Voltairine de Cleyre II

Nobody asked but …

I spent the whole week-end  being depressed after hearing (at Scribd.com) Voltairine de Cleyre‘s essay entitled, Sex Slavery.  One might say that VDC views this particular glass as neither half-empty nor half-full.  She may have felt that as long as there was one abuse, then that was (and still is) a tragedy.  But surely, no empathetic or logical reader doubts that there have been vastly more than one instance.

In any event,  Ms. de Cleyre’s essay caused me to re-examine myself, my life, and my principles.  I will not change my principles, but I will add new ones.  For as a voluntaryist, I bear responsibility for the ills that may befall my associates, and as a learning human being I have been too shallow perhaps in some aspects of my evolution.  I have the highest regard for women, but there have been times when my memetic self has been deceived by information that I should have suspected more.  I have had racist and sexist thoughts, promoted to me by ignorant and perhaps evil intentions.  I bear responsibility for not questioning these inputs more thoroughly.

In fact, I have never known personally an individual I could hate.  I have known too many who were terribly damaged beforehand, individuals who did not recover from abuse of a permanently damaging sort.  I have tried to apply the non-aggression principle to all.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Messaging as Manslaughter: Massachusetts Modernizes the Salem Witch Trials

In July of 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy killed himself in Fairhaven, Massachusetts by pumping carbon monoxide into the cab of his truck. In a bench trial, a judge convicted Roy’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Carter, of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced her to 2 1/2 years in prison.

In May of 2019, 22-year-old Alexander Urtula killed himself in Boston, Massachusetts by jumping from the top of a parking garage. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Inyoung You, has likewise been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In both cases, the charges hinge on the content of text messages in which the women encouraged, even “ordered,” the men to commit suicide.

You is a South Korean national who has since returned home. The treaty governing extradition between the US and South Korea requires that the charge involved “be recognized as a crime in both jurisdictions,” so unless text messaging is illegal in South Korea, You may avoid playing her part in yet another re-enactment of the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693.

Text messaging isn’t manslaughter, any more than it’s rape, robbery, or driving 60 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone. Nor is possession of a doll or a mole or birthmark “witchcraft” as fantasized in 17th century Puritan New England.

Hanging 19 men and women for witchcraft, and crushing another man to death for refusing to plead to charges of witchcraft, didn’t bring an end to imagined “molestations from the invisible world.” It merely sated an outbreak of mass hysteria.

Imprisoning Michelle Carter or Inyoung You for sending text messages may sate the desire of a few families for retribution. It may advance the political careers of a few grandstanding prosecutors.

It won’t  bring back Conrad Roy or Alexander Urtula, nor will it erase the irrefutable truth: These two adults knowingly and intentionally took their own lives.

Are Michelle Carter and Inyoung You “bad people?” Maybe they are.

Are they (or at least were they) controlling and psychologically abusive? It seems likely, and their relationships with Roy and Urtula were obviously mentally and emotionally unhealthy on both sides.

Not everyone who’s broken can be fixed before something awful occurs. Sometimes horrible things happen, and we’re left looking for answers as to why, and for ways to prevent the next such tragedy.

Imprisoning people for text messaging is not one of the right answers. It merely compounds tragedy with error, with evil, and with comforting lies, at the expense of additional victims.

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Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think [the Russians] have got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” said Hillary Clinton on her former campaign manager’s podcast.  “They know they can’t win without a third party candidate.”

Was Clinton referring to US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, CNN asked? “If the nesting doll fits” her spokesperson replied.

Nearly three years after losing the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s still trying to find someone other than Hillary Clinton to blame.

If it’s not women voting the way their husbands tell them to vote, it’s James Comey’s unconvincing job of “exonerating” her for her grossly negligent handling of classified information.

If it’s not the media taking too much notice of her scandals, her health problems, etc., it’s Bernie Sanders supporters staying home instead of going to the polls for a candidate who hated them as much as they hated her.

Whatever it is, it can never, ever, ever be the fact that she’s among the most disliked and distrusted politicians of the last century, or that she ran an incredibly inept campaign, or that she failed to pay sufficient attention to Rust Belt voters upon whom Donald Trump lavished attention and promises to “bring the jobs back.”

And sooner or later it always comes back around to !THEM RUSSIANS!

!THEM RUSSIANS! spent a miniscule amount of money (a fraction of a percent of what Clinton’s campaign spent, and far less than !THEM RUSSIANS! donated to Clinton’s family foundation) on cheesy Facebook ads.

Donald Trump made a secret deal with Vladimir Putin! He’s a Kremlin “asset!”

!THEM RUSSIANS! backed a third party candidate (Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party), who “stole” enough votes from Clinton to throw the election to Trump.

And now !THEM RUSSIANS! are at it again. The long arm of the Kremlin is reaching into the very heart of the Democratic Party itself to once again wrest a  presidential election away from Hillary Clinton (or from someone, anyway).

There’s no obvious evidence that Tulsi Gabbard plans to defect from the Democratic Party and run for president as an independent or on another party’s ticket.

On the other hand, given her treatment by the Democratic National Committee — including gaming polls to try to keep her out of primary debates and out of the running — and now by Hillary Clinton, who could blame her if she did?

Furthermore, in what universe is an independent or third party presidential candidacy any less legitimate than a Democratic presidential nomination?

Votes belong to voters, not to parties. Democratic and Republican candidates aren’t magically entitled to your vote. Whether or not they’ve earned that vote is your call and no one else’s.

If Democrats are interested in winning next year, they might want to consider publicly dissociating themselves from Hillary Clinton, who’s gone in a mere three years from even whinier than Donald Trump to even loonier than Lyndon LaRouche.

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Want Lower Drug Prices? Make the FDA’s Authority Advisory, Not Regulatory

Americans pay more for our prescription drugs than other people do — half again as much as Canadians or Germans, more than twice as much as Greeks or Italians.

In recent years, those costs have become a major issue in the political debate over health care. Proposals to address drug prices range from allowing Americans to buy their drugs from abroad, to allowing government health programs like Medicare to directly negotiate lower prices, to having the government itself manufacture generic drugs.

One suggestion I don’t see very often is reconsidering the authority of the US Food and Drug Administration to bar drugs from sale in the US until they’ve passed an expensive and time-consuming regulatory approval process.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, tens of thousands of babies were born worldwide with birth defects. Only a few of the afflicted children were born in the US, because the FDA hadn’t approved thalidomide (some American women received it through a testing program; others used it abroad).

But then a strange thing happened. Instead of congratulating FDA on the save, Congress expanded its authority even further. Oddly, regulatory agencies tend to ask for, and get, more power every time they succeed … and every time they fail.

This expanded authority made it more difficult and expensive to get new drugs approved for sale in the US. And Congress’s mistake has cost Americans not just money but lives.

Tens of thousands of patients died of second strokes and heart attacks while FDA dragged its heels on the approval of the beta blocker propranolol.

It took decades to get a now common (and sometimes lifesaving) substance — cyanoacrylate, aka “human body glue” — approved. During those decades, it was sold cheaply on store shelves under various “super glue” labels while patients bled out and died of traumatic injuries or internal ulcers it could have been used to seal.

No, we don’t want more patient deaths and injuries. But it’s not clear what a true balance sheet would say about how many lives FDA has saved versus how many Americans its regulations have killed.

Lately, FDA seems more interested in feeding a moral panic over “e-cigarettes” to expand its power even further than in executing its supposed mission of “protecting the public health.”

I am not suggesting that there are no dangerous drugs. Of course there are dangerous drugs. And some of those dangerous drugs are approved by the FDA and the dangers only discovered later.

An FDA with only advisory powers would still be able to monitor the public health and warn doctors and patients about dangerous drugs.

But actual testing of drugs to determine their safety and efficacy is better left to an Underwriters Laboratories type non-profit financed by insurers whose costs go up and profits wane when they pay high prices for bad drugs that hurt their customers — the patients.

Unfortunately, American politicians seem more interested in empowering themselves and the regulatory agencies they oversee than in actually addressing the high costs of prescription drugs.

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Get Off the Pendulum: The Trap of Reactionary Thinking

When I was younger, I used to enjoy riding Pharaoh’s Fury at the Coastal Carolina fair. This big sphinx-headed boat swung back and forth on a mechanical arm, terrifying and thrilling the riders, and (in our imaginations) we thought about what it would be like if it went upside down – dumping us all out.

This ride is much like how most people and cultures do their thinking about values in politics, religion, and cultural norms. We swing in one direction, then another, then back again.

For a while one major viewpoint dominates. That viewpoint oppresses or annoys a strong minority until it eventually creates a strong reaction and a pendulum swing in the other direction. Cultural control comes into the hands of the new majority, which oppresses or annoys the new minority, and the cycle begins again.

You can see the pendulum in action in a society’s relationship with religion: when religion dominates, secularists react (see the antitheist movement), and when secularism dominates, religionists react (see the fundamentalist movement). I’d argue that the intensity of both antitheism and fundamentalism are driven by feelings of disenfranchisement and oppression (and therefore more vulnerable to lazy thinking) rather than *just* differences of opinion.

You can especially see the pendulum in action on norms around gender roles and masculinity/femininity. For a long time, men (they still do in most cases) held and abused power over women. Fortunately for everyone, some women got pissed off and produced feminism. At some point, the swing toward feminine empowerment began to (at least appear to) correspond with a deemphasis of masculinity and a deconstruction of the important social role of males and masculinity. That has produced another swing in the direction of revived masculinity – some fantastic, but some unhealthy and unhealthily angry with feminism. In any case, if this reaction succeeds, it may only trigger another swing back in the other direction.

You can see the pendulum on a macro scale as well as in the micro scale of individual thinking. Everyone seems caught up in one reaction or another to the swinging of the belief pendulum. Perhaps you’ve gone through changes in your own beliefs. How often were you shifting your beliefs because of a sense of annoyance, or boredom, or anger, or contempt?

Of course, thinking on a pendulum is stupid. Thinking based on reaction and based on majority/minority belief status blinds you to complexity and to the actual merits of arguments.

And unfortunately, unlike a pendulum limited by Newton’s laws, the pendulum of reactionary thought in politics and philosophy can continue to swing wider and further out with each cycle – until everyone falls out of the ride (to borrow the earlier metaphor).

There are alternatives.

If you use discernment, you’ll watch to separate out your reasoned beliefs from your reactionary/emotional/tribal ones. When you do that, you’ll be surprised how non-partisan and hard-to-categorize your beliefs become.

Maybe the left has good things to say about unjustly-acquired wealth. Maybe the right has good things to say about individual skill and responsibility in building wealth. Maybe the right answer includes and transcends (to borrow a phrase from Ken Wilber) both.

Maybe the feminists have good things to say about structural injustices toward women. Maybe the masculinists have something good to say about the importance of independent manhood.

Maybe the secularists can teach us something about being. Maybe the religionists can teach us something about the ground and sacredness of being.

When your beliefs can become this nuanced and non-tribal, you can be insulated from most of the worst effects of the social pendulum. But always watch out for what irritates you in others’ beliefs and actions. The irritation will always be there, but you can’t let it push you to change much in your values – or at all in the values that matter most.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Terrorism vs. Just War Theory

I was planning to write an original piece on this topic, but soon discovered that better work already existed.  Most notably, here’s a summary of a talk Michael Walzer delivered in 2007.  It starts with some boilerplate:

Whether terrorism is wrong is a question that is often answered badly or at least inadequately, according to Walzer, who defines terrorism as the random killing of innocent people, in the hope of creating pervasive fear. “Randomness and innocence are the crucial elements in the definition,” said Walzer. “The critique of this kind of killing hangs especially on the idea of innocence, which is borrowed from ‘just war’ theory.”

By “innocence” Walzer means those noncombatants who are not materially engaged in the war effort. “These people are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done,” Walzer explained. “The opposite of ‘innocent’ is not ‘guilty,’ but ‘engaged.’ Disengaged civilians are innocent without regard to their personal morality or politics.”

Terrorism attacks this notion of innocence and treats civilians as legitimate targets. The long-term purpose of the fear that terrorists inspire is the collective destruction, removal, or radical subordination of individuals as an associated group. “It is who you are, not what you are doing that makes you vulnerable; identity is liability,” said Walzer. “And that’s a connection that we are morally bound to resist.”

Implicit in the theory of just war is a theory of just peace, Walzer said, meaning noncombatant immunity protects not only individual noncombatants but also the group to which they belong. “Just as the destruction of the group cannot be a legitimate purpose of war,” observed Walzer, “so it cannot be a legitimate practice in war.”

But then it gets good:

Terrorism is a strategy that is chosen from a wide range of possible strategies, according to Walzer. “For many years, I have been insisting that when we think about terrorism we have to imagine a group of people sitting around a table, arguing about what ought to be done,” said Walzer. “When terrorists tell us that they had no choice, there was nothing else to do, terror was their last resort, we have to remind ourselves that there were people around the table arguing against each of those propositions.”

More importantly, I would add, even the best minds just aren’t very good at predicting outcomes controversial among experts.  So as a practical matter, anyone claiming to know with confidence that terrorism is a last resort when many experts disagree is negligent at best.

Once terrorists choose terrorism, the answer as to how we should fight them, said Walzer, “is simple in principle, though often difficult in practice: not terroristically. That means, without targeting innocent men and women.” The second answer, according to Walzer, is within the constraints of constitutional democracy. “Right-wing politicians often insist that it isn’t possible to live with either of these limits: they sit around the table and argue for prison camps like Guantanamo or the use of ‘harsh’ interrogation methods,” said Walzer. “We must be the people at the table who say ‘no.’”

In particular, said Walzer, we must “insist at the outset that the people the terrorists claim to represent are not themselves complicit in the terror.” Just as the “terrorists collectivize the guilt of the other side, insisting that every single person is implicated in the wrongful policies of the government,” Walzer explained, “the anti-terrorists must collectivize in the opposite way, insisting on the innocence of the people generally.” Likewise, where terrorists dismiss the notion of collateral or secondary damage, setting out instead to inflict as much primary damage as possible, anti-terrorists have to “distinguish themselves by insisting on the category of collateral damage, and doing as little of it as they can. The rules of jus in bello apply: soldiers must aim only at military targets and they must minimize the harm they do to civilians.”

Walzer then echoes one of my earlier pacifistic analogies between waging war and fighting crime:

Once governments learn to kill, according to Walzer, they are likely to kill too much and too often so moral and political limits must be imposed. “The hard question in war is what degree of risk we are willing to accept for our own soldiers in order to reduce the risks we impose on enemy civilians,” said Walzer. “When the police are chasing criminals in a zone of peace, we rightly give them no latitude for collateral damage. In the strongest sense, they must intend not to injure civilians—even if that makes their operation more difficult and even if the criminals get away. That seems to me roughly the right rule for people planning targeted killings.”

If terrorists use other people as shields, then anti-terrorists have to try to find their way around the shields, Walzer said, just as we would want the police to do.

I severely doubt Walzer would buy my case for pacifism, but after reading this, I really wonder why.

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