Friday, December 15, 2017

Women and Men

I was reading Peter Beinart's The Growing Partisan Divide Over Feminism at The Atlantic, and something stood out for me. A quarter, or maybe a third, of the way into the column, Mr. Beinart makes the following observation: "But what’s driving the polarization is less gender identity—do you identify as a man or a woman—than gender attitudes: Do you believe that women and men should be more equal. Democrats aren’t becoming the party of women. They’re becoming the party of feminists."

While this is a common formulation, it misses something important - a definition of "equal." And that omission is important, because equal doesn't mean the same thing to all people, as I often find when I discuss Steven Pinker's social trilemma; that a society cannot be simultaneously "fair," "free" and "equal." Oftentimes, people are adamant that a society can be simultaneously "fair," "free" and "equal." And they can demonstrate that this is true - they just have to use different definitions of "fair," "free" and/or "equal" than Mr. Pinker himself does.

One of the things that I find separates the stereotypical Liberal from the stereotypical Conservative understanding of equality is the degree to which it is correlated with identicalness. The stereotypical Liberal position tends to posit a very high degree of correlation between the two. For instance, despite the common wisdom on the gender wage gap, many detailed analyses tend to place the overall difference at a few pennies, once you start controlling for certain factors. And in many cases, even that remaining difference comes down to flexibility in work - that is that people who require flexibility in their working hours tend to earn slightly less than people who have their schedules dictated to them, even when doing the same work. While it's relatively easy to see how this might be a workable trade-off, for some people, pay is equal only when paychecks are identical. If that means robbing people of some flexibility or making others effectively pay for flexibility they don't need, then so be it.

While the stereotypical Conservative idea that men and women are different, yet complementary and equally important parts of a greater whole is seen in some sectors as simply a cover for entrenched sexism, it makes perfect sense to them, likely because many things in the world work this way. Generally speaking, we understand that two things can be equal, without always being identical. A simple example would be two cars. We can understand that two cars can have the same feature sets, gas mileage and price, yet be easily distinguishable from one another.

To be sure, an article on whether partisanship has an impact on views of gender equality may not be the best place to hash out what has been a contentious argument on exactly what makes two people "equal." But it's still worthwhile to recognize the idea that not everyone defines equality identically. Simply writing off the Republican understanding of what it means to be "equal," in favor of the Democratic one doesn't make the argument any stronger. It simply shows a substantial portion of the population that they aren't being listened to.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Darker Than Shade

France will do whatever it needs to do for its own sake, and when those coincide with ours, 'tant mieux' [even better] as the French people say. But our main responsibility as leaders, as citizens, is what we need to do to grow our own countries.

We can no longer continue to make policy for ourselves — in our country, in our region, in our continent — on the basis of whatever support that the Western world or France or the European Union can give us. It has not worked, and it will not work.
Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana
This, according to NPR, is the Ghanaian President "throwing shade" at foreign aid. I'm not sure I agree. After all, shade, in this context, according to Merriam-Webster "is a subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone—sometimes verbal, and sometimes not." I don't know that I see anything approaching contempt for, or disgust with, the concept of foreign aid. That description, I think, it better reserved for some of the social media crowing about President Akufo-Addo's statement. NPR goes on to say:
Instead, [President Akufo-Addo] encouraged African leaders to focus on good governance, accountability and diversity to promote trade. With its wealth of natural resources, the continent should be a donor, not a recipient, he said.
I think that part of the reason why so many Africans saw President Akufo-Addo's statement as a way of sticking it to France is that sub-Saharan Africa has a worldwide reputation as a horror show; dirt-poor on a good day, and crammed to the rafters with strongman dictators who busy themselves with looting their nations and scheming to stay in power so they can loot some more. Even Amnesty International's recent report on abuses of migrants bound for Europe excoriates the EU, but doesn't bother castigating the African governments of the nations that the migrants are do desperate to get out of. It reminds me of President Bush's invocation of "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Of course Africa needs all the foreign aid it can get - and while we're at it, Europe should take all the migrants who come, because no-one would and to stay in such a hellhole. And, of course, Africa can't be expected to stop being a hellhole.

But, on its face, President Akufo-Addo's statement doesn't seem to be one of accusing France, or other nations, of deliberately fostering African dependency. You can easily read his statement as "Dude. It's been 60 freaking years. Why are we still beggars after all this time?" If that's throwing shade on anyone, it's governments in Africa, Ghana included.

NPR's mischaracterization of President Akufo-Addo's statement is simply playing into another stereotype of Africa - the bitter person who understands that they dependent on others, but too proud to take that with good grace. It's no better than any of the other stereotypes.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Bad Child

I don't recall when I first heard this; it was sometime in the past few years. An economist made the observation that, in the United States, children had gone from an economic necessity to a luxury good, in the sense that modern children for most American families cost much more than they will every return, economically speaking.

I was listening to a series of interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates by some editors of The Atlantic, and at one point, he made a point that I'd also come to; injustice (in this particular case, White Supremacy) tends to exist when it is in the interests if the broader society for it to exist. In other words, injustice exists because it brings advantages.

And in this, you can understand a means of combating injustice that is analogous to the reduction in family sizes.

When injustice effective represents a direct increase in the standards of living across a society (and not just for the people who behave unjustly) you can imagine that it would be quite widespread, in much the same way that in places where children are effectively a form of working farm animal, large families tend to be the norm. As the relative price of injustice goes up, it will eventually become a luxury good, and people will cut back. Family sizes have dropped in part because the greater "investment" that people are expected to make in their children has raised their price, but social changes in gender roles have also raised the opportunity costs of childbearing (something that many people understand to be a form of discrimination against women), and this has also resulted in fewer children being born - there are more economically advantageous uses for the time and resources. (And it is in this sense that children become a luxury good. They're no longer broadly useful as either semi-autonomous home or farm equipment or as a buffer against old age and infirmity.) And one can understand that in a lot of ways discrimination is a modern-day status marker. Prejudices aside, the willingness to write off large swaths of the overall population means missing out on the things that those people could bring. This means that injustice tends to be the province of people who can afford it, rather than the broad populace at large.

But at the same time, it gives us a reason to understand that most forms of injustice will always be with us, no matter what. After all, people who decide to have (or to risk having) children when they cannot afford the expense of it are fairly thick on the ground. Not to say that "everyone does it," but it's common enough that stories are easy to find. And so even once both the direct and opportunity costs of injustice are high, there will still be people to whom it is important enough that they'll indulge themselves when they can.

Like many analogies, this one is imperfect. But I think that it's useful as a way of organizing thoughts around what my need to happen going forward, if things are to change.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Starting Line

Um... Frank? We're supposed to be going that way...

Thursday, December 7, 2017

They Said, They Said

“This is a spiritual battle we’re fighting,” they say.
“As Christians, we believe in second chances,” they say.
There’s Biblical precedent, they say—just look at Mary and Joseph!
'You Need to Think About It Like a War'

[Mark Ford,] The head of the county Republican Party called the election “a spiritual battle we’re fighting.”
“Even if the allegations are true, as Christians we believe in second chances,” said Pat Hartline, who lives in neighboring Cherokee County and was also in attendance.
This is a Spiritual Battle We’re Fighting

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner.
Alabama state official defends Roy Moore, citing Joseph and Mary: ‘They became parents of Jesus’
"They" is typically taken to be a plural. It when you have some combination of hes, shes and/or its. It is sometimes used a singular, generally in referring to someone where the person's gender is unknown or unimportant - "it" usually being reserved for inanimate objects at at least non-human ones. You might get away with calling a dog "it." Calling a person "it" will typically get one into trouble.

The problem that often arises with "they" is that it's a convenient weasel word. The sort of thing that's used to say something, when a certain amount of ambiguity is desired, even when ambiguity isn't called for. In 'You Need to Think About It Like a War,' McKay Coppins opens with the idea that the "God-fearing supporters" of Roy Moore have thrown their commitment to personal morality out of the window, with things that "they" say in Mr. Moore's defense. But he links to the sources of what "they" say, and in each case "they" turns out be a single, specific, individual.

Of course, this is secondary to the point. Mr. Coppins is right about the fact that the "Christian right" has decided that someone who shares their politics is a better fit as their representative than someone who doesn't, and maintaining a standard of personal moral purity isn't worth losing a valuable legislative seat. But that's not a very good reason to imply that individual voices are a chorus. because it's unnecessary. Attributing each speaker's words to the individual who said them would have still backed up Mr. Coppins' point that in the service of putting someone whose politics matched their own into the United States Senate, Roy Moore's supporters are willing to look the other way at his behavior. He simply would have had to speak of those individuals, rather than generalizing their words.

The whole article uses "conservative values voters" and "they" interchangeably, dealing in broad generalizations, when really the only people who count are the ones who actively decide to vote for someone they would otherwise find to be reprehensible. And in a nation where turning out to vote isn't a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, an active minority can carry the day. It's a safe bet that whomever wins the Alabama Senate race, they're going to carry the day with a minority of registered voters. It's possible that Mr. Moore could win with a minority of conservative values voters making it to the polls. After all, he doesn't need all them to show up - only a statistically significant number more than the number of people who are motivated enough to vote for Doug Jones. Whether that constitutes a majority, I have no idea. But it's entirely possible that there are still large numbers of conservative values voters who have no intention of backing Roy Moore. It's just that the group of them, in total, votes rarely enough that politically, they don't exist. And so the media pays no attention to them, either.

Institutional hypocrisy, my name for the linking of two people who share a characteristic and calling them out for not sharing enough groupthink, is a pointless exercise. Conservative Christians don't have to think about personal purity and political office any more than two people from Rhode Island or any two Latinas have to. Generalizations in support of it don't do anything useful, either.