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CEAC 16 July 2012

The usual news and commentary:

  • A retrospective on NYC's trans-fat ban. It makes a comparison between this and the large soda ban, which I also support. I hope these measures help reduce obesity in the city.
  • Cameron, still stinging from having a rival faction within his party killing reform of the House of Lords, a lynchpin of the coalition between the Tories and the LDs, issued a call for the parties to work together and for obedience of ministers to party leadership. This is a trickier issue than it seems at first; we have three ways people (or ministers) can consider the issue: by reference to some kind of national interest, by reference to some kind of party interest, or by reference to some kind of personal interest. Does the existence of parties, particularly with strong party discipline, make sense in politics? (The more active involvement of civil service in politics in Britain makes this question potentially differently-shaped there than in the United States)
  • Florida gained access to a DHS citizenship database to use in combating voter fraud. As far as I understand Democrats have been concerned at efforts to tighten rules on who-can-vote for fear of disenfranchising poor people who might not have adequate identification or who might easily be discouraged from voting, while Republicans have been concerned that people who should not be eligible to vote might be voting. It's apparently a fairly rare problem in practice, and so it's questionable whether it's worth much effort to tighten the voting; the attention given the issue suggest it's being made to placate some worriers rather than because of good technocratic reasons. I'm not really bothered by this particular solution though; presumably DHS has good citizenship information, so unlike efforts to make it harder to register to vote or increase identification requirements (including forms of ID plenty of people don't have because they cost money and hassle), this is harmless. Possibly expensive, but harmless, and on the rare circumstance someone really is not entitled to vote (illegal immigrant, felon, dead, or whatever), this should catch attempts to vote anyhow. I am still wary of the greater push this is part of though.
  • The football sex scandal has seen enough investigation that it's blown the lid off of a lot of Penn state; just like with the Roman Catholic Church, the efforts to deal with abuse focused at least partly on shielding the organisation rather than ending the abuse, the problem being that those ends are almost directly contrary, and in practice this led the abuse to continue for a number of years, with direct guilt by one man now in prison, enabling guilt by another someone otherwise commonly considered a great coach (statues are being covered), and some guilt by many high-ranking members of the university administration. Fortunately, these scandals are teachable moments, but what painful lessons! I imagine this is a lot more common than we think, and there are probably similar would-be scandals that have not seen the light of day from many people and groups commonly trusted today. I can only hope that even if these never see the light of day, people and organisations are moving towards a zero-abuse-tolerance future.
  • Some analysis of why the Islamist parties lost in Libya. I am not certain how much credence to give efforts to explain this; any reason must compete with the possibility that not enough time was in place for political parties to emerge, and the winners were largely winners because of drift; political parties take some time to establish voters-as-turf. Still, the analyses provide some insight into Libyan politics.
  • Myanmar recently had its U.S. sanctions lifted, and one of the first things sold to them were some large pieces of medical infrastructure. I'm wondering how trade will come to be shaped between the nations.
I found this article on different notions of liberty in France and the United States to be pretty illustrative; this underscores why we socialists see themselves as completing a message that liberals only take halfway; a commitment to liberty-as-autonomy-narrowly-construed may be a smaller, more understandable value (as the US does it), but it neglects that many of the political and social liberties cannot be effectively exercised by people in many common situations in our society; inequality damages effective use of political rights and social perogatives. Societies that are based on that understanding and attempt to shape actual circumstances so people are shielded from both legal and situational limits to their agency, rather than just provide protections for autonomy-from-the-state, produce societies that have more substantial freedom, at some cost to perspectives that just seek autonomy-from-the-state. The myopia in the American political conception of liberty (and in the liberal conception of social justice) is something we are committed to fix-and-surpass.

It's good to see healthy criticism within the secular movements; in this case, it's on the handling of feminist topics. I think we need to remove the claims of the SJ/third-wavers to represent feminism and to inspire some deep investigation of the standards of discourse and theory being pushed by those factions. Anytime things more than the baseline position on those topics are being pushed as mandatory, standard, or essential-to-be-considered-kind, we should be very wary. It's one thing to try to convince people of additional theory (like my gender-role-abolitionism stuff, or the validating discourse, gender theory, or critical theory of the third-wavers), and another thing to demand it, close social doors over it, or shun those who don't accept it; the latter trend must be fought. A movement where everyone is Genderbitch or ZacharySparks is not a movement worth making. A movement where people are "taught" other people's opinions in "something 101" or where people are hamstrung between the arrogance of "I assume if you did not have this privilege you would take my awesome-and-true positions" and "Oh you actually are of this identity so you're a gender/race/whatever-traitor" is not making a society we should struggle for.

We should judge social movements by the subcultures they produce. The people they raise high to speak for them, the people they include, and the people they exclude; these should make their nature clear. If they welcome and celebrate people who can't behave themselves, we had better be happy knowing that if those movements win, those people will become more common. If a movement or faction is full of people who would not accept people like us or the perspectives we hold, no matter how just their cause, we should oppose or aim to split that movement or faction. This is part of why we should keep a large mental distance between a cause and movements that claim to speak for the cause.

One of the most sensitive potential future events the United States may have to deal with is when North Korea's regime begins to weaken; the distance between its de jure and de facto structure, the degree to which the regime limits people, the poor judgement of its political elite, and what I believe to be an inherent weakness in an empowered (effective) monarchy with a strong cult-of-personality all suggest (to me) that the regime lacks sufficient responsiveness to challenges to remain functional over a long period of time, but North Korea's proximity to another superpower would make any involvement in insurrection very difficult to manage. Making a wrong call either way could be disasterous. The (selective) amorality of the US, the emphasis on stability and business-as-usual that characterises Russia and China, and the unhingedness of many non-aligned-movement members makes for a world where people cannot trust any actors to be operating primarily in the interests of humanity, whether they are in any particular instance or not.