Saturday, May 25, 2013
There is an interesting, semi-longform, article over on The Atlantic, headlined: "Self-Racism: Changing the Look of a Nation," about the desire for many South Korean women to have more "elfin, anime-like appearances," appealing to a standard of beauty inspired by the heavily-managed and meticulously-manufactured Korean pop-music culture. The piece relates that some twenty years ago, in her paper "Medicalization of Racial Features," Dr. Eugenia Kaw noted a "self-racism subtext" in how Asian-Americans viewed themselves. "She wrote that the 'alteration of Asian American women of facial features is less of a transforming process, and more of a normalizing one,' to allow them to fit in with their Western peers." In other words: assimilation through looking White.
This is a sore point for a number of different groups in the United States, activists within which often see the widespread adoption of a general standard of attractiveness that prefers Caucasian features as toxic to non-Caucasians. And to be sure, one doesn't have to go back all that far - in the grand scheme of things - to understand why. If you've ever read an encyclopedia from the 1950s, it can be remarkable the degree to which middle-American cultural prejudices were presented as scientific truths. And when it came to appearances, to borrow a line from Jessica Rabbit, you weren't bad because you were drawn that way - you were drawn that way because you were bad. All sorts of different non-Caucasian facial features were held to be indicative of intellectual and character defects. And even today, people with facial deformities are still often thought of as mentally deficient. Against this backdrop, it's easy to see how anything viewed as an attempt "to fit in with their Western peers" could also be viewed as coming to the conclusion that one's non-Western peers were naturally unattractive.
African-American culture in the United States is famous (or, infamous, your choice) for its stereotypical hostility to "acting White," viewing the adoption of "Whiteness" among Blacks as the encroachment of a damaging cultural hegemony designed to eliminate "African-ness" and perhaps re-instate servitude in the form of a fawning (and doomed to be futile) desire to obtain acceptance through mimicking people who will always be able to point out another flaw. (But it should be noted that Americans in general tend to be sensitive to perceived rejections of their cultural norms and possible marginalization, and White Americans are not completely above feeling that not wanting to be like them is evidence of hostility.) This creates a dynamic in which many African-Americans judge their peers' level of self-acceptance and self-pride (individually and culturally) through a lens of adherence to a particular definition of "Blackness." While these definitions are viewed as being somehow inherent to being African-American, they're simply learned social norms, and since buy-in to a certain understanding of "African-American culture" can never be effectively unanimous, this can (and does) create an ironic, and often darkly comic, situation in which one is criticized as "self-hating" for, basically, insisting on being one's unaffected self.
In an increasingly globalized world, as cultures continue to diffuse into one another, the development of a generalized standard of attractiveness (among other things) is a predictable, if perhaps unfortunate, side-effect. And that standard is going to include some, and exclude others; "everyone is beautiful" is unlikely to ever be more than a "hippie" opinion or disingenuous advertising copy. Some groups are going to find that they have increased social currency in the new scheme, and others will lack it. In this situation, what will be the view of perceived "normalization?" Will buying into the prevailing norm, by people who are not lionized by it, be viewed as appropriate, or a craven capitulation to a cultural hegemony that all but the would-be hegemons are morally obligated to fight against? Can self-regard be understood as the adoption and taking ownership of whatever norms work for the individual, regardless of the physical changes that might be required, or does self esteem require the acceptance of an assigned cultural role, and in effect being owned by a set of cultural norms that have rights in and of themselves, and, accordingly, can place obligations on those who share ancestry - or appearance - with those who take up the traditional mantle willingly?
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The  dispatcher stays on the phone with the woman for 10 minutes and 21 seconds. She tells the caller to try to hide in the house.While it's become popular in certain Republican and conservative circles to complain about "dependency" on government as a way of attacking Reaganesque "Welfare Queens" (and, as I see it, primarily Democratic/liberal constituencies), it seems to me that the real danger of being dependent on government is in stories like this. The unnamed woman in this story appears to have no other recourse than to call 911, and when they cannot help her, neither she nor the dispatcher can come up with any other workable alternatives.
And four times in total, she says there isn't anyone who can help.
According to police records, a few minutes later, the woman's ex-boyfriend [...] used a piece of metal to pry open her front door. He then attacked her. Eventually, state police arrested him, and he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sodomy, among other charges.
Loss Of Timber Payments Cuts Deep In Oregon
One of the things that we often lose sight of is that the very real efficiencies that come with division of labor on a large scale comes with an accompanying cost - our specializations rob us of the ability to perform other tasks well, or maybe at all. I would be a terrible farmer, in no small part because never having needed to grow food or care for animals, it's simply not a skill that I possess. Whether I recognize it or not, there is a risk there. Therefore, it behooves me to be aware of that risk, even if I don't take any action to address it directly. If I don't have a fallback plan, it should be due to the (reasonably) informed decision that I don't need one - not because it never occurs to me to create one.
Because nothing is perfect, or even perfectible, not even government. And not just government. The fact that for the first three months that I owned it, my cellular phone constantly displayed a harmless, yet annoying, error message taught me that I should never trust it with my life. Not because the technology was unproven, but because so much of the infrastructure that supported it was in the hands of people who couldn't manage to convince the phone that it was, in fact, supposed to be doing exactly what it was doing. Expecting it to work was fine, but I needed to know what I would do if it didn't.
This is inefficient. And over a wide enough scale, impossible. Sometimes you're stuck with relying on an outside agency. But the flip side of efficiency is resiliency, and so perhaps we should start to reconsider the impulse to accept the greater inefficiency that bringing some tasks back "in-house" will bring, so that when Plan A, whether it's government or any other institution fails, there's a Plan B to back it up.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
"If black and white people truly are equal on a bone-deep level, then the game might really be rigged, and we might actually have to do something about it."The If-Then statement that Mr. Coates makes is flawed. Whether or not the game is rigged has nothing to do with whether or not "black and white people truly are equal on a bone-deep level." These two considerations are independent of one another. And visible evidence of a game being rigged is different from the rigging itself, to the degree that one may exist in the absence of the other.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "The Social Construction of Race"
To use a sporting analogy, just because the local college team is not likely to be as talented as the national Olympic team doesn't stop me from rigging the game to ensure the Olympians win. That rigging may not have been required, and the difference in skill levels may make it hard to detect, but the fact that the Olympians are better players doesn't mean that the game is fair. So rather than searching for proof of equality as a means of detecting cheating, we should concern ourselves with looking directly for the evidence of rigging - as whether or not any two groups are equal under normal circumstances, a group that was help back due to an unlevel laying field will do better once that impediment is removed.
Friday, May 17, 2013
In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf grapples with a question: Does love dictate the form and appearance of sexuality within a relationship? Does respect require or proscribe certain activities? Is the claim that participants in a sex act love and/or respect one another - or that these things are independent of each other - the final word, or are the rest of us allowed to second-guess them and assert that the boundaries that we understand border the proper expression of sexuality are absolute, unless those who would cross them prove them harmless to our satisfaction?
In other words, who determines whether or not they are being loved and respected - or loving and respectful? And what is the actual definition of abuse, or degradation?
A question that I have always found helped me consider questions like these is quite simply - Can someone take your self-respect and/or dignity from you, or must you agree to give it away?
I am in the camp that says that questions of love, respect, degradation and the like are all in the eye of the individual. But I think that it's important that we look at these things expansively. As someone who believes, to borrow a phrase from one of the debating parties in the piece, that the content of civilization can be boiled down to the single element of consent, it's important that we really understand what that means.
Consent isn't enough to guarantee that sexual behavior is moral. Adultery, the deliberate conception of unwanted children, the careless spread of H.I.V.—all could happen in consensual encounters. As those uncontroversial examples suggest, the people who truly think consent is the only thing that matters in sexual conduct are a tiny minority, even in San Francisco.While this is an interesting and compelling argument, I would counter-argue that these are not cases of “consensual encounters.” If we assume that by “adultery” Mr. Friedersdorf means cheating on a partner who expects, and reasonably understands that they have been promised, monogamy and exclusivity then adultery is no more consensual than if a mean-spirited spouse gave away the family car. Breaking commitments to a third party should not be considered a purely consensual activity, because the third party has not consented to the effects on their interests. In the cases of the deliberate conception of a child that the other partner does not want or the careless (or deliberate, for that matter) spread of H.I.V., it is not enough to say that since the simple act of sex was consensual, that this constitutes a consensual encounter. After all, leaving out important facts can be considered just as fraudulent as including lies:
Conor Friedersdorf, “The Ethics of Extreme Porn: Is Some Sex Wrong Even Among Consenting Adults?”
There are four elements of fraudulent nondisclosure, also known as misrepresentation by omission: (1) a party conceals a material fact; (2) the fact is within the concealing party’s knowledge; (3) the concealing party knows that the acting party will rely on this nondisclosure on the presumption that the fact does not exist; and (4) the concealing party has a legal/equitable duty to communicate the fact.Now, while Jill may not have a legal/equitable duty to communicate to Jack that she intends to have a baby by him before they go to bed together, it's difficult to argue that he was truly consenting if he would have refused to have sex with her otherwise. (And in Tennessee, at least, if Jack need to resort to fraud to get into Jill's pants, he could be charged with rape.) Likewise, if Jack withholds from Jill the fact that he is HIV positive or has AIDS, there are jurisdictions in which he'd be liable for prosecution, so it seems that a case can be made that there is an expectation that such status should be revealed.
“Common Law Fraud Claims” Bench and Bar of Minnesota
In that regard, “consent” should be considered to be something more than two people both deciding that it would be fun to have sex with one another - I submit that it's more properly construed as, firstly, all parties knowing beforehand, exactly what they are letting themselves in for, to the best of the other person's understanding, and knowing that, assents to it. (Whether that's BSDM, the possibility of having a baby or having to wear clown makeup and a rubber nose.) And secondly, in accordance with the idea that all parties must agree that it doesn't break commitments freely entered into with others. True, one's sexuality is not like a physical object that can be literally possessed by another, but if we can determine that sharing information when one agreed not to is morally iffy, even when the person who receives it consents to learn, we can put cheating on a partner in the same category. (In the end, every crime that we do not consider to be victimless is really about consent - victimless crimes are the only ones in which a crime has been committed even when everyone - even those people not a party to or having an interest in the action - consents.)
In this broader context, I do think that it's possible to make consent into the only thing that matters. (Although I freely admit that someone might immediately come up with a case that challenges that. I haven't spent much time looking for one.) What people whom we have determined to be capable of informed consent do between themselves is really none of our business, regardless of the degree to which we are squicked out by their actions.