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Semiformalishmaybe

Buildings Made of Poetry

A few days ago, I had my first barefoot run since Winter began; I'm looking forward to getting back in shape (yearly cycle). Of course, the day afterwards Pittsburgh saw an amazing snowstorm that shut down the bus system for the evening.

When British voters tossed Labour out of power, we saw a coalition between the Tories (under David Cameron) and the Liberals (Nick Clegg) take over. I've never been impressed by Cameron; he's an American-style politician, focused on appearance rather than substance. Clegg's more interesting because he has some substantial opinions and ideas (perhaps I'll write about him some other time). The Tory-Liberal alliance has been uncomfortable, with many Liberals unhappy at the need to temper their criticism of their senior partner. The issue of electoral reform is coming up, and it's one of the biggest priorities of the Liberal-Democratic Party. The difference within the coalition could hardly be more striking.

The Liberal-Democrats have long been a third party in British politics; not tiny (like American third parties tend to be), but they never came close to capturing enough seats to upseat the Labour-Tory see-saw. They've been historically underrepresented in parliament, with about 25% of the popular vote but 10% of the seats. They've made a referendum on a change to party-proportional representation a condition of their coalition with the Tories, but did not secure a promise of support/assent from Cameron. As the Tories stand to lose a lot with the shift, Cameron has spoken publically against the change. So far, his speeches have been vapid and empty, harping on specific cases without addressing the reasons for/arguments over reform.

At the heart of the matter is whether people are voting for parties or for individuals. If people without strong political voting habits are voting for specific politicians whose party affiliation is loose and who have substantial ideas about political philosophy that happen to fall into inclusive clouds of British political parties, the current system is very fair. If people with strong histories of generally voting for the same party are voting to elect interchangable politicians to support their party's political philosophy, and the parties take steps to ensure party loyalty, the current system is unfair because the aggregation of votes into regions produces an elected body that does not much represent British society.

Although Britain has independents, I believe that it more resembles the latter. Britain only rarely has Free Votes; MPs face expulsion from their party for opposing it on most votes, and with rare exception children inherit their party affiliation from their parents. Smaller parties tend to be different, but this is true at least for Tories and Labour.

Given how political parties are, I believe the Liberal party is in the right here; the regional winner-take-all voting distorts representation in a way that produces a system too much like our (bad) American electoral system. I believe that a region with a 45-55 electoral split should not contribute the same effect to Parliament that a 10-90 electoral split does.

Proportional Representation would not be perfect, of course. The difficulty of removing individual politicians that are favoured by the party but not by any part of the demos is an issue (is it even proper to do this? Can/should political parties come with a "take us or leave us" disclaimer?).

It's common (in the United States) to imagine that the system would be better without parties. This is usually not thought out very well; people have a variety of political philosophies and will use strategy to see those enacted (as voters or politicians). Parties seem necessarily emergent from politics (even if there may be ways to restructure elections to lessen their ability to be bought). American political discourse often involves calls to "put ideaology aside"; this is impossible and naïve. Compromises are nontheless often possible (in the current system, these are often bartered for using earmarks as currency; dealing without will be an interesting challenge).

It's been interesting to see Libya come apart as a state; when military and diplomats break with the state, and regions give central government forces the boot, what comes next? When a political or military person decides that they represent the people rather than the state, we no longer can predict their actions (and how do they get paid? What laws or priorities do they support?). For a terrible leader, Qadaffi has a lot of ideas, and the basic structure of governance he set up (popular councils) would've been a great experiment had he let them be instruments of local governance rather than having used them as tools to locate dissidents and squash them. It would be interesting if they turn out to be the one thing kept after the dust settles and his regime ends (provided it does). Unsurprisingly, the UN and US are providing the same terrible advice to everyone listening: "keep it civil and peaceful". Qadaffi is uniquely untrustworthy; the area won't be safe until he and his sons are either permanently out of the country or dead. It is unwise to negotiate with someone who uses his military to drop bombs on crowds of protesters.

A few comments relating to an event discussing the role of women in secular groupsThis is written by two people I know about inclusion of women in secular groups. I'll assume you've read/skimmed that.

I've seen issues with men and women not interacting well in some kinds of social groups, particularly in groups with gender imbalances. The secular movement in Columbus was sometimes like that, and although it was a fairly full social circle (many people mostly dated within the group), the women sometimes got excessive (inappropriate at times) attention. I don't know what that'd be like (I've sometimes been in mostly-female groups over my life and haven't had anything akin to the swarming behaviour, and if I was ever objectified it at least wasn't blatant), but I imagine it could be unpleasant. Undersocialised guys are a problem when they let that lead them to treat gals inappropriately, whatever subculture they come from.

That said, I don't think flirting or looking at bodies is intrinsically problematic. It could be uncomfortable, but in many social contexts it can be flattering. I think it's mainly an issue when either an atmosphere of neglecting the other characteristics of women (or men!) is created or it happens to the exclusion of other possibilities inherent in hanging out. People don't relate to the "other" gender exclusively sexually (people who are unwilling to recognise this should probably be ostracised), and while people get together in groups often partly for dating possibilities, they also get together for other reasons. It's appropriate for most relations we have in life to be nonsexual and non-flirty, with members of both our sex and the other. For those that are flirty, there are ways to flirt and times not to flirt that are important to learn. Getting these wrong is a problem for everyone (from jealous significant others to people tired of saying "no" to the same people many times).

I am unwilling to defend the person who snapped in this meeting. Getting up and shouting is not productive in a meeting; whenever there are enough people together in one place there need to be rules that govern who speaks. Sometimes these rules are poor or administered badly, but breaking them practically never produces productive dialogue. It sounds like the panel was (for some reason) favouring guys in seeking answers to a question that was meant to be asked by women (if I read Sharon's writing correctly).

On "women" versus "females", now that I think about it, I can see how the latter might feel weird. Sometimes "women" feels weird too though; it plasters over age, and I know that as a guy I don't often call myself a "man" even if I am by now definitely one. The male-female terms don't line up very well, which doesn't help us find the right term. "gal" feels weird, "guy" might feel odd applied to both genders, I don't like "man" for myself (so "women" feels odd by analogy), "lady" has its own issues. I try to be comfortable with "women", but I sometimes use "females" or other terms when describing female humans. I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering what the best term to use is, and I wouldn't appreciate criticism for whatever I use in any circumstance. I'm willing to discuss it or to follow the preferences of others, and maybe someday I will settle on something, but I don't think I'm wrong for whatever terms I do use.

It sounds like some of how this discussed was uncomfortable; it's true that some flavours of feminism object to the word "women" and re-spell it as "womyn", and while that is fairly rare, it can be daunting for people who are trying to figure out/do the right thing, particularly for people who object to radical language reform on principle.

A chance for a good conversation on gender was certainly missed.

As for Sharon/Lyz's latter reporting/comments ("weird discussion" paragraph):

  • I think both genders are biologically pushed towards sex/relationships. It's fine to pursue these, but only in a reasonable/respectful way. Not *any* "skirt-chasing" is acceptable. People may have biological drives for that to certain extent, but there are restraints we put on ourselves for various reasons. It is appropriate to be upset at men (or women) who step over the line. Women have no obligation to provide sex under any circumstance (their deciding to or not to do so might have consequences/meaning, e.g. within a relationship/marriage, but these never amount to obligations and this is the same for guys)
  • I can only half-agree with her later point here. It is not cool to treat women like sex objects, and it sounds like the panel didn't handle that question well. At the same time, being disruptive makes it hard to respect someone.
Regarding the treatment of Jen and comparisons to her "boobquake" event, people need to learn about appropriate public behaviour. In general, it's inappropriate to put certain topics "on the table" in public discourse unless it's either clear that the person involved considers them public topics or the person involved introduces them. Even then, it's best to tread lightly on these topics until the nuances of the comfort are clear. This is a basic rule of human interaction. Jen did introduce her breasts as a topic of public discussion, but that doesn't mean that that's all there is to Jen or that she wants to hear about that at every gathering for the rest of her life. Similarly, if I happened to mention some aspect of who I am (e.g. that I'm bisexual, that I like running tights for more than functional reasons, or similar), I might not mind a joke or two occasionally but I expect these mentions to fade into the rest of what people think about me. People have many sides, and it is demeaning to treat them as being two-dimensional.

With this understanding,A distinction:

  • Gender/Race/Other subgroups
  • Topical subgroups
I am comfortable saying that I no longer find the idea of gender/race/other subgroups problematic, when larger groups have issues handling issues relating to minorities seriously. I prefer a focus on larger groups and topical subgroups, but for many reasons we don't live in a world where gender/race/etc subgroups can always feel comfortable in larger groups.

Comments

My reaction to "females" is only tainted by the fact that it is so often the term of choice for people who are going to pair it with adjectives like "hysterical" or "overreacting." There's sort of a tone of clinicalness ("[blah blah] the female of the species [blah]") about it that seems to be favored among people trying to use either the "calm down we're all trying to be rational here, and you... you... females are ruining the discussion with your 'experiences'" or the evo-psych approaches. So, I think it's the reaction of someone who has spent too much time debating that sort of person, which explains her short fuse, as well.
I'm not sure what you mean by "evo-psych approaches". Could you clarify?

I audited a class on the topic and have studied it beyond that, and I think it provides considerable insight into human behaviour (as well as that of other animals). I think it's important to try to understand human nature from as many angles as we can (even if the field has problems and is intrinsically tricky), and I don't think this means giving up on feminist or liberal ideals.

I imagine some people might use evolutionary psychology to argue for other conclusions?
I should have possibly said "unsubstantiated pop-culture evo-psych" -- the kind that often gets hauled out to defend gender essentialism and such. This sort of thing, or, and since I'm sort of mentally including "sex differences in the brain" type things as well, here if you're not into the Shakesville thing.