I Hate Hillary Clinton 29 June 2007Posted by Todd in HIV/AIDS, Political Commentary.
In the most recent round of babbling Democratic presidential hopefuls, Ms. Clinton let loose this gem, yet another in her long line of back-handed, veiled anti-gay-to-get-the-anti-gay-vote bullshit (quoted in Salon.com):
–On the number of black teenagers diagnosed with HIV/AIDS: “This is a multiple-dimension problem. But if we don’t begin to take it seriously and address it the way we did back in the ’90s when it was primarily a gay men’s disease, we will never get the services and the public education that we need.”
So in addition to prevaricating her position on gay rights over the past couple of years and speaking out of both sides of her mouth, and saying downright homophobic things about same-sex marriage and then appearing at gay events expecting gay people to fawn all over her–in addition to all of that, she misremembers history.
Who is this “we” who paid attention to AIDS, Madam Senator? It was the gay men and women who were in the streets, protesting, shouting, and demanding to be heard. It was the gay men and women who started the very organizations and research projects that are now addressing the global problem, even though gay men’s issues were basically shut out of the most recent world aids conference in Canada. It was not the government and it was barely any “liberals” in America. The “we” who paid attention to AIDS were the “we” who were dying. You, Madam Senator, don’t get to say “we” when talking about AIDS, no matter how many of your hair dressers or interior designers died.
She’s a panderer. She panders to the black vote by appealing to their homophobia; but tomorrow she’s be pandering to gay people talking about how much she loves them; then the next day she’ll be pandering to the anti-gay-marriage bigots but affirming her belief that “real” marriage is between a man and a woman.
Why gay people (let alone blacks and marriage-fascists) still even give this woman the time of day is beyond me.
Combatting the Anti-Gay Agenda 28 June 2007Posted by Todd in Christianity, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay Rights, Homosexuality, Sexuality.
Many parents of gays and lesbians, or friends, or even the closeted queer him- or herself might be inundated with bad information, or more accurately, with falsehoods about homosexuality and gay life. The quasi-religious anti-gay machine has deftly spread its propaganda for more than 35 years now, and in some quarters of American society, it is still the dominant cultural view of homosexuality. This is not only bad for gay men and women around the country still locked in the ongoing battle for equality before the law, but also for gay folks who live in those contexts that lead them to self-loathing, shame and rage, not to mention their friends, family, co-workers, clergy, etc., who often unintentionally reinforce the self-hatred.
Through a rather circuitous route that started at Joe.My.God, I stumbled upon at the Box Turtle Bulletin, a group whose mission it is to fight the misinformation about homosexuality spread by anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum, Heritage Foundation, etc.
In its mission statement, BTB lists these groups as those it wants to serve:
- Those who are questioning their sexuality and are concerned about some of the misinformation that they are hearing.
- Those who are friends or relatives of someone who is gay or lesbian, and are seeking accurate and reliable information about the issues facing them.
- Those who support equal rights for gays and lesbians and seek accurate, reliable information on which to base their arguments.
- Those who oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians, but wish to avoid the pitfalls of the massive misinformation coming from all sides of the issues – from gay-rights opponents as well as gay-rights advocates.
If not only the battle for political equality for gays and lesbians interest you, but also the damaging effects of anti-gay rhetoric on the individual psyches of gays and lesbians, BTB is an amazing resource. I ended up spending about an hour perusing the site and found some amazing articles. Here were the two I found the most intriguing so far: Are Gays a Threat to Our Children? and the only mildly tongue-in-cheek but crammed with good argument The Heterosexual Agenda.
Most recently, the BTB has been covering the ex-ex-gay (i.e., formerly ex-gay, now just gay) conference in Irvine this week, which coincides with the Exodus Freedom Conference (i.e., Exodus International’s ex-gay “ministries”) just down the street. Of especial interest, for those who didn’t hear, three former leaders of Exodus International have issued public apologies for their actions, which they now see as having done great harm. The L.A. Times story is here, and BTB’s videos of the apologies are here.
Placating the Religious Right 25 June 2007Posted by Todd in Christianity, Commentary, Democratic Theory, Islam, Multiculturalism, Religion.
I’ve often mentioned here my discomfort with some forms of multiculturalism. Whereas I believe that a democratic, free society should protect an individual’s right to free association and expression, I do not believe that all cultures or identities are of equal value, and indeed, it is obvious that some are even dangerous to the very tenets upon which a free society is built.
In the United States, we have a minority of conservative Christians called “dominionists” who do not believe in tolerance or rights, who explicitly desire to constrain and limit the assembly and expression of many of their co-citizens (not least of whom, “the gays”). While these people’s rights to believe what they believe (i.e., that the U.S. is evil and that they are called of God to overthrow the government) should be protected, they should not be allowed to actually harm other people (i.e., infringe on others’ rights). So far, this is a no brainer in the United States, but not so elsewhere (and the U.S. has other problems, to be sure).
There is much to admire in the ways that Canada and many European nations (mostly the Western, Atlantic EU members; not so much the Eastern European states) deal with cultural diversity, but as I’ve said many times before, there are also some dangerous trends, not least of which is the belief that pluralistic tolerance should actually mean respect, that there is no way to judge the relative value of various beliefs and practices, and that a democrat is obliged to “respect” intolerance. I have called bullshit on this idea on more than one occasion.
Nick Cohen in this weekend’s Observer comments on British foreign and domestic policy of the Labor government, which has followed a policy of playing nicey nicey with anti-liberal loons whose explicit purpose is the destruction of the core values of democracy. Cohen’s commentary gives reason to hope that British politics have, at least, turned the bend in this regard. (I’m still reeling from the German court decisions that have basically disenfranchised Muslim women in a wrongheaded effort at multicultural understanding; and the fact that Canada even considered allowing Muslims to be subject to separate shariah courts.) But Cohen points out that the change is still fragile, and if the comments section following his commentary are any indication, we’ve got a long way to go in educating people about what democracy really means and what the limits of tolerance must be for democracy to survive.
Government policy is now to support British Muslims who uphold liberal values and oppose those who do not. Rushdie’s knighthood was a sign of the changing mood. Labour politicians might have tried to impose a veto a few years ago; instead, they said: ‘Are we going to allow British policy to be decided by dictatorial bigots, who want to inflame religious passion to divert attention from their own corruption?
‘There is only one possible answer to that question and it remains astonishing how many people who profess liberal sympathies refuse to grasp it. [...]
If a liberal intelligentsia that is neither liberal nor noticeably intelligent and a Liberal Democrat party that can’t stand up for liberalism and democracy want to attack the government [for refusing to placate religious fascists], let them. They will pay a price for their moral cowardice one day.
Homosexuality Is a Spandrel 20 June 2007Posted by Todd in Biology, Evolution, Homosexuality, Science.
There’s a great redux of the research about the differences between gay and straight people in last week’s New York Magazine, “The Science of Gaydar.” It seems that the differences are actually mounting the more we study these things, and the evidence is just piling on that homosexuality is biological. Of course, in my own experience, I already knew this, as I don’t remember ever not being gay (although as a child, I didn’t have a language or a way to understand how I was different, I just knew that during kissing tag, I really wanted to kiss Trent, not Jenny.)
Anyway, it’s a great article, if it makes the typical journalistic mistake of simplifying biological issues and misrepresenting others (although only slightly) to create a “controversy.” This article, however, does a good job of just guiding you through the evidence.
The one repeated argument in the article that really irritates me, which I have talked about here, is the idea that homosexuality is maladaptive evolutionarily. Since I’m only an armchair evolutionary biologist (I’m actually a sociologist), I could be misunderstanding things, but there are actually three measures of survivability in a trait: maladaptive, neutral (a “spandrel”), and adaptive. The idea that homosexuality is maladaptive relies on a narrow reading of Richard Dawkins notion of the selfish genes, that it is maladaptive trait because it creates a reproductive dead end for the individual genes. But evolution works population-wide in sexually reproducing species; that is, it’s about the spread of adaptable traits in the population. A maladaptive trait decreases survivability of the species, and in worst case scenarios lead to extinction. In any case, maladaptive traits are selected against. Yet homosexuality appears in all mammal species and most bird species. So there seems to be something else going on.
For a trait to be adaptive, it must increase survivability (and fitness, or differential reproduction) of the species as it spreads through the population. Although the hypotheses are intriguing explaining homosexuality as adaptive (since it appears universally present in human populations), I actually find the evidence to be lacking. It doesn’t appear, with the evidence I’ve seen, to enhance the survivability of the species.
That leaves homosexuality as a spandrel, or an accidental side effect. Because evolution is stochastic, arising out of multiple simultaneous causes, and because traits work in conjunction or interaction with all other traits, the mathematics of determining adaptability require seeing how traits arise from or interact with other traits. Spandrels are unintended consequences of evolution, traits that arise out of other traits. To me, it seems clear that sexual reproduction (with its massive advantage of mixing gene pools) produces the conditions underwhich some individuals can be born with their sexual desires “misdirected” (biologically speaking), but that the advantages of sexual reproduction far outweigh the disadvantages of having some individuals sexually unreproductive. In otherwords, homosexuality seems to me to be an unintended by-product of other mechanisms that are incredibly adaptive. Homosexuality is a spandrel. It is neither maladaptive (it has no negative effects on survivability of the species, or it would have been selected against thousands of years ago; nor is it particularly adaptive. It is, evolutionarily speaking, neutral.
I’m speaking here only of human homosexuality. In other species, I think it could be more easily argued that it is adaptive (for example, bonobos’ pansexuality; dolphins life-long same-sex partnerships). But I think in most species where it exists regularly, it is not maladaptive, or it would have been selected against.
At the end of the day, however, this question only concerns the origins of homosexuality in our evolutionary history. It tells us nothing of the value or meaning of homosexuality.
Population, Immigration, and Environment 20 June 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Environment.
I’m posting this partly to be provocative, to explore an idea which may feel offensive. But I sincerely have this question and I do think it needs to be discussed openly and seriously.
Over the weekend, I watched an interview with Laura Dunn, documentarian, on PBS’s “Now“. The interview has been haunting me for the past few days. I’m teaching a course this summer about the relationship between human culture and their ecologies (i.e., their physical environments), so some issues have been front and center the past few weeks. Dunn’s most recent documentary, The Unforeseen, covers the massive upsurge in development around Austin Texas, especially the degradation of the watershed, vital to the ecology of the region. Dunn has a gift of treating all sides with respect and compassion, and although it’s clear what the environmental (and ultimately social) outcome of uncontroled growth is, there is a brilliant even-handedness in her presentation.
But it was precisely the massive impact that such a huge population growth is having on the Austin area that stuck with me. Populations have differential effects on their enviroments, depending on their “footprints”, which is their patterns of consuming resources. But in America we are left with a culture that values space, which is paradoxically reflected in our tendency toward sprawl and away from density. And yet, as Dunn points out, our desires for space are actually consuming the space we desire.
Population increases, especially given the way that Americans consume, are changing our landscape, indeed, destroying it. Native-born Americans only reproduce slightly more than enough to replace the population; and yet the population of the United States has doubled since I was born. The wild spaces I used to go to as a child no longer exist. Our suburban sprawl has more than doubled since I was born.
Regular readers know that I’m not politically opposed to immigration and think most immigration hysteria is absurd. Yet you also know that as a sociologist, I believe we must face honestly the social costs of immigration. Immigration does indeed impact the social structures and economies and cultures of the nation. It does no good to pretend otherwise.
But I have never seen anyone talking about the environmental impact of immigration or, by extension, the massive population increase of the U.S. over the past 40 years. In California, we just keep talking about how the state will have 50 million residents by the middle of the century. Why aren’t we talking about the impact 20 million more people will have on our land? Why aren’t we talking about how to curb that population growth? Loss of land, degradation of air and water, loss of wilderness, loss of space, lass of species will ultimately harm everyone. And uncontrolled population growth must be considered as a major culprit. And given where most of the American population growth comes from, we have to be talking about immigration when we talk about sprawl, environment, and population.
Free Speech & Insulting Religion 20 June 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Democratic Theory, Ethics, Multiculturalism, Religion.
I have often spoken here on the hammer about a fundamental principle of free speech:
You do not have a right to be sheltered from insult. In a “marketplace of ideas” or a “free public sphere” (however you want to frame it), ideas, all ideas, including insulting, infuriating, degrading ideas, may be expressed; and protection falls to the side of the expressor. Real harm is not “hurt feelings” or “insult to faith” or even “racism”. Harm is in the abridgment of substantive rights.
The recent renewal of the fatwa against Sir Salman Rushdie and the whining of people who say he insulted them is childish on its face and an extreme misapprehension of what freedom of speech and rights mean. Although someone may have ethical qualms about “hurting someone’s feelings” and that is a legitimate conversation to have; it is not nor should it ever be part of the debate about free speech. [See Oliver Kamm's great discussion here.]
This is for the good of society. The radical free expression of ideas allows a society to continually evaluate itself, confront falsehood and dangerous ideas head-on, prevent stupid people from becoming martyrs for their squelched stupid ideas, and allows us to be constantly vigilant against becoming too comfortable in our received beliefs. Radical free speech, in fact, claims that making people uncomfortable is precisely the GOOD that comes from having free speech in the first place.
Do not allow religious or any other kind of fundamentalists reframe this foundational principle of a free and open society. Free speech must be held sacrosanct. Full stop.
Restore Habeas 19 June 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Democratic Theory, Law/Courts, War & Terrorism.
People for the American Way is conducting a petition campaign for Congress to enact legislation to restore “the Great Writ” to American jurisprudence. The right to confront your accusers and to know the evidence against you (a process most states call “indictment”) and for a judge to decide if there is sufficient evidence to hold you over for trial have been eliminated by the Bush administration. These are basic rights for which the Revolutionary War was fought. George W. Bush (et al.) has asserted the right of “unitary executive privilege”: the adminstration argues that the president can basically ignore acts of Congress through “signing statements”, which boils down to a refusal to enforce the law, the fundamental purpose of the executive in the first place. More importantly, however, using a sweeping reading of the constitution’s war powers clauses, the Bush administration argues that it is above constitutional constraint in waging war.
Whether you love or hate PFAW, please, if you believe in Civil Liberties and the very foundational rights upon which democracies were founded (these go back to the Magna Carta), then sign the petition here.
Muslim Victims or Paranoid Victimhood? 16 June 2007Posted by Todd in Commentary, Democratic Theory, Islam, Multiculturalism, War & Terrorism.
Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-Egyptian muslim, recently denied a visa to live in the United States while he was a visiting professor, wrote a piece for the Guardian last week in which he argued that Britons should stop looking at British Muslims for the answers to violence and start examining their own liberal values. He argues that integration is not the answer and that Muslim violence is the fault of the actions of the majority in Britain and elsewhere in Europe and America.
In response, David Goodhart, editor of Prospect and longtime defender of Ramadan against his alarmist critics, takes the European-Muslim intellectual to task for falling into simplistic clichés, victimhood, and misplaced identification. Goodhart acknowledges the difficulties faced by strangers (i.e., minorities) in any culture, as humans tend to distrust the unknown, but argues that British Muslims enjoy a degree of freedom and prosperity unknown to them virtually anywhere else in the world, including in Islamic states. He further argues that Ramadan falls into tired habits of mind that see muslims as perpetual victims and refuses to take responsibility for its own actions.
In all, it’s a great pair of readings and raises some of the most important questions of our time about multiculturalism, religious pluralism, and democracy. In the past, I have been mostly impressed with Ramadan and have seen him as a possible hero for European muslims. But this latest piece gave me pause and concern. The continued identification with outsiders instead of co-citizens is disastrous for liberal democracies. Goodhart does an excellent job of pointing out the weaknesses in Ramadan’s latest arguments and calling for a rational discussion of responsibility and social integration.