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July 11, 2006

Annals of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Posted by Patrick at 11:00 AM * 214 comments

Via Supergee: Evidently under the impression that the Onion piece “I’m Totally Psyched About This Abortion!” is for real, “Pete” of anti-abortion weblog March Together For Life delivers its author, “Miss Caroline Weber,” a stern talking-to.

Almost as funny: his subsequent attempt to recover.

Comments on Annals of You Can't Make This Stuff Up:
#1 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 11:49 AM:

Well, I guess being raised on a steady diet of absurd lies grants the ability to swallow them without choking...or even chewing.

"Who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

His excuse-conversation with a woman who thought it would be OK under some circumstances to strangle a little girl would be pretty appalling—if I believed any such conversation had actually occurred.

#2 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:05 PM:

That's almost as good as the fundie groups that cite the Onion article about how Harry Potter has led to a boom in children studying witchcraft and performing grim sacrifices when they try to get the HP books pulled from school libraries and such.

#3 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:11 PM:

I can imagine someone giving a deadpan "sure, I think it would be fine for a mother to strangle her own five-year-old child" response to a pro-life evangelist who Just. Would. Not. Go. Away.

#4 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:12 PM:

Oh, I'm sure the conversation occurred. I think the young lady was, como se dice, taking the piss.

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:14 PM:

Citing an Onion article? I think it was Jon Carroll who, a couple of weeks, wrote a column saying that people can't recognize satire anymore. He went on to say that IS difficult to tell, considering what's going on with the Current Assministration.

#6 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:22 PM:

The best bit:

Hmm, let's look up the term satire:

“witty language used to convey insults or scorn; "he used sarcasm to upset his opponent"”

I think you looked up the wrong word there, my friend.

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:28 PM:

I think 'satire' is the word that he used, Tom. Maybe it was 'parody'.

#8 ::: sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:34 PM:

For reference, someone has commented stating she was the woman in question (although it's equally likely he has these sorts of conversations all the time).

"As the woman in question here --

Yes, I was being obviously snarky in my conversation with someone whom I thought was a stupid and insane wingnut.

Now that I know I was right, I regret nothing! Just keep in mind that we have here a person who cannot tell reality from satire even when given obvious clues.

For example, when I said it might be o.k. for a woman to strangle her annoying child, I made an exagerated face like I was being choked. In no way did I keep a straight face until I realized this guy was insane and just couldn't 'get it'.

Keep in mind that the person I was talking to became quite agitated, so some of my replies were attempts to find ways to end the 'conversation' and get back to my peaceful day.

And no, Pete didn't turn 'our' satire right back at us. He just looks like an insane person on the internet. Not a great accomplishment.

Pete, I'd say get some psychiatric help. You cannot distinguish reality from satire. That is an extremely bad sign. And no, I'm not being sarcastic"

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:38 PM:

Ah. OK. That makes sense.

I go back to my statement about being fed a steady diet of lies. You wind up unable to pick them out.

He's a wacko for sure.

#10 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:59 PM:

It's too bad there isn't an in-utero test for stupidity, or sheer lack of common sense.

Then one could respond, with great gusto, "Yes, it most definitely IS the best thing to do. It's too bad your mother didn't make the best choice for society."

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Rachel, yes, retroactive abortion has been the dream of the stupidophobic for ages.

#12 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 01:08 PM:

But, as to the Onion's credibility, there is the classic January 2001 article:

"Bush: Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over".

#13 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 01:23 PM:

His excuse-conversation with a woman who thought it would be OK under some circumstances to strangle a little girl would be pretty appalling—if I believed any such conversation had actually occurred.

Oh, I believe it. I've participated in conversations along those lines myself - let the "pro-life" rapist-fascists think they have a live one and then go into raptures about how cool it is to see all those pictures, since never in my nineteen abortions had I ever gotten to see them before they were chopped into little pieces, etc.

Freaking the nutjobs is less amusing nowadays when it feels like they're winning. Or maybe I've just gotten old and sedate.

#14 ::: Lesley K ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 02:09 PM:

My local paper (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which received its moniker when "Democrat" meant something rather different in the South) published a sidebar last year on "Fixin's Added to the Food Pyramid," lifted straight from THE ONION. To their credit, they published a rather red-faced apology the following week. We're still waiting for a similar retraction over "WMDs found in Iraq."

#15 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 03:48 PM:

What this maroon also doesn't get is that pro-choice is not pro-abortion. No one goes running around like the chick in the article from The Onion happily chirping that, oh boy, she's going to have an abortion, what fun! Pro-choice is just that -- choice. The right to make decisions about one's own reproduction. Sometimes those decisions are extremely, shatteringly difficult. Having them made for us by theocrats wishing to impose their own morality on other people doesn't make things any easier.

#16 ::: Bookview ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Thing is that when you get someone who is that attached to one single idea that becomes central to his life, nothing is going to move him from it, especially if he thinks his idea is from God. He's going to twist anything and everything to fit his own preconceived ideas of the world. Hence, on finding the outrageous article in The Onion, he pounced on it as proof positive of his own outrageous ideas about what pro-choice is all about. On finding that it was satire, well, he turns it around so it's still somehow true for him, and still supports his position.

#17 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 04:22 PM:

In my salad days (ranch dressing, please), I always used to wonder how these brave writers in various totalitarian countries could get away with writing plays or what-all that everyone (except the totalitarians) recognized as thinly veiled satire of the regimes.

The answer of course is that totalitarians cannot see past that veil, no matter how thin it may be. They have no awareness of satire. It's completely below their radar. Some things can't be joked about, you see. The power and authority of the totalitarians, for example. The very possibility of doing so is inconceivable.

All you young American writer turks coming up out there, keep that in mind.

#18 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 05:11 PM:

The March for Life writer first assumes that "Caroline Weber" is unmarried; then, promising us a definition of satire, quotes the definition of "sarcasm" instead.

This isn't the best they've got, is it?

#19 ::: John from Tucson ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 05:29 PM:

"...the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments... and of being bored and repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.... in short, ... protective stupidity."

George Orwell, defining "crimestop" in "1984."

#20 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 05:46 PM:

Annals of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

...and even if you could, they wouldn't believe that you had.

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 05:50 PM:

Oh, perfect, John-from-Tucson.

#22 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 06:11 PM:

The March for Life writer first assumes that "Caroline Weber" is unmarried; ...

Because it couldn't possibly be a married woman who doesn't want a child.

The horror -- !

#23 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 06:27 PM:

Emma: The March for Life writer first assumes that "Caroline Weber" is unmarried....

The writer assumes that "Caroline Weber" exists, instead of being a fictitious name created by the Onion staff, paired with a photo taken from clip art.

The writer also nakedly displays the pro-life agenda: That women should only have sex for procreation purposes.

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Why do I have the feeling that the writers and editors of The Onion live for this sort of thing?

#25 ::: flaring ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 08:06 PM:

Gah!
Gah!

Last night I was mulling over the idea "A Modest Proposal" for Iraq, but this morning I realized that some people just wouldn't get it.

#26 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Goodness, Pete is both hilarious and terrifying. I imagine in person he's mostly the latter.

#27 ::: Jerol J. ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 11:06 PM:

Hmm, I wonder what would happen if some of his fundie brethren would stumble upon this piece from the Onion? I suspect that this was ghost-written by Reverend Fred Phelps.

#28 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 11:09 PM:

Someone with greater wit than I (that's a lot o' y'all) needs to write up some religious propoganda, Chick Tract style, along the lines of "Yes, I believe! I believe in CAROLYN WEBER! I believe in her Satanic glee! ...Sign up here to join the pilgrimage!"

...Take it away!

#29 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 11:56 PM:

I am soooo going to have to send this to my co-workers. They will get a kick out of it. I am a sexuality educator, and my office is located in a clinic with also houses an abortion clinic, so we get a lot of these guys hanging out outside protesting. (Today's looney proclaimed to us that contraception was also murder.)

#30 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 12:33 AM:

Forgive me, friends, for I have participated in his comment thread. I pointed out that the existence of "Pete" only proves that Pete is a moron, and the intelligence of the non-Pete segment of the anti-choice movement can be seen in the fact that they mostly stayed away from the whole thing.

I also noted that the hostile comments he quotes in his second post are nowhere to be found in the comment threads. (Maybe the lurkers are shredding him in e-mail.)

I have to find better hobbies. I even went and watched one of Pammy's "vlog" entries. Atlas Shrieks!

#31 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 02:20 AM:

Wow.

Not only does he totally, absolutely not get it, he doesn't get that he doesn't get it.

He can't even quit while he's behind. Streets behind.

Whose prayer was it that went "Lord, make my enemies appear ridiculous"? Voltaire?

I feel slightly sorry for him - can you imagine the next time he goes for a job interview? Or at this rate, the next time he pokes his li'l head out of his burrow? Even the other anti-choicers will want to bludgeon him, at this rate.

#32 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 02:21 AM:

Emma asks:This isn't the best they've got, is it?

Very possibly. One of my friends is a volunteer clinic escort in Houston and one of our regular weekly protesters wrote a book to promote his beliefs. His 86 page epic was published by Canadian POD shop Trafford and makes Pete look like a genius.

Luvrhino reviewed Involvement in Pro-Life Ministries starting on April 4, 2003 and finished up on May 23rd. I've read the book and Luvrhino has reproduced it faithfully, and added his own and his friends' comments. Warning: it's really poorly written, and we're not nice to the author about either his book or his mission.

#33 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 10:13 AM:

There was once a real-life Vice-President whose last name was that of a bird. Had a problem with another fictional character whose last name was a color when she decided to keep the baby out of wedlock. Same problem with the reality disconnect. It must be a social-conservative thing.

Or as Bill Engvall says, “Here’s your sign.”

#34 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 10:53 AM:

Same problem with the reality disconnect.

BTW, this does not dispute the main point of showing another conservative who treats fiction as if it were reality. However, in this case, the former VP whose name is a homophone for a kind of bird did realize that he spoke of a fictional character. In fact, when his quote made it into the show in question, they had to do some judicious editing around that.

(Perhaps this just says that Pete is even more clueless?)

I guess this is ultimately the sort of attitude which gives us things like the Hays Code. I saw a production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's ASSASSINS where, afterwards, an audience member berated the theater company's artistic director because the actors on stage were not exhibiting proper gun handling techniques. Nevermind that the characters they were portraying would not have. Of course, they were also not using real guns. e.g., solid barrels. So no one was risking anyone else's life in at least the obvious ways by behaving as recklessly as the characters would have.

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 11:43 AM:

I remember the outrage over the song "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis. The people who were so outraged by this obviously hadn't listened to the lyrics, which are an extended catalogue of all the bad things recreational drugs do to you, and wherein every verse ends with '...one that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you."

People are so stupid. I want a species transplant.

#36 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 12:24 PM:

I guess I was making the connection between berating fictional characters for character flaws as a Social-Conservative trait. There is a whole argument to be made, besides cluelessness, about how a sizeable segment of American Society hold the belief that everything they read, see, or hear must be true. My own unscientific survey of these people shows that they are all Social-Conservatives. Dan Quayle’s (BTW, the homophonic confusion was a satire on Potatoe, I accept it was a weak connection, but was the basis for not using names) argument was based on this belief, and his attempt to discredit the show Murphy Brown (which admittedly fired the first shots) by claiming it raised the character up as a bad role model. As if being smart, witty, and highly successful in a chosen career following one’s bliss was negated by this one act.

Those that are confused by the truthfulness of fiction (there’s a masters’ thesis topic) are the same people who rail against other books, shows and most notably in current culture, Dan Brown. Admittedly Dan blurs the line and refreshes an old heresy, but the book is sold as fiction. We then can watch the Social Conservatives struggle with the conundrum, “But he says this is true, but this is fiction, but this part is true, but this is a lie.” Then, just like Norman from Mudd’s World on the old Star Trek, a little puff of black smoke rises up from their head and you can hear the cog-wheels slip teeth.

So, I guess I’m making the argument that this goes beyond the simple, “He doesn’t get it.” There are people who are constitutionally beyond being able to get it. I don’t think there’s a name for this condition, yet. I mean a scientific name with a whole categorization and drugs/treatment specified in the PDR.

#37 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 12:57 PM:

In my salad days (ranch dressing, please), I always used to wonder how these brave writers in various totalitarian countries could get away with writing plays or what-all that everyone (except the totalitarians) recognized as thinly veiled satire of the regimes.

The answer of course is that totalitarians cannot see past that veil, no matter how thin it may be. They have no awareness of satire. It's completely below their radar. Some things can't be joked about, you see. The power and authority of the totalitarians, for example. The very possibility of doing so is inconceivable.

That's likely part of it. There are other reasons. For example, the individual bureaucrats making the censorship decisions may be sympathetic to the art in question. As long as they have plausible deniability--they can claim with a straight face that they didn't see the implicit criticism, and it at least superficially complies with all formal rules--there's a good chance they can pass the work. Pretending to be stupid is a valuable skill in a repressive society.

Another possibility is that the totalitarians themselves don't mind being criticized. Hungary during the Cold War had an odd filmmaking system; the director was required to submit a synopsis for approval before getting funding, but once he had the money he could film whatever he liked. However, the country's only distributor was state-owned, so if they didn't like the film, it would sit on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. Every so often, the regime would decide (for example) that enough time had passed since the 1956 revolution that it was okay to talk about it, and a bunch of movies that had been held back for years would start to trickle out.

#38 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 01:06 PM:

I'm afraid that this episode (which has now extended to a third post in defense of his original idiocy, dated Wednesday, June 12) illustrates another fault of the American, or perhaps modern, mental process. There is a strong tendency to believe that the more opposition there is to a stated opinion, and the more unified the content of that opposition, the more likely it is that the opponents are in cahoots with each other, and that the original opinion is both correct, and strong enough to bring down the power elite if left unopposed.

I'm sure that there's a simpler way of stating that, but at the moment I'm trying to devise a way to replace the sub floor under the kitchen sink in one day, using no money, inadequate tools, and two men who are primarily computer techs. It's interfering with my ability to be reductionist.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Steve Buchheit, that reminds me of people who say "Shakespeare said..." and then quote a line from one of the Bard's villains or fools. No, he didn't say "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Polonius said that! I always want to say "Yeah, and he also said 'I cannot speak your England.'" But they wouldn't get it.

JESR, "They laughed at Galileo!" "No, they charged him with heresy. But they did laugh at Mortimer Snerd."

#40 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 05:22 PM:
There is a strong tendency to believe that the more opposition there is to a stated opinion, and the more unified the content of that opposition, the more likely it is that the opponents are in cahoots with each other, and that the original opinion is both correct, and strong enough to bring down the power elite if left unopposed.
Otherwise known as, "If I've managed to bother this many people, there must be something to what I've said!" Or, briefer, "With this much opposition, I can't be wrong!"

It is related to a phenomenon surrounding urban myths, which I saw most memorably play out like this: In the wake of 9/11 2001, an urban legend sprang up that Nostradamus had predicted the attack. An aggressively flakey member of a mailing list I was on posted about it (on, predictably, email with lavender stationery and purple text). Shortly thereafter several people pointed out that no, Nostradamus didn't predict 9/11, and that quatrain that supposedly "proves" he predicted it is actually couplets taken from unrelated quatrains and jammed together in a most dishonest way, look, go read the snopes page about it. Our flake posted back--and you could almost hear her batting her eyelashes as she "said" it--that "but given how widespread the legend is, don't you think there's some truth to it? LOL! :) :) :)"

Aggressive flakiness is contagious. Well, not exactly. Exposure to aggressive flakes makes me feel aggressive towards the flakes.

#41 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 05:25 PM:

"They laughed at Robert Fulton."

"Sure. Did you see the coat he was wearing?"

I think perhaps there should be a March of Dimes for the reality impaired. "Little Pete will go to bed gullible tonight, unless you help."

#42 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Nicole LeBeuf-Little:

Aggressive flakiness is contagious. Well, not exactly. Exposure to aggressive flakes makes me feel aggressive towards the flakes.

Madeleine Robins:

I think perhaps there should be a March of Dimes for the reality impaired. "Little Pete will go to bed gullible tonight, unless you help."

This is so much better than what's under the kitchen floor, I give you both my undying fealty.


#43 ::: Tully ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 10:50 PM:

"NOW I know it's satire but I'm too busy decrying its inherent despicability to acknowledge that I knee-jerked my way to the top of the public idiot list."

LM effin' AO!

#44 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 11:35 PM:

Checking back with Pete, he's finally figured out what he did wrong! He's now turned off comments.

#45 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 12:06 AM:

He's also now claiming that his articles were a joke, and we clueless baby-murderers are so dumb we didn't get it.

Riiiiiiiight.

That there's some funny stuff, Pete. Got any wife-bashing jokes?

#46 ::: Steff Z ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 03:30 AM:
. . . this goes beyond the simple, “He doesn’t get it.” There are people who are constitutionally beyond being able to get it. I don’t think there’s a name for this condition, yet. I mean a scientific name with a whole categorization and drugs/treatment specified in the PDR.

Not quite, but the phenomenon has been studied:

Kruger J, Dunning D. Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1999 (December) 77(6):1121-1134

Not only are the really clueless completely unable to see there's any clue there that they're missing out on. No. It turns out that if you educate (or train or clue in) such people on the subject about which they know less then nothing, so that they then are at least no longer unaware, well, surprise: they stop being unskilled, as well.

There seems to be an unfortunately narrow band of knowing just enough of it, whatever "it" is, to know that you don't get it.

#47 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Must...resist...urge...to...read...all...comments...

I just came across this gem, from one "frac": Wow. Your mother should have had one.

She probably did. After she found out what this one turned into, she didn't want to take any more chances.

#48 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 03:15 PM:

John from Tucson's Orwell quote is brilliant: "...the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments... and of being bored and repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.... in short, ... protective stupidity."

But it's like "the unexamined life is not worth living" -- everybody who reads it, whether conservative or liberal, reflexively thinks "Yeah! A perfect description of the way THOSE morons think!"

When I teach Clarion, I always tell the students to remember that a character can be diametrically opposed to them in politics, religion, and even a lot of morality, and nevertheless not be a fool, or a liar, or a villain.

Anyway:

Describing the pro-choice position, Writerious says, "Sometimes those decisions are extremely, shatteringly difficult."

If the fetus isn't a human being, why should the decision be so momentous? If it's not a human, then an abortion is less drastic than a vasectomy.

#49 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 04:17 PM:

If the fetus isn't a human being, why should the decision be so momentous? If it's not a human, then an abortion is less drastic than a vasectomy.

Why is the breakup of a relationship painful, even if you both realize that it's the best thing and there's no way you'd be able to make the relationship work? It's perfectly possible to know that you're making the best choice possible, yet still feel sorrow at having to make the choice.

An analogy: I feel sad that the choice my husband and I made not to have children means that my mother-in-law will not have grandchildren. That doesn't mean we made the wrong choice.

#50 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 05:55 PM:

If the fetus isn't a human being, why should the decision be so momentous? If it's not a human, then an abortion is less drastic than a vasectomy.

The decision is momentous for many people for among many other reasons there may never be a do-over.

Fear there may never be another chance for a child of that partnership. This applies particularly for the family where e.g. the wife was just accepted at a major graduate program and the husband just got travel orders.

#51 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 07:13 PM:

Why is the decision momentous?

In addition to the other reasons given, there's the medical one. Abortion is minor surgery. Even minor surgery is dangerous.

Also, the moral state of the fetus is not a binary thing. It is not a case that the fetus must be either fully human or it's insensate tissue. I think of the fetus as existing in an in-between moral state, like a domestic animal.

But none of these factors explain why I am pro-choice. I am pro-choice simply because this is a moral decision that it is up to each person to make. Not the government, not strangers--each person. More specifically, each woman, in conjunction with the man with whom she got pregnant (assuming he's around).

I am pro-choice because the logical extension of the pro-life positon is that sexual intercourse is immoral, except for purposes of procreation.

I am pro-choice because of the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. They are up in arms about abortion and fetal stem cell research, and yet silent about fertiliity clinics, where embryos are routinely fertilized for the deliberate purpose of being destroyed.

#52 ::: dtordini ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 08:06 PM:

Since ol' Petey disabled the embarassing comments section, commence retailation:

March Together V 2.o

#53 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 08:54 PM:

Mitch, you say, "I am pro-choice because the logical extension of the pro-life positon is that sexual intercourse is immoral, except for purposes of procreation."

Well no, the pro-life position is the (not grossly unreasonable) idea that abortion is the killing of a human being. The logical extension would be ... I don't know, making it illegal to kill animals that might arguably be rational.

How does "Fetuses are human" logically lead to "Sex must be done so as to maximize the likelihood of fetuses"? I'd think it would logicially point the other way.

I don't think anybody believes that sex is immoral except for purposes of procreation. At that rate couples past menopause would have to be celibate!

Your idea of the fetus existing in some in-between state only adds to the difficulty -- how much of a "percentage of human" would it have to be, to be protected? And how on Earth would doctors be able to tell when that point had been reached?

You say, "I am pro-choice because of the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. They are up in arms about abortion and fetal stem cell research, and yet silent about fertiliity clinics, where embryos are routinely fertilized for the deliberate purpose of being destroyed."

Certainly they're hypocritical if they ignore that extension of their argument! They should be objecting to that too. Especially if they're correct in this debatable question.

#54 ::: Sara G. ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 10:16 PM:

Pro-life leads to the idea that sex is only acceptable for procreation purposes only when you're talking about the people who are against both abortion and birth control. There are a lot of people who hold that position, but it's not the logical extension of the belief that a fetus is a human being. Logically, anyone who wants to reduce the number of abortions in the world should be for increased access to and education in the use of effective methods of contraception, so that the number of unplanned pregnancies will decrease. Unfortunately there does seem to be a significant segment of the self- appointed moral police who think that people should stop having sex, and are therefore not only against abortion but also contraception and any kind of social program that will help the mother if she skips the abortion and has the child. These people are more anti-choice than pro-life. If you have sex you should suffer, seems to be their motto. It's hard to have any respect for them, while those whose sole argument is that the baby's rights should be considered as well as the mothers at least have an arguable point.

#55 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 10:45 PM:

Tim Powers: I don't think anybody believes that sex is immoral except for purposes of procreation. At that rate couples past menopause would have to be celibate!

They exist. I've known some of them (fortunately of the variety of Roman Catholic who felt that it was not their right to impose that view on other people). And I've mentioned before friends of mine who went to a fmaily wedding and were subjected to thoroughly unpleasant remarks by the priest during the sermon about the purpose of marriage is procreation, and adopting children because you're infertile doesn't count.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 10:59 PM:

I'm glad I don't know that priest, Julia. "Local Gay Beats Priest Senseless With Dildo, film at 11."

#57 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 11:07 PM:

Tim, I think the decision to have an abortion is momentous, even if one is firmly pro-choice, because almost all of us would agree, we don't really know where that line is. We may think we know, but even the Church, which appears so certain and inflexible from the outside, has not always held that the fetus is a person from conception, and only the most rigid anti-choice person believes that women who have abortions should be treated as we treat other deliberate murderers. People who would keep abortion legal may nevertheless regret it when it happens and support efforts to make it as rare as possible. People who would make it illegal may (and I think, should) have compassion for the people who choose it, whatever their circumstances.

Although I am Catholic, I find myself most in sympathy with the position of Orthodox Jews in this matter. I am also pro-choice, mostly because I cannot justify, in a plurastic society which does not share my faith, requiring others to obey doctrines of my church which they do not hold. But I am very well aware of my Church's position, and I realize that I may simply be wrong, theologically speaking. But that's between me and my conscience...

#58 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2006, 11:56 PM:

Hello, Lizzy! Very reasonably put, thanks! I agree that people who have abortions or facilitate them shouldn't be treated by anyone as murderers, because they clearly maintain and believe that it doesn't involve killing a person.

I'm Catholic too -- good to meet you! -- but I like to leave that out of it, since, as you note, it's no good in a debate saying, "But the Catholic Church says thus-and-such!" to people who could reasonably answer, "And Mormons forbid coffee, so what?"

It's a situation where things readily get emotional or pointlessly religious, and so I like to discuss it as logically as possible! -- which we've probably now done.

#59 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 01:01 AM:

Sara G.L: Pro-life leads to the idea that sex is only acceptable for procreation purposes only when you're talking about the people who are against both abortion and birth control.

But birth control sometimes fails. If you believe the fetus is a person, and abortion is murder, and you have sex without intending to procreate, you're gambling with another person's life.

#60 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 01:56 AM:

Plurastic = pluralistic. Sorry. Late night.

If you believe the fetus is a person, and abortion is murder, and you have sex without intending to procreate, you're gambling with another person's life.

Mitch, I guess one can look at it this way. And if this is the way you look at it, it's your choice -- don't have sex unless you intend to create a child.

But you don't get to make that decision for anyone else, sorry. No Sex Police.

#61 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 11:36 AM:

Lizzy L - I'm pro-choice. My point is that the position I described is the pro-life position taken to its logical conclusion.

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 11:51 AM:

Tim Powers: If the fetus isn't a human being, why should the decision be so momentous? If it's not a human, then an abortion is less drastic than a vasectomy.

What makes you think the decision to have a vasectomy is never a drastic, difficult, or momentous one?

#63 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 02:11 PM:

Hello, Avram. I said that if a fetus isn't human then an abortion should be _less_ drastic, etc., than a vasectomy. That implies that a vasectomy _has_ those qualities.

Neither procedure was descirbed as "never drastic, difficult or momentous." It was a comparison. If I say, "losing your job is less difficult than losing your house," I've implied that they're both difficult, _not_ that one of them isn't difficult at all.

#64 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 02:27 PM:

Tim, I'm trying to figure out what point you're trying to make to Writerious up there. Writerious wrote that making decisions about one's own reproduction can sometimes be very difficult. You then asked why, if one believes fetuses aren't human, getting an abortion should be more difficult than getting a vasectomy. And now you're telling me that you agree that getting a vasectomy can be a difficult decision as well.

So what was the point of your question to Writerious? You seem to have been asking "Why should this one difficult choice be more difficult than this other difficult choice?", even though Writerious never implied any sort of heirarchy of difficulty among reproductive choices.

#65 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Mitch, apologies. I see what you are saying. Without wishing to argue, since I don't disagree with your point, I would say that logic/the intellect is only one of the tools of discernment that human beings utilize in making decisions. We also look to emotion, instinct, aesthetics, experience, the advice and influence of others, the moral sense which we call conscience, and probably other tools I can't at the moment call to mind. Pointing out the illogic of a decision may or may not be useful. In so difficult and painful a personal decision as whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, telling someone that their intellectual position is illogical is not likely to carry much weight.

#66 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 02:55 PM:

Avram, you're right, I got tied up in your question and kind of lost sight of the original question.

My point was that if abortion doesn't involve killing anybody, then it's less drastic than a vasectomy, which doesn't kill anybody either but has permanent consequences. I concocted the "hierarchy" for comparison, because it seems to me that abortion is generally considered the more stressful decision. And I was wondering why that might be.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 03:09 PM:

Mitch,

If you believe the fetus is a person, and abortion is murder, and you have sex without intending to procreate, you're gambling with another person's life.

No, if you believe the fetus is a person and abortion is murder, then every time you have sex it must be in the knowledge that you may create another human being. You're gambling with the commitment to carry the pregnancy to term and either give the baby up or raise it. In other words, you're gambling with your own (and, if you're in bed with someone that's worth sleeping with - IMHO - someone else's future).

It's only gambling with another person's life if you think it would be a person, but intend to abort it anyway.

#68 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Well, Tim, it probably varies. Keep in mind that there are more dimensions to the issue than just the irreversability of the operation.

For instance, while some religions might discourage their adherents from getting vasectomies, there's no large, political powerful movement pushing to outlaw the procedure. Men getting vasectomies don't have to run a gantlet of screaming protestors accusing them of murder, or hear their elected officials talking about getting their operation banned. If they did, that'd certainly up the stress factor.

Also, there's the fact that male sexuality and reproductive choices have historically been treated differently from female sexuality and reproductive choices, and still are today. That affects how people feel about their choices. So a man getting a vasectomy and a woman getting an abortion aren't fully comparable situations.

#69 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:54 AM:

Also, vasectomies are not time-pressured, because they're preventative, not reactive.

#70 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 08:57 AM:

Tim: Well no, the pro-life position is the (not grossly unreasonable) idea that abortion is the killing of a human being.

It is possible to argue that by strict logic this is the anti-choice position. However, if logic ruled, the self-styled pro-lifers would fully support all methods of contraception that do not involve expelling a fertilized egg. (For that matter, the opposition to morning-after pills is on weak ground; IIRC, the idea that a fertilized egg is a human being contradicts well-established arguments concerning how long it takes for the embryo/fetus to be ensouled.) This is in fact untrue; as you are a Catholic, you're presumably aware that current Catholic doctrine requires that (rough quote) "every act of sexual intercourse be open to the transmission of life" -- a position which IMO requires arguments as strained as anything purporting to prove that an invisible iota of tissue is a human being.

abi: excellent summary.

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 10:04 AM:

abi: excellent summary.

I know you meant that as a compliment, and as such I agree, but in fact it's almost a definition!

#72 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 02:00 PM:

Hello, Chip! As Lizzy and I agreed above, there's no use advancing Catholic doctrines in a secular discussion. So we can safely disregard any theological arguments about embryos getting ensouled! Logic certainly ought to rule. And of course the logical problem is that, at some point on the line from conception to birth, a third person has entered the picture, and nobody knows when that point occurs, or even what it would consist of -- heartbeat? Brain waves? This or that degree of viability?

And practical application would be tricky -- "Okay, until the end of this week it's not a human. Say midnight on Saturday. That'd be California time, unless it was conceived on the east coast." For instance.

#73 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 02:36 PM:

Avram, a well-reasoned answer, thanks!

#74 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 02:47 PM:

Actually, Tim, the logical problem is that personhood is a human concept, not a measurable fact, and therefore has always been and will always be contingent upon human beliefs, opinions, and politics. There's no logical reason to prefer conception as a starting point over implantation, or gastrulation, or start of last period, or the point where the mother's belly has swollen so that she can no longer fit through the chief mother's ritual hoop, or birth, or a several-days-post-natal naming ceremony, or first birthday.

Or parents' marriage, for that matter. I can imagine a society where, when you get married, the priest tells you (based on some kind of oracular ritual, perhaps inspired by your wealth and how many kids he thinks you can support) how many new souls have been created by the gods to pass into the world through your union. If you don't meet that number, the unborn ones haunt you as ghosts (or so you believe); if you exceed that number, the excess are considered soulless abominations, and killed, or maybe enslaved. Imagine having some people from that society around for an abortion argument!

#75 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Avram: exactly. I think you and Tim and I probably agree, that when exactly a new person comes into the world is not a measureable, testable fact, and that reasonable people are going to differ about its truth. My own judgement says, Given that, and given also that we live in the US, which is not a theocratic state (yet), I must simultaneously support the right of women to make different choices, including choices of which I may personally disapprove, while at the same time protecting the new person to the best of my ability: which leads to a compromise or set of compromises, which is what we have now.

I should say, my own views have changed over time, though I have always been pro-choice. I suspect they will continue to change.

#76 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 07:35 PM:

Tim Powers: And of course the logical problem is that, at some point on the line from conception to birth, a third person has entered the picture, and nobody knows when that point occurs, or even what it would consist of -- heartbeat? Brain waves? This or that degree of viability?

I've given some thought to this question - and muse that one answer might be "at some point after the embryo can no longer spontaneously twin."

Twins (triplets, etc.) raise interesting theological questions: if the "soul" is present from conception, then the "soul" of twins must therefore also somehow divide in half when the flesh does - and twins must therefore literally share the one "soul" present at conception. A more logical answer (for certain values of "logic") is that the soul can be present only at some point after an embryo has twinned. Which, if one believes in unique individual souls, at least seems more plausible than divisible soul-stuff.

So the existence of twins might imply that the soul is not present from conception. Some cultures have had a related view: and are convinced that one twin, logically, must be entirely without a human soul, and choose one to kill at birth.


#77 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 11:18 PM:

Bob, I love the twins business! It is an interesting theological question! Maybe souls are some kind of infinity -- you take away half and you've still got a full dose of infinity. Though it's a neat idea that they might have half-a-soul each, whatever that might mean, or one has a soul and one doesn't.

Lizzy, I agree that "when exactly a new person comes into the world is not a measureable, testable fact, and that reasonable people are going to differ about its truth." I can't even imagine what you'd test for. But I'd say -- respectfully disagreeing with Avram -- that there _is_ a real, qualitative, objective difference between not-human and human, independent of whatever we might all agree on. It's like the distance of the sun -- various cultures came up with various estimates, using logical or preposterous criteria, but the sun really is out there at a particular distance.

But Avram, I like the idea of a couple having a precise number of predestined children, so that if they have fewer they'll be haunted by the unborn ghosts, and if they have more the excess children will be soulless abominations! Somebody should write these stories!

#78 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:09 AM:

Tim, Avram, Lizzy: Let me add to the twins complication. In some African societies (notably the Yoruba) having twins counted as an abomination *because* only animals such as goats and pigs gave birth to multiple infants at the same time, humans were supposed to be born one at a time. This resulted, in the not too distant past, in the infanticide of twins.

#79 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:52 AM:

Tim, thing about the distance of the sun is that it's really only useful to talk about at a certain scale. We can say the sun is one astronomical unit from the Earth (tautological, that one is), or about eight light-minutes, or somewhere between 91 million and 94.5 million miles. But if we had to give that distance down to the millimeter we'd be in trouble. Are we measuring from the surfaces or the centers of the two bodies? The centers make things easier, but then we have the problem of figuring out when to measure. Over the course of that eight minutes that it takes light to travel between the Earth and the sun, their distance will change by thousands of miles, and if we were to travel between them at the speed of light our ruler would shrink down to nothing.

The start of personhood is like that, as I see it. It's a concept invented by people who had no idea of what goes on inside a pregnant woman, and the concept breaks down under the level of scrutiny that modern science can bring to bear.

I also wonder who it was who decided that the fertilization of an egg was conception. Conception is a concept going back over a millennium -- Wikipedia tells me that the Conception of Mary was celebrated in 9th century England -- well before people had any idea of the biological details. Why should fertilization be called conception, why not implantation or gastrulation? (Both better candidates if you ask me.)

#80 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:09 AM:

Tim Powers: Bob, I love the twins business! It is an interesting theological question! Maybe souls are some kind of infinity -- you take away half and you've still got a full dose of infinity....

Well, maybe. IANAEmbryologist, but I think twins can form successfully up to 12? days or so after fertilization. (I don't know the upper limit, but the later twiinning occurs, the higher the chances that they'll stay conjoined.)

I also am not a theologian, but I get the sense that Christianity tends to view immortal souls as pretty much assigned 1:1, soul:body. I don't think Christianity tends to view soul-stuff as fluid or divisible if it needs to be.
(Maybe we're inventing a brand new heresy here...)

Adding the two speculations together, I have trouble thinking how one single immortal soul is supposed to fission into two unique immortal souls if /when an embryo divides into twins.

It seems simpler to think that souls aren't 'incorporated' until there is an actual independent embryo present to receive it. Which to me would imply that souls aren't there until the local census is finalized: which would imply sometime after the ~two-week limit for when twinning can happen.

So, the existence of twins might suggest that souls are probably not incorporated before twins can form - and possibly much later.

#81 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:45 AM:

Hi, Avram -- well the thing is, the sun really does exist, and we can say, for instance, "It's never closer to us than this or farther away than that" and be talking about something real. That is, our statement might be wrong because the sun really _is_ out there somewhere. (Of course you could say, "But what if there's disagreement about the definition of 'sun'?")

But I bet we do agree that you and I really are human beings! And even if everybody in the world should declare that you're not a human being -- laws passed, all religions concur, everybody gets their statements notarized -- you still would be.

Certainly it's true that ancient people couldn't have known what happens at conception. I imagine they just meant by it, "the point when there's a new person in the picture." And that works, whether that point is fertilization or implantation or what have you.

Fragano, that's pretty horrible, about twins in some African societies! And of course the reason I think it's horrible is because I think those societies were wrong -- that there's a true situation, independent of their concensus.

I apologize for deflecting this thread, by the way! Eventually we'll probably be debating traditional versus innovative martinis.

#82 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 08:05 AM:

But I bet we do agree that you and I really are human beings!

(I feel tempted to insert the hoary New Yorker cartoon about how on the internet no one knows that you're a dog, but that would be way off the point. Or maybe it isn't. Perhaps, rather than being Tim Powers, noted SF author, you are "Tim Powers", first computer program to pass the Turing Test. Are you a person? Would wiping out all copies of your binaries and source code be tantamount to murder? Are you protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Can you be patented? I note that none of these are particularly original questions in SF.)

I think it's worth pointing out here that the reason why there is a healthy and active debate over abortion is because we as a society have yet to decide the edge cases of personhood conclusively. (e.g., fetuses, and those in a persistent vegetative state)

That people can come to a consensus on the cases solidly in the center of personhood is not a guarentee that people can come to a consensus on the edge cases. Avram has a terrific point by analogy when he talks about measuring the distance between the earth and the sun down to the accuracy of a millimeter. Given the amount of philosophical inquiry already spent on a specific definition of personhood, I don't hold much hope for one which resolves all the edge cases to everyone's satisfaction. The idea that we have consensus on the vast majority of cases and simply agree to disagree on those few cases where we do not reach consensus doesn't seem to have much traction.

(BTW, I should point out that problem that people can't come to consensus on edge cases even though most cases are fairly obvious is not an uncommon problem. On a much more mundane level, it's hard to come up with a distinction between musicals and operas that resolves all cases in the way that everything thinks they should resolve.)

As for martinis, I'm not a mixed drink person myself. However, I have friends who think vodka is an abomination and whose idea using vermouth is to present an image of the vermouth bottle to the glass. I'm not sure why they're not just drinking straight gin. But again, there are undoubtedly recipes which we dub martini recipes by consensus and recipes over which there will be passionate debate.

#83 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:33 AM:

Tim: I agree it's horrible. Fortunately, it isn't an accepted practice any longer. I brought it up because it raises a quretion related to the issue you were debating. A pregnant Yoruba 100 years ago, given foreknowledge that she would bear twins (were that possible in those days) would have had no compunctions about seeking abortion; in fact she would have felt it a desirable act. OTOH, she would probably have objected very strongly to the idea that her husband might want to make himself permanently infertile.

#84 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:23 AM:

Hello - I've been enjoying this blog for a long while, and I'm happy to have an excuse to post something. I'm not a geneticist, but I thought this snippet might be of interest to the discussion about twins.

There is such a thing as a human chimera: two separately fertilised non-fraternal twins which have fused at a very early stage to make one embryo. The resulting person will have different chromosomes in different parts of their body, but will be a completely normal individual in other respects. (Unless one twin was male and the other female, in which case the person may develop partly male and partly female sexual organs).

Although the condition is thought to be rare, there may be many people who have no idea that they are a chimera, since the only way it would show up is with DNA testing from different parts of the body. You or I could perfectly well be the outcome of fused twins and not know it.

There was a case recently of a woman in her 50s who was tissue typed to see if one of her three sons would be able to donate her a kidney. Two of the sons had DNA which appeared to show that she could not be their biological mother. It was eventually discovered that she was a chimera: her ovaries were producing eggs some of which carried the DNA from one original twin, some from the other.

I find it hard to believe that this woman had two separate souls, though.

See here for the case of the woman whose sons appeared to have different biological mothers.

#85 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:48 AM:

Jenny: That's fascinating.

I think you meant to say either 'fraternal' or 'non-identical' twins, though (rather than 'non-fraternal').

--Mary Aileen

#86 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 01:08 PM:

Tim, I agree that there is a real, qualitative, objective difference between human and not human. I just am not sure what it is, and I don't think -- here's where I, at least, may part company with some of the folks posting here -- that the difference will be discernable through scientific inquiry, because "personhood" is not fundamentally a scientific concept, but a spiritual one. Ooops, there's that pesky religious stuff again. I don't think we can get to the truth about what makes us human through science. Poetry, perhaps.

Now, having said that, I absolutely support those scientific inquiries. I think we should learn everything we can through the scientific process, and be afraid of nothing. I just don't equate scientific "fact" with the truth about this particular topic. It's like looking for God by sending up a rocket. Nuh-uh.

About souls: it's very interesting to find in this thread discussions of "souls" as if the soul (assuming for a moment that we all believe it exists, which I know is not the case) were an entity, a thing which somehow exists in the body, perhaps made of ectoplasm...? When I think of souls at all, which I mostly don't, I tend to think of the soul as an organizing or animating principle. (Yes, I am a Platonist. Why do you ask?) So the conversation about twins, DNA, chimeras, fused embryos, while fascinating in its own right, doesn't get me any closer to discerning what a person might be.

But as I said above, let free inquiry abound! Someone in this or another thread expressed the hope that human beings could acknowledge their own ignorance more frequently. I'll drink to that. I'm not a martini drinker, either. How about a Fat Tire ale, JC?

#87 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:22 PM:

Ooops, there's that pesky religious stuff again.

I can't believe I'm the only person who sees the abortion debate as an issue of church-state separation. But I've waited in vain for anyone else to raise the point, so I guess it's down to me.

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:37 PM:

Xopher,

I know you meant that as a compliment, and as such I agree, but in fact it's almost a definition!

Could you unpack that? About the definition, I mean.

I'm not much of a martini type - I may have mentioned that single malt whisky is more my thing. But I did once see a Shirley Temple martini shaker I rather liked - you filled it with gin to the chin and vermouth to the tooth. (And yes, I know one such is mentioned in Demonby John Varley.)

#89 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:40 PM:

cmk: we haven't discussed the separation issue directly because so far most folks posting here on the subject have explicitly or tacitly stated that they would not support the adoption of a specific religious viewpoint by the US government. (I myself would actively fight against it.) It hasn't seemed necessary to discuss the Constitutional issue. Was there something in a prior post which made you think we need to?

#90 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:56 PM:

Was there something in a prior post which made you think we need to?

Well, yes and no; it's the background of the discussion more than most specific comments.

I just see banning abortion as inherently a religious position, so it's not possible to remove the theology from the debate.

#91 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:57 PM:

Hi, cnk -- no, it only seems to be an issue of church/state separation because churches have expressed opinions on it. The issue is whether it involves killing human beings or not, and if so, at what point. That needn't involve churches at all.

Jenny, the chimera business is fascinating! That must have been quite a moment -- "You're not the mother of this guy" -- "Yes I am. I was there, trust me." I wonder if some people have several "genetic identies" in them! Add Multiple Personality Disorder and you've got the beginnings of a cool plot.

Fragano, good points. We can see lots of error there -- assuming we have the "teacher's edition" of the textbook!

JC, you're right, society has a hard time guessing at the precise boundaries of "human being"! The fringe areas, which would include a lot of very old people too (I expect to be a questionable example myself one day), just leave everybody with a helpless shrug. Didn't I read recently about some drug that's been waking up what had been thought to be "hopelessly comatose" people?

My point is that there _is_ a thing called "human being," and it exists independent of any society's concensus. Entities like "a person old enough to drink or vote" or "a citizen of this or that country" can be changed or eliminated by altering some laws ("Sorry, you're not that yet, or anymore"), but "human being" is a thing like pi -- societies can only recognize it or fail to recognize it. I agree with Lizzy that in fact it's impossible to precisely define it (like chasing all the decimal places of pi), but it's real anyway.

I mean, consider the alternative -- "A human being is whatever the church/government/concensus says it is, subject to changes in that estimation." It'd be as if we all decided that pi will be whatever we decide it is -- but circles and there circumferences would still be out there.

#92 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Tim --

You're almost certainly factually wrong about humanity having the same inherent status as a physical constant. Darned hard area to get research funding for, though.

It is well known that human is as the surrounding society does; if you raise a child outside human social contact, you don't get a human being. The 'build a person' brain development stuff doesn't happen.

The humanness is a product of interaction, not innate. It very likely took tens or hundreds of thousands of years to bootstrap itself.

It's quite possible to be non-human and potentially human at the same time -- any neonate, many people with some sorts of brain injury that may recover; also non-human and not potentially human -- other kinds of brain injury, that horrible condition where a baby develops without a brain and has a dished in head, etc.

So I'd argue that it's not the edge cases; those are pretty well understood, even when the understandings hinge on different axioms. It's the possibility of state change that's the contentious issue, especially which state changes are properly voluntary.

#93 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 03:35 PM:

cmk said: I just see banning abortion as inherently a religious position, so it's not possible to remove the theology from the debate.

Tim Powers said: The issue is whether it involves killing human beings or not, and if so, at what point. That needn't involve churches at all.

Imagine a situation in which the churches, etc. had nothing to say about whether it is okay to kill a fetus in the womb, and all the talking about it was done by -- who? Politicians? Medical doctors? Pregnant 15 year olds? The 17 year old impregnators of the pregnant 15 year olds? Biologists? Astronomers? Freudians? Jungians? Who? Or does society as a whole simply keep silent on the issue and let each individual decide for herself, based on -- what? No, I'm not being sarcastic or dismissive. This is a political and social issue and a moral one; surely the input of precisely those institutions whose task within society traditionally is to examine moral issues should at least be heard. Take it as a given that I would actively resist an attempt to write the doctrines of my own church into American law.

#94 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 04:22 PM:

Lizzy --

The basic Enlightenment combination of utilitarianism and fundamental rights seems entirely sufficient to solve that problem.

It's not at all obvious to me that any question of public policy should be regarded as a moral question; morals are fundamentally personal, and in a diverse society there will be many different notions of appropriate morality while there should be a single civil law which all acknowledged as supreme.

That civil law can't be arrived at by means of arguing for or against any particular personal morality, so that's pretty obviously -- I think -- not the way to go about it.

#95 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 04:26 PM:

JC: The idea that we have consensus on the vast majority of cases and simply agree to disagree on those few cases where we do not reach consensus doesn't seem to have much traction.

Which is really not at all surprising, given the consequences of getting it wrong. Agreeing to disagree is fine in cases where the stakes are not literally life and death.

I agree with Tim that there is such a thing as a "human being" that more-or-less objectively exists, where "human being" = "living individual organism of the species Homo sapiens". While there are edge cases here as well (for instance, at exactly what point during the process of fertilization is there a new organism and not two nearly-fused gametes?), those aren't what people are generally arguing about in the abortion debate. They are generally arguing about "personhood", which is an entirely philosophical debate about which beings we accord what are known as human rights. Some argue for all human beings (see def. above) being persons, and others believe that one of many possible developmental milestones (implantation, brain wave activity, viability, birth, self-awareness) must be achieved for the organism to have personhood. Then there is also the question of whether there are/could be non-human persons.

None of this need be religious in nature or involve souls, although people do sometimes confuse matters (IMO) by bringing souls into it.

#96 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:01 PM:

Re chimeras and other evidence that genetics is a LOT weirder than any of us learned in high school: I heartily recommend the book "Cats Are Not Peas: A Calico History of Genetics" by Laura L. Gould. Gould began exploring the subject when she became the owner of a MALE calico cat.

The book is out of print, but is available used & in libraries.

#97 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:45 PM:

They are generally arguing about "personhood", which is an entirely philosophical debate about which beings we accord what are known as human rights.

In the interest of at arriving at a set of common terms so that we all understand each other, it seems to me that Tim et al. were using "human being" and "personhood" interchangeably whereas Jen clearly is not. (i.e., Jen raises the possibility that a human being may not have "personhood" as one of its properties.)

I agree that the discussion of personhood is a philosophical debate. However, my understanding of Tim's position was that it is not. That is, if I read Tim correctly, personhood is an intrinsic property of human beings (which he says is something that does not have a precise definition, but exists independently of any society's ability to recognize or define it).

So, Jen, you say that you agree with Tim, but I think you also agree with me at least in some ways. (I brought up potential, to use your term, non-human persons in my previous post.)

BTW,
Which is really not at all surprising, given the consequences of getting it wrong

My problem with this formulation of this view is that "getting it wrong" implies that we can know if we have, in fact, gotten it wrong. My position is that, as of right now, the vigorous discussion on these sorts of issues shows that we don't know in the edge cases. (I'm still thinking about Graydon's idea that the problem is not the edge cases, but the possibility of state change. It may be that what he's saying and what I'm trying to say are equivalent.)

#98 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:48 PM:

Tim: Thanks for the compliment. Problem is, of course, that at any time we only have the student edition of the textbook.

What it means to be human is, in my not-particularly-humble opinion, socially, politically, and culturally defined. What we call 'human' is a product of our particular consensus (for a Western definition of 'our') as a result of our particular history and the circumstances of our time. We happen to believe that the current Western definition is the most inclusive, generous, and accurate. It happens, however, not to be the only one. That matters for defining whether abortion is murder, and whether vasectomy is either acceptable, unacceptable, or even worse.

#99 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:56 PM:

Could you unpack that? About the definition, I mean.

I meant that you are past mistress of the excellent summary.

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:57 PM:

Or am I confused about someone's gender again? Argh.

#101 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 06:51 PM:

The issue is whether it involves killing human beings or not, and if so, at what point. That needn't involve churches at all.

I disagreed with you because I had read what you wrote, not because I hadn't. I didn't comment up there in your first appearance because you were so clearly trying to be a nice guy about it.

#102 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 08:38 PM:

JC, yes, I think you and I are understanding each other on the subject of terminology.

My problem with this formulation of this view is that "getting it wrong" implies that we can know if we have, in fact, gotten it wrong.

I do see your point. I think the best we can really do is to look at the cases in the past when people did, by our lights, get it wrong, and think about why we believe that they did. I have little doubt that, just as we believe the circle of personhood was too narrowly drawn in the past, future generations will believe that it is too narrowly drawn right now. Maybe they will be appalled that we exclude fetuses, or animals, or maybe they will just be aghast at the way that we treat many of those that we claim to consider persons. And maybe they won't have it right, either, but they'll probably be pretty sure that they have it more right then we do. Such is progress -- and I'm a starry-eyed optimist when I'm not too busy being cynical, and I do believe in progress.

#103 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:39 PM:

Tim, you're wrong about pi. It is precisely defined, it's just difficult to write down in decimal notation.

As far as whether there is such a thing as a "human being" independent of society's consensus, well, that's a tricky question. Are we talking about a biological designation? Or something having to do with spiritual or intellectual qualities? If we're talking about biology, well, species designations really only work at the level of groups. They're not always reliable at the level of individuals.

#104 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 10:13 PM:

Graydon, alas, though I have agreed with you in many circumstances, in this case I must confess I am pretty uncomfortable with utilitarianism, for a number of reasons. You are, I am sure, familiar with the LeGuin story; no need to recap it here. That story expresses one of my concerns; another being; How do we define the Good, and who gets to decide? Utilitarianism strikes me as kind of an American Idol version of ethics.

Some snark, sorry. It's been a long hard week.

#105 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:14 PM:

Lizzy, did you notice that Graydon suggested a combination of utilitarianism and fundamental rights?

#106 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:51 PM:

I did, Avram. I'm thinking about it...

#107 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:31 AM:

Graydon's made my point for me, far better than I could have.

It's not at all obvious to me that any question of public policy should be regarded as a moral question; morals are fundamentally personal, and in a diverse society there will be many different notions of appropriate morality while there should be a single civil law which all acknowledged as supreme.

That civil law can't be arrived at by means of arguing for or against any particular personal morality, so that's pretty obviously -- I think -- not the way to go about it.

There's this concept that some people have of an "immortal soul", that some really want considered in questions of human reproduction.

Some groups use the concept of an immortal soul to argue that it's esentially murder to take steps to prevent implantation, if not fertilization.

Other groups use the very same concept to justify occasional instances of mandatory infanticide.

Any concept that leads to such divergent policy outcomes might not be as solid a basis for civil law as its adherents might think.


#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:53 AM:

Xopher,

Yes, female.

I meant that you are past mistress of the excellent summary.

Only because I was sure it would raise any kids we conceived. Otherwise I would have kept it platonic.

#109 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:13 AM:

First of all I want to state for the record that I really like the Shirley Temple cocktail shaker -- "Gin to the chin, vermouth to the tooth." I told my wife about it, and now she wants one.

Graydon, you say, "if you raise a child outside human social contact, you don't get a human being. The 'build a person' brain development stuff doesn't happen." Well, what I mean by a human being includes freshly-born babies, so I guess our terms aren't overlapping completely.

Fragano, I agree we've only got the student's text, not the teacher's. But I'd maintain that the teacher's text exists -- that is, our judgments can be accurate or inaccurate, and not just matters of opinion or preference.

And you make an uncomfortably excellent point when you note that our thinking is strongly based on where and when we are. We tend to be chrono-centric, if that's a word. And culturo-centric. We tend to assume that the philosophic landscape around us must be the correct one, since everywhere we look we see it. It'd be great if we could get books from a few centuries in the future!

Jen, you make this point better than I do: " I think the best we can really do is to look at the cases in the past when people did, by our lights, get it wrong, and think about why we believe that they did. I have little doubt that, just as we believe the circle of personhood was too narrowly drawn in the past, future generations will believe that it is too narrowly drawn right now. Maybe they will be appalled that we exclude fetuses, or animals, or maybe they will just be aghast at the way that we treat many of those that we claim to consider persons. And maybe they won't have it right, either, but they'll probably be pretty sure that they have it more right then we do."

cnk, I'm glad I appeared to be trying to be a nice guy! I hope I _am_ a nice guy, though ideally people don't notice you trying to be, I guess.

And I've begun to repeat myself, I think. (Avram, you're right about pi, of course; but there must have been a time when people knew what they meant by "ratio of diameter to circumference" without being able to be very precise about what it actually would turn out to be -- "More than three, for sure, but four doesn't work ...") (You know the sort of analogy I'm trying to find!) I think I'm going to retire from this panel, unless somebody shouts at me. It's been fascinating!

#110 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 07:59 AM:

Tim --

Neonates are potential humans, all right, but if no one takes care of them -- which includes cuddling them and making cooing noises -- you get a dead baby, not a human being. The ability to become human isn't self-contained.

We're an extremely social species; what makes us human is each other.

And yeah, we have all (tautologically, for the group typing on computers) got the machinery to become human, but we don't have the context independently.

Which is why I have trouble with you 'innate humanity' stance; given improved extelligence, what we can make ourselves into, and our descent into, changes.

Hopefully for the better in the views of all concerned, but it without question changes.

So either we'd have to retroactively change the definition of what it means to be human, or we'd have to acknowledge that the defintion ought to be contextual.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:09 AM:

Otherwise I would have kept it platonic.

Platonic summaries leave out too much information, in my humble opinion.

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Platonic summaries leave out too much information, in my humble opinion.

As in, the Platonic summary of the Death Star is a sphere, but all the interest is in the greeble?

Agreed.

#113 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:57 PM:

Tim: I agree that it is possible for our judgments to be accurate or inaccurate by a verifiable standard. However, that is not going to be true of all judgments. As you suggest, history is the true teacher's text in at least some cases.

Our conceptions about many things can be no more than provisional, but we want something more definite. The great danger, though, is assuming that our subjective opinions must be the truth, that our moral judgments, because we believe or want them to be true, must supersede those of others. If we tell an ancient Spartan clan head that he can't expose a sickly child because of the humanity that he shares with the child, he'd undoubtedly say a number of things not in Liddell and Scott, not to mention explain things more directly with sword or club. If we tell a nineteenth century Yoruba that twins or triplets are just as human as singleton births, they'd wonder why we'd gone mad. But we want to insist on a common humanity that entitles both the sickly Spartan infant and the Yoruba multiples to life. What entitles us -- modern Western people, at any rate -- to make that claim? And, of course, what entitles some of us to claim that others should not terminate their pregnancies?

#114 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 05:33 PM:

Hello, Graydon and Fragano! We're getting to the point where we should be doing intricate essays here! -- which I'll resist. I really do think we've laid out our positions pretty clearly.

Of course I disagree with the idea that a newborn baby isn't a human being yet. It isn't a whole lot of things yet, admittedly, but I'd insist that it _is_ a human being.

And Fragano, I'd insist too that we _would_ be correct in trying to save the Spartan baby or the Yoruba twins. Those cultures were wrong in their assessment of what's a human being and what's not (or in assuming that they can justifiably kill baby human beings). You ask, "What entitles us -- modern Western people, at any rate -- to make that claim?" I'd answer that we have a better, if not perfect, understanding of what a human being is, and/or what its intrinsic rights are, than they did.

Again, consider the alternative -- if no culture can be judged "morally more accurate" than another, then we have no basis for criticizing any other culture. All we can say is, "In our culture that activity would fall into the category we call 'horrible crime,' but in theirs it's 'okay.' And of course if we all change our minds, then it'll be 'okay' here too." We'd have to say, "What? Somebody left a baby out to die in the cold? That's awful! -- unless of course you mean it happened in some other time or place, in which case it might be okay in that cultural context. I'll reserve my outrage pending further news."

We're not going to agree -- our defintions of terms don't overlap enough! But it's been interesting to compare philosophies!

#115 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:55 PM:

Tim: An interesting argument, and would require a lot of thought and writing to unravel the arguments so, I'll lay it down here with one thought.

To claim that our modern Western understanding of what it means to be human is 'better' is a very dangerous thing, even more dangerous than the alternative you set out. It gives us the right to claim that we should set the terms for the world, but the actual material basis is simply that we have the power and others, whose views are or may be different, do not.

(I've been spending part of my summer reading nineteenth century writings that, in essence, say 'We British are naturally superior, our ways are right, and those bleeding Irish/blacks/Indians are going to obey and like it'. This not from marginal figures but from people like Anthony Trollope, Charles Kingsley, and James Anthony Froude who were major public intellectuals/writers.)

#116 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:50 AM:

Hi, Fragano -- you say, "To claim that our modern Western understanding of what it means to be human is 'better' is a very dangerous thing, even more dangerous than the alternative you set out. It gives us the right to claim that we should set the terms for the world, but the actual material basis is simply that we have the power and others, whose views are or may be different, do not."

Well, yes. Good point. The risk, I think, would be that we would, or we do, arrogantly err on the side of exclusion. I'd hope we could err on the side of inclusion, just to be on the safe side. Therefore I'd say we should be very hesitant about declaring "No, you're wrong, that's not a human being," and more liberal in deciding, "Okay, it might be a human being, best not to take a chance."

I agree that it would take a lot of thought and writing to unravel all this much further! And even then we'd be unlikely to convince each other -- that'd be great, if we simply reversed positions! -- and unfortunately we've all got to earn a living.

.

#117 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:24 AM:

The founders of this country made a binding agreement establishing a pluralistic civil society on liberal secular principles, and that agreement was ratified by the citizens or their representatives in the states. As such agreements go, it is considered a pretty good one. Under this agreement, we enjoy great religious freedom, limited only in that we cannot impose our religious views on others.

It also has provisions for the protection of the lives and property of persons in the country. It is important to understand that these provisions are based on practical and liberal principles, not moral ones. Just because most popular religions have commandments against killing doesn't mean that laws against killing are essentially religious, or that other religious laws should follow. Rather, on a practical basis people consider their lives to be very precious and would not support any political system that didn't protect them. Similarly, on liberal terms we feel that all people are equally deserving of protection under the law, and although we often fail to provide that protection, at least we aspire to it.

But what is a person? A religious definition would be any being that possesses a human soul. That kind of definition, while it could be true, is outside the scope of a constitution for a civil society. Rather, the definition we use, not surprisingly, is practical and liberal. Practical, in the sense that embryos that have not yet developed the ability to think and feel are not yet people, and liberal, in the sense that unfortunates who have lost the ability to think and feel are still considered human out of compassion. Also, it is practical and liberal to consider that a woman is an actual person with a right to make the most difficult and personal decisions herself.

Other societies are free to make their own rules. We have ours. People who live here are responsible for respecting the rights of others and not messing with the agreement by trying to impose a theocracy on others. The agreement was binding when it was ratified. It is still binding on those of who live in the civil society it established, and who enjoy its benefits. This is not a moral judgement of other societies, or of people who do not understand the basis of this society. In practical and liberal terms, "Pete" is not immoral. He's just a dangerous idiot.

#118 ::: Tim Powers ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:54 AM:

Tom, if it's true that "embryos that have not yet developed the ability to think and feel are not yet people" then of course aborting that sort would not involve killing anybody. In any case, as we've said, it should be a logical question, not a religious one.

And now that we've got back to Pete and his Onion article,I believe this is where I came in. Somebody e-mail me if a conclusion is reached!

#119 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:56 AM:

I think the advantage of the Western post-Enlightenment approach, which is a bit more than just Science, is that it doesn't depend on a particular religion.

What frightens many people who notice this is that it doesn't give any privilege to their religion.

The only way they're going to get that is turn turn into something I didn't expect.

#120 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 10:50 AM:

Tim: The danger is that in doing what we think is good we end up making things worse. And there are a host of ways in which that could happen. Inclusion is very nice, but problematic when the harvest fails.

#121 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:01 AM:

My position won't play in Peoria, gods know, and I would strongly advise against pro-choice advocates from attempting to use it when trying to win votes, but I find the whole question of the rights of the fetus very simple: I don't care if it's a human or not.

Having a baby means the end of life as the mother knows it. No matter what direction the change takes, it's profound and irreversible.

As a society, we've agreed that the use of lethal force to prevent a beating or rape is reasonable. Not required, of course, but within the range of what we consider moral. I believe that an abortion is an act of self-defense. The difference between a 15 year old high school drop out and a professional woman with a successful career isn't trivial. Being raped would probably have less effect on that girl's life than being trapped with an unwanted pregnancy at too young an age.

I am not trivializing rape, and I am not trivializing the killing of a possible human being. However, in the abortion debate, the real details of a woman's life are trivialized. Women shouldn't be required to simply take their chances on the reproductive roulette without any recourse. No child of mine would have been well-cared for. It's why I don't have any.

Inevitably, this leads us to the topic of adoption. Why not give the baby up? Again, this is a trivialization of the real life details of being a woman in this culture. Nine months of pregnancy is hardly a trivial experience. Nor is it risk-free. Giving birth is a transformitive experience, and don't give me that bullshit about how it's so wonderful. I know that it is for many women. But that isn't true for all of them, and any gate, that much pain leaves marks on the nervous system that rarely go away. It can, under some circumstances, leave the same sorts of trauma that a severe beating can leave.

And then, there are the hormones. Our bodies are built to respond to our babies. Whether it makes any sense in the larger context of our lives, the body wants to love and mother and nurse and care for that infant. That infant in particular. Thwarting that bit of biological programming has its own costs.

Giving up a child has major effects. It can cause a life-long sorrow, which is hardly an immaterial consequence. That grief isn't guilt. It's biology, and the consequence of being a human being that can imagine other futures. That's also true of the sorrow a woman often feels after an abortion. An unwanted pregnancy is being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Sometimes, there are no good choices. Women who can make a choice under those circumstances and not be saddled with long-term consequences are not monsters (or mothers). They're just lucky.

#122 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:07 AM:

To claim that our modern Western understanding of what it means to be human is 'better' is a very dangerous thing, even more dangerous than the alternative you set out. It gives us the right to claim that we should set the terms for the world, but the actual material basis is simply that we have the power and others, whose views are or may be different, do not.

and later

The danger is that in doing what we think is good we end up making things worse.

Speaking from my perspective as a voting, property-owning, wage-earning woman without a husband, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that treating women as people is an absolute good. I'm sure there are some African-Americans who would say the same. The debate about abortion isn't about treating fetuses as people--it's about whether women are people, and more importantly, whether we are people who should be allowed to make life's major decisions for ourselves.

#123 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:18 PM:

the opposition to morning-after pills is on weak ground; IIRC, the idea that a fertilized egg is a human being contradicts well-established arguments concerning how long it takes for the embryo/fetus to be ensouled.

Just because no-one else caught this: The morning-after pill prevents the fertilization of the egg the same as the regular pill, it doesn't get rid of a fertilized egg. Those trying to claim it's an abortifacient and therefore as evil as an abortion are either misinformed or deliberately clouding the issue.

#124 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 03:15 PM:

Oh for pete's sake. The House of Reps just voted against a constitutional ammendment banning gay marriage? Hasn't this stupidity come to an end yet? Someone really ought to find a good war-correspondent report from some embattled country and do a search and replace so that they're reporting from Massachusets instead of Lebanon and how gay marriages there have destroyed the state, and the gay army is mobilizing to invade New York, with tanks and mortars and rockets. Sometimes I really hate stupid people.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Hey, Greg, it's progress. Last time they passed it. But the Senate voted it down.

#126 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:41 PM:

Greg: I'm told the R. leadership needed to have the vote in both houses of Congress for electioneering purposes.

#127 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:52 PM:

then "electioneering purposes" must be code for "stupid politicians". grr.

#128 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:56 PM:

It's certainly something related to bread-and-circuses. While the world teeters on the edge of World War III, petroleum prices spiral upwards, the deficit balloons, global warming threatens, and we're starting to pay a terrible price--and not just financial--for our reliance on fossil fuels, Congress has the courage to put all that aside and go after the really important issues: Gay marriage, flag-burning, people singing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish, and video games.

#129 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 08:07 PM:

The House of Reps just voted against a constitutional ammendment banning gay marriage?

Huh? Someone please explain this to me. I thought they wanted to pass one. Help.

#130 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 02:36 AM:

Lydia, I'm with you, and I agree that it won't win me any fans, friends, or converts among the anti-choice side. But I too believe the living woman has the absolute right to

a) refuse to be a life-support system for another being

and

b) refuse to risk death or lasting harm via giving birth.

Someone in another discussion brought up the point that there is no other situation in which a cognizant, soveriegn, living human being can be forced in our society to give up its life for another or to use its body as a physical life-support system for another without their consent. It makes no sense except from the misogynist viewpoint to make an exception in the case of pregnancy.

So, no, the question of "is it a person" is irrelevant to me. The woman is a person. She came first. She is not to be reduced to a baby-vessel without her consent. No one has the right to require her to risk her life.

So that's where I'm at.

On a related subject, the psychology of using pregnancy and birth to punish women for having had sex is intensely repugnant to me. That's what exceptions for rape are about: reserving the "punishment" for the "guilty". What possible good is that? Even those in favor of criminalizing consensual sex must see that it invites the woman to resent her baby. This indicates a mind intent on doling out misery at the expense of the child.

Just an angle I don't see hitting the airwaves all that often.

#131 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 02:49 AM:

Lizzy L: the proposed amendment required a 2/3 super-majority; it got a 236-187 majority - which is scary enough - but still about 46? votes less than it needed to pass.

#132 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:51 AM:

TexAnne: Speaking as a biracial man, I completely agree with you. I've no doubts about the issue. What concerns me is the danger of confusing my or your or Tim's beliefs about the good with the truth.

#133 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Lenora Rose: he morning-after pill prevents the fertilization of the egg the same as the regular pill, it doesn't get rid of a fertilized egg. Those trying to claim it's an abortifacient and therefore as evil as an abortion are either misinformed or deliberately clouding the issue.

Just a small point: The morning after pill also changes the lining of the uterus so that if the egg is already fertilized it can't implant. So it can cause the loss of a fertilized egg, but it won't get rid of a fertilized egg that has already implanted (which is medically speaking when pregnancy begins, thus it isn't abortifacient).

#134 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Another too weird to be true story: The US evacuation from Lebanon involves chartering a cruise ship, and is reported to involve evacuees promising to pay as yet unspecified costs.

HMS Gloucester went in yesterday and brought out a group of high-priority evacuees. The official British word is that the spouses of British subjects, whatever their nationality, will also be entitled to evacuation.

HMS Gloucester is a Type 42 Destroyer. While escorting the USS Missouri in the Gulf, she engaged and detroyed an Iraqi Silkworm missile.

#135 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:44 AM:

Dave Bell, someone from I think the State Department said this morning on NPR that the US would be evacuating its citizens free of charge.

#136 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:44 AM:

Fragano, I'm afraid you've lost me. In what possible circumstance could the sentence "Women are people" not be the truth?

#137 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:58 AM:

A man goes to the doctor because he's been feeling sick: nausea, vomiting, and it's been going on for a while. After conducting tests, the doctor says "Well, you have an abdominal growth."

"Shit," replies the man, "OK, let's schedule surgery right away!"

"No," says the doctor, "We're not taking it out. It's going to grow into a human being."

"What? Not in my body!" says the man.

"Well, sorry if it's inconvenient," says the doctor, "but we can't take it out just because you don't feel like letting it live. It's a human being."

"Bullshit," says the man, "it's a clump of cells, it's making me sick, and I'm not going to let it grow."

Anyway, you can fill in the rest. There's no way a man would tolerate this. Why should a woman? I don't see it.

And I agree that rape exceptions point out that opposition to abortion is NOT about saving the innocent "child."

#138 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 04:55 PM:

Xopher,

I don't see that there's much enlightenment to be offered by the argument that "if a man could get pregnant". I like the joke "if a man could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament," but it's a good line, not a productive line of argument.

On the topic of pregnancy, men and women are simply, fundamentally different. The abortion argument is about all the problems and dynamics that are caused by one sex being the baby-factory of a bi-sexual species. If men could get pregnant, every aspect of sexism would be different.

Once again, I'll get yelled at for this: I wish that men would simply STOP talking about abortion. Quite frankly, I'm not really interested in their opinion on the topic. There are more than enough rabid pro and anti abortion women to keep the conversation going, and at least we all have the same thing at stake. No matter how much a guy may love his children, it's not the same. He can always walk away, and we never can.

To soften my position a little, I do like to talk to friends, regardless of gender, about abortion and abortion politics. It's the public conversation that I wish men would get the hell out of. But the predominance is, I think, yet another clue that the attempt to ban abortions is actually an attempt to control women, and has little or nothing to do with a respect for life. Certainly, it has no respect for the life of the woman, and as Nicole said, I was here first, dammit.

#139 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:14 PM:

Lydia, I (somewhat timidly because I'm not sure what category this comment thread falls into wrt public or private) disagree that men should stay out of it. We should be out there saying "it's not up to us" and "we don't have chips in this pot" and stuff like that.

My little vignette was to say to men "would YOU let a parasitic organism develop in your body for nearly a year? Even if it was perfectly innocent and wound up human?" No, of course it's not the same. I'm trying to get SOME kind of perspective that's comprehensible to men on how it feels to have an unwanted pregnancy. A losing battle, I agree.

It's also a losing battle for heterosexuals to try to imagine what life is like for gay people growing up in homophobic society. They can't really get it, no matter how hard they try. Yet I've seen some of those thought-experiments change people's behavior toward me and other gay people. It doesn't turn a basher into a PFLAG member, but it HAS been known to soften people who were pissed off that I came out to them ("I don't go around telling people I'm straight") or that I didn't come out to them soon enough ("I can't believe you had so little trust in our friendship").

My point is that it isn't so much if they'll really, really Get It. Of course they won't. The question is whether they'll get it enough. And I think the answer is that some will, and some won't, and that it's worth a try.

#140 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:03 PM:

TexAnne: In none. The problem is never 'women are not people', it's either 'women are people, but...' or 'women are a "special" kind of people who merit "special" treatment'. I agree with you that both are wrong, and that both are false, but I get very nervous at having communities that believe this obliged to agree with you or I that women are people, just like men, with equal dignity, equal worth, and equal rights. It isn't that I don't want them to agree; it is that I'm afraid that the cure might be worse than the disease. Every imperialist has believed their cause to be right.

This is, let me be clear, a very different issue from working to make the society and civilisation in which you and I both live more equitable for women, for ethnic, racial and sexual minorities, and for children.

#141 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:18 AM:

Fragano: Thank you for the explanation. I see your point, and I'll consider it carefully, but right now my fire-breathing revolutionary tendencies are winning.

#142 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:13 AM:

Lydia said: He can always walk away, and we never can.

Xopher said: It's also a losing battle for heterosexuals to try to imagine what life is like for gay people growing up in homophobic society. They can't really get it, no matter how hard they try.

That is how I feel about men calling themselves feminists. They can always walk away, and we never can.

As for growing up in a female body, in a misogynist society . . . there were some comments (on the other thread) along the lines of "I can imagine what it's like." All the imagination in the world--and all the sympathy, no matter how genuine--can't compare to the actual experience.

Fellow travelers, yes. "Honorary" feminists, maybe. Feminists, no.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:37 AM:

Funny, Laurence, I assumed from your name that you were male. I'm so glad I have feminist sympathies, or I'd have to go back and check what things I've said to the gentleman that I ought not have said to the lady.

As it is, it doesn't make any difference. Ow! Hurt my arm patting myself on the back. :-)

I mostly just avoid the whole issue by calling myself "anti-sexist."

#144 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:41 AM:

Xopher: yes, it's tricky : )

#145 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:44 PM:

I think there's no grounds to withold the title of feminist from men. "At best you can be a fellow traveller" just doesn't describe what I see happening with the men I call feminists. I see men who truly challenge sexist institutions, who really fight for equality, who really raise their daughters and sons in a feminist way.

The whole "you can't know what I suffer" argument, I think, is a divisive sideline that does nothing for progress. This is putting political, economic and cultural forces on an individual emotional level. And I think that may be good for some hot creative writing, but it doesn't get equal protection, equal rights, or equal dignity done. To get those things, you need unity. You need active work on the part of people who are not the same as you.

We need to think and act politically to gain political goals.

#146 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:03 PM:

Lucy said: To get those things, you need unity. You need active work on the part of people who are not the same as you.

I entirely agree. And I think my feeling is that men who call themselves feminists are saying "I'm just the same as you," when they're really not. This whole question of difference is such a huge one.

I see men who truly challenge sexist institutions, who really fight for equality, who really raise their daughters and sons in a feminist way.

Well, if I knew any men like that, then I might agree with you. But I don't. None of the men I know are sexist (to my knowledge), but certainly none of them are activists either.

#147 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Well, if I knew any men like that, then I might agree with you. But I don't. None of the men I know are sexist (to my knowledge), but certainly none of them are activists either.

See, this is the problem we have with depending only on our own experience of the world. Your experience is one thing: mine is another. Your experience leads you to dismiss the idea that men can be feminists, and so you want to define them out of it. My experience includes men who are very active feminists, and so my understanding of strategy, tactics, and ideology is different.

Can you imagine what it is to grow up with a feminist father? I did, and so did my children.

#148 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:29 PM:

Can you imagine what it is to grow up with a feminist father? I did, and so did my children.

Lucy - there you go, talking about your experience of the world again : ) You're not going to convince me that way, and I'm not going to convince you. (To answer your question: no, I can't.)

I'd be more interested to hear your opinion on my other statement: "men who call themselves feminists are saying 'I'm just the same as you,' when they're really not."

#149 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:30 PM:

Wanted to clarify that I wasn't trying to be snarky. I'm amused by the fact that a person can state "this is the problem we have with depending only on our own experience of the world," and go on to provide examples from her own experience of the world.

#151 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:17 PM:

All the imagination in the world--and all the sympathy, no matter how genuine--can't compare to the actual experience.

Taking a more strict interpretation on that could result in only women who are pregnant right now as being able to decide the abortion issue. And once they've had their baby or had an abortion, they are no longer pregnant, so can't voice their opinion about abortion.

Or another interpretation might say that every "actual experience" is actually different, so there is no single experience that is qualified to decide.

For better or for worse, the democratic process allows for everyone to decide what is right and wrong and to have a political voice. If you want to alienate some people who support your political view because they have a penis, that's your choice.

I'm not disabled, but I support the idea of the Americans with Disabilies Act and such. But maybe only disabled people should decide what disability law should be, because I don't have the experience. I can imagine it, of course, but obviously that isn't the same.

Then again, I'm white, so maybe I shouldn't voice my opinion about affirmative action or any racially motivated legislation. Maybe I should let that be decided by racial minorities.

I'm only half being snarky. The other half hopefully points to an absurdity in this concept.

#152 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Yes, Greg, that's what you said. And I didn't express my opinion in that thread because I didn't feel like stirring up the hornet's nest. But now I have. So:

I may never know what it's really like to be female, or black, or a True Scotsman, or (insert disenfranchised group here), but I'll be damned if I'll let anyone tell me I don't know what equality, or fairness, or justice is.

I'm not saying that. I'm not saying "men don't know what equality, or fairness, or justice is." I'm saying that men don't know what it's like to be female. And you're agreeing with me. So what's the problem?

To dismiss folks who would support your equality in principle because they are not like you physically (not a woman, not black, not whatever) is just dumb.

I do not support my equality "in principle." It's not a principle for me. I don't have that luxury. It's my fckng life.

So, you support my equality in principle. That's nice. Is it better than the alternative? Yes. Am I grateful? I'm not sure if that's the right word. Do I have to be?

Am I dismissing you by saying "men can't be feminists?" And if so, how? I wish there was some other word for it, some word that men could use. Xopher's choice of "anti-sexist" is good.

#153 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:35 PM:

Greg - I just saw your second post. Can't think of a reply right now.

#154 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:48 PM:

You followed the link, but seem to have ignored the main point there:

In any majority-vote-wins system, no minority group can achieve equality unless at least some of the members of the otherwise oppressive majority group forgoes whatever advantage their class might get them and instead stand behind the principles of fairness (or at least act as much).

If women fend for women and men fend for men and whites fend for whites and blacks fend for blacks, then the resulting government is really little more than mob rule. Biggest mob wins. If you've got more whites than blacks, whites make the law. If you've got more women than men, women make the law.

The point I was trying to make was that the principles should win, not the group with the biggest number of members based on some external physical measure like race or sex. And people can support the principle of equality, regardless of what physical group they belong to. You don't have to experience the particular type of unfairness that someone else did to know they aren't being treated fairly.

#155 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:59 PM:

For better or for worse, the democratic process allows for everyone to decide what is right and wrong and to have a political voice.

Yes, that's true. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. How does "men have no right to call themselves feminists" get translated into "men have no right to hold any opinion on feminist issues"?

Then again, I'm white, so maybe I shouldn't voice my opinion about affirmative action or any racially motivated legislation. Maybe I should let that be decided by racial minorities.

This actually reminds me of another thought I have on this subject. There is no racial equivalent of the word "feminist." There is no single word that means "person of color who supports the equality of people of color." At least not as far as I know. The closest word I can think of is "activist," but that says nothing about a person's skin color. That's a really interesting thought to me. (And if there was such a word, would white people go around insisting that they are entitled to call themselves . . . "colorists"?)

I'm only half being snarky. The other half hopefully points to an absurdity in this concept.

I'm seeing a certain amount of absurdity here too. And I feel like Jackie in that episode of Roseanne, when she says to her sister, "There's a difference between me and you. ME . . ." (waving her hand up and down between them, to indicate that they are in fact separate entities) "and YOU."

#156 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:03 PM:

And people can support the principle of equality, regardless of what physical group they belong to. You don't have to experience the particular type of unfairness that someone else did to know they aren't being treated fairly.

Yes, that's true. What do you call that? What do you want to be called, as a person who supports equality?

I thought that was the point of the discussion. "Can men call themselves feminists?" What does it mean to call yourself a feminist? What is the meaning of the word?

#157 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Am I dismissing you by saying "men can't be feminists?" And if so, how? I wish there was some other word for it, some word that men could use. Xopher's choice of "anti-sexist" is good.

It depends on how you define feminism. I define it as the principle of equality among all the sexes.

Look, I"m not saying I will ever have the experience of what it is to be a woman, or that I will ever fully know the lifetime of experiences you in particular have gone through. That's an extremely advanced level of empathy that I do not posess.

But I do have enough empathy to be able to put myself in someone else's shoes to the extent that I can feel that they are being treated unfairly. That's a more rudimentary level of empathy skill.

So, depending on what level of empathy you require for your definition of Feminism, you may or may not end up excluding me.

#158 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:09 PM:

It seems to me that, purely as a matter of political calculus, that denying half of the population the right to label themselves as agreeing with you is self-defeating.

#159 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:20 PM:

There is no racial equivalent of the word "feminist." There is no single word that means "person of color who supports the equality of people of color."

Ah, light dawns on marblehead. So a feminist is a woman who supports equality of women?

But how do you have equality of women without beign equal with men? If sexism is to exclude women from certain rights and choices, wouldn't equality require including both men and women? Your definition almost carves out a notion of women being "separate but equal", and generally speaking "separate" turns out to never be "equal". I'm talking about a different level of equality, an equality of principle, not of physical form. The principle that All are equal, to the point that it doesn't matter that you're a woman or I'm a man.

To have different words for people who support equality depending on their gender is to shoot for equality and miss the mark. Close but not quite. In my opinion, anyways.

A feminist to me is anyone, regardless of their gender, who supports equal rights amongst all the sexes. The "fem" in the word, to me, means that said person acknowledges that women are generally held at a disadvantage to men, not that the person holding the view is a woman.

But I haven't actually looked up the dictionary definition of the term.

#160 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:10 PM:

Greg:
So a feminist is a woman who supports equality of women?

I think that specifying "woman" is not part of the standard definition. I don't think I've ever heard the term defined that way before, and I must say that I don't like the redefinition.

#161 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:11 PM:

I'd be more interested to hear your opinion on my other statement: "men who call themselves feminists are saying 'I'm just the same as you,' when they're really not."

That's not why I call myself a feminist.

I'm amused by the fact that a person can state "this is the problem we have with depending only on our own experience of the world," and go on to provide examples from her own experience of the world.

This doesn't make sense. The problem with people's experience of the world is that it's limited. Pointing out how limited it is by citing conflicting experiences doesn't seem amusing at all.

#162 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:31 PM:

This is all some major stuff, and I can only scratch the surface of it right now.

To have different words for people who support equality depending on their gender is to shoot for equality and miss the mark.

I think what's bothering me is that I know people have different perspectives on equality, depending on their gender (skin color, etc.) It's not just some abstract thing. Maybe equality does mean different things to different people.

Also (I'm sure everybody reading this is aware of this fact, but I'm going to state it anyway): there is no male equivalent of "the women's movement."

The most basic definition of feminism refers to equality of the sexes, yes. But in practice, feminism has always been about the study of women's lives. Where is the study of men's lives?

If men were to get together, the same way women did (in the 1960's and several times before that) and create their own version of "feminism", for themselves, that would be a wonderful thing. But I don't think you could call it feminism. (I have no idea what it could be called.)

It's badly needed, and it hasn't happened yet.

#163 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 06:02 PM:

The most basic definition of feminism refers to equality of the sexes, yes. But in practice, feminism has always been about the study of women's lives. Where is the study of men's lives?

I think we've changed topics. I recall in college there was a course called "Women's Studies" which was about the study of women's lives. It wasn't called "Feminism 101", although some thick-head types might have called it that. I didn't take the course, but I do recall it's existence, listed right next to a couple of philosophy courses I took.

As an aside, I don't recall the "Women's Studies" course being closed to male students. Maybe it was, but I don't remember it being that way. I recall it being open to all genders, and I don't see why such a topic would need to be "women only".

Anyway, I think you've conflated two different things.

#164 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:47 PM:

In so far as feminism refers to the study of women's lives, it does so only insofar as the civil rights movement is heavily involved in the study of black people's lives. Any "ism" or movement concerned with rectifying inequality is going to be disproportionately concerned with the lives of those who are currently suffering from that inequality.

Laurence, I'm sorry to hear that you've never met a man who has challenged sexism and stood up for women's rights. It's true that everyone's experience is limited, and yours is limited to a particularly lacking subset of the male gender. However, most of us do acknowledge that no one person's experience is an exhaustive representation of the world. As having a penis cannot logically be said to make men incapable of activism for feminism, I should imagine that, even in absence of direct experience thereof, that it's quite possible for men to be activists for feminism.

#165 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:27 PM:

I occasionally hear from people who want me to get involved in the Blogher conference, or Women In Technology International. I've never been satisfied with the way the conversations went; they always seemed to end up being who's-on-first routines.

ME: "But they're for women. I'd feel out of place."

THEM: "No, we're not! We're for both genders!"

ME: "But look at the names! Blog-her! Women in technology!"

I'm not saying I'm right and they're wrong here. But there seems to be a disconnect.

Similarly, I've never joined the local Mac users' group because I don't use a Mac.

(Insert your own comment here about my being disqualified for all three organizations because I lack the necessary equipment.)

#166 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:28 PM:

Laurence: If men were to get together, the same way women did (in the 1960's and several times before that) and create their own version of "feminism", for themselves, that would be a wonderful thing. But I don't think you could call it feminism.

Wow, so you've not only written men out of the history of the feminist movement, you've written them out of the women's rights movement preceding the coining of the word "feminism".

What the hell is it that causes people to pull this kind of crap? Is it something unique to feminism, or does it happen in other movements too? Is it just another form of the "splitter" impulse that runs rampant through leftist politics?

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:11 PM:

I must say that, much as I generally dodge the issue with 'anti-sexist', I really disagree with you, Laurence. I think that 'feminism' is the name for the political belief that irrational prejudice and role-assignment based on gender ought to be eradicated from society. I also think there's a positive good in using that term for anyone who believes that.

If nothing else, it's consistent with feminism to take that position. Yes, I'm saying it's sexist to say that men can't be feminist. It's a kind of excuse-making for men to say they can't believe that irrational prejudice based on gender is bad. It's as much as saying that men are sexist by nature, which is fine for a kill-'em-all radicalesbian separatist, but AFAIK those all decayed into more reasonable people by the end of the 70s, by the grace of the Goddess.

Saying a man can't be a feminist IS like saying a white person can't be a civil rights activist, or even believe in racial equality. That's gonna be news for the freedom riders! Of course the (the white ones, many of them Jewish New Yorkers) didn't know what it was like to grow up black in the South. They did their part anyway. No, it wasn't the same part as the black activists did. No, they didn't share the same lives, or the same risks, or the same inability to walk away.

But they helped.

Men did have a self-awareness movement in the 70s. I was part of it. It wasn't called 'masculinism', that was the satiric name the anti-feminist men gave themselves. It was called the "Male Awareness" movement, and a lot of it was examining our own lives, with an eye to being better people, and also to combatting sexism in ourselves.

What's your definition of feminism?

#168 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:06 AM:

Just a couple of thoughts that seem to bear on the conversation:

The cause of 'equal rights' is, pretty much by definition, everybody's cause. And the forces of progress need all the allies they can rally. For example: there have been white members of the NAACP since the beginning.

Until the last decade or so, we didn't HAVE to describe ourselves as "feminists" - - because we had made some progress, to a point where decent people could no longer be publicly AGAINST the idea of equality for women.

So it never used occur to me to describe myself as either a 'feminist' or as a 'liberal' - not until the Forces of Darkness started demonizing the terms. Now, I do sometimes have occasion to use both of those labels: but only when some idiot starts using either term in its current right-wing definition, as a synonym for "evil person".

As in, "Hey! Knock it off! I'M a [feminist] [liberal]."

It can only help to let them know that (to borrow a phrase from yet another cause) "we are everywhere."

#169 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:11 AM:

Laurence: yes, the reason I quoted my experience was to illustrate the point I had made earlier.

I'd be more interested to hear your opinion on my other statement: "men who call themselves feminists are saying 'I'm just the same as you,' when they're really not."

Again, in my experience, I've never known a feminist man to claim that. It's men who argue against feminism as being too shrill or who argue that the experiences of women and men are symmetrical who say that. They say that so as to derogate the claims of feminism, to trivialize the oppression of women. Feminist men have no interest in doing that.

Now what follows are questions about what you're thinking about these guys we're talking about. I'm asking if any of them apply, not telling you what you think.

...Is it that you think that it's impossible for a person to really comprehend, identify with and make an effective effort with respect to the conditions experienced by people who are quite different from them?

...Is it that you think men in particular are unequipped for this, or unequipped for this with respect to women?

... and if that's the case, do you think it's inherent or due to asymmetrical experiences?

Like I say, I'm asking, not telling. But I will say, if I believed any of those things I'd be a lot gloomier than I am about our chances to make a more just and equal world. I'd also have to ignore a whole lot of human history, not just my personal experience.

(tonight, I'm a little gloomy about our chances to survive as a species long enough to make much progress, but something will happen in the next few days that will perk up my hopes)

#170 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:19 AM:

Greg:
I don't recall the "Women's Studies" course being closed to male students.


At UCSC, they're open to men and women, and men think they are good places to meet women, almost as good as upper division science classes. I think this says something quite nice about the young men in question.

#171 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:32 AM:

My dog, a lot happened here during the day, and I posted before I read it all.
Laurence said:

I think what's bothering me is that I know people have different perspectives on equality, depending on their gender (skin color, etc.) It's not just some abstract thing. Maybe equality does mean different things to different people.

We have different perspectives depending on sex, class, caste -- I don't say skin color because there are more variables at play than that -- culture, and landscape. I've illustrated before how you and I, apparently both women, have different perspectives on feminism. But perspective, I believe, is a coimmunicatable and comprehensible thing. People can share it, can argue about it, can find points from where the view is usefully similar. And they have to, because if they don't -- they don't stand a chance in being able to move together and act together.

#172 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:54 AM:

Many people are talking about how men can share feminist values and do feminist work. I agree that it makes sense to call such men feminist. I'd like to speak to the other side of the disconnect between feminist values, and the experience of being a woman. A fair number of women are *not* feminists. They have the life experience of growing up as girls and living as women, but that doesn't make them care about women's rights or even women's safety. Maybe they've been sheltered within a protective family or community, and don't recognize sexism as dangerous. Maybe they don't value freedom or justice as such, or don't think they're really worth fighting for when there's important work to be done. I don't like the idea that they could be counted as feminists, while men who oppose the oppression of women could not.

Feminism is a matter of values and action. Maybe it's easier for women to see the need for it. I think there are are *more* female feminists than male feminists, but that's not a matter of definition.

#173 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 08:53 AM:

TexAnne: I understand! I've had to deal with the '____ are not equal' meme all my life. Not to mention the '_______ don't exist and should shut up about it' meme.

#174 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 10:39 AM:

Well, this isn't as bad as I had feared it might be. Long string of responses:

Greg L. said:

As an aside, I don't recall the "Women's Studies" course being closed to male students.

No, it probably wasn't. But male students taking the course would have a different perspective on what they were learning than female students would. Even if their attitude towards it were positive, even if they thought Women's Studies was a totally cool thing, their experience of the course would be different.

Yes, I do believe that "feminism" has additional connotations, besides simply "equality of the sexes." There is a certain female bias in the word itself.


Avram said:

Wow, so you've not only written men out of the history of the feminist movement, you've written them out of the women's rights movement preceding the coining of the word "feminism".

Not making a snarky comment. Not, not, not. Sure thinking it, though.


Xopher said:

It's a kind of excuse-making for men to say they can't believe that irrational prejudice based on gender is bad. It's as much as saying that men are sexist by nature. . .

I'm not saying that men can't believe that sexism is bad. In fact, I stated that none of the men I know are sexist.

and:

Saying a man can't be a feminist IS like saying a white person can't be a civil rights activist, or even believe in racial equality.

Um. You're pushing one of my buttons again. The term "civil rights activist" refers to a specific historical movement. I don't believe people use that term anymore. And yet there are still plenty of people out there who care about racial equality. What is the word for those people? It would be the equivalent of "feminist," if it existed. But it doesn't seem to.


Lucy K. said:

...Is it that you think that it's impossible for a person to really comprehend, identify with and make an effective effort with respect to the conditions experienced by people who are quite different from them?

I'm going to answer this with respect to my own experience as a white person, dealing with issues of race. I've given a lot of thought to this. I've studied, and listened, and tried to pay attention to people of color talking about their experiences. I've tried to comprehend and identify with people who are not white.

Does that mean that I "get it"? I don't know. It would be immodest of me to assert that I understand what it's like to be a person of color. There is a difference.

As I mentioned above, there is no "chromatic" equivalent of the word "feminist." So I can't say that I am a [whatever it is]. A person who believes in racial equality? Yes. Does that make me the equivalent of a person of color who believes in racial equality? No.

...Is it that you think men in particular are unequipped for this, or unequipped for this with respect to women?

No, I don't think that men are unequipped for this, any more than white people are unequipped for it.

... and if that's the case, do you think it's inherent or due to asymmetrical experiences?

It is often difficult for people to "comprehend [and] identify with . . . people who are quite different from them." Not impossible, but difficult.

I don't think it's inherent. I think it's caused by experience. (More specifically, our culture teaches us what to think about people who are different from us. In a hierarchical society, like ours, we all learn who is above us and who is below us, and how to behave towards those different groups of people.)

And also by a sense of priorities. As a white person, I didn't have to take an interest in racial issues. Nobody was asking me to. I chose to. I could have lived my whole life without examining my attitudes towards race, or the social phenomenon of racism. That is my privilege as a white person. I'm glad that I took an interest. I feel like "a better person" for it. But it will never be as important to me as it is to people of color. Men have a similar privilege with regards to sexism.

#175 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 10:42 AM:

This is an etymological tangent.

Racism is being prejudiced against someone's color.
Sexism is being prejudiced against someone's gender.

Why is "feminism" not being prejudiced against women?

Is there a root word that could replace "ism" that means "for equality"? SOmething like "genderquality" but not so damn hard to pronounce? Or maybe there already is a word, and it's just too early in the morning to think of it right now.

Must get caffeine now...

#176 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Hmm.

"Prism" is being prejudiced against P.R.
"Paroxysm" is being prejudiced against paroxes.
"Orgasm" is being prejudiced against orga.

(Just getting started on the weekend, is all. Move on. Nothing to look at here...)

#177 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:38 AM:

Laurence: The term "civil rights activist" refers to a specific historical movement. I don't believe people use that term anymore. And yet there are still plenty of people out there who care about racial equality. What is the word for those people? It would be the equivalent of "feminist," if it existed. But it doesn't seem to.

I call such a person.... me.

I've enjoyed the company of black people for most of my life. My closest friend married a black woman and I got to know her family--all of them wonderful, thoroughly mad people (just as every wonderful family, including mine, is thoroughly mad). I attended their church on the night of a Gospel choir-a-thon, and saw a teen-aged girl fall to the ground and start having paroxysms of faith and speaking in tongues. And this was in the middle of suburban Long Island, not some distant, swampy part of the Deep South.

But that was the exception, literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Mostly it's just: I have some black friends. They're a lot like me. Of course they're a lot like me, my friends, by definition, are people who I have something in common with. But most of my friends are white.

I used to think it was odd for me to take a liking to black culture like that. And then I got to thinking: Why? I like a lot of different American subcultures. I just made my first visit to the deep South, in Gainesville, Fla., and that was a terrific experience. I grew up in a neighborhood with mostly Italian-American culture, and so I've always liked Italian-Americans. Nobody would think that's odd. Likewise, I've become something of an Anglophile, watch a few BBC shows on TV, visited Britain three times. Nobody thinks that's odd either.

As a white person, I didn't have to take an interest in racial issues.

I'm uncomfortable talking about racial issues with my black friends. I feel like we're treading on dangerous ground. I probably do too much of it anyway.

Nobody was asking me to. I chose to. I could have lived my whole life without examining my attitudes towards race, or the social phenomenon of racism. That is my privilege as a white person. I'm glad that I took an interest. I feel like "a better person" for it.

My goodness, you make caring for your fellow people sound so dreary and unpleasant, like flossing or eating broccoli. The secret is that it makes life more fun and interesting. I feel sorry for those poor white rubes who freak out at the thought of gay rights or Mexicans crossing the border. They'll never get to go to a black gospel church on Choir-a-Thon, or attend a block party in a black neighborhood, or get drunk with four Puerto Rican Marxists who love Fidel Castro--I had been studying a lot of Spanish at the time, and so I was participating in the conversation in Spanish (or, at least, I thought I was--I had a lot to drink by then), or eat at a Filipino restaurant, or attend a Hassidic Jewish wedding, or go to an AIDS benefit with a friend from high school who later turned out to be gay, and have guys hitting on you all night, and have to figure out a way to defer their interest without getting all weird and unpleasant about it. You don't get to do all that cool stuff if you're a xenophobe; your life consists entirely of drinking cheap American beer and watching "According to Jim" reruns.

#178 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:40 AM:

I made some thoughtful points in the last post, and spent some time on it, but I've been online a long time now and I know the one point that will launch a discussion of a couple of dozen follow-up messages will be my dismissal of broccoli. Someone who likes eating broccoli will take offense at that.

There's an off chance there'll also be someone who pipes up and says, hey, "According to Jim" is actually a pretty funny show.

That Jim Belushi. What a kidder.

#179 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:43 AM:

Greg, the reason that the isms don't mean parallel things is that language is not designed, but evolves. "Ism" doesn't mean "in support of" or "against" -- it means "having to do with." So we have "favism," which is a genetic disorder triggered by amino acids in fava beans: "fauvism," which is an art movement marked by wild splotches of color ("fauve" meaning both tawny and wild): "Trotskyism" which is a group of overlapping beliefs, alignments, and activities having to do with a shifting and changing political something: "Pabloism" which is an epithet with which some Trotskyists describe the actions and alignments of others: "racism" which is a panoply of things having to do with the negative relationships among people whose relationships are defined by an artificial concept of race, and most specifically having to do with behaviors and attitudes and conditions which support inequality among castes: "centrism" which doesn't exist: "surrealism" which encompasses a few art movements but is also used to describe absurdities: "Islamism" which is the idea (and actions deriving from that idea)that certain primitive versions of Islam should replace secular law and politics: and "feminism" whose nature we're discussing today, but which is I think of as an alignment towards thinking about and acting on politics, culture, education, and art with respect to inequalities in the objective positions of the sexes, with an eye to advancing equality.

I guess your question is about equivalent to asking why "on" means so many different things.

#180 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:31 PM:

My goodness, you make caring for your fellow people sound so dreary and unpleasant, like flossing or eating broccoli. The secret is that it makes life more fun and interesting.

Mitch: I completely agree that it makes life more fun and interesting. I was being somewhat ironic with my "better person" remark.

This whole discussion has been pretty dreary and unpleasant (even though I started it.) I wasn't really thinking in terms of fun.

#181 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Laurence: But male students taking the course would have a different perspective on what they were learning than female students would. Even if their attitude towards it were positive, even if they thought Women's Studies was a totally cool thing, their experience of the course would be different. Yes, I do believe that "feminism" has additional connotations, besides simply "equality of the sexes." There is a certain female bias in the word itself.

Well, I've read that post and some prior posts a number of times now, and it seems to keep coming down to this: You use "feminism" to mean something that no one else does.

The word that I used before is "empathy". And it still seems to fit the closest. You view "feminism" as being able to understand and empathize with women, to the point that your definition demands that people must have had the direct experience of a woman's perspective to be a feminist.

But having read and re-read a number of the recent posts, and pondered it some more, I'm pretty sure what you define as "feminist" is something that everyone else would call "woman". The only people who can literally experience the female perspective is women. Men can empathize to one degree or another, but they cannot have the experience.

They might get a taste of the experience if they were to assume a female identity and dress like a woman for some period of time, but one could always argue, and it seems to be your position, that only a woman can have the experience of being a woman, and so only a woman can be a feminist.

I would once again request that you consider that your vocabulary isn't lining up with everyone else. You use "feminist" to mean what most everyone else would call "woman".

And while you define "feminism" to include "equality of the sexes" and "studying women's lives", you have an added requirement that, to me, boils down to state that only women can be feminists. And I'm pretty sure that isn't the definition.

At this point, it seems that the conversation between you and I has reached a point where we are literally talking about two different things, but using the same word. And to continue doing so will only lead to further misunderstanding.

A quick look at the dictionary definition and encyclopedia entry for "feminism" focuses squarely on it being a movement for equality among the sexes, and that the actual gender of the feminist in question is irrelevant.

Your requirement for a feminist for being a woman, or at the very least, someone who can experience the female perspective, which would seem to be women only (or perhaps a woman who surgically changed to a man), isn't in any definition or encyclopedia entry I scanned.

I did find the wikipedia entry mention this: Some radical feminists, such as Mary Daly, Charlotte Bunch, and Marilyn Frye, have advocated separatism—a complete separation of male and femle in society and culture.

which is the closest thing that sounds anything like what you're saying. You wanted feminists to include only women, and you wanted a different term for men who support women's rights, such as anti-sexists.

When you say "feminism", are you talking about a sepratist form of feminism? Or something else?

#182 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:38 PM:

I love eating broccoli. It's fun. I used to hate it, but all the broccoli I'd had up to that point was overcooked.

Laurence, can you define 'feminism' for me? I'm trying to figure out if your definition simply excludes men, or whether it's just a perspective you think men can't have. Do you disagree with my definition above?

#183 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:41 PM:

OK, Greg's came in while I was writing mine.

Greg, I had a couple of classes from Marilyn Frye at Michigan State. Some of her classes were open only to women, but I can tell you she dealt with men very fairly and openly.

#184 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:55 PM:

personally, I don't think "separate but equal" can work long term. I think it is more subject to potential abuse. Disassociation in psychology, I believe, is held to be a bad thing. The idea there is to differentiate and then reintergrate, not differentiate and separate and disassociate.

#185 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:23 PM:

I think the idea was that men and women play sick games whenever they're together, because there's such a history of sick games. Separating them gives them an opportunity to stop playing sick games, and some (the ones who would talk to me, who are of course preselected for willingness to talk to men) believe that after a couple of generations men and women could get back together and make a whole human society without the sick games.

Various ways to make this work in practice were discussed.

I think that given the oppressive hegemony of patriarchal values in this society, a period of living with little or no interaction with men serves many women very well. If nothing else, it rids them of the sense of need, of dependency on men for approval or anything else, that often corrupts relationships between good, decent people.

I'm pretty sure that the Separatist movement as such more or less died out in the 70s, but I can't cite any sources on that.

#186 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:29 PM:

after a couple of generations men and women could get back together

How will there be any generations if men and women are separate?

(ducks as boot goes flying by overhead)

Oh alright, never mind.

#187 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:30 PM:

Laurence: Does that mean that I "get it"? I don't know. It would be immodest of me to assert that I understand what it's like to be a person of color. There is a difference.

I once said to a black man in a discussion of civil rights that I thought things had improved for black people in the last decade or so. Now, after I've grown up a bit, I can't think about saying that without deep embarrassment. (This was in the mid-eighties.)

Michael Weholt: "Paroxysm" is being prejudiced against paroxes.

Or as Dorothy Parker said, "Paroxysm marvelous city."

#188 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:48 PM:

Xopher - is this your definition?

I think that 'feminism' is the name for the political belief that irrational prejudice and role-assignment based on gender ought to be eradicated from society.

I don't disagree with that, but I think it is incomplete. And one of the ways in which it is incomplete is that feminism doesn't only say that irrational prejudice should be eradicated. It says that irrational prejudice actually exists. Some people still haven't gotten their heads around that concept.

Greg: Yes, we seem to be talking about the difference between empathy and experience.

I'm not a separatist (although it does seem pretty clear that I believe there are differences between men and women.)

I would say, a feminist is a woman who has decided that feminism makes sense, as a political theory, to explain her life in her society.

So what is my definition of feminism? I really don't think about it very much. Here's an attempt:

Feminism is a political theory that purports to explain the nature of women's lives and socially-assigned roles. Now obviously, women live all sorts of different lives. Some feminist writers acknowledge that there is no one feminism, which might be why it's difficult for me to define it. But in general it seems to me that feminism spends about half its time focussing on "sexual politics" - interactions between males and females - and the other half focussing on females alone.

Now, feminism tends to come to the conclusion that prejudice against women exists, and that it's a bad thing. But that's only the conclusion. (This appears to be what I think.) How do you get there?

Am I saying that feminism is of no interest to men? No, I'm not saying that. Am I saying that men have nothing to learn from feminism? No. Am I saying that men are incapable of studying feminism? No. I'm only saying that the male perspective on feminism is different from the female perspective on feminism.

According to my definition of feminist, is it possible to say that "a feminist is a man who has decided that feminism makes sense, as a political theory, to explain his life in his society"? Yeah . . . a man could think that. But feminism would be inadequate to explain his life in his society, because, according to my definition, feminism focusses on women.

#189 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:52 PM:

How will there be any generations if men and women are separate?

That's what I meant by "various ways to make this work in practice were discussed." The most radical of the separatists wanted to have all their babies by parthenogenesis and just let men die out. The most practical wanted to have a setup where the men come and drop off sperm, and the women come at a different time and drop off male babies.

#190 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:53 PM:

I think that separatism does still exist (in much the same sense as the Amish still exist.)

#191 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:00 PM:

How about "A feminist is a man who has decided that feminism makes sense, as a political theory, to explain a lot about women's lives in his society, a lot about interactions between the sexes, and a lot about his own life in his society"? I don't think feminism explains everything even about women's lives, really.

And the idea that irrational gender-based prejudice exists is such an obvious background fact that I didn't think to include it in my definition, any more than I included "there are two human sexes." I guess it should be there, though.

#192 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:35 PM:

The most practical wanted to have a setup where the men come and drop off sperm, and the women come at a different time and drop off male babies.

ObSF: The Gate to Women's Country, in which Sherri Tepper once again grinds her axe. And even there there were some men inside the walls.

I have a rather odd perspective on sexism myself, in that I am intellectually aware that it exists but, like Peter Pan unfairly clawed by Hook, I am always stunned when I actually see it (in anyone under the age of ~40, at least). I don't know what led to this particular pair of mildly pink glasses, but I have them.

#193 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:25 PM:

Carrie S., if everyone could achieve that "odd perspective," sexism would soon vanish. (In fact if everyone found sexism surprising it would ipso facto be gone, wouldn't it? I'll be over here.)

#194 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:31 PM:

Laurence wrote: Fellow travelers, yes. "Honorary" feminists, maybe. Feminists, no.

Laurence later wrote: I'm only saying that the male perspective on feminism is different from the female perspective on feminism.

According to my definition of feminist, is it possible to say that "a feminist is a man who has decided that feminism makes sense, as a political theory, to explain his life in his society"? Yeah . . . a man could think that. But feminism would be inadequate to explain his life in his society, because, according to my definition, feminism focusses on women.

My head hurts, and I'm more confused than before. Does feminism focus on women or is does feminism only allow women members? Men can focus on women. But the first quote from you says that men can't be feminists at all. Fellow travelers, yes. "honorary feminists", maybe. But absolutely not "feminist".

feminism tends to come to the conclusion that prejudice against women exists ... How do you get there?

This still has me baffled. Is the idea that only women can "get there" to the conclusion that women are treated unfairly? If so, I can't quite wrap my head around how men fit into the picture. Do women get there, then tell us they're being treated unfairly, and then men take their word for it and nod? Are men unable to get to the same conclusion without the aid of a woman to explain the route to take?

if you're saying I could never get to the conclusion that prejudice against women exists without a woman telling me so, I feel ever so slightly belittled.

For whatever reason, I keep having this vision of a woman screaming at me, "You don't know what it's really like". (why she looks like Jack Nicolson in a Marine uniform screaming "You can't handle the truth", is a topic to explore some other time.)

If you want to say I can never know what it's really like to be a woman, fine. I'll go with that. But if you say I can't understand and recognize discrimination against women without a woman pointing it out, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.


#195 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:37 PM:

That's what I meant by "various ways to make this work in practice were discussed." The most radical of the separatists wanted to have all their babies by parthenogenesis and just let men die out. The most practical wanted to have a setup where the men come and drop off sperm, and the women come at a different time and drop off male babies.

erm, this would seem to be trading one "sick game" between the sexes for another "sick game". Some men dominate some women, to which some women suggest wiping out all men.

When you took that class with Marilyn Frye, did she consider this as a way of treating men "very fairly and openly"?

#196 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 04:41 PM:

I meant that in class she treated us fairly; she didn't talk about that in class. But one time she did say to me "No one told you you were going to live forever"—in other words, you don't have to kill living people to eliminate maleness from the population. I later argued in a paper that simply not allowing the birth of male babies would be tantamount to genocide of males. I got an A, which I think says a lot about her.

She knew her limits, too. In order to avoid bias (or, given the climate at that place and time, accusations of bias) only our student numbers were on our papers when we handed them in. She graded them without looking up our names.

#197 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:16 PM:

I meant that in class she treated us fairly; she didn't talk about that in class. But one time she did say to me "No one told you you were going to live forever"—in other words, you don't have to kill living people to eliminate maleness from the population.

I am too much an engineer to tolerate impractical solutions and I am too much a human equalisist to let that pass as anything other than prejudiced, man hating, horseshit, fantasy. That isn't feminism as defined by equality of the sexes.

I later argued in a paper that simply not allowing the birth of male babies would be tantamount to genocide of males. I got an A, which I think says a lot about her.

That she was a separatist of any sort says more about her to me. There is a difference between an individual dealing with a personal problem by removing themselves from an environment they're having trouble dealing with, and, say, attempting to solve social problems by asserting blame on an entire class of people based on some external measure such as their gender.

In short, to say that all of women's problems can be boiled down to "men" is f-ing stupid.

#198 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:19 PM:

Greg - I'm not sure if I can help with your confusion.

Is the idea that only women can "get there" to the conclusion that women are treated unfairly?

No. Xopher provided the following definition of feminism:

I think that 'feminism' is the name for the political belief that irrational prejudice and role-assignment based on gender ought to be eradicated from society.

I remarked that IMO that was the final conclusion of feminism, but that the process by which one arrives at that conclusion is also part of feminism. I wasn't thinking about men's ability to "get there," because strangely enough, my definition of feminism does not revolve around men's ability to understand it.

I don't think that feminism is primarily about men. And that appears to give the impression that my definition of feminism excludes men. If you asked me, "What role do men play in the theory of feminism?" I would answer "They are peripheral." Not evil, not necessarily good. Peripheral.

(As for what role they play in practice . . . believe it or not, I'm not going to assert that "all men do this" or "all women do that." Feminism, like any other theory, can only go so far to explain what actually happens.)

Anyway. I'm probably done with this topic. I actually formulated a working definition of feminism, which I might not ever have done before. That's about it.

#199 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:21 PM:

Greg...she was a separatist back in the 70s. I don't know that she is one now. A lot has changed since then. Without getting into a whole big thing, let's just say that separatism (which I never agreed with, but then, I'm a man) seemed a lot less unreasonable back then.

#200 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:23 PM:

I actually formulated a working definition of feminism, which I might not ever have done before.

I don't know about you, but I'd count this as a useful conversation on that score alone. Even though we disagreed at some length, I believe we advanced our thought considerably.

#201 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:25 PM:

And hey, men who want to be called feminists, even if you don't think we should...that's gotta be good, right?

#202 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:52 PM:

I don't think that feminism is primarily about men. And that appears to give the impression that my definition of feminism excludes men.

there was no appearance of an impression, you stated outright here that men cannot be feminists.

I actually formulated a working definition of feminism

apparently, I keep missing it. What I've got so far is that you define feminism as being

"women (1) studying what it's like to be a woman, (2) concluding that women are unfairly, and (3)advocating for women to be treated equally with men."

And that somewhere this excludes men because "feminism" isn't about equality or a lack of equality, feminism is really about knowing what it's like to be a woman, and men just won't understand that.

I think I got that right.

And what I'm left with is, hypothetically, were we to have a conversation about feminism, or were you to converse with anyone else, how would understanding be possible if you use the word to mean something so different from the dictionary? But maybe it's because I have your idea of "feminism" all messed up.

#203 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:53 PM:

Without getting into a whole big thing ...

I can go along with that.

#204 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:42 PM:

Feminism is a political theory that purports to explain the nature of women's lives and socially-assigned roles.

So who died and left you to be Humpty Dumpty? What you're describing could be called "an aspect of feminist theory"; it is by no means feminism as I've ever heard or seen the word used.

And even if that were a usable definition, it would not exclude men; if you're trying to understand a social phenomenon you need both the inside view and the outside view. (Yes, a suitably dispassionate woman \might/ manage completeness -- but so might a suitably dispassionate man.)

Carrie S: the point to the Tepper was that \abar/ bs gur bhgfvqr zra jrer cneragf; gur jbzra jrer oerrqvat sbe zra jub jbhyqa'g tb "Bbu! Fuval!" naq eha bss gb qb fbzrguvat fghcvq. Pregnvayl guvf vf vzonynaprq; gur cybg npxabjyrqtrf gung gurl jrera'g oerrqvat sbe jbzra jub jbhyqa'g fnl "Bbu! Crpf!" naq eha bss gb qb fbzrguvat fghcvq, naq gung guvf zvtug or n Tbbq Guvat -- ohg gurl'er hayvxryl rire gb trg nebhaq gb vg. (V qba'g xabj jurgure Grccre rire pbafvqrerq guvf nf n ybtvpny pbafrdhrapr bs ure cybg.) Vg'f nyfb snfpvangvat gb abgr gung fur'f rzoenpvat trargvp qrgrezvavfz gb na rkgrag gung jbhyq purre gur urneg bs gur ivyrfg rhtravpvfg -- juvpu fur znl nyfb abg unir ernyvmrq.

#205 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 01:43 AM:

CHip: I've got a project in the back of my mind to go back and get all the Tepper that I once found annoying and read them all as if they were The Family Tree, which was clearly meant to be humorous (and was. I had a lot of fun reading that book). I've gotten a sneaky feeling recently that I had been misreading the ones I didn't like.

#206 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 11:21 AM:

Pregnvayl guvf vf vzonynaprq; gur cybg npxabjyrqtrf gung gurl jrera'g oerrqvat sbe jbzra jub jbhyqa'g fnl "Bbu! Crpf!" naq eha bss gb qb fbzrguvat fghcvq,

Lrnu gurl jrer--p.s. Zlen, jub jnf fgrevyvmrq checbegrqyl orpnhfr bs na vasrpgvba. Zbetbg vzcyvrf urnivyl gung vg jnf nphgnyyl orpnhfr Zlen jnf vapncnoyr bs erfvfgvat gur Onegbaf bs gur jbeyq. (Guvf vf va Zbetbg naq Fgnivn'f Ovt Erirny pbairefngvba, VVEP.)

I love that book. I have no idea why. The Family Tree reads as if it's by a completely different person, and I love it, too. None of the rest of Tepper does anything for me.

#207 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:37 PM:

I'll own that I'm not particularly consistent on the topic of feminism and abortion. I think that men can be feminists. I think that fighting for equality is one of those things that everyone needs to do. I also think that there is still a need for women-only space, and men who think that this is sexist have less than an entire clue about feminism. As for the argument that men don't have a stake in the game, I disagree. Equality isn't something that only affects the oppressed, it is something that affects the entire society, in many good ways -- and some pretty stressful ones, as well.

I would never support any law that limited the rights of anyone, including Randall Terry (?), from speaking their mind on the topic of abortion. It just galls me, is all. Of all the offensive bits of sexism in our culture, the idea that _men_ can have a say in what happens in a woman's body seems to me to be the worst. Invasion of privacy doesn't even begin to cover it. I don't think that it would be easier to resolve the issue if only women were speaking to it, but it would piss me off less.

I think it was Lucy who said that sexism is less complicated than racism or class issues. I disagree. In the end, there really is no difference between people of different skin colors or different classes. People are people, pretty much. The differences in ethnicity are not intrinsic to the nature of the people involved.

Women, though, are fundamentally and irretrievably different from men. As they are from us. Biology wins over social constructs every time. A very large percentage of the ways in which society treats women differently from men is based on customs which existed to enable women and children to survive. Many of those customs are pretty reprehensible, and based on the exploiting certain inevitable vulnerabilities that come with pregnancy and childbirth.

Women get more power when they get more control over their own fertility, which reduces those vulnerabilities. With control over their fertility (and education, absolutely crucial) women can start gaining economic and political power. But we can't get away from the simple biological facts of life. Women, if they chose to have a family, will be away from their job for a significant period of time. In the corporate world, that usually means that they can't compete as well as male counterparts that don't suffer an interruption in their work life. There's a lot of argument on both sides as to whether or not it's fair. Whether or not it's fair, we're stuck with it, girls.

All of this is why I think that sexism is more complicated to deal with than class or race. Class and race are entirely social constructs.
Sexism is based on rock-bottom biological facts. The things that happen because of those facts are usually not fair, often poorly thought out, and bad for society at large. But to address the issue, you have to address the issue that men and women really aren't the same.

There's a concept about the unexamined majority. I think it's Chip Delaney's. White guys suffer from that. We tend to talk as if white people don't have a culture of their own, and white guys have no inherent vulnerabilites and are not oppressed by our culture. That's not true, and I wanted to mention that. I think it's something that should be brought to the table. White privilege isn't entirely a gift.

#208 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 03:19 PM:

There's a concept about the unexamined majority. I think it's Chip Delaney's. White guys suffer from that. We tend to talk as if white people don't have a culture of their own, and white guys have no inherent vulnerabilites and are not oppressed by our culture. That's not true, and I wanted to mention that. I think it's something that should be brought to the table. White privilege isn't entirely a gift.

Depends what you mean by 'culture', I suppose. I'd say that, speaking exclusively of North America, there were several "white" cultures as well as large numbers of "white guys" whose culture is derivative of non-white cultures, predominantly African-American.

White privilege may not be "entirely a gift" but from my perspective it looks like a pretty coherent set of assumptions about the world and the proper place of the white male in it that place women of all races and non-white males in a permanent position of inferiority at worst and patronised participation at best.

It isn't just a matter of sex being biological and class and race being social constructs either. Leaving aside class (which is an economic relationship), race is actually a set of assumptions based on biological facts which are interpreted according to political rules which advantage some and disadvantage others. To speak of it as simply a "social construct" is to reify "society" -- to assume that it possesses agency, when, in fact, the agency is possessed by individuals and groups who have the economic and political power to impose their interpretation of the world on others. I would venture to say that we can look at sex (or gender, if you prefer) in the same way. In fact, that's what you're arguing.

I just don't think you can make the argument that sex is a matter of biology and race is not. Race may be arbitrary, but, to some degree, so is sex. This is not only because of the existence of intersexed persons but also because of the existence of persons who find greater comfort in different sex roles. The fact that sex involves a fundamental biological difference should not lead us to the conclusion that biology is inevitably destiny. Neither should the fact that race involves visible biological differences lead us to that conclusion.

#209 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 12:31 AM:

Depends what you mean by 'culture', I suppose. I'd say that, speaking exclusively of North America, there were several "white" cultures as well as large numbers of "white guys" whose culture is derivative of non-white cultures, predominantly African-American.

Right, exactly. My family is Northern New England. What used to be called "The Deep South" (what do they call it these days?) is definitely a different culture. Border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona have a very strong Mexican component. When talking about minorities and majorities, there's a real tendency to talk as if all the white people are in the same culture. We do the same to minorities, of course. We have one of the largest Somali communities in the US, here, and the difference between Somalis and African Americans is vast.

As for white privilege -- the problem with that set of comfortable assumptions is that it is blinding. It prevents them from seeing other options. It's not a healthy way to be in the world, and because it's the "default", it's very hard to see anything else. That set of cultural expectations makes it difficult to maintain close emotional relationships. It makes it hard to do certain types of self-examination. It interferes with their ability to have empathy for people in other situations. A battered wife and her battering husband are caught in the same cultural chains. I'm not making an excuse for battery, but I also don't think the situation is as simple as we tend to paint it as being. As a side note, men get battered far more frequently than most of society realizes, and they are prevented from seeking and getting help because of their position in society. All in all, I wouldn't want to be a guy. I don't like the types of disadvantages that they suffer.

I still disagree with you on sex vs. race and class. At the end of the day, any representative selection of any community is identical in capabilities with any other representative selection. The differences are entirely cosmetic. Skin color has not always been the primary marker for oppression. The definition of a minority varies in place and time to accomodate the needs of the majority and the facts on the ground. Cultures don't always have someone with different skin color or some other visible marker to oppress, but they usually find a servicable minority, anyway. And as soon as there's wealth enough to be asymetrically divided, you have class.

Many of the differences between men and women that were assumed to be biological turn out to be cultural. Girls weren't good at math because it wasn't lady like. However, on average, women don't have the upper body strength that men do, and can't acquire it. Everything has a bell curve, and there are exceptions, but that doesn't disprove the thesis. Take an average of men and women, and the women totally lose on upper body strength. (Personally, I think that they should be allowed to play with the guys if they want. There are women that can hold their own, and I don't see any good reason not to let them.)

Women get pregnant, and men don't. That means that women who have children need more economic support than men. Societies meet this need by setting up social constructs to provide it, and then usually apply it to all women. Some of those social constructs are valuable, some are abusive. You're right about societies not having agency by themselves, and one of the reasons that the "systems" are so muddled is because they are an average of thousands of individual actions and reactions.

The more control we have over our own fertility, the more control we have over all the other aspects of our lives. Our need for economic support during potential child-bearing years drops dramatically. But it still doesn't go away. I think that we have to tackle this one up front in order to make any headway. There's a lot of resentment, for instance, against women who have children who get sick frequently. That means she has to take off more work to take care of her kids. Her husband doesn't because he has a better paying job. He has a better paying job because while women colleagues were taking time off to have babies, he was still climbing the corporate ladder. Those are inequities that are built on the biological differences between men and women, and there are a lot of questions about whether or not it can be fixed. Is it fair to give women credit in the work place for time when she was not working, so as to keep her equal to her male co-workers? If you don't, aren't you penalizing her for being female and having a family?

Intersexed and transgendered people are an incredibly small percentage of the population that they have little effect on the topics at hand. I have no problem with people changing gender. (I always liked John Varley's Seven Worlds stories, where changing gender was about as difficult as changing clothes.) However, I don't think that it has much to do with the more central concerns.

#210 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 09:36 PM:

Lydia N: I'm just making the point that sex is, to a substantial degree, a sociopolitically constructed category. Like race.

You have to be careful mentioning battered male partners, or battering in lesbian relationships, both of which, I gather, are underreported. Some people get very angry if you mention they exist.

If you look at the extremes of feminism or racial separaratism (any kind) you'll find an interesting similarity: a belief in essences that animate people because of their race or gender. I find that rather interesting as it is simply the inversion of the old white/male superiority. People are as much individuals as members of collectivities, and freedom involves asserting that claim. Sorry. I'm ranting (the spirits of John Stuard Mill, Frederick Douglass, Norman Manley, Eric Williams, and Vera Bell all possessed me).

I see your point about economic autonomy and control of fertility. I think that is very important, both for guaranteeing security and guaranteeing a claim to participate in the process of making those collective decisions that will affect you.

I believe we need to rethink the relationship of work versus family. I think there may be ways of guaranteeing women's ability to maintain economic independence and having children. That requires a reëxamination of what the family is and how it is constructed and works.

#211 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:42 AM:

Carrie S: V unq sbetbggra gung qrgnvy, ohg V guvax zl abgr fgvyy ubyqf; fbzr fznyy senpgvba bs gur znyr cbchyngvba vf fvevat \nyy/ bs gur puvyqera, juvyr gurer'f ab fvzvyneyl-fvmrq nggrzcg gb ng yrnfg trg fhofgnagvnyyl zber puvyqera bhg bs n fznyy senpgvba bs gur zbfg yriryurnqrq jbzra. V fhccbfr Grccre pbhyq nethr gung fhpu n cyna jbhyq or zhpu uneqre gb pneel bhg -- grpu unf erterffrq sne rabhtu gung gehyl vqragvslvat n fver jbhyq or qvssvphyg, jurer gur gbja qjryyref pbhyqa'g uryc abgvpvat vs fbzr jbzra unq znal zber puvyqera.

I like a couple other of her 3rd-period works, e.g. Grass, but not a lot of them. (I consider True Game stories period 1 and Marianne period 2 -- some of her attitudes appear as early as the middle trilogy, but not the scope or stresses.) Have you read her mysteries? "B. J. Oliphant" 's Shirley McClintock is very much Tepper herself, in what feel like more plausible situations than most of her later work, and "A. J. Orde" is also interesting.

#212 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 08:57 AM:

V unq sbetbggra gung qrgnvy, ohg V guvax zl abgr fgvyy ubyqf; fbzr fznyy senpgvba bs gur znyr cbchyngvba vf fvevat \nyy/ bs gur puvyqera, juvyr gurer'f ab fvzvyneyl-fvmrq nggrzcg gb ng yrnfg trg fhofgnagvnyyl zber puvyqera bhg bs n fznyy senpgvba bs gur zbfg yriryurnqrq jbzra. V fhccbfr Grccre pbhyq nethr gung fhpu n cyna jbhyq or zhpu uneqre gb pneel bhg -- grpu unf erterffrq sne rabhtu gung gehyl vqragvslvat n fver jbhyq or qvssvphyg, jurer gur gbja qjryyref pbhyqa'g uryc abgvpvat vs fbzr jbzra unq znal zber puvyqera.

Ng gur gvzr bs gur fgbel, vg'f nobhg 20% bs gur zra jub ner fvevat nyy gur xvqf, VVEP.

V guvax Zbetbg rira zragvbaf gung vg'f gbb onq gurl pna'g or zber nterffvir nobhg jrrqvat bhg gur srznyr cbchyngvba, naq unir gb frggyr sbe whfg phyyvat gur ernyyl onq pnfrf (yvxr Zlen). Tvira gung vg'f Grccre, vg'f nyfb cbffvoyr gung gurl svther jbzra unir gur Jne Qvfrnfr gb n yrffre rkgrag.

Naq lrnu, jvgu gur jnl grpu jrag vg'q or vzcbffvoyr sbe gurz gb phyy gur jbzra gur jnl gurl qb gur zra. Gubhtu fbzr fbeg bs fgbel nobhg fbzr oybbqyvarf orvat yrff sregvyr, nf n erfhyg bs gur Pngnpylfz, zvtug qb vg--lbh trg n Zlen naq fnl, "Bbcf, gurer vg vf cbccvat hc ntnva."

I really hated Grass, myself. I have wiped it from my memory to the extent that I don't even remember what the Big Secret was...and no, this is not a plea for anyone to remind me. :)

#213 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:04 PM:

I really like Grass a lot- to me it read partly as the story of a woman who was finally taking charge of her own life, making her own decisions for herself and not just doing what she was told/expected to do.

#214 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 09:23 AM:

Jenny, the chimera business is fascinating! That must have been quite a moment -- "You're not the mother of this guy" -- "Yes I am. I was there, trust me." I wonder if some people have several "genetic identies" in them! Add Multiple Personality Disorder and you've got the beginnings of a cool plot.

Tim, it was done. Stephen King's The Dark Half is about exactly this; IMHO it's one of his better books and one of his best movies (although I must confess to an odd and persistent fondness for Tremors).

-Malthus

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