Saturday, March 24, 2007

Okay, so yesterday I discussed how I think that morality is something that is not created, but simply exists. The next step was for me to think about that.

What if we didn't know anything about morality? I mean, if we went totally blank slate. If we put on the Christian theologian hat, and pretend we're God, and have to discover what this morality stuff is.

Even if we knew nothing about morality, would we be able to guess what a moral person would be like?

Part of this thinking was inspired by a person who insisted that he had proof that God didn't exist. I was puzzled, because generally speaking, the question of the existence of a deity or some deities is considered unanswerable. The deist version of God - the watchmaker god, who created the universe, "wound up the watch", and then walked away from it - is something that can't be proven or disproven.

Ah, but this gentleman had an additional condition. He didn't consider the Deist's God to be worthy of the title "god".

See, he said that before you could call something a "god" or God, it had to have certain conditions. I never asked what those conditions were, but I can guess. Many people look at the world, and decide it's pretty messed up. Why doesn't God do anything about it? It's certainly defensible to say that, with the world in the condition it's in, then the kind of being who could be called "god" doesn't exist.

(As a side note: I think that's wrong. But now is not the time to go into that. Maybe I'll don the Christian theologian hat to explain the problem of pain someday soon.)

I decided to do this with morality. What if there was something worthy of being called morality? What would it be like?

Moral relativism gets a bad rap; at its root, moral relativism lets you say that Thomas Jefferson wasn't an enemy of human freedom and dignity, even though he owned slaves. He grew up in a society that allowed ownership of slaves, and while that doesn't mean that it was okay for him to own slaves, it does mean that it's unreasonable to expect him to have known better.

But there's another branch of moral relativism, known as strong moral relativism, which say that the only moral judgment one can make is based upon the society a person grew up in. Thomas Jefferson owning slaves was just fine because it was in accordance with the dictates of society.

I decided that if morality was determined by strong relativism, it wasn't worth being called morality. In fact, I went further. I decided that something could only reasonably be called "morality" if it dictated the correct thing to do, no matter how you looked at it.

The other thing I decided was necessary was that morality was accessible, in some way. If morality isn't accessible, if you can't use logic and reasoning to help figure out what is moral and not, then there's really no point in going further, since we're trying to use the tools of logic and reasoning to discern what's moral.

So, I decided that morality exists, and follows some kind of reasoning. So, the next thing I thought about was, "well, what if the only way to prevent the entire universe from being destroyed was telling a white lie, and lying was immoral?"

Well, there's two places you can go with that; you can figure that sure, it might be okay to refuse to tell a white lie even if that results in the destruction of the entire universe. However, if that's true, it seems that we've lost the ability to use logic and reasoning to determine morality. So, I took the other option: morality depends on circumstances. Even if telling a lie is normally wrong, it's okay to tell a white lie to save the universe.

What comes next?

Well, I decided that it was likely that our hypothetical moral person would decide that

1) there were moral decisions to be made
2) what was moral is at least somewhat amenable to logic and reasoning
3) morality was somewhat dependent upon circumstance (or we lose 2) )
4) one must have some method of making moral decisions, and
5) one should demand a certain level of consistency to that method; it's much easier to correct a mistake if one is acting consistently than it is to correct a mistake if one is acting at random.

This last two bits are actually stolen from ideas about finding one's way in an unknown area - finding a path literally, not metaphorically. Before you can travel very far, you want to have a way of finding directions, and you want a way to stay on course. If you don't know where you're going, you can at least start mapping your territory if you have a way of determining your direction of travel.

I also decided that we could probably add

6) Morality is mostly determined by how one's actions affect other living creatures; there's no need to apologize to rocks.

(You might need to apologize to a person for what you did to an important rock, but not to the rock itself.)

And thus, after a great deal of thinking, I'd come up with the idea that morality, for us humans, mostly came down to how we treated each other, and other living creatures.

However, you might notice that I've cut away a lot of what's traditionally thought of as morality.

Blasphemy might be immoral, but only insofar as it affects another living being, and the same can be said for many other sins that don't seem to cause harm to others. While the word "morality" is often used to refer to sexual behavior, you have to point to harm being done before morality can come into the picture.

Well... not "harm being done", exactly... but I'm a bit too tired to go into drunk driving and peanut butter sandwiches. I'll try to hit those tomorrow.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fundamentals of morality

So, this is the kind of blog entry I figured I wouldn't make, because it would probably bore the majority of my readers. Then I realized that, since I might constitute a majority of my readers, as long as it's interesting to me, it's worthwhile.

I want to talk about the nature of good and evil, of morality. Now, I use the word "morality" to questions about good and evil; please understand that the word carries a lot of baggage. For example, one friend of mine once said that the proper definition from usage (i.e.: how people use it) was "something to do with sex". That's not exactly true; there have always been philosophers using it to refer to questions about good and evil, but philosophers use words in ways so unnatural that you might think about sexual immorality anyway.

The reason I want to use "morality" to discuss questions of good and evil is that I tend to use "good" and "bad" for outcomes. It's moral to try to bring about good outcomes... you see where the confusion could come in?

But before we can talk about the fundamental nature of good and evil, I need to address a common limitation in Western thought on the subject.

We live in a monotheistic culture, and a lot of people think that what is "moral" is "following God's will", and it's entirely possible that it is. However, you need to ask a question about that.

(Putting on my Christian theologian hat - yes, we Wicca can do that, especially if we grew up Catholic.)

Is this because God gets to set the rules, or is it because God knows the rules better than anyone?

This is a crucial thing to think about and it confuses a lot of people.

Think about life as being like a chess game. If God tells you the right move is to move your queen to a particular space, is it because God knows chess better than anyone else on the planet, or is it because God is going to change the rules of chess, and declare that you win once you move your queen there, even though it doesn't checkmate your opponent?

Keep in mind that it's impossible to prove that one answer is "right"; it's like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Nevertheless, we can establish that one answer both feels right, and is actually the one most people accept.

First, let's pretend God can dictate what is or isn't moral. That means that, if God declared it moral to torture people tomorrow, it would become moral to torture people.

You can't say that "God would never do that, God is too moral to do such a thing!" because "moral" is whatever God says it is!

The only reason to do "good" would be to avoid getting on God's bad side. But do we consider it moral to do things only to avoid getting someone angry? When teaching children to be moral, we've failed if they only behave to avoid being punished. We only have succeeded when they want to do the right thing because it's right. Why should it be any different with God?

The idea that God is moral and loving is based upon the idea that morality is bigger than (or at least on a par with) God. If we judge God by the right standards, we can say God is moral and loving.

So I find that idea more appealing, even though I can't prove it. But it's also what most people believe. For example, if God asked someone to do something that seemed to be wrong, what would we think? When someone suffers a great injustice and asks "why didn't God prevent this?" what do people often say?

That the Lord works in mysterious ways. That God has a plan. That we are threads in a tapestry, and we can't see the grand pattern.

We believe that, if we understood everything God understood, it would all make sense. Get it? We believe that morality has some kind of sensibility to it. We assume that God knows better than us, and that's why these things make sense, as part of God's will.

We believe that God doesn't set the rules, but that he explains them. We believe that God is a moral being who does what is good and moral.

Next post, I hope to discuss more about what we could infer about a truly moral being.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Justice in the face of anger

Every now and then, I want to make a post where I can Explain Something For All Time. Of course, it would never work because if you come up with a foolproof explanation of a concept, nature would invent a better fool to render your effort useless. Still, I've been feeling that way, and today I'm going to take a swing at it, okay?

What I want to explain today is this: no, you don't earn praise, glory, love, or even a cookie, for supporting justice.

If you're hoping for those things, you're feeding yourself (literally, in one case), not justice.

Either you care about justice - the notion that people should be treated fairly and well - or you don't. And if you really care about it, you don't care if you receive a reward when justice prevails. You might care about what happens along the way, of course, but if you care, you'll do some work, or make some sacrifice, to see justice prevail.

What does this mean? Well, it means that if some Evil Feminist says that our society is not fair to women, you can't get Highly Offended and insist that such talk is Driving People Away From The Cause.

People who care about justice will stick around (even if they hate what the local Evil Feminist is saying) because they care about justice more than they care about language that may, or may not, be inflammatory. Those who won't stick around don't really want justice; they want a reward of some form or another, and are leaving because they didn't get what they wanted.

If no one's ever told such folks this, let me say it now: Life isn't fair, and you don't always get what you want. You don't base moral decisions on the reward you get; if you're getting a reward, it's not a moral decision, it's a transaction. There's nothing wrong with wanting a reward for doing something, but you can't pretend you're doing something especially moral when you ask to be paid (in praise, glory, love, or cookies) for what you've done.

I just saw this on the topic of the patriarchy, so I mention the Evil Feminists, but it holds for racism, heterosexism, and more, as well.

It can be prudent to speak gently - I'm not using hyperbole and calling people who haven't figured this out a bunch of moronic dunderheads, am I? - because you do indeed catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But it can be counterproductive to speak too gently. If you don't show some anger, if you don't have some real passion, if you're not really infuriated by the status quo, then you can't really have too big a problem with whatever issue you're facing, right?

If you want to confront an issue, and it's a serious issue, you need some anger, and anger is justified. And sure, you can go overboard, and a lot of people do. But a person who cares about that issue, who cares about justice, must look beyond the anger, even if a person has gone overboard, and try to overcome whatever unfairness really exists.

To do any less is to be willing to let injustice prevail.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nice hat, Mr. President

President Bush likes to play with his Commander-in-Chief credentials, and in a very limited sense, I can't blame him. Some of the most fascinating and exciting technology in the world exists in our military.

Honestly, I think that's where the Republicans have their advantage over the Democrats in military matters. The Republicans are willing to look at the awe-inspiring power of our military, and enjoy it just because it's, well, neat. And it is.

The Democrats tend to be unable to divorce themselves from the reality that all of these neat things will be used to destroy propery and kill people.

The place where Democrats screw up is when they have any hesitance towards our people in the military. You see, the people aren't in the military to be able to destroy property and kill people. The kind of people who are a little too excited over destruction and killing are eased out; the military wants controlled violence.

(I feel I should note that I've heard some stories that suggest that there's a little bit too much callousness being drilled into members of the armed forces these days. If so, I hate that this is happening. Nevertheless, when our military is living up to its ideals, it is looking for warriors who are eager to get the job done, using the least amount of force necessary.)

Our military folks aren't there to destroy things and kill people; they're there to do some really hard work and make a great many sacrifices, in order to protect us. Sure, people talk about the military as a place to get training or money for college, and it can be those things as well, but if so, the trade-off is hard work and sacrifice in return for that training and college money.

I hate that the military is being used as it is in Iraq. It's not their job to be sent to do that hard work, and make those sacrifices, in a place where they aren't protecting us. We were never in danger from Iraq; they weren't sent to Iraq to protect us.

Just in case any right-wingers who repeat talking poings come here, let me make this clear: the military was sent to Iraq in hopes of changing Iraq to a nation more to our liking. I won't deny that the goal was decent; it sure would have been nice to create a peaceful, democratic Iraq, but you can't create a free nation by conquest. The minute you send in people with guns to enforce your will, you've already broken the concept of freedom in those people's minds. How can it be freedom to obey the orders of an invader? No, freedom must come from within.

But back to the main point: while I hate that the military is in Iraq, it is not the fault of the folks in the military that they're in Iraq. They're in Iraq because of policies of the Bush administration. It's important to make sure one is angry at the right people for the right things. Where the military is, and why they're there, belongs to the Bush administration. What the military should be doing in Iraq is attempting to carry out their orders in an honorable and lawful manner, regardless of how repugnant those orders might be.

The depressing thing is that the Republicans have worked very hard to conflate support of the service (following orders honorably and lawfully) with support of the mission (fighting in Iraq). Complain about the decisions of the Bush administration, and they'll insist you're complaining about the service of our military. It's a dirty trick, one that an honorable party would not engage in.

But it's a game that gives them an undeserved political advantage, as President Bush brags about his bright, shiny Commander-in-Chief credentials. He can go among the members of our armed forces and pretend to be one of them. But he's not.

Remember, the reason I think everyone should support our armed forces is that they have chosen to work hard and sacrifice greatly for us. For officers, that goes double. Officers are expected to be aware of everything that happens under their control, and to report on the things that are not under their control, to make sure the right people are aware of them. An officer can never rest while there's a problem to be fixed, and can't use "but I didn't know!" as an excuse. It's the job of officers to know, and to make sure that others know, about the problems that need fixing.

People complained about the conditions at Walter Reed before the news stories broke about them. Officers heard about the conditions. They filed the reports that they needed to file, they did their jobs. You can be assured of this.

But somehow, those reports did not come to the attention of the Commander-in-Chief, even though they weren't being fixed. This means that the kindest possibility is that President Bush didn't care if there were such terrible conditions. That's the best possibility, that he'd made sure his military advisors knew that he wasn't concerned about problems of that nature, that they weren't as critical as other issues.

The other possibility is that those conditions existed because of his orders, that he believed, to quote one of his officials, that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had. That he didn't give the military the resources they needed to make sure all of our veterans received the standard of care they deserved.

That he has acted relatively quickly - don't forget that people in his command downplayed the problems at first! - doesn't tell us that he cares about the military. It merely tells us that he realizes how damaging the story is. If he had really cared, then conditions would never have gotten that bad.

And this is why I say that, while President Bush likes to pretend that he's "one of them", just like the folks in the military, he's not. He likes to ride in the jets, and be able to take this stick for a while. He loves to look at the really cool, really powerful military hardware. He loves him some military toys, but when it comes time to do the really hard work of being in command of the military, well, he's not so interested in doing that. He's willing to let that slide, to let other people worry about that. He's willing to be surprised when it turns out that someone in his command is laying down on the job, and letting our injured vets suffer.

It must be nice, don't you think? To be able to live in luxury, and be well paid, and not have to work too hard, and still be seen as heroic, because of the actions of the military, even while he's not putting in the work that the job requires? Molly Ivins used to say that there was a phrase for men like him in Texas, people who loved the trappings of the job, and the image of the job, but didn't actually do the work. That phrase was "all hat and no cattle."

The trouble is, this time it's not cattle who suffer while Bush proudly wears his hat.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Treating a rant as sensible discussion...

Okay. Yesterday, I referenced this blog post by Ace. Today, well, today I'm still ready to jump on it, but I've decided that I'll actually answer it, as if it were part of a sensible discussion.

It starts with a series of quotes about a book challenging a college culture of "hooking up" for kissing, cuddling or even sex, with no commitment.

The intro to the quote follows:

A WaPo article has dared to offer her opinion that the "hook-up culture" now prevalent in colleges -- with young girls giving it away like it's rotting in the warehouse -- may not be really in women's best interests. Apparently they've decided to become whores because that's the feminist way:

The paragraph starts in right out with what I've seen called "slut shaming". Women who make choices that people like Ace don't approve of should be denigrated.

Is it any wonder Ace doesn't understand feminism? He's just lost any friendly feminist audience he had. Maybe if he was willing to hold off on the attack, he'd find out that the "feminist way" is to make one's own choices about sex, and not to let other people make those choices in your stead; basically, feminism says you should ignore people like Ace who will call you a whore if you have sex often enough without his approval.

Predictably, the Feminists 3.0 at Feministe are horrified by all this damned prudery.

What's driving this, it seems, is the ideological position by feminists that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. They simply do not want to believe they "need" male companionship in the romantic sense, and can be, as Dobie strived to be, as "free" with sex as those "bad boys" at the teen center.

I haven't followed the thread (nor copied the link) to the thread at Feministe. However, I can break some of this apart.

Yes, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. A fish doesn't need a bicycle, and has no reason to have a bicycle... unless there's something that makes that bicycle special to that fish.

It's not the best metaphor in a world; a bicycle would have to be awfully special to be loved by a fish. Nevertheless, the basic idea is sound: a woman doesn't need a man; in fact, it takes work to be able to fit a relationship into a life (just as a fish would have to work to accept a bicycle into its life). A woman shouldn't think of "having a man" as some default state, any more than a fish should think "having a bicycle" is one.

However, while feminism says that, sure, if women choose to be, they can be as "free" with sex as they want, it's not a competition. You should make your own choices. You sure as heck shouldn't try to match "the bad boys at the teen center".

Here's the problem: Dobie might be able to manage it -- she's pretty much an out-and-proud slut -- but most women can't. ZuZu from Feministe and the rest of her merry band of yes-womyn can caterwaul that women can be just as ruthless and coldhearted about sex as a pure convenience, and can use men like disposable stroke mags just as well as men can use women, but the fact is, they can't.

This is all a distraction from the main point, of course. The main point is, feminism says to make your own choices, not to use men "like disposable stroke mags".

But this is one of those things that really shows how insensible our society is about sex. Ace, a man, is saying he knows more about women than women do. It soon becomes obvious that what he's intending to claim is that he knows men better than women do, but how can you know that women can't use men the same way men use women unless you know enough about women? More likely, Ace is thinking of women as fragile beings who can't really make their own informed choices... people who might be crushed the the nastiness that is "men".

We see this for sure in the next bit:

You guys think you can be sexually ruthless? Think you can view another human being as nothing more than a walking receptacle to the degree men can? To quote Niccole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut:


You only.


It's pathetic that this is what is now deemed "progress" among the feminists -- attempting to ape the most selfish, brutish behavior by men and calling themselves enlightened and empowered for doing so.

Actually, ain't no one saying "ape the most selfish, brutish behavior of men". Feminism says "make your own informed choices."

And unless these women are advocating rape - and they're not - they can hardly be suggesting that one "ape the most selfish, brutish behavior of men".

Okay, that was a bit of a cheap shot... I'm sure Ace wasn't thinking about rape at all. I'm leaving it in because it shows that Ace isn't really thinking deeply about what he's saying here. However, from here on out, we're going to keep rape out of the discussion, because I'm sure it's not where Ace wanted to go.

So Ace is preaching. It's wrong for women to be like men. Apparently, this is because men are pigs.

Women only.

Well, men can be pigs. But I don't accept Ace's judgment that women need to follow his advice to avoid being hurt. Yes, men can be pigs. I'm sure some women will find themselves hurt by some of those pigs. And I think they'll pick themselves up, learn what lessons they can, and carry on. You know, just like men do after a bad experience.

But what makes it tragic is that it simply isn't true, and these young women are being told that they shouldn't care about dating and courtship and romance, or even a guy simply liking them very much as a human being, but should simply rack up as high a sexual bodycount as possible, because that shows "independence."

Again, ain't no one saying that. Women should make their choices. Yes, if they want to rack up a high bodycount, they are free to do so. If they want courtship and romance, they can go after that. And if they want a quick hookup, and can find a willing guy, there's nothing wrong with that. And if they try hooking up and find it's not for them, they can stop doing it.

Are they happy?

They seem not to be, by and large. The guys, of course, are thrilled. The male fantasy has always been nearly anonymous, committment free sex as often and as with many partners as possible (witness gay men making this fantasy a reality, with women removed from the equation), and feminists have given men just that.

Herm. Ace must know different gay men than I do.

I will point out that there was a time when gay men were at such risk from being exposed as gay that they had the choice of anonymous, commitment free sex, or none at all. If Ace could only have sex with women anonymously, and without commitment, I bet he'd go for that from time to time, and I wouldn't fault him for it. I'm sure some of that culture still lives on, especially in states that still try to harass gay folks when they can.

But I don't know that I've ever met a gay man who didn't expect commitment from a partner. Men like stability. Well, people like stability, and men are people.

I will point out that, insofar as feminists have made it easier for us guy to get laid, I bless feminism. Hey, I'm honest; I like sex, and I like it when a woman can freely and happily decide she'll have sex with me. Why shouldn't I be happy that feminism is fighting hard to unhook shame from sex, and make sure women can confidently enjoy sex?

And Feministe and the rest can keep claiming that women ought to be happy with this awful state of affairs, but they're not, and they won't be, not until they finally learn to keep it in their pants long enough to discover if their next sexual conquest is even attracted to them.

That's right -- a guy will get so horny he'll have sex with a woman he's not even physically attracted to (let alone romantically interested in), if it's late enough and there aren't any prettier takers around.

It's really hard to keep the mockery in check, sometimes.

Does Ace think women don't know that men will use them for sex? Does Ace think that women can't, or won't, decide to make their own choices after being burned a time or two?

If it were true that young women really didn't want romance or love at all, this might perhaps be viewed as -- if not a desirable state of affairs -- at least one that was, in sexual terms at least, satisfying for women. But it's not. The reason these young women spurn romance and call it "yucky" and make fun of those involved in relationships as "married" is because we are compelled to denigrate what we actually crave but cannot have, and the reason they can't have what they actually want is that they're fucking guys so quickly guys hardly have a chance to catch their names.

Ace is reporting on a book; I hope he's read it. But even if he's read it, I doubt he's talked to these women enough to make such a judgment. In fact, if his judgment is correct, he couldn't know them that well because they're fucking too many guys to have time to talk to people.

However, "we" are not "compelled" to denigrate what we crave but can't have. It happens a lot, but there's no compulsion. I'm sure some women who "hook up" find romance "yucky" given how much time, energy, and emotional strain it can cause. But I'm also sure that the book's author chose the juciest quotes. It's hard to sell a book about how some women are into hooking up, and figure to go for romance when they have time and energy for it.

And, "double standard" or not, it has always been the case, and will continue being the case into the year 3000, that it's rather difficult to work up the enthusiasm to court a girl when she's been nailing everyone you know without such courtship (why should I be the one who has to put in the effort?), and it's hard to have that sense of pride in one's romantic "get" when you know she's been passed around the fraternity like a blunt.

You know... if there's something bad about this woman, and she's been "nailing everyone you know", doesn't that say something pretty bad about "everyone you know"?

No, that's not mockery, that's a serious question.

If a woman has a lot of sex, and that means something terrible about her, well, that means that a man having sex with a woman is doing something bad to her, and as far as I'm concerned, that's bullshit.

Okay, but what if Ace is talking literally, about a woman who has literally been nailing "everyone you know", who has been "passed around the fraternity like a blunt". Doesn't that make her a skank, or something?

You know, she's either got a good sense of boundaries, and has sex if and when she chooses, which brings us back to my point, that a guy having sex with a woman doesn't damage her. You don't want to have sex with her? Well, then she probably doesn't want to have sex with you. So, why lecture her about your standards?

Or, she doesn't have a good set of boundaries, and her sexuality isn't driven by her making solid, well informed choices. Scolding her isn't going to change that. So why lecture her?

These kinds of essays are infuriating to read because they all end up dehumanizing women. They end up suggesting that women aren't intelligent, strong, and able to make wise choices on their own... not without someone like Ace to point out what they really want, what will really make them happy.

Well, I trust people. I assume, sight unseen, that any given person is intelligent, strong, and able to make wise choices. Oh, sure, they'll make some stupid choices too; that's part of being human. But they'll learn from them.

If they can't make wise choices, well, it's not really my business to lecture, unless they come to me for advice.

And most of the advice I'd have is, know yourself, learn about your body, and remember that some guys will do anything to get laid. Past that, make sure your choices are your choices, made because you think they'll make you happy. Don't worry about anyone else's happiness before your own in sexual matters.

It's a lot better than slut shaming and lecturing and claiming that feminism is trying to brainwash women into being sex demons from hell.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Let's talk about (feminist) sex...

Some days, you see something on the web, and there just aren't any words that express how frustrating it is. This is one of those times.

Ace of Spades decides that women are stupid about sex and feminism is teaching them bad lessons. Women are weak and need to be protected and guys want to make difficult conquests and... grrr. I really want to rip this apart line by line, and mock it thorougly. Still, there's the teacher in me that wants to reach out, so let's take a shot at that.

What is the feminist view of sex and sexuality? Well, there's an old joke that the fastest way to get knowledge online is not to ask a question, but to say something wrong, and people will be quicker to correct you than they would have been to answer your question.

With that in mind, I'll tell you what I believe the feminist view of sex is.

Women own their bodies.

Right about here, I wish this was a podcast so I could have a few seconds of dead silence, as if I thought that answered the question completely. Then I could say "What?" in a humorous kind of way, and launch into a further explanation of why this is true, and why it should be obvious. Ah well.

In the mid-20th century, there was an idea about what women were like, and what they really wanted. That view had them wanting a husband, who would take care of her in return for sex and homemaking. It's a bit crude to put it that way, and that wasn't the intention of the people who built that society, but that was the net effect.

Feminism helped change that. With new ideas, and with reliable methods of birth control becoming available, a revolution was bound to occur in our view of female sexuality.

Well, I won't try to provide a timeline, or say who did what, but the gist of the modern feminist view of women and sexuality is this: womnen's bodies are wonderful things, women own their bodies, and should know about their own bodies well enough to make decisions about them. Then, they should make those decisions.

Along the way, feminists have attacked a lot of ideas that a lot of people cherish. Some of these attacks might not have been perfectly justified, but all of the ideas needed to be attacked, to be tested because people had come up with some really stupid ideas about women and sexuality. You can't separate the grain from the chaff without beating up the wheat, and it's even more true of ideas than it is of wheat.

One of the biggest ideas that's been attacked is the idea that women must conform to certain standards about sex, and that, if they don't hold to those standards, they deserve to feel ashamed. Whether it's the notion that a woman should only have sex after she's legally wed, or whether it's a more "generous" interpretation that says a woman shouldn't sleep around so much that she's a slut, there's only one person who should decide how much sex a woman has with willing partners, and that's the woman herself.

I'd like to pretend that no woman has ever felt jumped on or harassed by feminists because she held more traditionalist views, but, of course, it's not true. Sure, some women who've wanted sex with no one but her husband, or who felt that it was "cheap" to sleep around "too much" (usually "more than I have") have been mocked or scorned for their views. And it's a bit of a shame, because feminism is supposed to be about empowering women to make choices. On the other hand, it's hard to tell when a woman has chosen to hold a more limited view while being fully aware of the options, and when she's been pressured (directly or indirectly) into making a particular choice.

So, yeah, there's been some conflict, and some of it has been anti-feminist, insofar as it's berated some women for making fully informed choices.

But for the most part, feminism is about empowering women, and letting them make their own, unhindered choices about sex and sexuality.

Do you feel sexual urges? A fair number of folks say "Whooo, that's dangerous, be prayerful and careful". Feminism says "Cool, yeah, almost all women do. What you do with them is your choice."

Do you want to have sex? Lots of people say "Well, be awfully careful of your partner, because men are real scum (except for Nice Guys, and even if we're not *that* nice, we're not scum like the real scum we just mentioned); you're better off waiting for marriage."

Feminism says "it's your choice; do what you want. You'll make some mistakes; you'll learn from them. That's called behing human."

Do you find yourself wanting to have lots of sex? Lots of people will suggest that this makes you cheap, a slut, or a whore.

Feminism says "make your own choices. Be informed about how to avoid pregnancy and STDs. And if a pregnancy occurs, you get to choose whether to continue the pregnacy, or end it. Make sure they're your choices; don't get suckered into doing something you don't want, but if it's your choice, take it, run with it, and revel in it."

I have to admit, there are times when I think some warnings from a bygone era aren't inappropriate. It's always good to make sure a young woman knows that some menassholes will say anything to get sex. It's a bit less appropriate when a woman's been out and around for a bit. It's good to remind people that they need to pursue what they truly want, and not just what they think is expected of them... and that includes not pursuing sex, that you're not womanly enough if you're not a sex machine. It's even good that there's some preachy moralizers out there, providing the full range of sexual advice. I'm sure some people (note that I did not say "women"!) who are best served by serial monogamy, sex only inside marriage, with marriage being the best shot they can take at "'til death do us part".

What gets me upset is when folks think that their choices should be the rule for other people. Even folks who claim to be well meaning, like our Ace of Spades blogger. Sure, some women will sleep around lots, and they'll regret it. And some women will sleep around a lot and be smug as a cat. And some will sleep with few men, and some with many, and sometimes sex will be an awful mistake, and sometimes the mistake will lead to learning, and sometimes to further mistakes. Sometimes it'll be a terrible greif, and other times a great joy... just like everything else in life.

And that's the key. Each woman has her own life to live, and that includes her sexual life. It's her life to live, her choices to make. At the end of the day, she has her own standards to keep, and no one else's

We'd say that about a man, and wouldn't think twice about it. So, why is it surprising to anyone that it's true for a woman?

The Distraction of "Scooter" Libby

The trial of Scooter Libby has been an interesting spectacle, but I think that it, like Mr. Libby's actions, have been a distraction from the main issue.

President Bush claimed that he had reason to believe Iraq tried to aquire "significant quantities" of uranium from Africa. Keep that "significant quantities" piece in mind; it's the bit the Bushies really, really want you to forget.

Joseph Wilson knew that it was nearly impossible to believe such a thing. After all, Bush was contemplating military action against Iraq. He had to be on top of the latest and greatest of US intel. I mean, can you imagine the President *not* being aware of the intel, before sending the most powerful military force ever against a nation? Can you imagine anyone being so irresponsible as to launch an attack that is sure to kill thousands of innocent people without checking the intel carefully?

And Joseph Wilson knew that Saddam had sent out agents who probably wanted to buy (or discuss buying) uranium, but he also knew that Niger had nothing to gain, and everything to lose from such a deal. He also knew that the accounting and control of the uranium in Niger was so tight that "significant quantities" couldn't be diverted.

It doesn't matter if the British government wasn't convinced; it didn't matter if the CIA thought Saddam Hussein was sending out agents to inquire about uranium. The fact of the matter is, Bush knew that it would take extraordinary measures to overcome the accounting and control of Niger's uranium, and knew there was no intel suggesting they'd been overcome. The UK might believe there was an attempt to divert "significant quantities" of uranium, but Bush knew better.

Bush knew that the UK's intelligence was unsupported. Bush knew that Saddam wasn't getting any uranium from Niger.

So Joseph Wilson went public. And the Bushies went on the attack, raising distractions, claiming he was a liar about this, a partisan attacker about that, and so on and so forth.

But the facts are simple:

1) Bush knew that the rumors of uranium sales were false
2) Joseph Wilson knew why Bush knew they were false (though Wilson bent over backwards to give President Bush and his administration the benefit of the doubt)
3) Even if Joseph Wilson had lied or overstated his case - and there's no evidence that he did - the first two facts remain.
4) Joseph Wilson was not attacked because his charges were wrong; he was attacked because his charges were right. The US intelligence community knew that there was no evidence of "significant quantities" of uranium diversion, or attempted diversion.

Now, I do have to admit that these facts rest on an assumption. They rest on the assumption that Bush takes his job seriously.

Bush is the Commander-in-Chief of the mightiest military force in history. To unleash that force without knowing the truth (as best as we know it) would be criminally negligent.

So I'm saying that Bush knew he was exaggerating the threat. I'm saying that Bush lied, and I don't want to hear any whining about "well, technically, because he said the British government..." because if you say something, and hope it will make people believe an untruth, you're a liar, end of discussion.

I think Bush knew that there was no uranium diversion; I think Bush knew that there was no attempted uranium diversion.

Because the alternative is to believe that Bush didn't care about the diversion, that he didn't care about the truth, that he was willing to invade Iraq even if talk about Iraq getting a nuke was complete fabrication.

People have spoken about the war in Iraq like it was some kind of political game, the Democrats versus the Republicans. It's not. Hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this war.

If President Bush didn't lie, then Bush started this war without concern for the truth, without caring about the facts. He was willing to see thousands of people die (I don't think anyone expected the deaths to pile up as high as they have, but "thousands" was guaranteed) and didn't care about their lives enough to find out the truth.

If he lied, he was doing something unspeakably evil, but I find it easier to deal with "evil" than with the kind of flagrant irrepsonsibility that lets a man ignore the harm he is causing on such a massive scale.

So that's where we stand. Either he knew, and lied, and Libby (and Rove, and others) tried to cover for his lies, lies that helped lead to the deaths of thousands of people...

...or he didn't care, and Libby (and Rove, and others) tried to cover up for criminal irresponsibility that caused the deaths of thousands of people.

Everything else is a distraction. And while I'm glad that some measure of justice has been done, that Libby, who lied to cover up his smear campaign, will probably end up in jail, it's not enough.

President Bush lied to the American people, to scare them enough to let him start a war, a war that has been disastrous for us, and for the Iraqi people. It's long past time that he was held responsible for this.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ann Coulter and hatred


Ann Coulter is at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and says "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot–so...'".

Is this a big surprise? No. Coulter is a foul mouthed and mean-spirited person. She loves to say the nastiest things possible about her opponents. Face it; she'll say pretty much anything, if it's nasty and likely to draw applause from her supporters.

So, what's the problem with this? Isn't that what freedom of speech is all about? How on earth can there be anything wrong with her saying vile things, if free speech is as wonderful as we liberals say it is?

Well, really, that's the point. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Ann Coulter. She is, in no way, the problem.

The problem is this: in a rational world, where people were respectful of each other, Ann Coulter would never be hired as a speaker for CPAC. Ann Coulter would not be able to sell her books in a rational world, with respectful people. She might be famous (more properly "infamous"), in the same way that Ward Churchill is; she might have said something that got enough people angry that her name was relatively well known. She would not become rich from that fame, and her fame would cause her problems.

It's true: there's no way to look at any of the problems that Ann Coulter causes as being her fault. The problem is not Ann Coulter; the problem is the millions of people who are willing to listen, and applaud, and take her even semi-seriously.

Some folks on the right repudiate her, and I'm glad they do, but face it, there shouldn't be any need for "some" on the right to repudiate her. She ought to be, quite naturally, as marginalized as Ward Churchill, and she isn't.

You can't legislate this, and you can't force this to happen. If you have a healthy society, it happens automatically. People find such nastiness, such pettiness, and such mean-spiritedness to be abhorrent, and reject it. They get upset when they hear another person thinks it's funny. If they hear a respected person enjoys listening to Coulter, or reading her books, their respect for that person drops a notch.

If such a person can not only be accepted, but can become wealthy, famous, and respected for doing this, there's a problem, and it's huge.

I wish there was a way that I could help fix it, but, hey, first I'd have to prove to those who respect her that I'm not one of the vile liberals who are ruining this country, right? So there's not much I can do. If the problem can be solved, it has to be solved by those on 'her' side (even if they've already rejected her) because when such hatred is already present, there's no breaking through. Change must come from within.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Critical thinking is a lost art...

No, not really, but some days you can't help being snarky.

Got involved in a debate. Al Gore is a hypocrite, they say; he, after all, has a large electric bill, so it must be true.

No, I point out; he buys carbon offsets.

"Prove it", I'm told, as if the burden of proof can be magically shifted in such a manner.

The proper response to such crap is to say "No; I have no need to do so. Everything you say is a lie."

When that person responds "I'm not lying!" the response is, of course, "prove it".

Alas, it would require critical thinking to understand the role one should play in such an exchange, and so folks fail to respond as they should.

Look, it's really easy. If you think something is true, that's only the first step. You need to dig in, and look for why it might not be. You need to criticize your own thought processes, and counter all objections. At least, you need to do this if you want clear thinking that is likely to lead you to the truth.

If you want to call people nasty names, and don't care if they're true, there's a lower standard. Those standards are about as low as the standards for "things one would scrape off of one's shoe in disgust."

Put forward the proposition, "Al Gore is a hypocrite", and you need to support it. That there are carbon offsets, and methods of generating electricity that do not emit carbon, are well known, and have been part of the public debate. You can't truthfully make the claim he is a hypocrite unless you know that he does not use green electrical generation and carbon offsets.

"But... but... but.." the wingnuts sputter, "but if we have to prove he's a hypocrite before we call him a hypocrite, we'll never get to call him a hypocrite!"

Awwww. Poor diddums.

If you care about the truth, you dig, and look for the truth. Sometimes it's not easy, but if someone told you life was supposed to be easy, that person was lying to you.

On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who is willing to say something that might be false, just to attack another human being, see the earlier bit about things one scrapes off of one's shoe in disgust.

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