Friday, January 11, 2013

Etiquette: When Passive-Agressive Is Celebrated

Miss Manners is passive-aggressive and given to deceit. No, really. I'm an advice columnist junkie because I like to see what kind of problems people like to show off to the world. They're the usual gamut of the I-know-what-to-do-but-I'm-hoping-you'll-give-me-an-easy-way-out thing. On an aside, Dear Abby is getting a bit more snippy these days with the particularly obvious; she's telling them "I give you my permission" to do whatever thing they don't want to do. Miss Manners takes the cake, however. Her usual advice as a response to someone who behaves hurtfully is to give them the a coldly delivered "How kind of you to take an interest." before changing the subject or walking away. The person who is rude enough to be hurtful is then supposed to pick up on the social cue and understand they've been hurtful. On occasions where someone, generally a stranger or acquaintance makes a remark that misinterprets a situation, Miss Manners advocates using a comment that allows the remarker to assume their reading of the situation is correct while not actually lying about it, and then change subject. The rude person is then supposed to Really. It occurs to me that social etiquette is generally a female domain. We are the ones that traditionally set the table and hostessing was the middle and upper class woman's vocation until Baby Boomers laughed in the face of traditionally defined gender roles. Most of the so-called "social graces" Miss Manners deals with harken back to the we-make-the-rules-because-it's-women's-work times. The responses to other people's rudeness, particularly when it's hurtful, is passive-aggressive. Instead of dealing plainly with the issue, that is approaching the hurtful person or speaking directly to the hurtful stranger, one is to be "graceful" by turning the hurt aside and being snotty. Well, she would call it being mannerly, but playing freeze out and being deceptive is snotty.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It's Not the Attack on Marriage, but the Attack on Patriarchy

I read an article in the Pacific-Standard (used to be Miller-McCune) about the death of marriage. It examines how marriage died not because of those Evil Gay People™ and their Anti-American Gay Agenda™, but because of "growing equality in the workforce, social acceptance of licenseless sex, and the dissolving of the stigma of being either single or gay."

I thought about it, and I think the death of marriage can be narrowed down to a single thing: women's rights. Marriage wasn't necessarily about being moral. Marriage was about inheritance. Women's sexuality has been rigorously controlled since the advent of civilization because the only way to make sure the baby she had was fathered by a specific person was to make sure that he was the only person she had sex with. Female virginity, "purity", was prized because men wanted to make sure they didn't raise someone else's kid and then leave their property to someone else's kid. More importantly, men with positions of power did not want someone else's kid to inherit their position. While this sounds reasonable enough on the surface, it kind of boils down to a single problem. Women did not own property or have positions of their own to leave as an inheritance. They were property, and worse, they were a burden, financially. A man had to take care of his wife in almost all ways. That's the way the system worked.

Marriage was an insititution developed to make sure that women were cared for and that property was correctly distributed to heirs and through dowries. A married woman always had a home, food, water, and other necessities. She may have had to work in various ways, and she definitely had to have children, but marriage was a contract not between man and wife, but between man and wife's family for her care. Marriage was not about "family". Marriage was about economic and political control.

So, along comes Second Wave Feminism and the Sexual Revolution. Women now had jobs that made them self-reliant. En masse, rather than a few with skills to be in one of the "women's" professions such as nanny, maid, or governess. Women no longer had to be married to be taken care of. Add to the mix the birth control pill and its effect of giving women a choice on when and how many children to have, and we have a recipe for the end of marriage. By the time Third Wave Feminism comes along, marriage is suddenly a choice to be made without much social pressure. And it is suddenly. Between the early 80s and the early 90s, marriage lost most of its moral cachet. She doesn't have to be married to have kids. She doesn't have to be married to be socially acceptable. She doesn't have to be married to designate an inheritor. She doesn't have to be married to have an enriching, successful life. So, why should she get married? Why should he get married if they can cohabit? The pressure for both men and women to marry in order to reproduced is gone. There is no real moral purpose for the institution. With a civil process that regulates the economics of child rearing, regulates co-parenting of separated people, and regulates inheritance and legal identity, what purpose does marriage serve? Bastard is no longer a social problem. It's reduced to nothing more than a naughty word people shouldn't say. It has no real meaning.

Marriage isn't on the ropes because gay people want the same rights that straight people have. Marriage is on the ropes because the reasons for its existence no longer apply. The patriarchy is diminishing. Yeah, it's the institution that's been the foundation of our society for millenia, but I have to question the ethics of that foundation. It's wrong to control a person's sexuality, devalue them, and consider them property because of their role in procreation. Traditional marriage is the institution that maintains this kind of oppression. The patriarchal system requires marriage. The egalitarian system our society is hammering out does not. What does that turn marriage into? A choice, not a necessicity. People marry for personal reasons, love, lust, their religious beliefs. They don't marry because they have to, but because they want to.

I think, instead, that marriage must be redefined. Contemporary marriage is an institution that's about people voluntarily committing to each other for personal reasons, not social ones. Contemporary marriage isn't about making an "honest woman" or "honest man" of someone. It's not about making sure children aren't bastards, or that women have homes, or that who inherits what is clear. It's about personal committment between two people. The erosion of the traditional marriage value system has nothing to do with gay people and everything to do with an old social system that's no longer acceptable. Maintaining a traditional marriage system and the traditional marriage morality isn't upholding the foundation of our society, it's a direct attack on not only women, but on the premise that all people are equal. Marriage that's a voluntary union between two consenting adults reaffirms our basic values of a loving nuclear family rather than an economic grouping, personal freedom, and equality for all. That means that people marry because they choose to, not because it's a requirement in order to have children, or because it's that magic ceremony to mark a person's passage into responsible adulthood, or because people are "bad" because they aren't married, or because the husband must husband his family, or because it's the only way for half of the population to sustain themselves.

Traditional marriage is dead. Long live contemporary marriage.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

We Know Education Is a Problem, but We Still Cut Funding

Paul Krugman in "Moochers Against Welfare" makes a compelling argument about how the poor people in red states vote against their interests. He furthers Thomas Frank's whole deal in What's the Matter with Kansas. One point of Krugman's article caught my attention more than any other. It kind of rolls from a few sentences:

"Many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system." and "44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they 'have not used a government program.'" and, even more telling, "Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare."

What I get from all of this isn't the idea that Republican voters are stupid, though that's apparently Krugman's gist, whether he intended so or not. What I get from this set of ideas is that people are undereducated. Poorer people, in particular, are undereducated. I don't say uneducated, because they do have education, but obviously not enough. I don't give that same regard to people like Romney. Like Krugman, I think Romney's "gaffe" in implying that Medicare is not an entitlement program is deliberate.

I'm a big believer in education, particularly in making sure everyone has liberal education in their background. Liberal education is "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement." Liberal education is not an education in how to be politically liberal. Just to be clear. Practical education is kind of the opposite of a liberal education because practical education is the stuff people learn to do a career. Sure, the two mix liberally in the process of acquiring education, but liberal education is about teaching how to think on a broader scale while practical is about teaching how to do. Krugman's evidence just shows that liberal education is going, going, nearly gone in high school.

We cannot have a successful nation without liberal education. How can people make good decisions about their leadership and what laws should be if they don't have access to the tools to make those decisions? How can they tell if politicians are playing bait-and-switch with them? By good decisions, I don't mean decisions that I agree with, but decisions that best serve each individual's interests. 

I'm a military person all the way. I served, I married a man who served, I'm related to a lot of people who served. Still, the last thing that should be cut in the government budget is education. It should never be cut. It should also have money parceled out more equitably. Poor districts should not suffer teacher and supply shortage---which directly impacts quality---while rich districts do not. Liberal education should be a major part of the high school curriculum, not hours devoted to making sure people can read. There should be an exam to pass, much like the British GCSE exam. If you do not pass this exam, you do not get a diploma. This exam should be made of essays, not multiple choice. This means that people who home school would be able to get a diploma without going through the trouble of hooking into a school district.

Of course, that means spending money on things that have no immediate, tangible value. It means that "success" must be redefined to exclude how much money can be earned. Are CEOs inherently more successful than someone who fulfills their lifelong dream of being a manager at a McDonald's? According to our current definitions, yes. It also means that as a society, we must value education for education's sake. An uneducated society, which we live in, makes stupid decisions because they don't know how to make better decisions. They believe people who claim that entitlement programs aren't entitlement programs. So, that's my pipe-dream.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


I'm a conflict theorist, which necessarily makes me a Marxist of some sort, but class conflict explains far more than structuralist theories simply because self-interest rules the day. In my, somewhat informed opinion, at least. Reality is that the macrotheories don't work completely and sometimes one must be discarded in favor of the other simply because the other is more correct. Geek moment: Rodney just had a stroke. There are plenty of functionalists that disagree with me on self-interest, but really, the whole tending toward equalibrium thing just seems to strike me as apologist for inequality. Note to self: no reading social theory until comps are finished. I mean it.

Politically, I'm a libertarian. Probably. I'd be an anarchist, but we are not ready for anarchy. Montana proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. They allowed anarchy on their highway system and people decided the Montana highway system was a race track and they were expert racers rather than actually used judgment to travel at speeds that were appropriate for vehicle, conditions, and driver. And this is a state with signs that say "warning, free range for X miles." It would be unpleasant to discover cows on the road at 130 mph. So Montana had to re-impose law to tell people how to drive safely. I am neither conservative nor liberal. I want minimal encroachment of law. Conservatives want laws to restrict ability to choose, such as illegal drugs. Liberals want laws to restrict ability to choose, such as gun control. The only difference between a liberal and a conservative is which part of human behavior they want to control through legislation. Our government, every single part of it, does not trust us to make our own decisions. Every year, they tighten the leash. Big Brother is now Nanny. Orwell has to be shaking his head from his fluffy cloud and harp playing at how wrong he got that.

"Left" and "right" are an unnecessary binary. We've all been socialized to think that there are only left and right on the political spectrum because that's the only way to think of things. Well, we've added moderates to that, but they're either conservative-moderate or liberal-moderate. Considering all the labels we're applying to political beliefs these days, the left-right thing isn't really working. Ironically, the French Revolution and its aftermath are where these terms originated. The Assemblymen that wanted order and to maintain the monarchy assembled on the right side of the king. The Assemblymen that wanted to limit the king's power and become a true republic sat on the left side of the king. Conservatives (those who wanted to conserve monarchy and maintain traditional ways) were reported in the international press as "the right" and Liberals (republicans) were called "the left" by the international press. Left and right have altered over time, but the basic meaning is that the left wants change and the right wants things to stay the same. It's also why American conservatives are neo-liberals. Not a one would want a monarchy, and more importantly, they've traditionally been interested in a balance of power between the states and federal government--the philosophy of the original liberals. Ironically, American liberals want the federal government to have most of the power and the states to administer federal programs. The whole thing is fairly ridiculous. They all want the same thing---a prosperous nation where the citizenry has opportunity to flourish---but don't have any way of agreeing on how to do that. But then again, we hire people who are fully unqualified for the job. They tend to be steeped in political science, law, or some form of economics, but none of these things really gives them the qualifications necessary to understand, for example, the impact of free trade on the American people. At least not like these hirelings think they can. Economists think they do because it's economic theory, but they were unable to predict outsourcing. I find this amusing in a very painful way. Economists aren't actually economists. All they know is in-depth, capitalist theory. They don't have a clue what non-capitalist economic theory is, let alone how to work with it. But the US is capitalist, we all cry in dismay. We're globalizing capitalists in a big, broad world full of non-capitalists. We want to blend economies with China (GM was very unhappy when the Chery Spark started production a month after GM hit China up for cheap labor and, coincidentally, had to show design plans to the Chinese government). And we all think capitalism is all we need to know because that's all there is? It is to laugh.

It's all muck up there, left and right. It wouldn't be so bad if a single one of them could step back and say, even if just to themselves, that they aren't actually qualified to make these decisions because no one is. Armed with the knowledge that they don't know what's best, they can approach their jobs with critical thought instead of uncritical belief in the power of their own opinion.

I would like to take this moment to state that I universally despise the elected persons from my state. They're a series of patronizing morons, except for the woman. She's a sycophantic idiot that likes to act as if she's doing something with real thinking involved rather than rubber-stamping the partyline. A more ineffective person must exist, but he or she likely shares space on the floor of Congress with my state's sycophant. They can form a club with buttons, bumper stickers, and posters: "All my thinking is done for me at party headquarters!"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hobbes Will Never Be Lord of the Flies

Hobbesian ideology is one of those things. It's mentioned at a mutter, accompanied by nodding grunts of yes-of-course wisdom by sychophants. Of course mankind is a vicious brutal species. Of course mankind will degenerate into violent in-fighting in absence of a strong leader to keep the lot of us in line. Of course we're all just one civilizing step away from some savage version of might makes right. We've all read Lord of the Flies. We know what happens when people are suddenly isolated from the confines of rules and an enforcement body.

That particular bill of goods is made entirely of iron pyrite. What do politicians sell? Fear, of course. If you believe them, the world is a pack of snarling dogs ready to rip the corpse of America into shreds. Our neighbors are rabid with teenaged deliquency, recreational drug manufacture and distribution, sexual predators, serial killers, and insurance salesmen. Watch out, they might get you. No one is safe. The only ones that can make us safe are the people who legislate tough on crime stanes, and enforce them. The people who legislate security measures that stop terrorists in their tracks---you can tell that it's successful, no terrorists on airplanes, though some lovely shots of people viewed with x-ray vision are now internet fodder.

Most of these things are manufactured terrors. Most kids aren't molested by strangers. They're molested by someone they know, someone the parents let into the house, usually a relative. Sexual predator laws? Pointless overkill. There's only one way to stop sexual recidivism and that's not by making registries and treating people as evil long after they've paid their debt to society. Castrate them. Whoops. Can't do that, violation of civil rights! But we'll make it so you have no place to live, have no means of supporting yourself, and so that everyone, everywhere, whether they meet your or not, knows that you're a social outcast.

It's stupid, really. A poor person steals 1,000 dollars or a mid-priced automobile and gets 5 to 10 in prison. Stockbrokers in Brooks Brothers or Armani steal millions of dollars, put large numbers of people back into the work force---bye bye retirement fund, you'll never get it back, they jetted to Monaco for a weekend and drank three sips of champagne that would have paid your mortgage for three months---and what do they get? 5 years, minimum security country club, eligible for parole in 1 year with good behavior, and some legal wrangling that shunts whatever is left over from the fraud and theft into lawyer pockets.

Ideology is interesting. The poor kid in a hoodie and baggy jeans is a threat to society. He's already got one foot in Lord of the Flies and the only thing keeping him from total savagery are reality cop shows. The rich kid, though, he's civilized. Why should anyone fear him? He's well groomed and polite. Laws are one way for the dominant ideology to reproduce itself over and over, generation after generation, enshrining the savage poor and genteel rich into fact. And with that newly minted fact, we agree that those no-account hoodlums should get five times the punishment for a millionth of the crime.

Social contract theory, the very ideals that our democracy is founded on, contradicts Hobbes, even though he's one of the first people to write about it. People agree to be led. They agree to follow the rules. They agree that this is the way things are. Wealthy people only have wealth because everyone agrees that all of their stuff means they're wealthy. Laws only work because everyone agrees there are laws and, for those that break them, everyone else agrees that some people have the right to enforce those laws. We don't have a Leviathan in office, we have a meek man that can't lead. Yet here we are, still agreeing that he's the president anyway and that he's got the right to exercise the power of that office. We haven't turned on our neighbors and ripped them to pieces. Life is not "nasty, brutish, and short" until a real Leviathan rises to keep the lot of us in line. We all pretty much agree that unless Trump or Palin get the GOP nom, Obama has almost no chance at a second term.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hillary, the First? Really?

Nawang Gombu died very recently.

Why should anyone who doesn't know him (yes, it's a him) really care beyond the whole "sorry for your loss" thing? Well, he presents an interesting conundrum that highlights Western privilege and presumptiveness while also pointing a big well, huh, at medical science.

Gombu was the youngest Sherpa on Sir Edmund Hillary's journey to the summit. Gombu didn't summit on is first trip, but he made it the second time around with some other guy's expedition. The only reason anyone beyond Nepal cares that Gombu passed on is because of his connection to Hillary. And really, doesn't that just say it all?

Hillary was the "first" to successfully climb Mt. Everest and Gombu was the "first" to climb Everest twice. My conundrum is simply this: how do you know that Hillary was the first? First white guy, yeah, I'll buy that. First person ever? No one has decided to climb Himilayan mountains, just because they're there, until the 20th century? In billions of years of geological history and millions of years of homo history, no one thought, hey, let's kick this pig, until bored British gentry went gallivanting across hill and dale? Why do I not believe that?

There is a slight problem with this. Everest does have about 848 meters of mountain above the death zone. That would be the maximum altitude where there's enough oxygen to sustain human life. Above that, well, there's not much oxygen to breathe. Idio--climbers take oxygen with them so they can get to the top without asphyxiating on sheer stupidity. Now, it's possible to do the climb without it. People have done it in the 20th century. The folks who live around Everest are not only acclimitized to the weather, they're acclimitized to living well above sea level already. Oxygen saturation issues are less problematic for them than people who live in London most of the time.

So, yeah, Hillary is the first one we specifically know about because he's the guy in the Trivia Pursuit game and the record books (they're kept by Europeans, y'know). But is he the first ever, or just the first white guy? I'm betting his just the first white guy and someone else has been there before him. The sun does not rise and set because of the Occident. The world does not turn because of the Occident. The "First" anything does not belong to the Occident simply because they want it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Class Warfare and Grandma's Heart Transplant

There's a huge ethical debate among the organ transplant community, especially the kidney folks, about whether or not organ donors should be compensated in some way for their donation. In other words, sell their organs. The big selling point for allowing compensation will be that there will be a much larger pool for contributed body replacement parts (kidneys, bone marrow, non-death-requiring parts) for those who desparately need them, rather than a waiting list that people can hang on for years. The big ethical sticker is that people would commidify body parts and people would sell organs not because they want to, but because they need to (an example of a 14 year old selling a kidney to a medical tourist in Manila, Philipenes is a prime example of abusive organ selling). Some of these medical and ethical experts think that paying people for organs would reduce the supply of cadaveric organs, like hearts, simply because people would fear being put to death sooner for the money.

The one problem I've never seen one of these bioethics debates hit is the Marxist argument. What happens when body parts are commodified? I'm not speaking of what happens on the seller's side, but what happens on the buyer's side. Who pays for the organ compensation? Image you have two patients that need a heart. The donor is to be compensated for it at a set price (let's assume that compensation prices will be set simply to avoid turning the organ commidity market into a bidding war). One person is well off, one person is not. Who pays? In theory, insurance, right? The first mistaken assumption is that insurance will pay for all of it. Deductables, you know? And insurance companies are in business to make profit, not to pay out money (it's why we really need pre-existing condition reform, whatever happens in the future). So Well Off Patient's family writes a check. Maybe they need to get a home equity loan or something, but they can pony up the cash for whatever insurance will totally refuse to cover, providing insurance even agrees to ever cover any of the sale price for a heart. Not So Well Off Patient's family does what? Holds bake sales, puts up charity change jars at convenience store counters, borrows every dime from everyone they know. Who gets the organ? Honestly? In the end, the trend will simply be this: the people who get organ transplants are the ones who can afford to buy the organ. The people who do not get organ transplants are the ones who cannot afford to buy the organ.

I can say this because it's already true. In places where buying organs is either not illegal or, if it is illegal, no one does a damned thing about it, that's what's going on.

How does class warfare figure into the ethical argument? Very simply, when you have a valuable commodity where there is more demand than supply, the upper classes own and control it, the lower classes do without. It's simple capitalism. So what happens when the lower classes understand that their loved ones have less access to organs that will save their loved one's lives simply because the rich people get first crack? Yeah. It won't be pretty.