Category: The Age of Spin


I’ll try and keep this short.

The reason politics matters is not that we can change it, it’s because it can change us.

I’ve seen more walls erected in the debates over the US Presidential election and Brexit this year, than Trump could ever hope to build as President.

I’ve also been finding continual surprises in the way my friends have been/are voting.

Probably the most commonly used phrase this year has been “I can’t understand why anyone would vote for…”.

Maybe it’s time we did.

Because that same person will still be there after the election is done.

Saruman_Chosen

How half the country will feel in 48 hours

I’d been meaning to make this post ages ago, and have it all complete and referenced and linked and stuff, but, as usual, I delayed and procrastinated and now the time has run out, so this will have to do.

So tomorrow is the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union.  Many I think, me included, will in part breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all overThat said, I do think this is a significant decision, so I think I feel I have a duty to make my position plain as I actually think this is just the beginning, whichever way the referendum itself goes:

  • Why this decision needs a referendum

There has been some talk that this decision should never have been put to a referendum at all.  The most famous example of this is, I think, by Richard Dawkins, and it exemplifies one of the great misunderstandings about what it is we’re actually voting about.  His appeal that lacking a degree in economics or history somehow disqualifies his views is based on the assumption that we’re making an exclusively economic or historic (whatever that’s meant to mean) decision.  It is not.

This is a question that has broad ramifications for who has ultimate decision-making authority for the UK.  A referendum on such an issue is the very essence of ‘Consent of the Governed’, and the idea that it’s a decision for our ‘betters’ (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) is as anti-democratic a notion as I can think of.

  • The campaigns

Oh my word, kill me now!  I thought referendum campaigns couldn’t get much worse than the AV referendum, but yet again I underestimated the political class.  From everything getting compared to Hitler at some point, to the scaremongering (either of the risks of leaving or the threat of immigrants), to the dodgy numbers (£350m anyone?) to the petty personal politics – we are not voting on whether Boris Johnson should be Prime Minister, people! – the media campaigns have been appalling.

And then there’s the tragedy…:-(

I have to say, though, I’ve been impressed, for the most part, with my social media friends on all sides who have, for the most part, honestly tried to grapple with the issues and, also for the most part, kept it cordial.  In or Out, if we are to survive as a nation, this is a skill that must never be lost.

  • The economics

I’m just gonna come out and say this and you can judge me if you want: No, I don’t take the prognostications of a profession that specialises in being wrong seriously.  What sort of a silly question is that?  More seriously, leaving aside the issue of the strange assumptions that all these doom-laden forecasts have been based on, there’s a strange sense of deja-vu about having a large swathe of economists recommend a course of action with regards to Europe.  Quite simply, the track-record isn’t great.  Common-sense credibility is in short supply…

That’s not to say there aren’t risks associated with a Brexit, but they mostly stem from the idea that the rest of the EU is more interested in ‘making an example’ of Britain than the welfare of their own citizens (which is a topic I’m going to leave to last).

  • Immigration

I’m only going to make one observation here, and it’s a more broad point really.  There’s much hand-wringing over attitudes to immigration, and certainly there is some justification in that and a desire to change it, but a word of caution.  You can’t enforce friendship with the sword.  The idea that political unity overcomes cultural divides is, I think, a dangerously wrong idea.  Wrong, because it ignores the limits of democratic legitimacy, and dangerous because it predisposes political discourse to grant greater and greater powers to government in an attempt to solve a problem that, in fact, it is incapable of solving.

The other caution is that it does not help the cause of anti-racism to conflate immigration concerns with racism.  This has been an issue in political discourse for a long time and is counter-productive.  It may make you feel good, but its main effect is to delegitimise the voices of those with genuine grievance and as Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  Maybe not quite so extreme as that, but hopefully you get my point.

  • Democracy and scope of government

If there’s one thing that I think the Eurozone debacle shows, it’s that the kind of halfway house between a federation and a loose association of nation states that currently exists is unworkable.  The traditional EU answer to any such difficulty has always been ‘more and bigger’, and I don’t see much evidence of that changing (with the possible exception of Donald Tusks recent comments – probably sparked by what he sees as the end of Western Civilisation; no, that’s not an exaggeration, that’s actually what he said!!)

I’m of a different opinion.  I think historical experience has shown that there are natural limits to the size and scope of legitimate governments and I think the EU is quickly exceeding them.  It’s not even about the way the EU is structured, although I think there are serious problems there.  You simply reach a point where things become too large and cover too many people to be either wieldy or meaningfully representative.

People have been talking about the risks of Brexit, but I don’t see how remaining in this structure is a particularly safe choice.

  • Democratic Deficit

To me though, the main problem in terms of representation in Europe is the way our national government interacts with it.  I really could have done with starting this post earlier to try and explain this better but here goes.

The phrase that I remember hearing most from my Uni days whenever I heard parliamentary debates was something along the lines of ‘we have to do this because it’s an EU directive’.  It seems the truth is that the government was totally happy at the EU level to make these directives and then ‘play dumb’ before their own parliament.  It is this, more than anything that makes this referendum a valid one for me, because governmental structures matter, and they matter because the form absolutely affects the function.

The sad truth is that I think successive governments support the EU because it makes their own lives easier.  It gives them a bogeyman to deflect blame onto, while they actually get what they want regardless of the public, and that is not a situation I want our own politicians to be able to exploit, and I don’t believe it can meaningfully change while we are part of the EU.

  • A vision of the future

While I think it’s meaningless to ask the Leave campaign as a whole for it’s vision of the UKs future relationship, it’s certainly valid to ask individuals what they are hoping for.  So what am I hoping for?  I mean, apart from the obvious pipedreams.

First, I think I’d be okay with the EEA option as a good compromise position, or something approximating it, and I certainly think it’s possible to achieve.  It takes us out of the more obviously damaging parts of EU law (like the CAP and VAT harmonization), while giving much more scope in our own affairs, but to be honest, I actually think the hard work in British politics only begins with a Brexit.  As many on the Remain have rightly pointed out, many of our problems are actually self-inflicted, but I think they misunderstand the remedy.  I think our biggest problem is that we no longer really know where ultimate responsiblity lies, and as long as that’s true, politicians will do what suits them, and cover for each other if it helps them.

What happens next though, depends very much on us, we will be left without excuse, but I will be voting Leave because I have faith that my fellow Britons are up to the task.  Even if you think this Tory government is terrible (and I wouldn’t even say you’re wrong), you’re still looking at 2 years before Brexit would actually happen and then we’re in election season.  You’re not giving Cameron (or Johnson or whoever) free reign here.

  • Malicious Lunatics?

…and if it turns out that the rest of the EU are hell-bent on making ‘an example’ of us?  That they would rather burn Europe to the ground than admit that a giant supra-national government actually isn’t that great of an idea?  All the more reason to get out now.  If the lunatics really are in charge of the asylum, they can do far worse to you if you stay than if you go.

[I’ve had a series of posts bubbling in my head for a while, and now seems like a good time to actually start the process of getting them out of my head.  I don’t know how long it will take to fully layout my thoughts, but as my ability to go months without posting is well-established, feel free to poke me from time to time and say “Where’s your next post, you slacker?!”.  But now to begin…]

Universal opinions are often mistaken for universal principles

– Seth Czerepak

You can’t change the fruit without changing the root.

– Stephen R Covey

I should start by describing what I mean by Paradigmatic Pluralism.  As I have mentioned before, a paradigm is the set of metaphysical assumptions we hold to as we receive stimuli from the outside world.  These assumptions are so fundamental that we can (and often do) go great stretches of our lives without even realising that we hold them.  For example, the very idea that there is an outside world is a metaphysical assumption, but when was the last time you questioned whether there indeed was an outside world?  Whenever you find yourself in a debate and you’re wondering how the person you are debating is so idiotic as to completely miss what you are saying, it is possibly because the paradigm that person has is so different that they think you are saying something quite different to what you think you are saying.

Pluralism is about having multiple things at the same time.  Multiculturalism, for example, is a form of pluralism, where multiple cultures inhabit the same space.

Putting the two words together denotes having multiple views of what is real.  In a ‘days gone by’ political context, this would be referred to as Religious Freedom, but I find that people are confused by the use of the word ‘Religious’ here.  This is not simply about who, what, how or even whether to worship.  This is about what we perceive to be reality itself and its meaning and how that relates to the structure of societies and governments.

Over the following posts I hope to explain how I think we have, as societies, destroyed the very ideals about pluralistic societies that we think we uphold, what we have determined to be universally true and the perils of the course on which such determinations take us.

Here’s a rough outline of where I’m planning to go with this, which will probably change as it goes on:

#1: Introduction & Overview (You are here!)
#2: Why Anarchism is False
#3: The Myth of Secular Neutrality
#4: The Modern State Religion
#5: The Wall of Separation
#6: Good Fences as a Federal Metaphor
#7: Summary & Conclusions

Soooo…..General Election tomorrow…

I spent today looking at manifestos. It hasn’t helped much – although I’m intrigued to know how the Tories got Nicole Kidman to pose for theirs (page 10 btw) – and neither does the knowledge that Alistair Burt has essentially already won this seat.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be down the polling station in the morning, but a spoiled ballot is still the most likely outcome.

I sometimes wonder if the only way to find a candidate I’d vote for is to become one.  That thought is still a long way off overcoming the primal sense of ickiness I have about election campaigning and the way politicians inevitably wind up speaking about things.

Anyhoo, what actually moved me to post tonight was a Facebook comment on the LVT group about this article:

It is also the case that a lot of the chronically homeless have substance abuse issues or mental health issues which may be improved by Housing First.

But interestingly, when there’s no free land, the general rate of wages is determined by a bit of a race to the bottom.

Consider the Irish potato famine. The Irish didn’t merely choose to eat only potatoes. They were economizing in order to keep their heads above water in lieu of rack-rents.

And the more they economized, the more average disposable income was available. So once the practice catches on the landlords immediately raise the rent in response because they can. Just like they have in Silicon Valley and Williston North Dakota and anywhere else when average disposable income rises.

Thus, wages are in large part determined by how uneconomical people are.

If all the drug addicts in the world stopped wasting their money on drugs, they’d soon have to waste it on rent.

So thank every person with wasteful spending habits for keeping your rent low.

Smokers, gamblers, etc. Here’s to you.

The ‘lowest that workers will accept’ part of Ricardo’s Law has always been the vaguest part of it to me, but the statement “wages are in large part determined by how uneconomical people are” triggered a bit of a lightbulb moment.

Turns out the 2nd Law of Temping* has greater application than I first realised.

Yes, Wages can sometimes be higher because labourers simply cannot conceive of being paid less.  If they ever do find a way to make pay stretch better, the efficiency gains wind up in Rent eventually.  The faux-libs would normally claim victory at this point “See!! It’s all voluntary!! Stop being a statist, you filthy statist!”  They miss the point.  This behaviour is in response to an inequity, not a cause of an inequality.

So we can add ‘self-reliance’ to the list of things that the Law of Rent corrupts….

*Fraggle’s 2nd Law of Temping reads: There is no reward for Efficiency.

In thinking of the possibilities of social organization, we are apt to assume that greed is the strongest of human motives, and that systems of administration can be safely based only upon the idea that the fear of punishment is necessary to keep men honest — that selfish interests are always stronger than general interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From whence springs this lust for gain, to gratify which men tread everything pure and noble under their feet; to which they sacrifice all the higher possibilities of life; which converts civility into a hollow pretense, patriotism into a sham, and religion into hypocrisy; which makes so much of civilized existence an Ishmaelitish warfare, of which the weapons are cunning and fraud?

Does it not spring from the existence of want? Carlyle somewhere says that poverty is the hell of which the modern Englishman is most afraid. And he is right.

Henry George

A few days ago, Matt Walsh made a post on religious freedom that got a lot of comment.  I found that post didn’t sit right with me, as much as I could agree with the basic idea.  Eventually I realised that my issue was that discussing this as a question of religious freedom was the wrong framing.  This isn’t about people having the right to act on their beliefs, but rather about being able to choose who they will and will not associate with.  Fortunately, Walsh himself drew this conclusion the day after.  This follow-up post is much better in terms of drawing out a basic principle, and has some very basic, but forgotten truths.  My favourite being:

Now, instead of making this an argument about “gay rights” or “religious freedom,” I think it’s time to shift the discussion towards the broader concept of property rights, freedom of association, and free speech. That conversation got bogged down by people attempting to determine whether or not the photographer, the baker, the t-shirt maker, and the florist were “homophobic” or “bigoted.” But that isn’t the question. I don’t think they are bigots, but it doesn’t matter. Bigotry is not illegal. Hatred is not illegal. Racism is not illegal. These are spiritual crimes — problems of the heart. The government is not omniscient. It cannot possibly legislate our thoughts and emotions.

We will never be free as long as it keeps trying.

Freedom of association is fundamental to any free society, but fundamental to that freedom is its corollary: the freedom of disassociation.  Without that then you do not have freedom of association, as you are forced to associate, in whatever capacity.  You can no longer meaningfully choose who to have as friends, or who you will buy from, if those choices are made for you.

When stated in these terms, the freedom of association is well understood and defended (for the most part), but strangely not so when spoken of in terms of who we buy from.  We have established a notion that only one side of a trade has the right to decide if they want to be party to a transaction or not.  Does that not strike you as odd?  Indeed, the great irony is that almost invariably those who complain about some trader claiming a right to disassociate will then call on others to exercise their right to disassociate.  On its own, that would be entirely legitimate, but when doing so as part of an effort to get government to force said trader to transact, it becomes rank hypocrisy.

…….and yet……..

….and yet it’s worth asking how such a state of affairs could come about.  How have we come to view such a one-sided application of free association as the epitome of justice?  So much so that almost no-one will dare suggest anything different, except quibbling about in which rare instances a business will be allowed to assert their own will, and then have the audacity to call this state of affairs the ‘equal protection of the law’?

Those of you who’ve read some of this blog before will know where I’m going with this.  Anti-liberty philosophies require more than just words and activism to gain the levers of power.  The main ingredient is greivance.  There has to be something that the people can no longer stand.  Something so rotten within society that they will listen to anybody who claims to have a fix, no matter how wrong they are.

Greivance is what empowers the enemies of liberty, and the socialist narrative of capitalist exploitation drives the notion that businesses should not have the right to disassociate through the greivances of workers stemming at least as far back as the Victorian Era.  There’s a reason that the lasting cultural memory of the Industrial Revolution can be summed up in the word ‘Dickens’.

But what if the narrative was wrong?  What if it wasn’t capital that was the source of inequity in British society?  What if it was something more fundamental?  So fundamental, in fact, that today is actually no different from before?

And that’s where the titular home-owner-ism comes in.  It is not capital (or even money) that is the root issue here, but land.  When land can be bought and sold in perpetuity, then those who don’t have any are at the mercy of those who do.  If you are at the mercy of landowners, then it matters on what grounds they can refuse you access.  If every coffee shop then you can always make your own coffee (or even your own coffee shop!), but if every landowner refuses to let you use their land, then you literally have nowhere to stand.

With a Land Value Tax/Citizen’s Income setup, there is always somewhere to go, even if literally everyone else refuses to have anything to do with you.  You are no longer at anyone else’s mercy.  You may not be able to be precisely where you want to be (who really can?), but you can always be, and that is where freedom lies.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still consequences to being socially shunned. It is a big deal – but anyone who has ever called for a boycott of anything for any reason has no cause to complain.  After all, what else is a boycott but social shunning?  And who doesn’t use social means to influence people’s behaviour?  Indeed, how would any society function if you couldn’t?

Honestly, though, I don’t expect hardcore professional victims to care about this.  They’re having their time in the sun, but anyone who wants true freedom needs to understand that unless everybody gets it, no-one will.  Greivance will see to that.

The young woman laments the whole campus landscape of alcohol-soaked hookup sex. “Women are encouraged to do it, which ignores all the risks for us,” she says. “You get embarrassed and ashamed, so you try to make light of it. Then women get violated and degraded, and they accept it. Who does this culture benefit? Alcohol predators. It doesn’t liberate anybody.”

Emily Yoffe

I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.

Lord, I Would Follow Thee (LDS Hymnal #220)

About once a month or so, I see an article/blog post like this one appear on my Facebook feed.  Every month the same argument is made, and each month it makes less sense to me.  As you can see, it’s now bothered me to the point where I blog about it.

First things first: I don’t like the phrase “Modest is hottest”.  Simply because I don’t like slogans in general.  They are far too reductive and people have a tendency to take a slogan and behave like it is self-evident truth in itself, when it is merely a mnemonic summary of a larger concept.  I understand why people use them, and can even accept that because I’m strange and most people aren’t like me that what I think isn’t actually relevant on this, but it doesn’t stop me being annoyed.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I want to talk about this strange backlash going on these days against the concept of modesty, more specifically the idea that part of modesty’s value (at least, the part of modesty that concerns dress) is that it reduces possible temptations for others (and this is typically referring to men).  Moore has written a fairly standard criticism of this for the most part, I think,  so it seems like a good post to examine.

Moore writes:

The second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” Constantly telling a girl that a man’s thoughts and actions are her responsibility is doctrinally incorrect.

Leaving aside the seamless shift from the earlier ‘occasionally hear[ing]’ to ‘constantly telling’, this subtly distorts the second article of faith, and obscures the scriptural fact that we do bear *a* (as distinct from *the*) responsibility towards others’ attitudes and actions.   Jacob, son of Lehi,  spoke of the duty he and his brother Joseph felt towards those for whom they had a stewardship to teach:

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Alma the Younger’s guilt during his incapacity was centred on the effects his words and actions had had on others to the point where he considered what he had done as tantamount to murder:

Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

In an even more analogous case, Paul sought to avoid situations where his actions could be misinterpreted by those without sufficient gospel knowledge:

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.

For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

The concept of immodesty as temptation even pops up in General Conference from time to time, most explicitly in recent times by Elder Oaks, I believe.

The idea that the concept of interpersonal responsibility is undoctrinal is false.  Indeed, it is specifically refuted in scripture.  Yes, there are fundamental limits to that responsibility, but it exists nonetheless, and it stems out of the intention that we regard each other’s welfare as our own.

Moore continues:

It also translates closely to the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to maintain the sexual standards of a relationship. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing?’ No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, ‘He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.’… I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.”
[emphasis in Moore]

[First, an aside, the transcipt of this talk (which is definitely worth reading in full, btw) that Moore refers to has been edited (I think for reasons of translatability).  In the original talk, the sentence “What an unacceptable response…” above was actually “Nothing I have heard on this topic makes me want to throw up more than that!”, which is much more like Elder Holland language!!  Anyhoo…]

The irony here is that this passage actually makes my point for me.  What is it about male irresponsibility that disgusts Elder Holland so much?  That it means women end up taking on more responsibility, ie that male actions and attitudes makes the female’s life harder.  So Elder Holland chews the guys out.

Now consider how the address would have been different had the issue been that most women spent their life dressed for a slutwalk, while the men were showing excellent restraint.  Would he *really* have spent his time telling the men how they needed to keep on showing restraint and not said a word to the women?  The point is if we can reasonably adjust ourselves so as to be supportive of another’s efforts at righteousness, should we not do so?

As context for Elder Holland’s remarks, some Elder Christofferson:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be*. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

*and this is something I’ve blogged on before.

It turns out though, that Moore does not, in fact, believe her own position:

I know in my own life, I have always been meticulously modest. However, I have constantly been at the receiving end of some of the most degrading comments. “Wow, you can tell you have a huge rack even in that sweatshirt!” and “You’re a solid 8, except for your boobs. They’re a 10,” probably come in as most memorable. I had FHE brothers admit to me that they assumed I was not a very good Mormon because of the way I’m built. As sweatshirt man pointed out, there is really only so much I can do, short of wearing a giant bag to hide the fact I look like a woman.

For a long time, when I would hear these things, my mind couldn’t but help think that it was somehow my fault. I clearly wasn’t a very good person, or else I wouldn’t be having men say things like this to me. My value as a daughter of God was being degraded, and instead of demanding to be treated like a human being, I shrunk back, thinking I had been the one in the wrong. [emphasis mine]

I get it.  Those guys were douches.  But the whole point of the post was that it should be irrelevant what other people are doing; we should be able to act and think rightly, regardless.  Why does Moore suddenly claim victim status, blaming the douches for her loss of self-worth?  Suck it up, kid.  After all, your feelings are not their responsibility…

This is what irks me the most about this concept.  If we really were completely self-contained agency modules, we could have just been plugged into our own personal (and personalised) instance of some kind of Matrix-style simulation and got things done.  Yet we are here with each other.  We are meant to be together.  What we do affects each other, and we are meant to care about that, because we are meant to be helping.

———–

PS – One final thought which, strictly speaking, isn’t on modesty but was actually what motivated me to post in the first place. Moore writes:

Someone once told me that when you are teaching women to change what they do to prevent being assaulted or raped, what you are actually doing is saying “Make sure he assaults someone else.” You are not fixing the real problem, which is the man’s problem.

I thought I had heard everything on this topic, but it turns out I was wrong, and it also turns that this is what makes me want to throw up most!  I’m astounded first at the utter naiveity of it, as if no-one had ever considered/tried telling rapists not to rape before, but what filled me with disdain most was the realisation that if ‘teaching women what they [can] do to prevent being assaulted or raped’ is equivalent to saying ‘make sure he assaults someone else’, then not teaching women would be equivalent to saying ‘You need to take one for the team’.

And if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, then you and I are about to have a falling out.

“I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.”

“Great anger and violence can never build a nation.”

Nelson Mandela

[I’m trying to see if I can speed up my posts and still have them make sense, so apologies if this fails entirely]

Much like Thatcher, Mandela dies a polarising figure.  It’s just that more people believe he is a saint rather than a devil.  Whatever the truth of the matter (and I wonder lazily whether anything he supposedly did in his MK days was ever the subject of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), his death leaves South Africa in a moment of decision.

Whether he was a monster or a martyr is not the issue, but whether he will be permitted to die a man or be immortalised as a myth.  I think the latter would be a disaster, regardless of his personal righteousness, for the ANC would (as I believe it currently does) use that status to create a de facto one-party state, with consequences that I think are already apparent.

Mandela must not become the posthumous Geordie Messiah of South Africa.

It’s not as if it’s gonna kill anyone
If there’s no victim then there’s no crime
Just draw another if you think we’ve crossed the line

We are Scientists – Rules Don’t Stop

We fast approach an age of ubiquitous trial by media.  Trial by media itself has of course been with us for a while, but what’s becoming different now is that, due to the increasingly social blog-style nature of news reporting and commentary, it’s entirely possible to round up an online posse, whip them into a frenzy and set the neighbourhood into an uproar relatively easily.  Stories whose entire purpose seems to be exactly this seem to be becoming more common and the nuanced truth of the matter in question is no barrier to a good rage, and once it begins, the comments section will let the rage go on and on.

I first noticed this when trying to find out more information about the trial where Robert Colover now infamously used the word ‘predatory’  to describe a 13-year old girl.  What I found during my search was a lot of outrage, a lot of “how dare he?” and very little actual reporting of the facts of the case.  This is significant because Colover was the prosecuting barrister and, as this post on a law blog explains, in English Law the prosecution’s duty to present a case is not a straightforward ‘take one side and leave the rest out’.  This is the archetype of the Outrage Bandwagon:

  • Sensational or controversial topic
  • Indifference to (or misrepresentation of) facts
  • ‘With me or against me’ rhetoric, often in the form of an online petition
  • (In the UK) David Cameron gets personally, publically involved in matters that are undergoing official procedures

The outrage in this case was not that Colover’s description was wrong on the facts (none have really been reported), but that somehow the description could not be true by definition, which makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Certainly, such a claim should need signifcant, or even overwhelming evidence, but to dismiss it as logically impossible smacks of faulty ideology.

The worst part about the Bandwagon phenomenon is that anything that happens afterwards is suspect.  After the Prime Minister personally condemns something without the faintest clue of what actually happened, it’s hard to take any subsequent official action as being nothing more than an exercise in mob-placating scapegoating.  Once truth becomes secondary, all hope of proper justice is lost.

The next installment for me was Dr. Phil’s public flogging for conducting a survey.  Why asking people for views on a topic makes one a moral monster is beyond me, and the petition‘s assertion that the #teensaccused hashtag is evidence that Dr. Phil was planning to whitewash the topic is, at best, flagrantly speculative.  The facepalming irony of all this, though is when the petition calls on Dr. Phil to:

produce a show that shines a light on survivors of rape and sexual assault and begin a national conversation about the specifics of consent – which includes not raping people while they are drunk or otherwise unable to consent.

Yes, because of course Dr. Phil’s producers will now be totally willing to touch this topic with a bargepole.

Nice going.

[I was just about to hit publish on this post when it occured to me, maybe I should check this, and it turns out they did touch it with a bargepole.  Twice.  And it turns out the case they discussed is still awaiting trial.  So Dr. Phil was the subject of a Trial by Media while creating his own Trial by Media.  I guess that bit should have been obvious, in retrospect!]

The last thing I’ll talk about here is the Bradley Manning case, even though the Bandwagon status of this one is slightly questionable, because I find it strange to hear people talk of his being a whistleblower.  None of the defenses of Manning that I have seen have even attempted to challenge the description of how he got the data and the indiscriminate nature of his selection of it.  That what was released to Wikileaks included evidence of governmental deceit appears to have been mostly accidental and certainly didn’t justify the release of much of what was.  Whistleblowing is an action, not an effect.

Contrastingly, while the Edward Snowden leaks aren’t over yet and we don’t know everything that he took, this does seem prima facie to be a case of a targeted release to expose specific wrongdoing.  I don’t know whether US law as written would recognise his activities as legitimate, but so far I would be happy in a moral sense to consider Snowden a whistleblower.  However you cut it, though, whistleblowing by definition changes the life of the whistleblower forever.  It takes a special kind of courage to do, and we dishonour it when we apply the label seemingly without concern for what actually happened.

Anyway, believe it or not, this was actually intended as a couple of introductory paragraphs for post on another controversy entirely, that of the proposed boycott of Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Game’ film that came out recently.  If I’m speedy, maybe I’ll have that post done tonight too. (Ok, you can stop laughing now!)

Hooray! We’ve solved the problem of drama! I’ll go tell everyone!……………………..Guys…..People are complicated!

xkcd #592: Drama

‘Cause a ring don’t mean nothin’ if you can’t haul the weight
and some of them won’t even try but I won’t leave you high and dry

Love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment.

Thrice – The Weight

(Click here for Part 1)

If we want to understand the form that marriage takes, we need to understand the function it is intended to serve.  This function springs from a fundamental concern: that society needs civilised children for its continued existence.  Whether out of a concern for the perpetuation of culture, or simply the administration of property, children are considered vital to the nation’s interests.  The ancient Spartan Greeks, for example, took this so seriously that if a woman was not having children by her husband, then she needed to take up residence with another man so that she did have children.  Similarly Greek law in general permitted infertility as a valid reason for a husband to initiate divorce.

There is a parallel concern that has also historically informed marriage law, demonstrated by the obligations that men have typically taken upon themselves when entering marriage relating to provision for and protection of the family.  Whether legally or culturally, men have been expected to make sure that the wife and kids don’t starve (even at great risk to themselves), a concept that modern societies still try to enforce in an increasingly post-marital age via the notion of child support to unwed mothers.

None of this is to say that these particular policies are necessarily good or bad things, merely that they reveal the concerns to which cultural and legal support and organisation of marriage has been a response.  It is one thing to say that a form is faulty, but it’s quite different to say that the function doesn’t exist.

So the first question is: are these concerns still valid in today’s version of civilisation?  Do we still need children?  Do we still need men to ensure that women and children are provided for?  To the former, I think the requirement is fairly self-evident.  To the latter, it seems we just can’t decide.  The rhetoric of our age denies this requirement, yet our actions as a society suggest we think it’s even more important now than ever.  The fundamental requirement of feminism is that men need to subjugate their own needs or desires to those of others, especially those of women.  The only difference now is that this requiremenet manifests as a broader general claim, rather than a specific one.

Because marriage as a function is concerned with children and family, as a form it needs to be concerned with how children come about.  Marriage then is, of necessity, a regulation of sexual conduct; not because marriage brings about children, but because sex does, and once children enter the picture things get far more complicated.

This is why marriage is traditionally entered into before sex takes place (or why sex *made* the marriage).  It is foolish to reliably expect a couple to commit to each other after-the-fact, but that’s when the commitment becomes most important.  Indeed, at various times in history, there was no requirement for any ceremony to be held in order to form a marriage.  Once a couple started living *as* husband and wife, they *were* husband and wife, with all that that entailed.  The expected commitments were implied and understood.  This, by the way, is analogous to the consummation requirement of marriage legality today.  Sex is when the marriage really starts, because that’s when the commitments actually start to matter from a societal point of view.

So what do infertile couples have to do with this?  Should we deny marriage to heterosexual couples who cannot have children?  The ancient Greeks certainly seemed to think it was legitimate to do so, and you can certainly have a rational debate about it.  I believe, however that when you consider the form that marriage must take of necessity and why it must do so, you find an understanding that taking the form has value in and of itself.  Remember, marriage is a regulation of sexual conduct, for the purpose of establishing families.  The more that maintain that form, the more others are encouraged to do the same.

If this sounds heteronormative, that’s because it is, and I think we need to stop apologising for this.  While how we treat those outside the norm is certainly vital (and we should remember that this is much wider than homosexuality – plain old singledom falls under this category as well, for example), and while it is true that you should not encourage people to follow a norm simply for the sake of a norm, it is not mutally exclusive with a recognition (and indeed celebration) that male/female commital bonds fulfill a specific function, and without them you might as well pack up your own particular issues and go home while it still stands.

Which brings us to Angelina.

What makes The Stigler’s invocation of Angelina Jolie as a counter-argument so bizarre is that Brad and Angelina have had 3 children together already!  There is certainly a legitimate interest in encouraging the parents of those children to stay together, even though they have already been born, *especially* as they have already been born.  Even leaving aside everything I’ve already said about infertile couples, the idea that her lack of future reproductive activity with Brad is in any way a issue is downright strange.

There is, though, an even more intriguing element to this particular example, which is Jolie’s self-avowed bisexualism, a fact that brings into focus what is really a reality for all people, not just bisexuals: although it is reasonable to argue that attraction in and of itself is not a choice, who we make commitments to, and the manner in which we treat those commitments certainly is.  At the end of the day, love in the marital sense is a choice.  Jolie could have chosen to establish a relationship with a woman, and then there would be no children.  These kinds of decisions matter.

The way our culture treats love these days is as some sort of all-or-nothing, where you either find your one and only soulmate and live happily ever after, or you don’t and you suffer the consequences.  Marriages built on this concept that succeed are exceptions rather than the rule, but we seem hell-bent on strengthening this view, both in our culture and in our law, and then wonder why so many marriages fail, and worse, blame it on the old-fashioned concepts of marriage that we have abandoned, believing that we just haven’t changed marriage enough to make it fit the hole we’re trying to cram it into, not realising that the only way to do that is to make it something else entirely.

Angelina Jolie is deciding to make public commitments to stick by the father of her children.  That’s worth celebrating.  I wish them both the best of luck.  I hope it works.

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

G.K. Chesterton

A while back I made a post about marriage and the relevance of children to it.  It was a bit of a rough sketch, but I thought the essence was enough to allow people to draw the relevant consequent connections that arise from the general rule that children should be raised by their natural parents.

However, over at Wadders’, The Stigler made a post in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invocation of the concept:

So, presumably the Archbishop is going to object to Angelina Jolie’s marriage, then? Which is going to take place around the same time as her hysterectomy. Or post-menopausal little old ladies getting married to old gentlemen.

There are many things I find objectionable about Angelina Jolie, but her upcoming marriage is not one of them.  Nor do I believe that geriatric marriage undermines the parenting paradigm.

To understand why, let’s delve a little deeper into the core question at the heart of all this: Why does the state care at all?  Why does government favour some people over others?  Because in essence that’s what marriage does in a civil sense.  It privileges those who enter into it over those who don’t.  Note that the principle of privileging married couples does not prevent others from arranging their own households however they see fit.  They simply aren’t privileged above others due to making those arrangements.  Not being privileged is not the same as being oppressed.

Of course, it certainly matters what those privileges are.  If those privileges include things that should, in fact, reasonably be expected to be universal, then that is oppression, and must be opposed.  It is the right of the patient, for example, to establish who gets priority of visitation.  Restricting visits to immediate family only while denying the patient visits from those whom, to them, are their immediate family is not an acceptable consequence of marriage law.  Situations like these make a good case for some form of civil/domestic partnership.  What they don’t explain, is why they should only apply to sexual relationships, nor do they make a case for the extension of marriage.  If all the rightful privileges of marriage are not unique then the extension of marriage is in reality its abolition and replacement with something that meets the criteria.

To recap: Why does the state privilege a married heterosexual household arrangement over a non-married one?  over a homosexual one?  over a fraternal/sororital one? over a platonic one? over a monohabitual (single person – although I just made that word up!) one?  The problem with the current debate is that it seeks not to establish whether and which privileges should be unique to marriage, but rather that all privileges currently given to a particular class should be open to another particular class and not others while resolutely not considering this core question.

In Part 2 I’ll go into more detail about this question and how it informs our understanding of what form marriage needs to take to achieve its purpose.