who should not decide on what is covered by the free speech label. Governments are the worst arbiters. In the very epicenter of desperation about free speech, the USA, it took the Chatbot-in-Chief mere seconds to label news he didn’t like “fake.” (Or, today, Turkey blocked Wikipedia, Wikipedia, for threatening “national security.”) Corporations are appalling arbiters. Google and Facebook and Amazon and the whole boiling of them don’t give a flying snort in a high wind what kind of dreck pollutes their servers so long as it increases traffic and therefore money to them. Experts are another subset who are never consistently useful. You have the Mac Donalds who’d prefer to shut down speech they don’t like, although they dress it up in fancier words. You have the Volokhs and Greenwalds and Assanges who can afford to be free speech absolutists because they’re not the ones being silenced. And finally, crowdsourcing doesn’t work either. That rapidly degenerates into popularity contests and witch hunts and is almost as far away as corporations from understanding the mere idea of truth. (The whole web is my reference for that one, unfortunately.)

As to who should decide, I don’t know. But instead of trying to figure out the edge cases first, the ones where the decisions are crucial, maybe we should start with the easier ones. Some of the problems with free speech involve expressions which are simple to categorize or have significant consensus. So maybe it would be possible to start with the non-difficult, non-gray areas.

Hate speech. It’s not actually speech as the word is used when talking about the right. Speech and expression are about communication, but the purpose of hate speech is hurt. It’s a weapon (that happens to use words), not communication. Pretending it should be protected, like some of the absolutists do especially when “only” women are targeted, is like protecting knife throwers if they say that’s how they “communicate.”

still from Minnie the Moocher 1932

Not only that, but hate speech silences its targets. It actually takes away the free speech rights of whole sets of people. That really needs to be a in bold capitals: it takes away the right to free speech. Shutting it down is essential to preserving the right.

Hate speech can shade into art and politics and religion but, again, let’s not worry about the difficult parts.

We could try one simple approach that might make a big difference by itself. Make it illegitimate to express any physical threats to someone or to target anyone with descriptions of bodily injury.

That seems doable because I can’t think of any insight one might want to communicate that requires physical threats to get the point across. I may just have insufficient imagination, in which case exceptions would have to be made. But as a beginning in the fight against hate speech, prohibiting wishes for bodily injury seems like a fairly clearcut start.

The first-line decisions about unacceptable content could be made by machine, much as automatic content recognition now prevents us from having search results swamped in porn. The final arbiters would have to be humans of course, but at least whether or not physical harm is involved is a relatively clearcut matter.

But even such a conceptually simple standard becomes intimidating when one remembers that applying it would render entire comment sections of the web speechless. They would have to stop yelling “Fuck you!” at each other.

That’s not just a wish for someone to get laid. It gets its power from wishing rape on people, it means “get totally messed up, humiliated, and destroyed.” It is, in the meaning of the words, a wish for physical injury and it would be illegal even though everybody insists they don’t mean it.

Expecting automated content recognition to discern intent is asking too much. Expecting humans to police every comment is also impossible. So even such a small, simple (it’s only simple if it can have an automated component) attempt at reducing hate speech means whole areas of the web would have to find new ways to function. They wouldn’t like that. After all, the reason hate speech is such a massive problem is that too many people don’t want to stop indulging in it.

But it gets worse. Another aspect of hate speech is the broadcast of dehumanizing putdowns against whole classes of people. And that causes people to get so angry they start memes about how great it is to punch Nazis.

It is not great. It’s a rather Nazi thing to do. The real solution is to stop allowing hate speech and shutting that crap down. But punching is easier than figuring out how to shut it down.

The biggest problem is that making it illegal to broadcast humiliation and harm against classes of people would make 99% of porn illegal. It’s interesting how impossible it’s become to distinguish porn from hate speech. That’s because that’s what it is now. And it really should be illegal. Harming and humiliating people to get high has a name, and it’s not sex.

That means much of the moneymaking web would disappear. So I realize the idea is doomed. Free speech isn’t that important to most people.

However, in the spirit of trying to tackle the problem anyway, maybe it would be possible to get a handle on at least one aspect of broadcast hate speech, that of public figures promoting bigotry. Most of it comes from the right wing, the Limbaughs, Coulters, Spencers, Yiannopouloses, probably because it’s easier to get paid for right-wing bloviation. It’s there on the left, just feebler. They’re given platforms, even though what they have to say is known drivel, even at places like Berkeley. And that’s probably for the same reason internet giants host garbage: it brings in fame and fortune.

The fault in this case, as it is with the corporations, is in the respectable institutions providing the platform. Somehow, it has got to cease being respectable to let people spew known lies. Climate change deniers, flat earthers, holocaust deniers, pedophiles, space program deniers, creationists — everybody who is just flat out spouting drivel should not be speaking at universities, television stations, webcasts, or anywhere else except maybe at their own dinner tables. Some crap-spouters are already excluded, such as pedophiles and holocaust deniers. It’s time to apply consistently the principle that discredited garbage is not to be given a platform.

As always, I don’t know how we can enforce that. We need a list of subjects on which over 95% of scholars agree on the facts — such as all the ones listed in the previous paragraph — and then some mechanism to prevent the drivel from being promoted. Once upon a time, the Fairness Doctrine seemed to help keep that stuff in check. There was a reluctance to give a platform to trash when you knew it would be immediately shown up for what it is. Maybe something similar could work now? (I know it’s not going to happen. As I said, the real problem is that people want garbage.)

Then there’s a curious new category of hate speech, the kind where somebody insists their feelings are hurt and that’s not fair.

Free expression is a right. As such, it has to apply equally to everyone. “Rights” that are only for some are privileges and not under discussion here. The claim that hurt feelings, by themselves, without any evidence that anyone committed hate speech or any other offense, should silence others is silly on the face of it. Applied universally, that principle would mean nobody could say anything the minute anyone claimed a hurt feeling. Trying to silence others over hurt feelings is actually claiming a privilege, which is proven by how quickly it silences everyone’s right to speak.

The most strident current manifestation of this strange idea is among some members of male-to-female trans activists. They insist that any sense of exclusion they might have from any community of women could drive some of them to suicide and is hence lethal and is a type of hate speech.

Since they feel excluded at any reference to biological femaleness or womanhood, the result is that women are supposed to never talk about their own experience using common words, like “woman,” because that would be oppressive to mtf trans people.

To be blunt, that is complete through-the-looking-glass thinking. It cannot be oppressive to third parties if a group of people discuss their lives amongst themselves, or if they want to gather together. That’s called the right of assembly, for heaven’s sake. To insist it’s so hurtful as to cause suicide is indicative of a need for therapy, not of harm on the part of others minding their own business.

(Clubs of rich people with the effect of excluding others from social benefits are different matter. Social power is a factor there, which is outside the scope of this discussion. Clearly, an egalitarian society can’t tolerate closed loops in power structures.)

Hate speech, to reiterate, is the use of expressions as a weapon, not as communication. When speech is communication, the fact that it’s not addressed to a third party does not make it hate speech.

A blanket restriction on broadcasting hate speech would be a relief in many ways, but would have negative effects on research. After all, if something is true, it’s not hate speech to point it out, and it’s not possible to find out if some groups truly have negative characteristics if publication of the results is forbidden.

Just as one example: it could be worth studying why over 90% of violent crimes are committed by men. (Yes, the link goes to wikipedia. There’s a wealth of good references at the end of the article.) That doesn’t even address the gender imbalance in starting wars of aggression, which, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been studied at all. Is the issue the effect of androgens throughout life? Are the origins developmental in utero? Or does status promote a sense of entitlement to inflict oneself on others?

Violence is a big problem with huge social costs and the gender correlation is striking, so it could be a legitimate topic of research. But some people, men probably, would likely consider it hate speech. There is no automated system that could tell the difference between hate speech and a legitimate research topic about a group. One would have to rely on humans with valid and transparent methodology. Luckily, we have that very thing. It’s called peer review. It has its problems, but it works well enough that it could be used to allow research on “dangerous” topics to be published in academic journals.

Well, so much for this being a short piece. And all I’ve achieved is to suggest a few small fixes at the edges of the most obvious problems. Automated systems could restrict unambiguously violent expressions. Large platforms need to be held accountable for their responsibilities to avoid known garbage. And manual review needs to be carved out for research.

Maybe that would be a start at delivering free speech back from the noise drowning it out.

Updated with a clarification, an image, and the linked list below May 6.

 

Other writing of mine on this topic: Free speech vs noise (2008), and on Acid Test:

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When they’re walking out, through the snow

Fleeing to Canada

People trying to make it out, on foot, to Canada, in February, through the snow … well, that’s what it’s like when you’re in a tin pot banana republic and you’re trying to make it out alive.

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Punching Nazis and the Rule of Law

Christ on a cracker. It’s a meme already. It’s a way of performing virtue at each other.

And if you disagree with punching Nazis, I assume you're a Nazi sympathizer. And I agree with punching Nazi sympathizers too. [quoting text saying:] We're on the same side. I just disagree with punching Nazis. ... Then we're not really on the 'same side'. I'm on the 'punch nazis' side.

Just one sample from the twitter machine

Look. If you can punch them because they’re awful people, they can punch you because they think you’re an awful person.

I know that’s not how it works in their world. They get to stomp on anybody they want because they’re so much better.

That does not make it a good idea to do the same thng. It does not reduce the number of nazis if you use their rules.

(What we should be doing is making their hate speech illegal. That’s the problem. Nobody should have to listen to hate speech of any kind. So, before the laws catch up, I guess we could shout in their faces to make it impossible for them to be heard. But punching them is just being part of their world.)

And — think about this now, really, think about it — the more of their rules you use the more of a nazi you are yourself. Punching people is just the first step down their road.

I know it feels right. But if it does not feel right when it’s done to you, then IT IS NOT RIGHT.

That’s the point of a rule of law. That’s the point of the rules applying to all equally. That’s the only way to live together without dodging people punching you all the time.

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About Ohio’s anti-choice heartbeat bill

You’ve all heard by now that Ohio passed the “detectable heartbeat” anti-choice bill. Women are not to control their own bodies or make their own choices, ever. Not even when they’re the victims of crimes arguably worse than murder. You get to live with the aftermath of torture using sex.

There’s another class of people who don’t get to control their own bodies. Slaves. It’s the definition of slavery. You don’t own yourself.

But, yes, we know all that. What I actually wanted to write about was the biological angle here.

Do you know one of the weird things about live heart cells in a petri dish? They beat.

(Which, speaking as one of those unpoetic scientists who take all the fun out of things, does not mean that heart cells in a petri dish can feel warm fuzzies or celebrate Valentine’s Day or know hope. The beat is a consequence of the chemical and electrical properties of that kind of cell. It’s not actually evidence of a soul. Note also that we’re talking about cells. A functional heart develops by about the 20th week.)

Heart cells in a human embryo are differentiated enough to start beating at about 18 or 19 days following fertilization.

By convention, doctors calculate the duration of pregnancy from the first day of the last menstrual period (not from actual fertilization). That means a heartbeat is detectable at 32 days or four and a half weeks. (The Ohio backers of the bill, at least one of whom doesn’t know why women get abortions, stipulated 6 weeks because that’s the limit of detection for equipment currently available in doctors’ offices.)

A woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant at that point.

Fertilization happens in the middle of the ovulation cycle. The exact day varies a bit. Menstruation starts 14 days later. Periods are often 3-5 days later than expected because of common variations in the cycle. A missed period is the way a woman suspects she’s pregnant. She only knows she’s missed a period some 19 days after fertilization at the earliest.

At that point there’s already a heart beat.

graphic representation of timings discussed in the post

No, home pregnancy tests won’t help. They only start working about 14 days after fertilization, and they tend to give false negatives, i.e. unreliable results, up to about 20 days after. For those doing the math, that means they become reliable at about 5 weeks of pregnancy, calculated according to the medical convention.

No, advances in technology won’t change the test timing much. A woman is only pregnant once implantation occurs near the 3 week mark (ten plus or minus a few days after actual fertilization). About half of fertilized eggs implant, so earlier testing for fertilized eggs, once that is possible, would only mean a lot of false positives that never actually result in pregnancy.

So once research-grade heart beat detection is available everywhere, there will never, even theoretically, be so much as a day when a woman can control her own life.

That’s always been the point and goal of treating women as reproductive organs.

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In Case Anyone Wonders Why Communism Fell

[Update Nov. 9: I’ve been working on a post about free speech and its limits since forever. 2009? Anyway. There’s hardly any point now, since the limits we so desperately needed — not that I know how to implement them — we didn’t figure out in time. Freedom of lying has given us the actual Cheeto-topped Dogpile as Head Bully, so anything about free speech is even more theoretical than it was before. Oh well. I guess it’ll keep me busy and off the streets. For a while.

Where was I? Why communism fell.]

It’s called a lethal inability to question your own dogma.

One of the bracing side effects of a Chatbot running for Prez is that people are realizing infinite blather is bad for the health of democracy. Unfortunately, it’s paired with refusing to see any workable solutions.

In this otherwise good article about how bad, fake, and gossipy reporting is undermining democracy itself, there’s this gem:

The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism.

This is in the same article, by the same author, pointing out that the number of journalists is now about half what it was in 2000 and headed lower.

The fact that there is nowhere for the onslaught of good journalism to come from is ignored. The dogma that the solution to all problems with free speech is always more free speech may not be questioned. Hell, it can’t even be articulated.

There’s another massive unspoken problem. How long has gossip and bullshit been with us? Since the dawn of time? People love the stuff. Human have been following it in herds since our vocabulary consisted of inflected grunts. The field of logic and its offshoots, rules of evidence and the scientific method, are nothing but earnest attempts to hold off the furious pleasure of jumping to conclusions.

And the well-meaning gent at the New York Times thinks that merely showing people lots of sensible work will keep them from mainlining crap. That’s a bit like assuming sermons will keep teenagers from having sex. It’s never worked before, and it won’t start working now.

But free speech dogma must not be questioned, even though it drags the whole democracy down with it.

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Shut people up; act hurt if they speak

It’s the new definition of free speech! What’s not to like?

Sady Doyle says it best:

1) “The people don’t want Clinton!”
2) Systematically harass voters into silence
3) “See? No-one you know is voting for her! It’s rigged!”

It doesn’t matter who you are, some little private citizen in comments, or a Hollywood celebrity, or a well-known male political worker, or a professional journalist, or, hell, even a superdelegate. (Edited to add: and another compendium of the harassment. Eta again: also more Sady Doyle, What online misogynists really want is silence.)

So the Clinton campaign finally, finally, launches Correct the Record. It’s intended to help her supporters catch the endless lies about her and point out the facts.

The response in Dudebro-land? Hillary Clinton camp now paying online trolls to attack anyone who disparages her online.

What’s next? Defending wife-beating because she had the gall to raise her arms to try to protect her head?

You know what? Silencing people, even women!, is not free speech. It’s harassment. It’s hate speech. People are gradually understanding its toxicity, but most of our laws haven’t caught up yet.

There’s this notion about free speech that the “marketplace of ideas” will sort it all out so long as everybody can say whatever they want whenever they want. Well, you know what else? Marketplaces only work when people don’t kick each others’ stalls down and nobody brings weapons.

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Kunduz

One hospital for a huge area.

Bombed by the USA for half an hour despite clear information that they were hitting a hospital.

Ten patients killed, including three children. Twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members killed. Thirty seven injured. Much of hospital turned to burned rubble.

Obama: “Too bad. So sad.”

[Update two days later.] General John Campbell, commanding the “NATO” forces: “The Afghans made us do it.”

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The migrant crisis and standing in line

[Updated post-Koln, January 10th, 2016, below.]

I get a kick out of seeing editorials in the United States (the NYTimes had one recently) lecturing the Europeans on being more humane and welcoming to migrants.

Irony is dead.

However, that’s a side issue. What I wanted to write about is the problem created by unbalanced idealism.

When it comes to the immediate crisis, the humane side insists help is the only possible response, which is right, and ignores the downstream consequences, which is wrong. It’s also stupid, and it provides no counterweight to the seal-the-borders xenophobes.

Just as a matter of numbers, imagine all of subsaharan Africa (about 800,000,000) and the Middle East (approx. 350,000,000) coming to Europe. And that means Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Benelux, and France, (around 250,000,000). Most migrants are not hoping to stop in, say, Slovakia. With that level of migration, those countries in Europe would indeed be swamped.

That is the future the anti-migrant people fear. You’re not going to change their minds by one neuron if your only response is to say, “How dare you be such an inhuman monster!” Inhumanity is not what they’re worried about.

It would be far more productive to say that nowhere near everyone is fleeing. And don’t try to argue that not everybody wants to, even though it’s true. The fearful people can’t believe that. Point out that even if everyone did want to, they couldn’t because they don’t have the money. Of the few millions who can or will, Europe is getting the cream of the crop: the most enterprising, the well-off, the better-educated. Europe, it could be pointed out, could use more workers than it has to support the aging pensioners. This could all be a win-win.

I realize none of those arguments would matter to racists. I realize that some of the loudest anti-migrants are racists. I’m not talking to them or for them. They’re not worth engaging on any level. The people who could be convinced of a better response than “Screw ’em!” are the non-racists, or are only minor part-time racists. They’re just afraid for what they hold dear, and they’re a majority of the anti-migrants. Those are the people who could be convinced of better solutions than what the racists want, but only if their fears are addressed. Telling them to shut up and help won’t do that.

There’s also an obvious disconnect when talking about mitigating the refugee crisis rather than sealing the borders. The extreme anti-migrants are consistent. They’re saying “shut them out, too bad if they suffer,” and that’s the same wherever the migrants are. If they’re suffering at home or traveling or at the border, the answer is the same.

But if you’re on the side of helping the migrants, then where do you stop? Helping those at the border does nothing against the devastation of the hundreds of millions who can’t flee. If letting migrants die at the border is bad, why is it suddenly okay if they suffer at home?

I don’t see how the answer could be anything rooted in principle. The only real difference is whether people suffer a continent away or right on Europe’s doorstep. The “migrant crisis” consists of those in and near Europe. But actual consistency in humanitarian help means understanding that nothing less than global peace, prosperity, and good government is the real solution. Toxic levels of inequality in safety and well-being are driving this thing. All I can think when I try to envision a true solution is “Good luck with that.”

As far away as that real solution is, though, I think we’d do better to acknowledge it. Be forthright that we can’t do more than apply a few band-aids. That’s not only better than doing nothing, it’s also part of the path to the real solution. Whereas the wonderfully consistent seal-the-borders attitude makes any solution, even their preferred one, impossible. Borders can’t be sealed. It’s been tried. It doesn’t work.

But as far as the immediate problem goes, all that is another side issue. The point I want to make is that not addressing plausible fears just makes them more plausible. It does nothing to help the situation. It convinces the fearful that there’s no good way to address their fears. It tells them the only leaders with plausible solutions are the Tony Abbotts, the stop-the-boats-even-if-they-all-die crowd.

Let me try to explain what I mean by plausible fears.

I’m a third generation migrant. My family has been fleeing dictators, wars, misogyny, poverty, and more wars for decades. It changes people.

For instance, when I’m in a busy supermarket, I figure my partner and I should each wait in a different line, and then one of us can hop over to whichever line turns out to move faster. Sure, it’s not entirely fair to the folks further back who suddenly have a brimming cart added to their line. Part of me, the decisionmaking part, just can’t care enough about that. His idea is that you patiently wait your turn and he’s always upset at my tactics.

My mother was one of the kindest people on the planet. She was a teacher most of her professional life and her students couldn’t say enough for her fairness and how much she cared about them. But when she wanted to bring back some extra bottles of champagne as gifts from a trip, she gave them to eleven year-old me to smuggle through so we wouldn’t have to pay duty on them. I loved it. And I did it rather well, if I do say so myself. I know plenty of US’ers who’d be horrified at contributing to the delinquency of a minor like that.

Okay. I know. Those examples are such small things they’d work as comedy. But my point is that when your survival depends on taking shortcuts, you learn to take them. Then, when you’re in a more benign situation, you have to unlearn that again. Otherwise the place you fled to for its peace and prosperity turns into the same kind of free-for-all you fled from.

Because, really, the social contract, civilization, is nothing but a promise we make to each other. It can be broken overnight. Look at ISIS and how few years it took for the 9th century to lay waste to millions of people. Civilization depends on everyone keeping their word, it depends on trust. Something as basic as cooking food requires trust. It doesn’t take very many people cutting corners to destroy that trust. And refugees do cut corners. It’s one of the things the fearful people resent about them. (Well, that and the fact that they’re usually a lot better at it than the locals.) That reduction of trust really does need to be addressed. Maybe something like a mentoring system for new refugees could help (re)teach those who could use it how to navigate the system in a rule-based, stodgy way. Yes, that would take even more money.

And then there’s a big one. Misogyny. That can’t even be mentioned, for some reason. Somehow, it’s racist or xenophobic to point out the glaring fact: way too many male migrants to Europe are used to treating women like dirt. That is not acceptable. It’s a valid objection no matter what the politics or gender of the person making it. Pretending the issue doesn’t exist or that it’s racist to insist on the human rights of half the population is not a solution. All that will do is drive people toward those politicians who don’t ignore it, who, at this point, are all of the seal-the-borders variety.

What to do about it is the really hard part. I don’t know, of course. I could see preferentially admitting female migrants and their children. Male migrants would turn out to be quick learners if, say, three complaints of harassment were automatic grounds for deportation. There could also be another mentoring program people could sign up for to learn local cultural norms. People with more experience helping migrants understand the local culture would have much better ideas.

The immediate objection from the left to any suggestions of acculturation is that it’s disrespectful, imperialistic, patronizing, and takes immigrants’ culture away from them. I don’t know about disrespectful and patronizing, but as to taking that aspect of their culture away from them, why, yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I think must happen. Kindness to migrants does not mean one has to destroy the good aspects of one’s own society or suffer the loss of rights for half the population, local and immigrant alike.

Humanitarian leftists, by refusing to acknowledge what validity there is in these fears and by failing to have solutions that would mitigate them, open the door to the other “solution.” People get more and more frantic. They vote for bloodyminded governments. (Just one more example from today to add to all the others accumulating.) Before you know it, you have Tony Abbott, stopping the boats at all costs, including the slow and horrible deaths of migrants. That doesn’t lead to revulsion among his voters, by and large. Don’t kid yourself. It increases his popularity. The refugees aren’t the only ones who can lose everything that matters in this process.

That’s the choice. Addressing fears rationally and usefully, or letting them take over.

 
Update, 2016-01-10. Four months after I wrote that, and the New Year’s Eve crimes happen in Köln. Der Spiegel has a summary of what happened as well as background and some analysis. There’s talk of the need to teach male immigrants about the local culture, on the Norwegian model. There’s talk of “it can’t go on like this.”

All that directly relates to and agrees with this post. But the most important comment on the Köln mess comes from Musa Okwonga.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?

Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny that has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.

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Terrorist Hunting Permit

That’s the bumpersticker I drove behind for miles. I didn’t see it at first. It was just small and black-and-white and down on the actual bumper. Higher up was an “Impeach Obama” sticker. Fair enough. You feel the current Preznit has not upheld the Constitution, you have the right to say so. Another had a picture of the Democratic Donkey and the words “Warning. Nuts Inside.” Also fair enough. Hard to argue with, even. Next to that (the guy is into bumperstickers and I had plenty of time to read them all) was one saying “Freedom isn’t free. Thank a vet.” As well as many other kinds of people. Then quite a long one: “I believe in the Constitution which says we still have freedom of speech.”

I’m getting the impression the guy is into America! Number One! Freedom!

Fine. Whatever. And then I get to the Terrorist Hunting Permit.

So, suddenly might makes right? After all that stuff about freedom and constitutions? How exactly are you going to impeach Obama if you dump the rule of law and just hunt down anyone you want? You do realize the size of the guns he controls, right?

The viciousness is heartsickening. But somehow — I can’t even explain it to myself — the stupidity is even worse.

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Offensive offendedness

I haven’t commented on the murders of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo or in Copenhagen because I’m too angry. Goons want to send us all back to the Dark Ages. We mustn’t let them. That’s beyond self-evident. Human rights, basic freedoms, secular governments, obliviousness to blasphemy rules, these are all essential to peaceful societies where everyone’s rights are equally respected.

(Yes, it includes blasphemy. Otherwise, if you can’t say anything I don’t like and I can’t say anything you don’t like, and nobody can say anything Joe doesn’t like, it won’t take long before everyone can say nothing and there is no freedom of speech.)

I do realize that free speech which gives offense is a complicated subject. It is said to justify harassing women into silence, soaking a crucifix in urine and calling it art, or drawing Mohammed to comment on the methods of violent loonies who call themselves Muslims.

Do I think it justifies these things? In the order given, no, yes, and yes. I’ll do a second interminable post on it some day explaining exactly why simply because I feel compelled.

But, really, there’s no need. It’s all been laid out by Evolving Perspectives in one cartoon. (I took the liberty of translating the French back to English. Click on the image or the link to the source for a full size version.)

What to do about offense: a flowchart. (Note the first fork: Is anyone harmed?)

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Vaccination (like everything else) is about rights

There is no controversy about vaccines. They work. The diseases they prevent are horrible. The vaccines themselves are about as harmless as it’s possible to be and still exist in the real world. For instance, Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, DTaP: fewer than one person in one million has serious complications. “Serious” means any reaction that requires medical attention, even if it’s temporary, such as high fever or a bad allergic reaction. Measles-mumps-rubella, MMR: fewer than one in one million with serious complications; inactivated polio, IPV: even fewer than the previous; shingles: none reported yet so “being monitored.” (Source: CDC)

As for the generated “controversy” about vaccines, it deserves as much attention as people who plan to fly by flapping their arms. It is nonsense. Yes, science and medicine have both been wrong about some very important things in the past, and they will be again. Vaccination is not one of them. The evidence in favor of it is beyond overwhelming. End of story. That is, it’s the end of the scientific and medical story.

Politically, it’s not the end of the story because there’s no law saying we always have to be rational. If I want to jump off a roof while flapping my arms and kill myself, I can do that.

But not vaccinating differs from the personal choice to be an idiot in one very important respect: it’s not just personal. It can take other people down with it. And there are laws against that.

So which law counts? The one that says I get to decide about my own medical treatments, or the one that says I can’t damage people?

Before the current measles outbreak, the comments on news sites would have fit comfortably into this Onion article. Now that there is an outbreak because so many people avoided vaccination, or had it avoided for them if they’re children, people feel vulnerable. Suddenly the comments are calling for these horrible parents to be jailed. Suddenly a lot of people are clear on the fact that vaccination is not a purely individual thing. Now they’re going nuts in the opposite direction, from loony libertarian straight to jackbooted totalitarian.

Both are wrong, obviously, because neither works, obviously. The only solution is a balancing act between the different rights.

I know that’s the last thing most people want to hear. It’s much easier to be simple and wrong than go to all the trouble of thinking things through. But the sad fact is that there’s no other way to get to what works. Luckily, in this case it’s not even difficult.

The right to make your own medical decisions is rather worthless if anybody can kill you at any time. The right not to be harmed by others takes precedence over all other rights because they are all meaningless if that one is not respected.

So the balancing act is quite easy: the public health issue of not infecting others with contagious diseases takes precedence over anyone’s personal medical choices.

This is yet one more example of the fact that rights are not equal, that there’s a hierarchy of rights, and that some are more essential than others. Some rights have to take precedence over others or else they all become meaningless.

Therefore the medical and public health requirements for vaccination take precedence over any non-medical objections. There can’t be allowances for religious or philosophical objections. It means the whole US has to follow the lead of Mississippi and West Virginia and have only medically necessary exemptions from vaccination.

A plague doctor. 1819

That said, though, the idea is to have as high a vaccination rate as possible. It’s not to beat people up for ignorance. So resources need to be directed toward the actual goal, vaccination, and not squandered on useless, resentment-building exercises like jailing recalcitrant parents. Yes, it’s important to stop the Onion mindset of “I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back.” Even more important is to see that they get vaccinated, no matter what the voices in their heads are telling them.

Sometimes it takes very little to achieve that goal. For instance, in one health district [update-2015-02-04: near Duchesne, Utah], registering a philosophical objection to vaccination required nothing more than a tick mark in a box. Receiving the vaccination on the other hand cost $25. When the public health officials were trying to figure out how to get more people vaccinated, one bright worker noted that they should invert the incentives. So the vaccination was given free, but expressing a philosophical objection required payment of $25 for “administrative costs.” Which isn’t even a lie.

You know how that story ends. The number of objectors plummeted. The vaccination rates climbed above the medically essential 95% of the population, and the problem was solved, at least from the standpoint of public health. And that’s the first priority.

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There oughta be a law

I just saw this:

The backstory is that 23andMe pioneered direct-to-consumer genetic tests starting in 2006. It asked consumers to spit in a tube and send it in, and sent back a detailed summary of their risks for common diseases like macular degeneration. But then in 2013 the U.S. Food & Drug Administration banned the test out of concern that the information wasn’t accurate.

That put a big crimp in 23andMe’s business, but it didn’t end it. As Forbes points out, the real business here is mining this data.

Since it was founded in 2006, 23andMe has collected data from 800,000 customers and it sells its tests for $99 each.

…23andMe’s real business isn’t selling $99 tests, but selling access to data that it has managed to crowdsource as cleverly as Facebook has gathered other personal details. To some observers, that’s pretty worrisome. In 2013, journalist Charles Seife, writing in Scientific American, called 23andMe intentions “terrifying.”

As the FDA frets about the accuracy of 23andMe’s tests, it is missing their true function, and consequently the agency has no clue about the real dangers they pose. The Personal Genome Service isn’t primarily intended to be a medical device. It is a mechanism meant to be a front end for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public.

Seife’s worry is that the consents customers agree to when they donate their DNA could turn out to be meaningless. Once you are hooked, companies like Google and Facebook often change their privacy policies to expose more and more of your data. Why should DNA be any different?…

According to the Fox Foundation, 23andMe actually gave its testing service away to Parkinson’s patients. That helped it assemble enough of them to create a useful resource it could sell to Genentech to start mining.

What’s the saying? If you’re not being paid, you’re the product. That’s bad enough when they’re high frequency trading thin slices of your mind. When they’re selling someone’s sorrow, pain, and suffering, when they’re selling people’s own DNA, it’s downright disgusting.

If we had a government, there’d be a law against selling people this way.

As things are, I’m betting the high and mighty in DC are fine with it so long as they get their cut of the data. As things are, we’re going to find out one day our own souls got sold to the company store, and the sign for refunds leads to nothing but a phone tree.

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