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September 27, 2009

Boing Boing commenters party like it’s October 2001
Posted by Patrick at 10:26 PM * 384 comments

Boing Boing invites Muslim-Americans to guest-blog about culture, sensibility, faith, and everyday life. Inane controversy ensues. Nielsen Haydens weigh in. Holy crap, there are a lot of people out there eager to collect on debts not owed to them.

To repeat what I said here, I think that one of the necessary first steps to making a better world is getting to know the one we’ve got.

Comments on Boing Boing commenters party like it's October 2001:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:09 PM:

Kind of amused that you (@114) and Teresa (@141) both open with "put a sock in it".

#2 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:12 PM:

Hey. One sock for each Nielsen Hayden. That way, no orphan socks.

This kind of thoughtful attention to detail is what distinguishes Nielsen Hayden controversialism from inferior Internet competitors. Accept no substitutes; ask for us by name.

#3 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:18 PM:

I was just talking with the folks at my physical therapy clinic about the woman who designs and manufactures the burquinis. She's got plans for a line of sportswear, and as soon as she puts them up on the website, I need to tell the PT folks, because we have a significant number of observant (in dress, anyhow) Muslim women who come in for PT, and modern-fabric lightweight sportswear that met these women's standards for acceptable dress would be very useful.

Doing PT in even the lightest of streetwear-type Muslim women's apparel is more work than it otherwise might be, I'm betting.

I'd better go check the site and see if they've got those up yet, because I have another PT appointment tomorrow.

(We have a pretty big Muslim population here in Minneapolis/St. Paul.)

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:24 PM:

(In case I was unclear, ALL CRAZY PROPS TO BOING BOING, particularly Xeni Jardin, for trying to have thoughtful conversations about this kind of stuff. It's not their fault, or her fault, that a significant percentage of people on the internet are unreflective nincompoops.)

#5 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:39 PM:

Skimming very quickly over those comments, it occurred to me that a lot of the debate over women's dress is racially coded.

Me, I'm pretty thoroughly white.

I also prefer to have far less of my skin exposed than current fashions would dictate. I'm not really the target market for the burquini, but I can certainly appreciate why someone would want such a thing to exist.

This makes it difficult for me to buy clothing, on occasion, but I'm pretty sure nobody has ever looked at me and thought that I'm actively rejecting Western values because of the way I dress. (And I really do pity the fool who tries to tell me I'm being a tool of the patriarchy. Although, when I'm particularly bored, I do almost wish someone would try.)

Now, I also don't wear a headscarf, which seems to be the giant red flag--but I've known some headscarf wearing girls who show off a lot more in, say, the upper arm area than I do. There are whole universes of subtle shading that folks screaming and waving their hands over what kinds of female attire is and is not permissible within an advanced society seem to be missing. And I'm kinda OK with that.

#6 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:41 PM:

What I mostly see is a lot of people using the burquini to flog their tantrum of choice. In this case it's the evils of religion(s) and the way in which Muslim women need to be "liberated".

And, al in all, it seems the locals are keeping it tolerably well in hand.

#7 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:49 PM:

I'd be surprised if 75% of the commenters on either thread have actually had reasonable conversations with Muslims, much less actually visited a Muslim nation.

BB is very lightly moderated. If it were me, I'd restrict commenting to people who actually had a clue about Islam as it's practiced outside of Wahabi enclaves in the howling wilderness.

Islamophobia bugs the heck out of me. I do actually have issues with some Islamic lawmakers, and Sharia policy as it's enacted in some nations, but unlike the BB yammerheads, I actually know enough not to dismiss Islam (or religion in general) wholesale.

Instead, I'm not saying anything about those issues, because anything I do say gets lost in a storm of anti-Muslim bigotry, and I'd rather hold my tongue than give those jackasses ammunition.

As for the clothing issue, if a blog post about Hassidic male fashion restrictions went up, I doubt if the majority of the people posting in outrage over the Burquini would speak up.

#8 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:53 PM:

I just wrote an angry three-paragraph rebuttal to Shannon (over on BB), then left it unposted because it would just be making it all about him (or her).

#9 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:09 AM:

Avram: It's a him. I made a post. I'd like to think it was about debate style, but I fear you probably have the more right of it.

#10 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:33 AM:

Those victorian bathing machines are just not steampunk enough.

I might add that eh, give it a hundred years. I think we'll be suprised how much people are wearing at whatever beaches remain.

#11 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:55 AM:

Give it a hundred years? Hmmm, nanotech comfort control fibers with environmental toxin filtering, heads-up displays, SCUBA/re-breather capability, adaptive shark protection. Yeah.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:45 AM:

Earl, you forgot the jet-packs.

I spent the weekend exploring Second Life, after hearing Avedon Carol talking about it, and at one level it's just pixels. But it does seem to be an excuse for hardly wearing impractical clothes on bodies which don't contribute to the perception of a US obesity problem.

It's hardly a guide to reality, but I wonder what sort of unrealistic fantasies lurk in the minds of some fashion commenters.

#13 ::: jmkml ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:15 AM:

So the only original point my Iranian roommate and I's discussion of this subject provided was this: removing from the discussion the offensive assumption that family violence and oppression of women is a universal Islamic issue, I am actually far more disturbed by the marketing of sparkly bikini wax kits to 14 year old girls than I am by the idea that some women, for cultural or religious reasons, would rather not expose their bodies at the swimming pool...

#14 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 05:09 AM:

It annoys me so many of the commenters rabbit on about 'freedom', but only freedom as personally defined by them, in a Western context--which for women is usually freedom to have one's primary function be defined as decorative. Hmph.

#15 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 07:45 AM:

jmkml @ 13 wrote:
I am actually far more disturbed by the marketing of sparkly bikini wax kits to 14 year old girls than I am by the idea that some women, for cultural or religious reasons, would rather not expose their bodies at the swimming pool...

Absolutely.

I had my eyes opened when a Muslim acquaintance spoke to me about how much time Western women spend getting dressed up to leave the house (nice clothes, pantyhose, high heels, make-up) with a focus on looking sexy/appealing for men.

She pointed out that this seemed a LOT more oppressive than the cover-up clothes that she was wearing out and the stated general purpose (acceptance as a woman in society) seemed the same.

I'm sure she put it more coherently than I am, though.

#16 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 08:47 AM:

Sylvia: which is exactly why us Western men are so up in arms about the whole burkini thing. I mean, we already have to tolerate you speaking and working and voting and all that, the very least we can expect in return is to see you naked (or tarted-up) as much as possible.

That's the unwritten contract that was signed when all this "freedom" was introduced: you can be as free as you want, but you have to put out more -- metaphorically and literally speaking. And even if it wasn't in the original contract, it's certainly what everyone came to expect in just a few years (free love etc).

#17 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 08:50 AM:

Renatus@14:

What I thought was a particularly terse and vigorous statement of that point seems to have been lost amid the noise and the haste.

I quote Gelfin: I dream of a day when all people can experience the unbridled freedom to do what I think is normal instead of suffering under oppressive conformity to what they think is normal.

#18 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 09:33 AM:

15: She pointed out that this seemed a LOT more oppressive than the cover-up clothes that she was wearing out and the stated general purpose (acceptance as a woman in society) seemed the same.

The difference is, of course, that there exists nowhere on earth where women are prevented from leaving their homes or assaulted or beaten or scarred with acid for not wearing eyeliner or heels. There's a real distinction between the Fashion Police and the mutawein.

#19 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:10 AM:

The main faulty assumptions seem to be these:

1. All women who wear hijab do so because they are under compulsion by someone else.
2. Women who wear hijab want to enforce it on all women.
3. All Muslims want to impose a Muslim theocracy.
4. Wearing hijab means a woman is, or will be, subjugated in a variety of ways, including not being allowed out alone, not being allowed to drive, not being allowed to get education, not being allowed to get medical care, not being allowed to work, subject to physical punishment if someone else decides her hijab is insufficient or religiously incorrect.

All of these are, of course, patently ridiculous.

The argument gets muddied because of the conflation of hijab with theocracy. Yes, the veil is used as one of the tools of oppression in Muslim theocracies. Nobody thinks that's okay (except the theocrats in question). No, this does not make it in and of itself a tool of oppression. And no, for heaven's sake, a woman wearing a headscarf is not a sign that the ZOMGSCARYMUSLIMS are going to take over.

And I can never, ever get over the fact that people are terrified of Muslim theocracy, but appear to not notice the Christian Dominionist strain in U.S. politics. Personally, I'm more frightened of Christian theocracy in this country. That doesn't mean I go around shrieking in terror when I see someone wearing a gold cross necklace, or crossing themselves in prayer before lunch. I am aware that being an observant Christian does not mean you are pro-theocracy.

#20 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:15 AM:

Ajay @18, yes, but at times it seems to be more a matter of degree. There are days when I'd love to get up, go to work, and be able to focus solely on my work, knowing that I'll be judged solely on my performance and not how I look in heels (or my failure to wear them). Just because no one's arresting me for not wearing heels doesn't mean no one's judging me for it. If wearing a concealing garment would make people focus on my work performance instead of my appearance, I'd do it.

Either way, there are consequences, especially for women who don't measure up to arbitrary beauty standards. In many states an employer could fire me (or not hire me) for being fat and I would have no recourse. Not as bad as being arrested, I'll concede, but there's still a lot at stake.

#21 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:45 AM:

Re Caroline @#19: I am online acquaintances with a woman who began wearing hijab recently (like, in the last year) because she's become a Muslim. She says one of the reasons she likes it is because she doesn't have to worry so much about her hair. She also had issues with her workplace--and of course it was never said, because that would be discrimination, but she notes that the problems started just about the time she began wearing a headscarf to work.

#22 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:48 AM:

Just because no one's arresting me for not wearing heels doesn't mean no one's judging me for it. If wearing a concealing garment would make people focus on my work performance instead of my appearance, I'd do it.

But it wouldn't, not anywhere in the world. There are some countries where a woman's worth is judged (partly) on a scale of "how attractive does she look" and there are some where it's more a case of "how modest and Islamic does she look" (and there are some where it's both - they're both simply a way of making your appearance appealling to men and acceptable to other women, after all) but there aren't any where appearance never comes into it.

(Men are also judged on appearance as well as performance; not to the same degree, of course, but consider how long a bank manager would last if he started turning up to work in cutoffs, stained T-shirt and five days' beard...)

But it's the knowledge that, in a very large proportion of cases (probably the majority) around the world, the wearing of the veil is enforced by violence and/or law, rather than simply by peer pressure, that tends to squick people out about seeing it worn.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:54 AM:

ajay @22:
But it's the knowledge that, in a very large proportion of cases (probably the majority) around the world, the wearing of the veil is enforced by violence and/or law, rather than simply by peer pressure, that tends to squick people out about seeing it worn.

Assuming arguendo that your numbers are correct, what about the places where women wearing trousers are flogged? How do you feel about skirts?

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:07 AM:

I think TNH said something very important here:

In my experience, what religious women want is a less oppressive version of their own religion. If you tell them they're oppressed, and that they should discard a religion to which they feel considerable attachment and commitment, they're going to (rightly) perceive that you aren't interested in their feelings, and that you have no plans to listen to them.

This is very close to a discussion I had with my mother shortly before the birth of my second child. My first was a Caesarean section, because the baby was transverse footling breech* and a normal birth was going to be risky and difficult. I had a very good experience with the C-section, and was pretty anxious about a normal birth.

And my mother climbed all over me about it. Because she was big on Lamaze and natural childbirth, and wanted me to see a C-section as a failure to be dreaded rather than a medical option with its own reasons and risks. She was pretty iffy about my plans about pain relief, too.

She got over it. But for a while, till she thought about it, giving mothers choices had fallen into meaning making mothers choose what I think is best.

-----
* in English: lying sideways with his feet hanging down.

#25 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:13 AM:

Oh FFS, is it too much to ask that some people see the sexual objectification of women both in raunch culture and hijab? And that both come, in different ways, from structures of patriarchy and the privileging of the male gaze that we could well do without? Talk of 'free choice' for 'individuals' without cultural and political context is meaningless. Jeezus fracking Christ on a crutch, did feminism not happen?

#26 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:16 AM:

I am amused more by some of the self-defensive descriptors people use.

Shannon, who is getting (in my opinion quite understandably pounded on) argues his opinions are meritorious because he is, "someone who's spent most of his adult life 'professionally' defending freedom of expression."

Putting aside that past performance is not relevant to present behavior, I wonder at those quotation marks around professional.

I'm not so surprised that he, and Abu Som3a are, in essense, making the same argument; from opposing viewpoints ("it's best for them the way I like it", mixed with a bunch of, "no true Scotsman"), because that's a default for lots of people.

One of the things which trips up lots of people who think they want to go into anthropology is getting past the normative mold of their worldview, so they can, as much as possible, look at other cultures objectively.

Mind you, of the two, I find Abu Som3a much less offensive. There is far less patronising (and sneering) in his argument, even if they both argue that, "if they'd just do it my way, the world would be a far better place."

#27 ::: Elizabeth Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:57 AM:

@ Carrie S @ 21
And I've got an online (white, non-muslim) acquaintance who wears a hijab at work to cover up her candy pink hair. Given the choice between dye her hair a natural color or get fired, she came up with a compromise.

#28 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:24 PM:

Assuming arguendo that your numbers are correct, what about the places where women wearing trousers are flogged? How do you feel about skirts?

1) I've carefully not put myself into this debate on one side or the other, so that's immaterial;
2) I don't think most women who wear skirts are doing so because wearing trousers is banned by law or by threat of extralegal violence.
3) Your example comes from Sudan; the flogging was done under sharia law, as part of an attempt to enforce a strict interpretation of "modest dress" on the population. Modest, in this case, would mean not skirts, but thobe and - yes - headscarf...

#29 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:00 PM:

You know, I'm still just boggling over the way the two main points of that first post have been ignored. Very little on whether or not the state has a right to exclude religious clothing (and by the way, is the UK guilty of encouraging the oppression of Sikh and Jewish men because it allows them to wear their traditional headcoverings and/or required facial hair?). Very little on whether or not it's cool that women who choose (or don't, for that matter) are now afforded the option of going out to public bathing venues.

Oh noes! it's all about the burqa.

The tradition of "nice" women veiling is far older than the Abrahamic religions. Me, I think it's lame, but you know, if it makes someone happy and more comfortable to veil or define 'modest' clothing as clothing that covers arms and legs (and this is true for many Muslim and Jewish men, too), that's ok by me.

I don't at all disagree that these things, especially as applied to women, can, and sometimes are, part and parcel of oppression. But the initial conversation began in the context of a secular western country, and I think we have to at least admit the possibility that women are choosing to veil. I'd also like to point out that the veil does not seem to keep women in some Islamic countries from entering into business, politics, etc.

I'm not a fan. I don't like any theocracy. I'm not religious. BUT, when I travel to other countries, I try to respect the customs, and would certainly cover my head voluntarily if that was local custom, just as I wear longer skirts or trousers and cover my arms when entering churches for academic or other purposes.

I'm not saying anyone else has to, but my comfort level when abroad (or even in the US) relies on observing local rules of decorum and trying to abide by them, unless they require me to treat other people badly or laugh at racist, sexist, or homosexist (is that a word?) jokes.

#30 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:04 PM:

The most noticeable thing about some of the commenters to me was their ignorance of basic historical facts. Perhaps it is because my original training was as a historian, but really -- I'm supposed to take seriously an argument from someone who knows nothing about the Umayyad Caliphate? Arabic (hey!) numerals? Algebra? Al-Qarawiyyin University (founded in the mid 800s)? If you start the argument by telling me about those ignorant backward muslims who never produced anything great... you've lost me.

And if women who could not work out or compete in sports now can because of something like the burqini, I can only see it as a great step forward. That does not mean I'm betraying western values, or feminism, or anything else someone holds sacred.

#31 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:16 PM:

ajay @#28:

1. You can't roll up all the oppressions of Sharia law into "headscarf" and say that skirts don't count. There are multiple articles of dress that make up "modest wear," and different cultures and laws mandate different ones. Here in the US, women wear headscarves with pants all the time, because they are free to interpret the rule according to their own particular religious tradition, rather than an oppressive law. In the Sudan they are not allowed to do that. Just because the headscarf is the one article of clothing that stands out to western eyes doesn't make it the most oppressive one. Good gravy, the list things you can't physically do in a skirt is epic, whereas a headscarf really doesn't prevent any kind of work or activity.

2. Women in this country do risk violence if they don't conform to expected norms of femininity. If they are too masculine-looking, they may be vulnerable to anti-gay or anti-trans violence; if they dress in a particularly feminine way, they will be vulnerable to various other kinds of violence, since a standard article of female clothing in this country is shoes that render women incapable of outrunning an attacker, and another standard article is an easy-to-steal bag full of money and keys.

#32 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Also - looking at the "by population size" section of "Islam by Country" on Wikipedia, it appears that the majority of Muslims do not, in fact, live in countries where head-coverings are mandatory.

#33 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:35 PM:

I sure do hope the inanity doesn't leak over here. Just reading the comments over there in which the token 'Hayden' appears is enough to give me a headache.

I'll say this and try to shut up afterward: it saddens me that some of my fellow atheists have heard the call to come out of the closet but not the call to pragmatism. I see a lot of people in those threads who think they're helping care of freedom*, when in fact they're standing athwart the gates. I suppose the gooder news is that they're likely to be stomped doing that.

* c.f. http://books.google.com/books?id=XIoke44nJKMC

#34 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Good gravy, the list things you can't physically do in a skirt is epic...

Tell that to the billions of women who've lived and worked in skirts since the dawn of history, plus the men who wear kilts, sarongs, and other similar garments.

I wear skirts because I find them much more comfortable and easy to move in, and would wear them for heavy work if I had any in suitable fabrics. But of course no one makes skirts in good working fabrics, because skirts are for *girls*...

Only solution is to sew them myself, clearly.

#35 ::: John Mellby ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:02 PM:

Just to put a plug in, one of the positive things
I have seen about Iran (in terms of getting
to know the country) is by Rick Steves - the
travel guy. He did a one-hour program about Iran
that I liked so much I bought a copy to show
to friends.
You might check out:
Rick Steves' Iran

#36 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Carrie S:

Yes, upon reflection I should have said "are harder to do in a skirt" or something along those lines. I'm all for wearing a skirt as a choice, particularly since the list of things that are easier to do in a skirt is also a long one. But I think being forced to wear one is more oppressive than being forced to cover one's hair, because it can make some physical labor more difficult or more dangerous, which limits a skirt-wearer's earning potential.

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Good gravy, the list things you can't physically do in a skirt is epic

I think that depends very heavily on the skirt. Apart from that, I'm pretty much with Mary Dell's point 1.

Using the headscarf, or the burka, as some kind of lightning rod for this discussion is doubly damaging.

First of all, it ignores the possibility that some women may choose to wear them. Denying that, or calling bullshit on their reasons to do so, is quite frankly patronizing. How are we talking about women's freedom to choose if that freedom can only be use in the ways we would use it?

And second, there are plenty of women who are well and truly oppressed, whether or not their heads are covered. I'm not concern-trolling, here, but surely we could put more effort into solving the problems of our own culture, where we have more traction and more standing, before we go after the traditions of cultures we barely understand?

I'm not saying don't fight for women's freedom. I'm just not sure that banning headscarves is really a good way to go about it.

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:15 PM:

Renatus, #14: Hear, hear!
"I'm not here for your entertainment,
You don't really want to mess with me tonight.
Just stop and take a second,
I was fine before you walked into my life.
Don't you know it's over
Before it began?
Keep your drink, just give me the money --
It's just u + ur hand tonight..."

Caroline, #19: And I can never, ever get over the fact that people are terrified of Muslim theocracy, but appear to not notice the Christian Dominionist strain in U.S. politics.

Oh, but that's just normal. They're only afraid of a Muslim theocracy because it wouldn't be a Christian one. (Bitter? Who, me?)

Mary Dell, #31: For that matter, every time a rapist or rape apologist says, "Well, what did she expect, dressed like that?" you have an example of women being at risk of violence for not conforming to cultural expectations of femininity.

#39 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

I'll admit I don't understand why the enforcement of religious dress requirements in Saudi Arabia or similar places has any relevance at all to a discussion about people following those dress requirements voluntarily in other countries.

#40 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

There's a strain of public atheism that seems to have latched onto attacking Islam and giving a pass to Christianity, which strikes me as one of those attempts at a heartwarming reconciliation based on the principle that even if Western atheists and Christians disagree on a lot of things, at least we can all agree that those Muslims are really evil.

The Western clothing taboos are pretty strong and are also enforced through physical force; try walking naked through any American city except maybe Berkeley. And the taboos remain differentiated by gender in the West.

The Islamic clothing taboos are a symptom of misogyny, not a cause. Someone who attacks them without considering what could actually be done to improve the lot of women in Islamic societies pretty much outs themselves as someone who doesn't really care, as just a bandwagon-jumping hater enjoying the opportunity for some self-righteousness.

#41 ::: SteveH ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

I'm curious. Does anyone have a link to the actual complete rules for French pools?

#42 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:55 PM:

In righteously castigating the ridiculous fools who want nothing more than to impose their own strictly defined freedoms on everyone else, I feel we're unfortunately sliding over the absolutely valid point that the hijab and burqini are sexist, and are tools of the patriarchy. Yes, I think that women should get to wear anything they choose from nude to full platemail anywhere they please; that the French prohibition against headscarves in schools is gross racism and sexism; and that it's entirely possible (and permissible) for empowered women to choose to take part in patriarchal tropes, that indeed it may be impossible for anyone male or female to escape them entirely: nonetheless, they are still patriarchal tropes--hijab and high heels, bikini and burqini all. That it is no worse than our own version of sexism is no point in the burqini's favor.

I don't doubt for a second that there are plenty of women who like the hijab and are absolutely psyched about the burqini--nor do I doubt that there are plenty of women who would rather have worn a traditional swimsuit but their mother/father/husband/brother/sister/son/daughter discovered the burqini and brought to bear against them that sort of social pressure which is less than violence but more than mere suggestion. I do not doubt that they wear a burqini with the same muddled rage and frustration that any Western woman feels at bending will-her nill-her to social pressure. As infuriatingly disingenuous as it is for Western sexists and racists to tout the burqini as an example of uniquely Islamic oppression, they're not wrong on the 'oppression' part, just on the "uniquely Islamic' bit.

Now I believe that the burqini is, on the whole, probably a step forward. It's another option for women, at the least, and more options is better. It's not immune to feminist criticism just because a bunch of a-holes don't like it, though.

#43 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Wow. I think this (here at Making Light, not the train wreck at Boing Boing) is quite probably the first discussion of this sort that I've witnessed since I've been following this sort of discussion (and I've been following this sort of discussion for more than fifteen years) that did not descend into a 'my culture is better than yours' superiority fest almost immediately. Kudos, Making Light people.

#44 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 03:25 PM:

abi @#37: I think it's worth fighting actual oppression, even in cultures we barely understand, but going after what we see as the symbols of that oppression seems counter-productive to me. Like banning wedding rings because we don't approve of forced child marriage.

#45 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 03:31 PM:

Caroline @19:

Isn't this a bit straw-man-ish? I suppose there are a few people who think these things. But no one in this thread as far as I can tell.

It really is possible to have misgivings about hijab and also have misgivings about 14 year olds bikini waxing. It's possible to think women should be allowed to wear what they want, including burkinis, and still wonder whether women wearing burkinis are wearing them because they want to. It isn't so black and white.

#46 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 03:45 PM:

SteveH @ 41: I can't find a list of rules (my Google Fu is hopelessly weak in French, plus the whole burqini thing has thrown up a lot of chaff*) but FWIW I can offer my own experience of swimming pools here.

AFAICT, all pools open to the public require you to wear skin-tight swimming costumes. At pools without lifeguards (at campsites, for example) the requirement is typically ignored, and baggy Bermudas are common, but municipal pools are much tighter, and some still require you to wear a bathing cap. The stated purpose is hygiene: if it's actually motivated by prejudice, this is surprisingly well hidden, especially compared to the open debate over headscarves and turbans in state schools. (These rules certainly predate Nicolas Sarkozy either as president or cabinet minister, contrary to what one commenter on BoingBoing suggested.)

My take is that the hygiene argument is sincere, as weird as it may seem to Anglo-American sensibilities.


* In the ECM sense - not a value judgement! :)

#47 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 03:49 PM:

Good discussion. heresiarch @42, my off-the-cuff reaction was "But what CAN I wear that isn't in some way a patriarchal trope?" There's a fundamental problem right there -- can a woman wear anything that can't be construed in some way (whether it's as giving in to or reacting against) in relation to a patriarchal trope? And even if I wear something that says nothing to ME about any patriarchal tropes, I can't control what someone else might think. (Today I'm wearing a comfortable pair of khakis, an argyle pullover sweater, a white shirt, flat shoes, and silver earrings. Could an observer conclude I am reacting to the partiarchy by appropriating and subverting menswear, or just figure I'm wearing something comfortable becasue I don't have any meetings scheduled?) As Tazistan Jen points out @45, it just isn't black and white.

#48 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 03:56 PM:

Tazistan Jen @ 45: Oh, I meant at the BB threads, not here at ML! I apologize for not making that clear enough.

#49 ::: SteveH ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Thanks Andy@46.

I find it interesting that I don't own any swim suits that would be appropriate in the French public pool context.

In general, my first thought is that I wouldn't appear in public in a speedo type suit. I'm trying to figure out if that's because I'm repressed or they just look really uncomfortable--probably some of both.

#50 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:10 PM:

And furthermore, yes, I think it's very possible to wonder whether women are wearing hijab because they want to, and to subject it to feminist criticism just as you'd subject high heels, waxing, etc. to feminist criticism. I do wonder those things myself, and I don't think I said anything in my comment to imply that they shouldn't be discussed or argued. I find the argument that I'm more oppressed because I have to look pretty for men, rather than covering up for men, very suspect.

However, it's very clear to me that the BoingBoing thread is not turning out to be the place to have that discussion. A different discussion is happening there, mostly about whether religion is bad or not, with a nice healthy side helping of ZOMGSCARYMUSLIMS.

#51 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:21 PM:

Actually, there are some very interesting comments in these BB threads. Read those signed Signy and Bellanatrix in today's thread for instance:
http://www.boingboing.net/2009/09/27/are-muslim-women-opp.html
And not a few Muslim women (and non-Muslim men and women who work in Muslim communities) have wheighed in. Too bad also there are so many commenters (and even moderators) who seem content to equate "you criticize Islam" with "you are racist"!

#52 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Jacob Davies @ 40: "There's a strain of public atheism that seems to have latched onto attacking Islam and giving a pass to Christianity [...]"

Thankfully, I seem to have failed completely to notice it. I don't think I much want to know too much here, but some pointers beyond what we might see in the BoingBoing thread would be helpful. It might be worth understanding how folks are managing to pull off such a tawdry imitation of atheism.

#53 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:42 PM:

I find dress codes weird in general, and religious dress and food rules bizarre. But then I find religion bizarre (and the Christian wannabe-theocrats much more scary than the Muslim ones because they're much closer). So when people start demanding people dress to suit *them*, I react against it; people should dress to suit themselves.

And the Firefox spillchucker didn't know "theocrat".

Several people have asked questions amounting to "why don't people who are offended about rules for womens dress made by men get equally offended about rules for mens dress made by the men?" I'm sure if you go off and think about this for a little while, you can manage to figure it out.

Sounds like I don't own and France-legal swimsuits either. Weird.

#54 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:48 PM:

I don't remember the last time I wore a skirt. I don't own one. I do own some long dresses: I believe the last time I wore one of them was 2 years ago.

But I work for myself, I live alone, my church no longer requires me to cover my head inside the church, and the only thing that constrains my choice of clothing is social pressure, the threat of violence (theoretically; I have never been so threatened but I live in the Bay Area, where my short hair, jeans, and mismatched earrings are unremarkable) and my own taste and comfort.

When my church did require me to cover my head in church, I did it. Did I like it? Not especially, but that's between me and my church. I don't know how I'd feel if my religious practice required me to wear a skirt outside the church, in my public life, like the Amish women, or like Sister Angela in my parish. But I don't object to Sister Angela wearing a skirt, and I believe she should make whatever arrangement about her clothing that she chooses. Can her arrangements, or those of Muslim women in America who choose to wear hijab be critiqued in light of feminist theory? Sure. We can do that. But if we're going to have a feminist critique of headscarves or hijab or skirts then we need equally to have one of the clothing styles that sexualize and fetishize girl children practically from the time they are infants. We call this education.

When clothing arrangements are mandated and enforced by threats of fines or prison or physical violence, even if they are moderate, (a simple headscarf rather than a burqa) we need to obliterate not the scarf but the legal mandates and the violence.


#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Of course, one answer for SF fans is to follow a fictional dress code. Anyone here, for instance, can be reckoned to be fully qualified to wear the aviator uniform of the Rain Island Naval Syndicate.

Then there is the example of Dominic Flandry.

Pass me those Ray-Bans, please.

#56 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 05:18 PM:

I guess it's not surprising really that the discussion would degenerate into one about if religion is good or not over on BB. There is a big lack of understanding going on there about the whole thing really.

We do need to understand why the hijab is worn better. Is it enforced by law on threat of punishment? Is it merely something the devout do because they want to show their devotion to their own god? That thread, while the original point is lost, really illustrates the problem here.

We only know what we are shown on TV and in the media in general in most cases. Schools, at least in the US, have never really taught much regarding islam or muslim people. Then again I don't recall much of value in history in pre-college level classes beyond all american-centric stuff here in the US. I can't comment on other nations.

The idea of dress codes has always seemed to me about establishing a group that is separate from the rest. This is why anything beyond guidelines like "suits for work" always seemed bad for me. We may have societal norms but that is different from legal requirements. A woman should not be forced to veil herself on threat of injury, prosecution, or worse. It feels like these kinds of laws are about making women anonymous in the culture at large. If they all look the same, if they show no individuality they can be treated not as individuals but as simple "women."

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 05:35 PM:

Shopkeeper ( apparently Iranian, in Atlanta, after I have purchased a ham sandwich): What kind of Muslim are you?

Me: A very bad one?

Stereotypical thinking gets you nowhere. Man with café-au-lait skin, wavy hair and beard is not necessarily Muslim.* Woman who dresses modestly is not necessarily accepting oppressive norms.


*Not at all, in my case.

#58 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 05:41 PM:

If you'd like to put your cognitive dissonance suppressor to a good test, I recommend following up the discussions about the feminist critique of the hijab by reading this article in San Francisco Bay Guardian about women and BDSM.

I have a hard time making coherent language when I try to think about both of these things at the same time. Any help here would be hot.

#59 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 06:10 PM:

It's not just the hijab that's been banned in French public schools. Visible crosses and Stars of David aren't allowed either. What this has led to, unsurprisingly, is Muslim girls wearing scarves around their necks during the school day (as 99% of French women do anyway) and then pulling them over their hair the second they step off the school grounds.

IOW, the nominal grownups told the teenagers "we forbid that" and the teenagers said "oh yeah?" Big whoop. Next year, the French school system will forbid water to be wet.

#60 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 06:15 PM:

Janet Croft @ 47: "my off-the-cuff reaction was "But what CAN I wear that isn't in some way a patriarchal trope?" There's a fundamental problem right there -- can a woman wear anything that can't be construed in some way (whether it's as giving in to or reacting against) in relation to a patriarchal trope?"

In the realm of fashion? I don't think so. But omnipresence needn't be interpreted as omnipotence. Recognizing the universality of gravity doesn't imply that we should all just lie on the floor and starve--the more aware we are of patriarchy, the easier it is to negotiate our way through it, make the compromises we choose to make (and taking the stands we choose to take) without feeling like we're trapped.

I think there's a comfortable space between recognizing that patriarchal tropes are inescapable (in the sense that everything has patriarchal connotations) and thinking that everything has the same connotations. There's a reason why--f'rex--high heels are singled out as a particularly blatant example of sexist attire: they carry much more explicit connotations about the relative worth of beauty, function and comfort than a sharp-looking blouse does. Both the bikini and the burqini place a clear premium on appearance at the expense of comfort or convenience; the omnipresent male gaze is privileged over the wearer's concerns.

(It's not just women either--whether a man is wearing a frilly pink shirt or a suit and tie certainly has powerful patriarchal connotations.)

Also: Anorexia is Patriarchal

#61 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Karen Armstrong wrote about it in a memorable article in the Guardian back in 2006. She touches on the banning of nuns in Britain, and on the British reformer in Egypt who "had cynically exploited feminist ideas to advance the colonial project. Egyptian women lost many of their new educational and professional opportunities under the British, and Cromer was co-founder in London of the Anti-Women's Suffrage League.

As a child growing up in an oppressively religion-bogged household, the ONLY thing that would have persuaded me to adopt the attire preferred by that religion (shaved head after marriage and shapeless clothing, carefully covering arms to the wrist and legs to the ankles) would have been if I were told I couldn't choose to wear it. The only thing worse than oppression from inside your own group is oppression from outside it.


#62 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Oh, I hadn't heard that the cross and star were also banned in French schools. Still not the tossed-salad approach I prefer, but much fairer than banning only one.

I'm often amused by the Western horror at the scarf and veil because I'm only, what, three generations from respectable women needing to cover their hair in public in the West. I'm pretty sure there were real risks to walking around looking disreputable, too.

#63 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 08:10 PM:

Actually, the french ban on religious symbols is a little more pointed than most people think. A quote from Jacques Chirac, who started the ban

"Discreet signs," such as a small cross or star of David, will be allowed, the French president added. "But conspicuous signs, which are obvious, which immediately indicate religious affiliation, cannot be admitted."

Because clearly a small cross or star of David are unconspicuous and unobvious signs which in no way suggest religious affiliation, except for the christian or jewish thing. Islam is clearly not discreet.

My response to all this is colored by having a chasidic friend at work who used to have to field all kinds of really impertinent comments about not wearing pants from people who really didn't know her well enough to be commenting on her appearance at all.

That said, the picture of female dress which bothered me the most this weekend was this.

Because three is not too early to start distorting the bones of your feet.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 09:50 PM:

I've seen women in burqas, in hijab, and in various versions of Western dress, some of which leave very little to the imagination. (Far too little, in some cases. Also, I don't think 4-inch heels and microskirts are a good idea on a commute that involves stairs, escalators, and sitting in public.)

Teresa, that comment of yours about Temple garments and the VIP lounge made me LOL.

#65 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:09 PM:

Julia, I had my info from a Jewish friend who had to hide her Star of David or be sent home. I suspect that enforcement is unequal, arbitrary, and slanted against non-Christians.

#66 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:41 PM:

I was reading a bit of the BB discussion this morning, but had to leave for work before asking how many of the commenters who were objecting to rules requiring women to cover up were prepared to defend me if I exercised my legal right to walk down the street wearing only a pair of shorts and my sandals?

And then to ask whether it would change their minds to know that I'm 45, fat, and neither shave any part of my body nor dye my hair.

It's probably for the best that I had to go do useful things for my employer instead of posting.

#67 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:51 PM:

j h woodyatt @ 58,

This is a community I participate in, and have for years (now I think of it, I'm working on decade #2.) If you can manage to formulate a question, I can try to answer.

#68 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:52 PM:

I know one woman who converted from Christianity to Islam. (There are many, but I only know one.) She had met some Muslim women, and the subject of the burqa came up. She was vocally critical. They told her that she shouldn't condemn it if she hadn't tried it. So she borrowed one for a week.

She told me that once she had experienced it, she could never go back. For the first time since puberty, she could go about her business in "dignity and privacy" (her exact phrase). The only way she could keep wearing the burqa was to convert, so she converted.

This obviously says a lot about her, and her experiences, but it is also obvious that not every woman will experience the burqa as oppressive.

#69 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:06 PM:

Vicki @66:

I was reading a bit of the BB discussion this morning, but had to leave for work before asking how many of the commenters who were objecting to rules requiring women to cover up were prepared to defend me if I exercised my legal right to walk down the street wearing only a pair of shorts and my sandals?

Oh indeed. There was one commenter who was aghast at the juxtaposition of woman-in-burquini with man-in-Speedos. "Why the inequality in modesty norms in this religion?" the commenter demanded. I can only assume they're just as aghast at most parts of the U.S. where women are not allowed to go topless like the men. And I'd like to visit their country sometime.


And then to ask whether it would change their minds to know that I'm 45, fat, and neither shave any part of my body nor dye my hair.

Oh, that one so bugs. The self-righteous, patronizing assertions that "if women weren't coerced/brainwashed by this terrible religion, no one would ever wear a burqa," served with a fail-sauce slathered side of "lots of western woman should not wear bikinis."

So many of these champions of women's rights to wear what they damn well please. They are all about challenging the privileging of the male gaze, except when they aren't.

#70 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:34 PM:

A reminder of the history of Sumptuary Laws & restrictions on dress. SCAers would be familiar already, but many might not.

#71 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:59 PM:

Ambar @ 67: "If you can manage to formulate a question, I can try to answer."

I think my first almost coherent [you decide] question is, "How do I say anything with respect to one of these topics without jamming both of my feet up to the ankles into my stupid piehole in the context of the other?"

On the one hand, I'm a generally kink-friendly person despite the sad fact that my sexual life is totally devoid of all kink. Sigh. I understand that BDSM Done Right is safe, sane and consensual, and I believe that a lot of the criticism of the BDSM community comes from ill-informed reactionaries with axes to grind.

On the other hand, when I hear women insisting in the face of loud criticism to the contrary that their conforming to religious dress codes (and here I am casting a wider net than just Muslim dress codes... I'm looking at Baptists and others too) that I frankly find mysterious is somehow a submission to an oppressive patriarchal system, then I can't help but see what I think might be a parallel.

In each of these cases, we see women on both sides of the debate claiming that the other is voluntarily submitting to oppression by the Evil Patriarchy. Women in BDSM, I suspect, get this all the damned time from outsiders, just like Muslim women who take comfort from wearing the veil are constantly getting it from dumb-ass Westerners.

In the case of the religious dress codes, I think it's apparent that there are some women who are oppressed by the dress code [because it's neither consensual nor sane] and there are some women who empowered by the dress code [because it's both sane and consensual]. Likewise, it would seem the same to me when you replace the veil with a leather collar sporting a D-ring and a padlock, there's going to be a similar sorting out.

The problem for me is that I suspect there's a significant fraction of people who don't see this the way I do, and I'm not sure how to talk to them. Are there people who think the veil is always a tool of oppression but that the collar can be empowering? Are there people who think vice-versa? How do they manage to pull off that trick?

I mean to say this all seems blitheringly obvious to me, but if there's one thing I've learned over the years of following Making Light, it's that if it's blitheringly obvious to me, then it's probably five kinds of wrong. Hence, the I Don't Know What To Think posture.

#72 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:03 AM:

Julia @ 63 Anecdotal note: My nieces were into high heels from before the time they started walking. They started by stealing Mom and Grandmas' shoes and walk around. Then they'd stack the princess play shoes so they could have higher heels. It has something to do with wanting to imitate the adults around you (and we all wear relatively low heels for professional women). Also, according to the parents-as-teachers lady, there are some physiological reasons in making easier to learn to walk/run (aka, don't worry about it, it's really a good thing). Now at 3 and 6, they still like heels, but the older one is growing out of it and the younger one looks like she might follow her sister's lead.


My personal take on this whole argument (with the caveat that it applies to places where people have choice) is that while I have no problem in a range of different clothing, I really like long skirts and scarves. I spend weeks of the year not going out of my tent with my hair not covered. When I go back to modern life, I feel uncomfortable having my head bare, even though I chose to go veiled and chose to unveil. It's what becomes my 'normal' for a week or two or three weeks at a time* This is part of the reason I tend towards long skirts and scarves all year long. Telling people that they are oppressed tools of the patriarchy because they have a different comfortable normal becomes not "you are free to make a choice" but "you are free to make the choices I want you to make."

I'm with clew @ 62 and finding it all too amusing that the hat is coming back as an item of feminine fashion. SCORE! It's not been even the three generations they mentioned since you didn't go to church without your Sunday-go-ta-meetin hat. It was (is still, in some parts of the world) an outward symbol of your religion, that on Sundays you dressed up and put on a nice hat to cover your head and went to church. Is that hat a symbol of the male patriarchy or a sign of women competing with each other to be the most visibly fashionable and respectful/pious at the same time within the bounds of their community?

In the opinion of a professor in the UMN fashion program (as related to me, and also in the text they used), fashion is primarily driven by women in competition for status within their own circles. Old cats and new cats will hiss and pick at the smallest pieces in order to preserve the status quo or move up in the estimation of their 'peers'. Think about the equality that could be given in peer groups in the modest dress of the religious communities in an ideal world.**

*the medieval justification for the veil which I wear is long and complex and requires moving upstairs to the reference works. It starts with religious women being 'brides of Christ' and moves secularly. The veiling doesn't so much, just the popular justification. Also, while it seems to be completely patriarchal in origin, it departs from that in the fierce competition of women's fashion. Discussed in Lady in Medieval England (Coss), Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing (Rudy), one of the Textiles and Clothing books (Netherton/Owen-Crocker), and I think in Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland (Hall), but I'm not sure on that last one. (God, I love librarything)
**not bloody likely anytime soon, I'll grant. But it's a justification I have heard from amish and mennonite women, groups who came under attack in the comments of the second post of xeni's on BB. They say it's better for the community.

#73 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:10 AM:

Vicki writes: "...prepared to defend me if I exercised my legal right to walk down the street wearing only a pair of shorts and my sandals? And then to ask whether it would change their minds to know that I'm 45, fat, and neither shave any part of my body nor dye my hair."

I can't speak for the others, but I'll stand up for you should that temptation prove too difficult to resist. I'm about the same age, overweight, and I rarely shave or dye my hair, but the San Francisco PD would certainly not arrest me for appearing in public on the sidewalk in front of my house without wearing a shirt. In fact, I do this all the time during the summer months.

I'd much prefer to live under a system of laws that treated the two of us equally in that regard. But then, people think I'm very weird at times.

#74 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:25 AM:

#34 ::: Carrie S.

I wear skirts because I find them much more comfortable and easy to move in, and would wear them for heavy work if I had any in suitable fabrics. But of course no one makes skirts in good working fabrics, because skirts are for *girls*...

Um...denim?

#75 ::: Matthew Austern ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:57 AM:

Juli Thompson@68: literally a burqa, as opposed to some other form of modest dress?

I don't think I've ever met an American Muslim who wore a burqa. They're pretty cumbersome, and you also don't see them very much around here. I'm pretty sure that someone here who chose to wear a burqa, as opposed to, say, a head scarf, would not have the freedom to go about her life in dignity and privacy. I'm pretty sure she'd be stared at, at best.

(The only time I can remember talking to someone wearing a burqa was at a con, and she was an English libertarian.)

#76 ::: jere7my ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:29 AM:

Matt @ 75, I've seen women in full burquas (with hijab and niqab) on the bus here in Boston. Last time was coming home from Inglourious Basterds a couple of weeks ago. Nobody was staring or commenting, at least not overtly.

#77 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:48 AM:

j h woodyatt@71:
I think my first almost coherent [you decide] question is, "How do I say anything with respect to one of these topics without jamming both of my feet up to the ankles into my stupid piehole in the context of the other?"

Heh. I don't have an answer for that one; I may be about to engage in some foot-munching myself. That said ...

In each of these cases, we see women on both sides of the debate claiming that the other is voluntarily submitting to oppression by the Evil Patriarchy. Women in BDSM, I suspect, get this all the damned time from outsiders, just like Muslim women who take comfort from wearing the veil are constantly getting it from dumb-ass Westerners.

Well, I can conveniently describe two community subsets (out of my experience). Participants in one subset might self-identify as genderqueer, leathersex, radical sex activists or just plain queer. This group are actively practicing critics of the overculture, in various ways. Another subset uses phrases like "in the lifestyle", or "into BDSM", are largely practicing heterosexuals, and tend not to critique the overculture except insomuch as it condemns their enjoyment of [insert paraphilia here]. I've been to large formal parties largely peopled by this subset, and it feels a whole lot like a high school prom, only everyone's wearing leather.

At this point it's probably no secret which group I identify with.

The problem for me is that I suspect there's a significant fraction of people who don't see this the way I do, and I'm not sure how to talk to them. Are there people who think the veil is always a tool of oppression but that the collar can be empowering? Are there people who think vice-versa? How do they manage to pull off that trick?

I don't know as I'd feel a great need to talk to them. Is the intent to persuade them to your way of thinking, or to figure out why they think the way they do? Evangelism of any flavor makes me itch, and while I'm in favor of intellectual curiosity in all its forms, this one would be fairly low on my list.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 02:18 AM:

Something has been itching at my brain about this entire conversation, and I finally pinned it down. Bear with me for a minute...

One of the ongoing issues I had with my parents was their absolute and utter conviction that everything I did was ALL ABOUT THEM. For example: when I was in college, they disliked most of the guys I dated, and would spend hours bad-mouthing them to me and trying to convince me to dump them. Then when I finally did break up with the guy in question (as happens for all kinds of reasons when you're in your 20s), they would go on and on about how relieved they were that I had finally "listened to them". This drove me nuts, because they took my actions as reinforcement of their bad behavior, and I knew it, and there was nothing I could do about it, short of continuing to date guys I didn't like any more just to spite them -- which I wasn't masochistic enough to do.

This pattern repeated in other areas. If I did something they told me I should do, I was obeying them. If I didn't, I was doing it specifically to defy them. The idea that I MIGHT HAVE MY OWN REASONS FOR DOING SOMETHING THAT HAD NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THEM just wasn't on the table at all.

Can we, on both sides of this issue, grant that the women who are wearing the hijab -- especially in Western countries where there are no legal sanctions against not doing so -- may have their own reasons for wearing it THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH US? Please?

#79 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:34 AM:

Yes, Lee, what you said. Thanks for making that point. (Not that you're the only one to make it, e.g. Zelda @ 17, but I like the way you put it.)

#80 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:42 AM:

TexAnne @ 65: Julia, I had my info from a Jewish friend who had to hide her Star of David or be sent home. I suspect that enforcement is unequal, arbitrary, and slanted against non-Christians.

I'd be wary about the "non-Christian" part of that suspicion. Atheists make up something like 25-30% of the French population as a whole, but it's my strong impression that teachers in state schools skew atheist compared to this. (For one thing, devout catholics would tend to gravitate towards the parallel system of church-run schools. For another, teachers skew left politically, which tends to go with atheism here.)

heresiarch @ 42, julia @ 63: I think it's at best an over-simplification to view the headscarf ban as racist or anti-islamic in intent. (Racists and islamophobes may approve of it, but in itself that's just correlation.) There's a widespread perception here of inner-city Muslim girls being peer-pressured into submission. This isn't purely an invention of the media or right-wing politicians: TV discussions of the time featured Muslim women on both sides of the issue.

#81 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:48 AM:

Julia @63, TexAnne @65, Here are the French and English Wikipedia articles on the law; there's a good round-up of links at the bottom of each article.

Discreet signs apparently include a small cross, star of David or hand of Fatima.

The current headscarf debate in Belgium sounds very much like the one they had in France just before the law was passed. Last Sunday's debate on TV had me wanting to throw things at the screen.

#82 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 07:34 AM:

I think one benefit of the French headscarf ban is that the kids get to learn that being bare-headed doesn't do horrible things. Their hair doesn't fall off, etc.

Arguably, it's educational. They can still be religious, and I see from the reports that they have work-arounds. But the French education system is rather a lot about being French.

#83 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 07:43 AM:

Lee #78: Amen.

#84 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 08:32 AM:

Kayjayoh @#74: Denim skirts tend to be both tight and short, which is not good for working. Plus they have all their pockets in the hips, and thus lack useful carrying capacity.

#85 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:04 AM:

Carrie S. @84 -- Around here, and other places I've lived in the Bible Belt, you see a lot of what I presume are fundamentalist families out shopping where all the women (from kindergardners on up) are wearing mid-calf to ankle length, fairly loose, straight or A-line denim skirts. (Along with the skirts is the never-cut hair, loose for younger girls; I'm not sure if it gets put up at marriage or maturity.) The skirts do look fairly comfortable for most work, though actually wider skirts would give more freedom of movement.

#86 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:13 AM:

Juli, #68: Am I correct in guessing that your friend is one of those women who developed a very large bust at puberty? Because that would certainly account for her reaction.

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:28 AM:

Lee #78: Amen!

I think the key word in the larger debate is "choice" -- and there are bad actors on both sides, either trying to deny choices to others, or more subtly, to delegitimize the choices of others. (A lot of the "resist the patriarchy" arguments come under the latter, with Janet Croft #47 being uncomfortably pertinent.)

#88 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:31 AM:

Janet Croft: It's possible I'm just picky about what constitutes "loose enough". :) The skirts I make for myself for daily wear have 8 gores; they aren't quite full circles, but they're certainly full, and calf-length. A straight, ankle-length denim skirt? Noooo thanks, not even with a kick-pleat.

Lee: Am I correct in guessing that your friend is one of those women who developed a very large bust at puberty?

Sometimes I have to wonder to what extent I was lucky, as opposed to simply oblivious. I had issues with my bustline from the time it started developing, but they all revolved around finding clothes that fit; I never got the groping and leering and catcalling. I still don't, despite the fact that I've lost almost 40 pounds in the last year. There's been a marked increase in Pretty Girl Moments1, but nothing objectionable. Men still talk to my face rather than my chest.

1: When someone lets me get away with something, because I am a Pretty Girl.

#89 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:34 AM:

Well, folks, one person's free individual choice is another person's complicity in patriarchy, and unless you're going to be the person who tells everyone to sit down, shut up and do what they're told, some people are going to keep on wanting to point out that OPFICIAPCIP, even if you don't like it, and feel that it violates your right to a free individual choice.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 10:52 AM:

dave #89:

I think an extension to Lee's point, above, is in order.

We all understand the world in terms of models, right? If your model of the world is built around the clash of cultures between Islam and the West, or between religion and reason, or between feminism and the patriarchy, then it's way too easy to imagine that the lady in a headscarf in front of you at the supermarket is somehow living and making decisions in that model. Of course, she's not a character in the play you're writing for her in your head, the one where she's a poor helpless victim of evil forces, or complicit in them, or whatever. She's herself, making her decisions for reasons of her own. Almost certainly, your one-parameter model doesn't capture much about them, even though each of the models above may capture a small piece of her reasons for wearing the headscarf[1].

The same is true for anyone who stands out and is somehow associated with some political or social or religious or economic movement/phenomenon/trend. If I wear a cross in public, some folks will put me in a play in their minds, one involving Christianist theocracy or my being on their side of the "culture war" or whatever.

Shorter me: Not only is it not about you, it's probably not about your models either. Other people are not characters in the morality plays going on in your head.

[1] Perhaps she's just really unhappy with her current hairstyle.

#91 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 11:40 AM:

Carrie S, do you prefer your skirts to be ankle length, or are ones that come just below the knees suitable for you? Utilikilts come in sturdy fabrics and are designed as work garments, with wonderful pocket options. The fact that they were originally designed as a skirt for men doesn't stop women from wearing them.

If you like 8-gore fullness, the "one-legged pant" skirt-for-boys thing that you can sometimes find at Hot Topic probably wouldn't do. It's generally sturdy twill and has ample cargo pockets, and cut wide enough to walk in comfortably, but nowhere near 8-gore fullness. But a friend who dresses modestly by choice looked at them and said "ankle length cargo skirts! hooray!"

#92 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Rikibeth, I have never tried a Utilikilt, though I am familiar with the concept. Meanwhile I avoid Hot Topic like the plague; I'll have to see if I can stand one long enough to look around. :)

#93 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Carrie S, there's always online. No in-store music that way.

#94 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Ambar asks: "...Is the intent to persuade them to your way of thinking, or to figure out why they think the way they do?"

Oh heavens certainly not the former. Something of the latter mixed with a bit of foreboding about the implications.

One of the things that feeds my social anxiety is the nagging fear that I cannot rely on very many people to share my thoughts and philosophy about the importance of informed consent in social situations. I can sometimes be a little obsessive over things that other people would rather ignore. It's a problem— I'm working on it.

I can understand the people who think that both the veil and the collar are always tools of patriarchal oppression and cannot ever be tools of empowerment. I don't think I agree with them, but I can see a consistency in their position: they seem to regard all of it as dangerous paraphilia and disregard the testament of consensual practitioners that conflict with their own opinions. It's the people who inconsistently see the need for safety, sanity and consent in sexual dominance/submission practices— those people worry me. What kind of distinction would be important enough to draw that it should override that basic concern? I don't get that.

#95 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:19 PM:

Lee @ 78: "Can we, on both sides of this issue, grant that the women who are wearing the hijab -- especially in Western countries where there are no legal sanctions against not doing so -- may have their own reasons for wearing it THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH US? Please?"

There's nothing incompatible between doing that and also discussing the ways that one of the factors in their decision* is the patriarchal connotations of the hijab and social pressure towards (and away from it) because of those connotations. Plenty of people make decisions for reasons they're not entirely clear on--bringing patriarchal assumptions and associations to light isn't done to show people THE ONE TRUE PATH. It's done to help people weigh and balance the demands of their own lives in an informed way so that they can make the right decision for themselves.

*Yes, it is impossible for it to not be a factor. Possibly a very minor one, but it's never gone completely.

Andy Wilton @ 80: "There's a widespread perception here of inner-city Muslim girls being peer-pressured into submission. This isn't purely an invention of the media or right-wing politicians: TV discussions of the time featured Muslim women on both sides of the issue."

Oh yes, peer pressure. So is there a law forbidding boys from wearing football jerseys from [popular_team], because they might be peer pressured into it? Or what about a law forbidding Muslim men from growing facial hair? What about students getting fashionable haircuts? Sure is a lot of peer pressure around personal grooming. Ooh, I know--what about a law forbidding girls from wearing mini-skirts to dance clubs because they might be pressured into it? There's a lot of pressure to conform on the dance floor!

What is it about the magical intersection of "Muslim" and "female" that makes it okay to start passing laws to govern teenage peer pressure?

albatross @ 90: "Shorter me: Not only is it not about you, it's probably not about your models either. Other people are not characters in the morality plays going on in your head."

A stirring plea not to attribute abstract social themes to individuals without their consent. Heartily seconded. That doesn't make those larger social issues go away though, or render them incapable of reaching down and twisting people's lives. Just because I can't know with certainty whether that particular woman chooses to wear a head scarf as a symbol of her devotion to God, a fashion accessory, because she feels she has to, or any combination of the above doesn't mean that I don't know that all of those factors play a greater or lesser role in every hijab-wearer's life. Explicating those roles isn't to help me know what to do, it's to help her know what to do.

#96 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:33 PM:

@90 thank you for patronising me. I am perfectly capable of allowing individuals whom I encounter to go about their business unmolested by my preconceptions; but if I am invited to comment [and that's what happens here, right?] I will aver that the textual and historical evidence for hijab being part and parcel of a patriarchal and oppressive system is overwhelming, both in the past and now, on a global scale, and that if some women choose to ignore the coercion that, on a global scale, their individual choices nonetheless also symbolise, then that diminishes them as human beings. Which is bad, because I am a feminist, and I think there is enough going on to diminish the humanity of women without them joining in when they've the choice. And that is going to get some people's panties in a bunch, because they don't choose to recognise what they do in those terms, but tough, because this is a free internet, and they have to deal with it. Just as I have to deal with being patronised by you.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Carrie S @ 92...

Why do you avoid Hot Tropic like the plague?
("Serge, it's topic.")
Oh.
It is a bit warm around here.

#98 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 02:42 PM:

Dave Bell @#82:

I think one benefit of the French headscarf ban is that the kids get to learn that being bare-headed doesn't do horrible things. Their hair doesn't fall off, etc.

It doesn't do horrible things in the worldly/mundane sense, but spiritually, it interferes with their relationship with God, because it prevents them from obeying him. To a devout Muslim who believes that wearing a headscarf is a holy duty (many do not, but many do), that may well be a horrible thing.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:07 PM:

dave @96:
if some women choose to ignore the coercion that, on a global scale, their individual choices nonetheless also symbolise, then that diminishes them as human beings

I do hope you, personally, think of the global ramifications of every choice that you make while you extend this standard to others. Do you drink Fairtrade coffee and/or tea, ensure that your sugar is ethically sourced, avoid sweatshop products, and drive an economical car made by unionized workers?

Because, if not, I think your standing to say that women deciding, on balance, to wear the hijab "diminishes them as human beings" may be a little shaky.

#100 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:18 PM:

me @99:
Correction. Dave can, clearly and demonstrably, say whatever he wants on the internet. He can say quite a lot here.

But if he wants his audience to agree with holding women in headscarves to that standard, I hope he can back it up by meeting it himself, in his daily choices. That would be the logical extension of the argument that our personal actions must always further our wider causes.

#101 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:21 PM:

heresiarch @ 95: judging by your examples, the phrase "peer-pressured" was a poor choice on my part. The popular worry at the time of the debate was not about teen fashion crazes but about oppression of, and violence against, young Muslim women. People like Ni Putes Ni Soumise claimed that the wearing of headscarves contributed to a culture of such oppression and violence. Now, they might have been mistaken in making this connection, or in supposing that a ban could change anything, but given that they are themselves Muslim women, it's hard to see how their campaign or the subsequent legislation could constitute "gross racism and sexism" as per your previous post.

#102 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:38 PM:

dave, #96: Pot, kettle, black. If you don't want to be patronized (which, incidentally, I don't see #90 as being), then do not yourself patronize others.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Lee @ 102... Pot, kettle, black

Cliff Potts, Ma Kettle, Karen Black.

#104 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Andy Wilton @ 101: "The popular worry at the time of the debate was not about teen fashion crazes but about oppression of, and violence against, young Muslim women. People like Ni Putes Ni Soumise claimed that the wearing of headscarves contributed to a culture of such oppression and violence."

And I agree.

"Now, they might have been mistaken in making this connection, or in supposing that a ban could change anything, but given that they are themselves Muslim women, it's hard to see how their campaign or the subsequent legislation could constitute "gross racism and sexism" as per your previous post."

"This position is argued by some members of [minority_group], and therefore it cannot oppressive of that group" is just an inside-out ad hominem--because of the speaker, the argument cannot be criticized. Finding a black guy to say that he thinks black guys are often criminal doesn't make racial profiling less racist, nor do women who say mothers who work are failing their maternal duty make that argument less sexist. Similarly, fighting attempts by others to control what women wear by forcing them to wear something else is still a crap strategy, no matter who is backing it.

To return to my earlier examples, there's strong evidence that women who go out clubbing are at a greatly increased risk of sexual assault. Would a ban on women drinking in public, or dancing sexily, strike you as a particularly good strategy of preventing that kind of violence? If you have a problem with women being targeted by violence, the sensible response is to punish the perpetrators, not the victims.

#105 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Actually, I guess the parallel position would be to force women to get drunk and dance slutty, but whatever.

The trick with believing that women should get to make their own choices is that they get make their own choices, even when their choice is to cave to the patriarchy. It's their call--not yours, not mine, not Ni Putes Ni Soumise's, not the French government's.

#106 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 04:41 PM:

In quasi-defense of the French "headscarf law," it's worth noting that it's part of a very long-running political story in France--the whole French concept of laïcité, of aggressively separating religion and the public sphere. Intensity of feeling about this has waxed and waned over the 200+ years since the French Revolution, but if I understand correctly, it's never stopped being a powerful force in French affairs. From what I can tell, laïcité makes the American concept of "separation of church and state" seem whiny and irresolute by comparison. It's more like a species of Never Again.

Then on the other hand we have dave, #96: "I will aver that the textual and historical evidence for hijab being part and parcel of a patriarchal and oppressive system is overwhelming, both in the past and now, on a global scale, and that if some women choose to ignore the coercion that, on a global scale, their individual choices nonetheless also symbolize, then that diminishes them as human beings." I'm sorry, and I'm sure you mean well, but that really is one of the sillier things I've seen posted to Making Light in quite a while.

All kinds of things are "part and parcel of a patriarchal and oppressive system", because patriarchalism is the goldfish bowl we're all swimming in. Clothing. Makeup. Hats. Dolls. "Girl's" bicycles. Gender-segregated sports. If every woman who "chooses to ignore the coercion" that someone claims is "also symbolized" by their choice in clothing, makeup, bicycles, etc...is therefore "diminished as a human being," then there's gonna be a lot of diminishing-women-as-human-beings going on, which is a pretty odd plan for a self-described feminist to be sketching out. Are you sure you don't want to rethink this?

#107 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 05:16 PM:

Patrick @106, that's kind of the point I was getting at in my comment about clothing choices. If every clothing choice I made can be seen by somebody, somewhere, as a reaction to (whether submission to or rejection of) the patriarchy, then where is the possibility of my free choice in the matter? At some point it would be nice if the world would accept that my choice is "not about them" as someone said earlier, but MY CHOICE. I'm all for thoughtfulness and carefully chosing one's clothes to create the image one chooses to project, but not every choice I make is politicized. Nor should it be politicized by others.

#108 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 05:48 PM:

heresiarch @ 104, 105: "This position is argued by some members of [minority_group], and therefore it cannot oppressive of that group" is just an inside-out ad hominem--because of the speaker, the argument cannot be criticized.
Oops! I didn't see that as being the structure of my argument, but you are right, of course. The point I was trying to make, however, is that the movement that led to the headscarf ban was not driven by sexism or racism: whatever you might feel about the effects of their campaigning, I hope you'll agree that NPNS weren't trying to oppress Muslim girls for racist or sexist reasons?

The trick with believing that women should get to make their own choices is that they get make their own choices, even when their choice is to cave to the patriarchy. It's their call--not yours, not mine, not Ni Putes Ni Soumise's, not the French government's.
That's a very individualistic formulation of the issue. It might sit well with Anglo-American sensibilities, but in France people expect the government to intervene to solve social problems. If that seems paternalist to you, well, they do things differently here. In dismissing the headscarf ban as racist and sexist, ISTM you risk falling into the same trap that the original commenters on BoingBoing did, namely of assuming that you can understand other cultures without first learning about them.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 05:49 PM:

This is what went wrong with the old notion of political correctness. In its original form, it wasn't a bad idea: make your actions and speech consistent with your politics at all times. When things like haircuts became politically correct (or worse, politically INcorrect), once again freedom of choice was lost.

I knew a Lesbian back in East Lansing in the 70s who was virtually ostracized because she was femme and slender, wore her hair long, and wore "traditionally" "feminine" clothes. You see, at that place and time the only politically correct way to be was butch and fat with a short haircut; clothing choices were pretty much limited to flannel shirts and jeans. If you didn't dress and act in this "dyke ugly"* style, you were not a real Lesbian, you see, and if you were not a Lesbian you could naturally not be a true feminist, because "feminism is the theory; Lesbianism is the practice."

If, like the woman I spoke of, you liked feminine clothes, you were complicit in the patriarchal oppression of women—excuse me, wimmin, and every real womon would ostracize you...except the ones who were secretly attracted to femmes, but they were ashamed of their unrighteousness. And Goddess Forbid you slept with men from time to time; that meant you were "draining energy from the wimmin's community" and giving it to the enemy.

dave 96, that's what your comment reminds me of.
____
*This is what the women who wore it called it.

#110 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 05:59 PM:

... days behind, as usual.

Dave Bell @12: ... I wonder what sort of unrealistic fantasies lurk in the minds of some fashion commenters.

It blows me away that somebody actually thinks
this is attractive.

#111 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Jacque, #110: Good lord, they've airbrushed her to look like she has plastic skin as well as the plastic corset!

#112 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 06:36 PM:

Xopher: Actually, to be "politically correct" was, at it's inception, meant to be conformist. It started in the USSR. It meant one's views were in keeping with the teachings of the Party.

Which s why the Right, in the US used it to attack the Left.

#113 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 06:44 PM:

Jacque @ 110: My goodness. It's a Mickey Mouse corset.

#114 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 06:48 PM:

Terry, it should also be noted that American leftists adopted "politically correct" among themselves for use as a pejorative around the time the shine started to come off the USSR for them after the rise of Stalin.

#115 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 08:46 PM:

J. H. Woodyatt @73:

It's not the NYPD I'm worried about--as I said, I would be exercising my legal rights [1]. It's lots of men (and probably some women) who aren't in the police department, and might respond to toplessness by harassing me in one or more ways, including but not limited to attempts to grope me, insulting me because I didn't fit their ideas of feminine beauty, or yelling at me for "immodesty" or "sin," possibly while topless themselves.

[1] Some years ago, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that, under the state constitution, allowing men but not women to be topless in public--on beaches, in parks, jogging along city streets, gardening, etc.--was unlawful sex discrimination, and struck down the statutes that did so. The judges invited the state legislature, if it so chose, to pass a law prohibiting public toplessness, regardless of the gender of the person in question. The legislature has not done so, whether because they didn't want to be laughed at, or because they didn't want to hear from male constituents who resented having to wear shirts in hot weather, I don't know. In practice, because of an assortment of social pressures, few women go casually topless in parks etc. And that includes quite a few of us who are casually nudist around our friends.

#116 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 09:21 PM:

Vicki #115:

It seems like the current state of affairs is kind of the right direction for things to be. What's legally required or prohibited should be way, way less stringent than what's socially accepted or expected.

#117 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 09:36 PM:

Andy Wilton @ 108: "whatever you might feel about the effects of their campaigning, I hope you'll agree that NPNS weren't trying to oppress Muslim girls for racist or sexist reasons?"

I'm hard pressed to think of any way of oppressing women that isn't sexist, so no, I can't agree. I'll agree that they're oppressing women unintentionally, if that satisfies you. On the racism front, their case seems dodgier: not a few French leftists think they're harnessing feminism in the service of the Islamophobic French right. I really couldn't say what lies in their hearts, but their actions = racist + sexist.

"It might sit well with Anglo-American sensibilities, but in France people expect the government to intervene to solve social problems. If that seems paternalist to you, well, they do things differently here."

My goodness but you're barking up the wrong tree. I have no problem with employing mechanisms of the state to intervene in social issues; that's what it's for. I have absolutely no problem with the government running anti-violence or religious awareness campaigns in schools, supporting Muslim students who decide not to wear the scarf, or making very public examples of the men (or women) who threaten them. In fact, they ought to do all those things. What they shouldn't do however is force women into making one choice in the guise of protecting them from the evils of another choice. That is, after all, exactly what the religious conservatives claim they are doing themselves.

#118 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 11:06 PM:

albatross @#116: On the issue of clothing, I agree with you, but in many situations the law is there to prevent socially-accepted wrongs from occurring, and so has to be more stringent than social rules. Civil rights legislation is all about that, for example.

#119 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 11:21 PM:

Commenting slightly out of order here...

Terry @ 112: There's a whole history of the usage of "politically correct" that is specific to the U.S./Canadian lesbian/women's/wimmin's/womyn's communities; it shares roots with some other usages, but it's got its own rich herstory, as it were, and the usage was served with a side of irony sauce pretty much from the get-go, while still being seen as a useful tool for self- and community-examination.

Xopher @ 110: If, like the woman I spoke of, you liked feminine clothes, you were complicit in the patriarchal oppression of women—excuse me, wimmin, and every real womon would ostracize you...except the ones who were secretly attracted to femmes, but they were ashamed of their unrighteousness.

Heh. I remember those days. You think that one's a difficult path, well, try being a femme who likes femmes! That was definitely too queer for some folks.

And Goddess Forbid you slept with men from time to time; that meant you were "draining energy from the wimmin's community" and giving it to the enemy.

Stop givin' me flashbacks, man. I'm gonna have to dig out my Alix Dobkin records again.

#120 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 12:10 AM:

Terry Karney @112, I had always understood "politically correct" (I'm talking about the phrase, here, and not the general concept of social conformity, which has been with us always) to have come from the Maoists, not the USSR. Wikipedia not only backs me up on this, but provides an earlier usage from WW1-era Britain. (And one with a different meaning from an 18th century US Supreme Court decision.)

In the US, though, it was largely used by leftists as a term of ironic self-mockery.

#121 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:13 AM:

heresiarch @ 117: When you originally described the ban as "grossly racist and sexist", I understood that to be a statement about the intention behind the ban. If you actually meant something else, we are perhaps not actually in disagreement here. However, I think this:

What they shouldn't do however is force women into making one choice in the guise of protecting them from the evils of another choice.

proceeds from a fundamental misunderstanding. No-one is trying to protect school pupils from their own choices. The issue is over the effect of a pupil's choices on their comrades. This is why the ban targets ostentatious symbols: they are seen (by supporters of the ban) as an attempt to influence others. The balance here is between the right to follow one's religion in matters of dress, and the right to have other people keep their religious beliefs out of one's face in the classroom. You may feel that French people should strike that balance differently, but (as per PNH's comments on laïcité @ 106) this is a hot-button issue here for reasons that have nothing to do with race or gender: it was a long, hard fight to get religion out of the (state) classroom, and people aren't about to let it back in by the side door.


#122 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:58 AM:

Dear abi, thank you too for pointing out that we're all liable for our choices; because someone might think, reading your observations and others, that certain people weren't. Honestly, if the key point is going to be "it's OK to collaborate with an oppressive system, as long as you choose to do it", what the hell is ever going to change?

#123 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:50 AM:

Me @ 121: No-one is trying to protect school pupils from their own choices.

On re-reading this, I can see I was overstating the case here. Some people probably are trying to protect school pupils from their own choices, but this brings me back to my original point: different people supported the ban for different reasons, not all of which can be easily dismissed as racist or sexist*. Again, I find this echoes the conversation about the wearing of hijab itself, and the unwisdom of jumping to conclusions across cultural boundaries.

* In so far as anyone was trying to: apologies if I'm flogging a dead straw man here.

#124 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:57 AM:

dave @122:
Honestly, if the key point is going to be "it's OK to collaborate with an oppressive system, as long as you choose to do it", what the hell is ever going to change?

Great. What are you doing to change the oppressive system, apart from binding up burdens for others to carry?

It's all very easy to sit around and tell other people what they should do, what choices they should make, for the betterment of the world. It's also somewhere between useless and actively damaging, particularly when I hear some bloke telling women that if they don't do what he thinks they should, then they're diminish[ed] as human beings.

Full circle and round again. You have freedom, but only if you use it as some guy tells you to. Otherwise you're not quite fully human.

#125 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 05:34 AM:

Shorter dave: "I'm a man, and I'm a feminist. Why won't all these women understand that I know what they should be doing better than they do?"

Over on the feminist blogs, that type of argument tends to be treated as concern-trolling.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 07:07 AM:

dave:

Right, I've cycled around with this a bit, and I think I can explain things a little more clearly.

Two ways of defining, not just feminism, but also the whole group of movements against sexism, racism, etc, etc are:
1. Seeking to empower previously disempowered groups. Anti-authoriarianism, if you will.
2. Asserting the widest possible definition of "humanity". Leaving no one out because of their sex, their race, their class, their sexual orientation, etc.

The statement if some women choose to ignore the coercion that, on a global scale, their individual choices nonetheless also symbolize, then that diminishes them as human beings really, really fails both of those tests.

I can see how you might not have quite twigged to point one. You're disappointed that women are not fighting the good fight. You're focused on the goal (and a good goal it is), and anything that slows our progress is frustrating. But you don't get to make that choice for them. Membership in this struggle is voluntary. There is no drafting into this army. And we each get to choose what we have the strength to do. We choose. They choose. You don't choose for anyone but yourself, nor even try to control their choices through your words. (Persuade, yes, great. Go for it. But even then, making every headscarf a token of global oppression isn't a particularly effective strategy.)

Point two, though, is my sticking point. This is why I got angry. If feminism is in the business of declaring anyone's humanity dimished, I'm off the bus. Our humanity is not revocable or diminishable, not by who we are or what we do. Sexists and oppressors, collaborators and victims, winners and losers, men, women, children: we're all human, we're all in this together.

And that's leaving aside PNH @106's point, that you're setting an impossible standard if you're trying to get individuals to break, or even weaken, the patriarchy by their clothing choices.

By the time we get to the fact that your statement boils down to "Ladies! Stop making your own choices and listen to the man!" we're just looking at the icing on the cake.

I believe that you consider yourself a feminist. I believe that you share the goal of equality. But I think you might want to go have a think about whether you're really advancing that cause with what you do. "Feminist" isn't a magic label; you have to walk the walk as well as wear the badge.

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 08:32 AM:

dave:

Rereading my post at #89, I added about 50% too much self righteous a--hole to what was otherwise, I hope, a sensible point. I'm sorry about that. I should have recognized the swelling sense of "I'm right, goddamnit" in my breast and deleted the damned post.

Let me try a much less controversial example. I drive an SUV[0]. Now, it's possible to see this as a statement of my beliefs--perhaps I adhere to the "nuke their ass and take their gas" school of foreign policy, or the "drill, baby, drill" school of environmental policy. For some people, for whom environmental stance is a big part of how they see the world, I may find myself being judged or criticized from that basis.

Now, it's perfectly reasonable to point out to me (politely) that my choices are having an impact on those things--that my consumption of gas is contributing to global warming and the need for the US to keep a carrier group in the Gulf and all sorts of other stuff. But while I do think about that stuff, my reasons for driving an SUV are almost entirely focused on finding a car big enough for my family[1].

What I'm trying to get at is that, if you point out the impact and context of my decisions, that makes sense and may even be useful or interesting to me, done properly. But if you cast me as the bad guy in a morality play about environmentalism or US foreign policy, you're likely to be misunderstanding my motivations and turning me into a prop.

It seems to me that this is kind-of what happens in some of these discussions of women wearing a headscarf[2]. The women become props, rather than people. I see this all the time in any number of discussions, espcially about religion and race and feminism. (And probably dozens of other topics I'm not thinking about right now.)

[0] This is about as bland as I can make my example. Sorry if this isn't super-exciting.

[1] The requirement for bulky car safety seats for children probably drives a surprising amount of the demand for minivans and SUVs. It is just barely possible to fit our family of five into our Honda Accord, even though three of the five are small children.

[2] And I'm thinking about this in the US context; I'm neither smart nor wise enough to instruct France or Turkey on the best way to deal with this issue.

#128 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 09:28 AM:

Abi, if I were shouting at someone in the street, maybe your harsh critique would be justified, but as I am simply typing words, then I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint, which, as I said, is not directed towards causing offence to anyone. I think, further, that your notion that nothing that anyone, not even, by your logic, a perpetrator of genocide, can do, diminishes them as a human being [which is what I said, not "diminishes their humanity", though many people would argue it does], is, frankly, absurd. To allow that no-one is a better person, a better example of what it means to be human, than any other, when we have the whole range from Helen Keller to Eichmann to choose from, and beyond? Really? We're all in this together? Tell that to a psychopath.

I can see that there may be all manner of reasons in particular situations why it may be impolitic to assert that "collaboration in oppression" happens, but within the frame of this discussion here, I think the point is unavoidable. Lots of women, all across the world, collaborate in their oppression all the time [as do members of many other oppressed groups, in their own fashions]; some of them derive great personal benefit from it. They really should all stop, and the world would be a better place if they did. That doesn't mean it will be easy for them to stop, or that demanding that they stop, of their own accord and without support, should head up an agenda for change. But they should stop. Really, if such a point becomes controversial, amongst those who are actually trying to make the world a better place, how on earth are they going to work towards that goal? Tactical placation is one thing, avoiding the core of the issue is quite another.

[N.B. of course it would be best if it were the OPPRESSORS who did the stopping, of their own accord and at once; but that definitely isn't going to happen first, is it?]

#129 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 09:37 AM:

Must one spin a pun in this thread about threads?

#130 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 09:56 AM:

Lots of women, all across the world, collaborate in their oppression all the time [as do members of many other oppressed groups, in their own fashions]; some of them derive great personal benefit from it. They really should all stop, and the world would be a better place if they did.

I don't like wearing make-up, or dress shoes, or dresses, but I willingly collaborate in that oppression and dress that way when I go and meet certain clients because, in my field, it adheres to prevailing standards of professional attire, meaning that clients are more likely to trust me, give me projects, and allow me to make a living, than if I went to see them in my favorite jeans, tshirt and sandals. Between the oppression represented by lipstick and the oppression represented by not having money (and all the lost opportunities that come with that situation), I pick the former.

I need to prioritize; there's no other way to do it. And other people's priorities are not the same as mine.

To allow that no-one is a better person, a better example of what it means to be human, than any other, when we have the whole range from Helen Keller to Eichmann to choose from, and beyond? Really?

Two parts.
Part the first, I have lots of examples of people who are better persons than I can ever hope to be.

Part the second, yes, really. Every single human being is a sterling example of what it means to be human.

Better person != better human being, at least not in my book.

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 10:24 AM:

dave, #128: of course it would be best if it were the OPPRESSORS who did the stopping, of their own accord and at once

Well now, that's something you CAN address, right here in this thread -- by accepting that a woman's right to make her own choices includes her right to make choices that YOU, as a man, disapprove of. Also by not playing the double-standards game -- your "robust opinion" is okay, abi's "harsh critique" isn't -- and by not using troll tropes ("it's only words on a screen").

You think the ACLU enjoyed defending the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie? Of course not -- but it was the principle that mattered, not whether or not they approved of the cause. Are you less than they?

#132 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 10:32 AM:

Dave @128, are you saying that if every oppressed group just stopped allowing themselves to be oppressed already, the oppression would magically go away? Really? Because of course the victims are really the ones with the power to change things, and we can't expect the oppressors to change.

Someone who claims to be a feminist and also claims that I "diminish myself as a human being" by not somehow being immune to oppression makes me very, very wary. Saying "well, that's just my opinion" doesn't make it better. Words have power. Words mean things.

#133 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Several people are slightly confused about the history of the term "politically correct." It didn't emerge from Leninist orthodoxy.* Rather, "politically correct" was a phrase frequently found in English translations of the Maoist cant of China's 1960s "Cultural Revolution." (Other such phrases: "Speak Bitterness Session"; "capitalist roader.")

The most crucial fact about the phrase, though, and the one that has been most consistently ignored, is that its very first uses in English, in the 1970s, were almost all satirical; it was deployed by left-wingers and feminists to mock other people of the Left who were trying too hard to be ideologically pure in all things. Or people who were being a bit too sanctimonious toward their fellow activists. A phrase often heard among American Catholics carries much the same set of associations: "More Catholic than the Pope."

Subsequently the phrase was kidnapped by right-wingers; since then, it has been used to endlessly promote the idea that left-wingers are all insane Red Guards who whip one another up with exhortations to be "politically correct." In fact, the phrase was always a wry reminder of the foolishness and stupidity of Red Guard-ism.

--

* Leninist Russians and their overseas fellow travelers would instead tend to use the phrase "ideologically sound."

#134 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 10:58 AM:

(Oops, I see that Avram made the same point at shorter length in #120.)

#135 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:08 AM:

Serge #129: No, they're dreadfully hard to pin down, what with all the puntificating going on.

(Though I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the
Touareg yet.)

#136 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:12 AM:

Fragano @ 135... Maybe a clothing statement is needled.

#137 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:12 AM:

... its very first uses in English, in the 1970s, were almost all satirical; it was deployed by left-wingers and feminists to mock other people of the Left who were trying too hard to be ideologically pure in all things.

Indeed -- my first exposure to it (in the mid-1980s, shortly before it started showing up in wider culture) was at Wesleyan University, where it was used in just that sense. (There's a movie from the early 90s called PCU -- nominally the initials of the fictional "Port Chester University" but obviously intended to mean "Politically Correct University" -- which was written by two guys who went to Wesleyan around the same time I did.)

#138 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:14 AM:

dave, #128: "Abi, if I were shouting at someone in the street, maybe your harsh critique would be justified, but as I am simply typing words, then I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint, which, as I said, is not directed towards causing offence to anyone."

First, Abi's thoughtful and carefully-phrased #126 was hardly a "harsh critique."

Second, the question of whether one meant to offend is never entirely irrelevant, but its relevance does not completely obviate the need to deal with having offended. Most people learn this in third grade.

Third, I'm beginning to think that "I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint" deserves to be as immortalized as "I am aware of all Internet traditions."

#139 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Serge #136: I think knit.

#140 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Avram @120 & PNH @133: I wasn't aware of the Maoist origins of the phrase "politically correct," but I did know about its use in leftist self-satire before being "kidnapped by right-wingers," and am glad to see that other people remember this. (Stuck in Oklahoma as I am, I don't get to talk with actual leftists all that much.)

I'd love to see the left kidnap the phrase right back, and broaden it to include counterproductively rigid ideological purity on the right as well as the left. (Both of my home state's senators are paragons of right-wing "political correctness," for instance.) Think there's a chance of that happening?

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 11:32 AM:

Fragano @ 139... Even though the exchanges haven't left us in stitches?

#142 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 12:55 PM:

Serge #141: I'm a frayed knot.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:22 PM:

elise 119: Stop givin' me flashbacks, man. I'm gonna have to dig out my Alix Dobkin records again.

Thank you for corroborating my otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative...I was afraid no one who hadn't been there would believe me at all, it's so bizarre.

#144 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Serge, Fragano,

I'm finding you both a bit warped today.

#145 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:33 PM:

dave @128, who determines if I'm collaborating in my own opression, you or me?

#146 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:37 PM:

Rob T. asks: "I'd love to see the left kidnap the phrase right back, and broaden it to include counterproductively rigid ideological purity on the right as well as the left. (Both of my home state's senators are paragons of right-wing "political correctness," for instance.) Think there's a chance of that happening?"

We never stopped using the phrase that way. The reason you don't know that is because you're not allowed to communicate with actual leftists, living as you do in Oklahoma. You're not allowed to read our websites, you're not allowed to subscribe to our email relays, you're not allowed to speak with us in our coffee houses and other dens of godless iniquity (ubiquitous in Oklahoma, you just have to know where to find them).

Hell, in Oklahoma, leftists aren't even allowed to communicate with one another. Thing is, though... we're leftists, so we do it anyway. Screw the imperialist running-dog capitalist roader pigs. Having been kidnapped by right-wingers, you're of course not allowed to know any of that either.

Sorry, that's just how we roll.

#147 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Like Elise, I live in Minneapolis; my daughters attend a school that is currently about 25% Muslim. (The most common first name at this school is Muhammed. The most common last name is Xiong. There is not, however, a student named Muhammed Xiong. Yet.) The vast majority of Muslims here are from Somalia, and the Somali women and girls usually wear hijabs and in many cases a long skirt.

What I have observed is that Somali girls are far, FAR more annoyed by the long skirts. The hijab seems to be evolving into a marker of cultural pride: it means you are Muslim and Somali. Long skirts, on the other hand, get in the way if you're climbing on the playground or playing soccer, and are replaced with blue jeans as fast as girls can talk their parents into allowing it.

Every second-generation immigrant group will define some customs are markers of cultural pride, whereas others are old-fashioned old-country customs that you ditch as soon as your parents turn their backs.

Anyway, I rarely see people in discussions of Islamic dress complaining about long skirts. They tend to focus on the hijab. I can't even begin to imagine why this is.... it can't possibly be that the hijab is distinctively Muslim, whereas long skirts are often worn by Christians, could it?

#148 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:42 PM:

Nancy C Mittens @ 144... That's a rather rough-shod treatment of us.

#149 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:43 PM:

PNH writes: `I'm beginning to think that "I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint" deserves to be as immortalized as "I am aware of all Internet traditions."`

Oh, I am so there with you.

#150 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:43 PM:

Serge, Fragano @ 141, 142: Suture selves.

#151 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:44 PM:

albatross @127, "It is just barely possible to fit our family of five into our Honda Accord, even though three of the five are small children."

Don't know if that "three" is by choice, or what kind of choice, but, modulo that, anyone "for whom environmental stance is a big part of how they see the world" would see that as a major part of the problem.

#152 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:46 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens #144: All I can say is woof!

#153 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:50 PM:

Ginger #150: I see you're trying to tie this off. I think it's a lost gauze, though.

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 01:55 PM:

I'm waiting for the veiled threats.

#155 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:05 PM:

Andy Wilton @ 121: "I understood that to be a statement about the intention behind the ban."

Ah. I see. My identification of the ban as racist and sexist has nothing to do with the intentions behind it, which are as varied as the people behind it--even were it the brainchild of a single individual, I still wouldn't be comfortable making claims about intention. Tricky things, intentions. Always shifting about.

No, when I describe something as racist or sexist I'm describing what it does, not why it was done. The effect of the ban is to limit the choices of Muslim women. Therefore, sexist and racist.

"The balance here is between the right to follow one's religion in matters of dress, and the right to have other people keep their religious beliefs out of one's face in the classroom."

Once you've defined "what other people do with their personal appearance" as "in my face" you've strayed into very dangerous territory. If anything anyone else does with their appearance can be interpreted as violating anyone else's personal space, then what of the Muslim students who feel that all those girls not wearing headscarves are implicitly critiquing their religious beliefs? Their arguments for forcing women to wear headscarves are just as valid as the government's arguments for forcing them not to wear headscarves. They are mirrors of each other, and only one can dominate.

The only answer to this that doesn't end in existential struggle is no one gets to tell anyone else what to wear. It's the only way for a heterodox society to survive.

Note: I really don't care how badly France was traumatized by religion. It justifies nothing. Trauma is an explanation for unreasonable actions, but it is not an excuse for it.

#156 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:17 PM:

Dave @128, your pouty-lipped awash-in-self-pity routine would go over better if you hadn't started getting aggressively rude clear back around comment #25. Think long and hard before before you decide to keep pushing the issue.

In the meantime, the opening lines of comment #128 are such a perfect example of denial of agency that I've enshrined them in a wiki I maintain of online rhetorical maneuvers.

"Denial of agency" is a transactional model, characteristically asserted by trolls, in which the speaker represents himself as not having initiated exchanges, made choices, behaved aggressively, used rude language, made unwarrantedly harsh or judgemental assumptions, unduly personalized exchanges, or otherwise acted in ways that are pretty much guaranteed to give offense. Instead, he describes himself as having merely reacted to inexplicable and gratuitously hostile attacks by others.

(Note: This is related to what EMTs call "Some Dude Syndrome," where a person injured in a fight explains that "I don't know what happened; I was just standing there, minding my own business, when all of a sudden Some Dude starts wailing on me.")

It's a denial of responsibility that skips over having to argue that what you did was right. Instead, it argues that everything you did was reactive, and that none of it had any effect on others. Here's that example of it from your comment #128:

Abi, if I were shouting at someone in the street, maybe your harsh critique would be justified, but as I am simply typing words, then I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint, which, as I said, is not directed towards causing offence to anyone.
Notice how you describe Abi Sutherland's typed remarks as "harsh," but exculpate your own remarks on the grounds that they were typed rather than shouted? Hello, self-serving inconsistency?

You momentarily restore the assumption of agency in your speech when you describe it as "robust" (see also: Self-Valorization), but you then resume your denial of agency when you claim that it was not intended to cause offense.

That odd use of "cause offense" rather than "give offense" fits with the rest of this analysis. "To give offense" is descriptive--this speech got thatreaction--and belongs to a universe in which speakers are assumed to be responsible for their speech. Substituting "cause offense" changes it to an argument from intent, and denies that you're responsible for consequences of your actions which you didn't consciously intend.

If I were you, I'd knock that off.

#157 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:23 PM:

I pop in here for a moment after scarfing my lunch, and what do I find? We've gone hairing off into punland! I thought I saw this looming on the horizon. I recoil with every fiber of my being. I have fab recall of the last time, though the circumstances are not material. Don't you think weave done this enough? Twill do us in! People will accuse us of satinism in no time.

Honestly, this is the seamy side of Making Light. I'm not sure how we can selvage the conversation, so I'm going back to my he-job now (I have no she-job, before you ask).

[Discarded because tasteless: references to people who refuse to conceal an Islamic identity as "unbleached Muslims."]

#158 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:33 PM:

heresiarch @155:

You've mentioned before that you've lived abroad, though perhaps (I don't know) as an expat within a thoroughly foreign society?

I ask because Andy Wilton's comments reflect something I'm coming only slowly to really understand myself as an expat, which is that the social compact—at least in many non-Anglophone Western European countries—is fundamentally different than it is in Britain and her daughter nations.

I learned this about the Netherlands at the time of the Geert Wilders trial, when he was tried for what would be, in the States, merely exercising his freedom of speech. Here, he was convicted, not because of what he said, but because of how he choose to say it (Godwin's Law is law here). I was horrified at first, but I talked it through with my native Dutch colleagues. Most of them thought that his conviction was fine, because he was damaging the ability of the community to work together. He was, basically, trolling the debate, and they were fine with him being told how he could and could not make his points so that civic discourse could continue.

Freedom of speech here is subordinated to the quality of the discourse, in other words. And that's just one example of a society that simply does not make the same assumptions or have the same priorities that American society does.

I don't really understand this social balance instinctively. But what I do understand is the fact that I don't understand it. I can't apply American rules to a fundamentally foreign situation and come up with a just result; the whole structure of the society is different. I can't go with my gut feelings.

I'm not saying the headscarf ban is right. But I think you may be being a little too absolute in your conviction that it's wrong on distinctively American grounds. It's an almost inarticulable thing, this fundamental strangeness of societies, but Andy's comments ring with it like a bell.

#159 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:38 PM:

dave, Teresa's comment above should be read as a stern warning from the hosts of this site. I bring this up because the extreme gentleness of Teresa's tone in describing your commenting behavior might blind an inexperienced reader-of-Teresa to the iron fist in the velvet glove. She really means it, and also if you modify the behavior she's talking about you really will continue to be welcome here (well, unless you do something else that's a problem).

To her "advice" to knock it off, I would add a piece of my own advice (and I have no authority here and have not been involved in conversation with you previously; this advice is intended in the friendliest possible way): wait before replying to Teresa, or again posting on this thread (probably the whole blog). Wait a period that includes a full night's sleep. If you jump right in while your adrenalin is up, you'll make mistakes.

It's probably OK to write your response offline, as long as you sleep and reread it before posting it, but the temptation to post it while it's still hot will be almost overwhelming.

I know. I've been there. I've said things I regret and it took me a long time to recover my self-respect and the respect of others. (Not so much here, but even here I've crossed the line a few times.)

As I said, my advice is offered on a take-what-you-want, discard-the-rest basis. I hope you take it, but it's entirely up to you.

#160 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:41 PM:

Lee @111: Nevermind the plastic bones and frankly plastic boobs. <shudder>

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:49 PM:

Xopher @ 157... Next you'll be knitting a serge protector, I sew-ppose.

#162 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:53 PM:

dave: if I were shouting at someone in the street, maybe your harsh critique would be justified, but as I am simply typing words, then I believe I am entitled to a robust viewpoint, which, as I said, is not directed towards causing offence to anyone.

Lets see if I can keep this concise:

I think typed words, in a large forum requires more care than shouting at someone in the street. Shouting at someone is most likely to be seen as abusive to the passers-by, and persuade no one. Being calm, and reasoned, in a neutral environment like the written word is far more likely to persuade.

This is a large part of why I avoided writing letters for years.

As to the offense you didn't mean to cause... So? Some people were offended. I am sorry you are being pilloried because of that, but you don't get to say, "I didn't mean it, so it's not fair to tell me about it."

For all that you think abi is/was being harsh, she was offended. She told you why. Looking at her response, she was really offended. I don't think she thinks you a bad person, but she does seem to think you have some problems in understanding the context, and effect, of how you present your arguments.

You, in short, called everyperson, who doesn't support banning "modest dress" a collaborator in intentional oppression. You made a point that it was worse for the women to do so.

No offense, but that's offensive.

#163 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Teresa 156:

I should have put this in my comment to dave: Please forgive me if I overstep. I just wasn't sure dave would heed your to-me-very-clear warning.

(Note: This is related to what EMTs call "Some Dude Syndrome," where a person injured in a fight explains that "I don't know what happened; I was just standing there, minding my own business, when all of a sudden Some Dude starts wailing on me.")

I understand that ER docs call this SOCMOB, for Standing On Corner, Minding Own Business. It's the 5th Amendment invocation for when the ER doc asks you what happened, how you got that stab wound, etc. Yes, it's common enough to have an acronym. This is among the many reasons I'm glad not to be an ER doc.

#164 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 02:59 PM:

re politically correct and point of origin. Oops. I misremembered which communist country it started in.

In terms of effect, the shifts of policy, and sudden shifts in rhetoric of the American Communist Party probably helped in my confusion.

I knew that we (in my circles) used it with some sense of irony, but I was a teen when it became the big deal, so it's harder to measure.

Now, of course, it's most common use is to beat up, "leftists" (a la Limbaugh, "it may not be politically correct to say this," which is pretty damned funny since he also goes on that "the left" is the smaller part of the nation), or to let someone get away with being a racist/sexist asshole.

mea culpa

#165 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:15 PM:

Xopher: (warning to all desctiptive language about wounds) I used to do security in hospital emergency rooms.

One night a guy, whom I would have classed as a pachuco in my old neighborhood), comes in with some friends (which is part of why I'd pigeonholed him that way), comes in cradling his arm.

I figured it was broken, but I did my job and moved to where I was between them, and the entrance to the ER proper, as he showed the Charge Nurse and the intake personell his arm.

It wasn't broken. It was missing about 1cc of meat, cleanly scooped. I knew (as did everyone else, though for different reasons) what had happened. He'd been in a knife fight, and the other guy had reached in and "flicked" him (and a good job it was. My knife fighting instructor would have been impressed).

Pam (the charge nurse) asked him how he got the wound.

"I was in the kicthen cutting up some chicken, and the knife slipped."

We all looked at him. Pam said, "No, really, how did you get the wound."

He emphasised the point, moving his right arm (in a way which could not have caused that injury), "I was cutting up a chicken and the knife slipped... It could happen!"

I got a minor reprimand because as soon as they took him into the back I went to the surgery waiting room (about 30 feet down the hall) and laughed myself sick.

#166 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:23 PM:

Terry Karney @ 165... That must have been one big combative fowl.

#167 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:28 PM:

"..what's the matter, Colonel -- are you chicken?"

#168 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:30 PM:

heresiarch @ 155: The effect of the ban is to limit the choices of Muslim women. Therefore, sexist and racist.

"Racist" I can understand, but if we're just talking about effects rather than intentions, I believe it's had (proportionate to community size) a rather larger effect on young Sikh men. Is it sexist both ways?

Once you've defined "what other people do with their personal appearance" as "in my face" you've strayed into very dangerous territory.

This is one of the aspects of the ban that I'm least comfortable with. The underlying argument is clearly "your right to swing your fists ends where my nose begins", but the perceptions of nose- and arm-length are not what I would have expected before the issue hit the headlines. The thing is, people are serious about this (in the sense that they would man the barricades over it*). They would AFAICT be equally outraged over any perceived Catholic "recruitment" behaviour in state-run schools.**

The only answer to this that doesn't end in existential struggle is no one gets to tell anyone else what to wear. It's the only way for a heterodox society to survive.

I don't think producing or maintaining a heterodox society is one of the higher priorities of the French Republic: not up there with liberty, equality and fraternity anyway.

I really don't care how badly France was traumatized by religion. It justifies nothing.

It's not about trauma: it's about making sure that dead things stay dead. If you take it as of a piece with laws against Nazi paraphenalia, war crime apologism or holocaust denial, that may give you some sense of it. (I know some Americans are highly critical of these laws too, but as with nose- and arm-length, the French have their own perspective on what constitutes shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre.)

* Not a figure of speech.

** Not that there is any: devout Catholics tend to opt out of state education altogether.

#169 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:33 PM:

Ginger @ 167... The poultry vs the poltroon?

#170 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Aargh! Cross-posted with abi @ 158, who manages to go right to the heart of the point I've been blindly stumbling around. (Also, my "Is it sexist both ways?" @ 168 reads as trivialising in a way I didn't intend: my apologies.)

#171 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 03:54 PM:

Andy @170:
abi @ 158, who manages to go right to the heart of the point I've been blindly stumbling around.

No, I was just providing the bass line to your melody. I don't have the kind of useful facts about the French situation that you do.

I just know that feel, particularly from a conversation I had with PNH about the Wilders situation.

#172 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:05 PM:

"what other people do with their personal appearance" as "in my face"

Obvious, simple, and entirely equitable solution: just make everyone wear blindfolds at school.

...no?

#173 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Xopher, thank you for helping with that. I know my tone isn't always clear. It can lead people to think I've lost my temper when I haven't, yet.

#174 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:31 PM:

There's a line that has been going through my head, continuously, about the argument that women must not wear headscarves lest they lend aid and comfort to oppression. This is from Peter S Beagle:

Who has choices need not choose,
We must, who have none.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:44 PM:

Teresa @ 173... And this is what happens when you do lose your temper.

#176 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 04:55 PM:

I've been standing on the sidelines, watching things and trying to make my mind up what's wrong with the argument, with a vague feeling that there's something I'm missing.

I just figured it out. This is only my opinion, mind, but I think there's a tendency for folks to wade in and prescribe: "You're being oppressed! You need to free yourselves! To free yourselves you must do as I say!"

I'm pretty sure that this goes both for the western secular anti-muslims and for the muslim fundamentalist proponents of veiling. And, oh, a whole bunch of other situations.

I think the solution is obvious, but I'm going to make my own start on being part of it by not telling you what to do.

#177 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:04 PM:

Abi, you can sing that one to the Lyke Wake Dirge, with some faking on the chorus.

Serge, where am I and what am I doing?

Charlie, my blanket term for that maneuver is "Collecting on debts that aren't owed you," as in, "Such-and-such people have been oppressed, and therefore I'm owed aggrandizement and a center stage spotlight while I deliver ill-informed and superficial lectures on the subject." It's obnoxious when no member of the designated oppressed class is present. It's worse when they are, since they get lectured too.

One of my definitions of trolls is that they're people who want more attention and respect than they can attract using normal, socially approved means, but who don't let that stop them.

#178 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:08 PM:

Datapoint: I'm a Quaker. I often wear Quaker plain dress, which is modest, distinctive, and includes a head covering.

When I've challenged liberal friends and acquaintances to explain what precisely makes me any different from the Muslim women they're calling oppressed, I've gotten a variety of answers, ranging from "your culture doesn't expect it of you" to "the Koran says [$foo]" to "You're educated!" (I will leave the obvious counterarguments as an exercise for the readers; I'm tired of them).

What I have never gotten, not even once, is "you're not any different. You're oppressed too."

I don't mean to paint the people I've had this conversation with as terrible awful Muslim-hating bigots. But I suspect that the real thing that makes me different is that they know me. They live and work and laugh with me. And because they know me, I am not a faceless oppressed Other who couldn't possibly be independent/liberal/educated enough to stand up for what I want for myself.

Familiarity challenges and erodes assumptions. People who are not familiar with me make assumptions about me, too--that I'm simple-minded, politically conservative, technologically illiterate, somber, and, yes, oppressed. When they get to know me, they realize that their assumptions are wrong. I imagine that people who have veiled Muslim women in their lives might have similar experiences, if they're open to them.

#179 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:23 PM:

Pendrift @130

I don't like wearing make-up, or dress shoes, or dresses, but I willingly collaborate in that oppression and dress that way when I go and meet certain clients because, in my field, it adheres to prevailing standards of professional attire, meaning that clients are more likely to trust me, give me projects, and allow me to make a living, than if I went to see them in my favorite jeans, tshirt and sandals.

That seems like a bit of a false dichotomy, though. What about professional dress that's not quite so gendered -- a nice suit, for instance? I am very fortunate that I've never faced the choice between being forced to present my gender in a way I'm not comfortable with (I'm cisgendered female, but I don't own a skirt or dress and can't remember the last time I wore one, or makeup) and unemployment, because I'm not sure which I'd choose.

#180 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Terry @ 165: So this was a time when fair was fowl and fowl was fair?

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 06:32 PM:

Teresa @ 177... I'm not sure since you provided me that photo, if I remember correctly. Or maybe Patrick did. That being said, in that photo, you appear to be moderating the universe, with the judicious use of plasma balls - and averting your gaze because you can't stand to see the universe bleed.

#182 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Andy Wilton @ 168: "I don't think producing or maintaining a heterodox society is one of the higher priorities of the French Republic: not up there with liberty, equality and fraternity anyway."

Cage Match! Foucault vs. Rorty: two philosophers enter, only one leaves!

#183 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 07:28 PM:

Xopher@143, the "otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative" is why *I* end up wearing head coverings outside most of the year; when I was a kid, it was still a fashion for old guys to wear hats, and now that I'm older it's nice that fedoras are back so I'm not limited to cowboyish hats or baseball hats.

Things you can't do in a skirt? I've found that bicycling in a kilt just doesn't work - my non-Utili-brand kilt's full enough that the pleats get into the spokes. Perhaps a "girls' bike" would work better, but I doubt it. The only other skirt I wear is part of a con costume, lightweight and floorlength, and it's quite comfortable in hot or cool weather but I haven't done many things in it. Things you can do in a skirt (well, tunic) - walk into a fast food joint on your way to an SCA event. Teenagers looked weirdly at me and my non-20th-centurily-attired neighbor a minute, then one said "RenFaire", and the others said "oh, right" and went back to ignoring us, but then this is Northern California.

#184 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 08:00 PM:

Albatross @116:

I agree, in general, that not everything that is agreed to be a bad idea, or not within the local social mores, should be illegal. And not just because I sometimes do stupid things (skipping meals for no good reason, for example, which tends to make me ill-tempered or stupid).

I do not therefore agree that men should be more immune from harassment when going outside topless than women should. If you want to argue that toplessness should be legal, and not practiced, for all adults, go ahead, but you should probably start by addressing the men's swimsuit manufacturers, and all the topless men at the beaches. Women have been told this quite often about ourselves, and men seldom, and with much less force.

#185 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 08:12 PM:

j h woodyatt #182: That's a match where I'm not sure which way I'd place my bets. On first encountering Rorty's work, my instinct was to ask "What planet is he on?"* Foucault causes me to say "Hang on a second, where's the man behind the curtain?"


*I got the answer: "Charlottesville, Virginia."

#186 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 08:43 PM:

Patrick, 133: I have felt for a while now that "politically correct," as used in the US nowadays, is a meaningless locution, and rephrasing for greater precision is pretty much obligatory.

Its opposite just means "obnoxious towards socially acceptable targets."

#187 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 08:51 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #185: Hmm! I prairie-dogged a bit at mention of my town, but after consulting Wikipedia, he looks like a walk in the weeds.

#188 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2009, 10:08 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 156: "In the meantime, the opening lines of comment #128 are such a perfect example of denial of agency that I've enshrined them in a wiki I maintain of online rhetorical maneuvers."

Oh my. I want a link so bad I iz revertin to lolz. I can has link? Plz? Prety plz?

abi @ 158: "But I think you may be being a little too absolute in your conviction that it's wrong on distinctively American grounds. It's an almost inarticulable thing, this fundamental strangeness of societies, but Andy's comments ring with it like a bell."

The thing is, I don't feel that I am opposing it on distinctively American grounds. I feel that these principles are universally valid--that's why I'm applying them to France, you know? yes, I could be wrong, but certainty doesn't come from silence. I don't know how to discover how true an insight it is other than talking about it, which coincidentally has the upside of spreading it around if it's right. So there it is.

I'm very hesitant to take claims of fundamental societal differences as a given. In my experience, "our society is just fundamentally different from yours" is overwhelmingly deployed as an excuse for some morally indefensible practice that people would rather not have to examine too closely. (And I'm definitely including the United States here.) It's what the Chinese say to justify their internet censorship and one-party rule, it's what the Saudis say about burqas and religious police, it's what the Somalis say about female genital mutilation. When there's actually a good reason for something being different, people are pretty willing to talk about the nitty-gritty of it--after all, they actually have something to say.

I'm not comfortable saying that any social practice is beyond critique, no matter what culture it comes from. Grain of salt, yes and always, but no more than that.

Andy Wilton @ 168: "I don't think producing or maintaining a heterodox society is one of the higher priorities of the French Republic: not up there with liberty, equality and fraternity anyway."

What model of human nature do you have in your head, that you think running a society according to the principles of liberty and equality ends with everyone being the same?

Charlie Stross @ 176: "I think the solution is obvious, but I'm going to make my own start on being part of it by not telling you what to do."

Of course, to fully embody your point you'd have not posted at all. Which, I suppose, is as concise a critique as there can be--your message annihilates itself.

#189 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:03 AM:

Fragano @ 185: "That's a match where I'm not sure which way I'd place my bets."

I would naturally place my bets on Rorty, mostly out of tribal solidarity and affection for his way with English, but I'm pretty sure the mad French bastard would have chewed him up and spit him out.

heresiarch @ 188: "Of course, to fully embody your point you'd have not posted at all."

Alternatively, Mr. Stross, you could have contributed to the laying down of a thick skein of irony by attempting to derail the thread with knitting puns. (Oh snap, I fear I may have given away the game. Crap.)

#190 ::: Leroy sees spammish-looking material on "Principles of the American Cargo Cult" ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:17 AM:

j h woodyatt @ 189: purls of wisdom.

#191 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:05 AM:

heresiarch @188:
I'm very hesitant to take claims of fundamental societal differences as a given. In my experience, "our society is just fundamentally different from yours" is overwhelmingly deployed as an excuse for some morally indefensible practice that people would rather not have to examine too closely.

Well, I gave an example where that's not the case. Unless you think the Dutch are engaging in some morally indefensible practice? In which case, please expound.

When there's actually a good reason for something being different, people are pretty willing to talk about the nitty-gritty of it--after all, they actually have something to say.

If it's just a few things, that's easy to say. If it's a large number of subtle, nuanced cutural factors, tied to language and to history, that's harder. I do a big handwavy thing about the polder model and Dutch collaborative culture, but it would take a heck of a lot more than a single comment thread to convey even those complexities that I grasp after two years here. Give me longer and it'll be book-length. Eventually I'll have to give up, because foreign cultures are as broad and as deep, as quirky and as convoluted as any human institution.

And sometimes they can't talk about the nitty-gritty of it because they don't see it the way fish don't see water. ("Why must all our lunchtime walks be taken together? Does no one ever want to walk on their own?" "What? That would be very unfriendly.")

I'm not comfortable saying that any social practice is beyond critique, no matter what culture it comes from.

Individual liberty? Freedom of speech? There's a fair argument that most of our society is built around containing and repairing the damage that these two forces, as implemented in the US, create. There's also a fair argument that those containment and repair mechanisms are failing.

What model of human nature do you have in your head, that you think running a society according to the principles of liberty and equality ends with everyone being the same?

"Same"? Come on, that's a bit of an oversimplification. More than a bit.

This is the classic assimilation vs multiculturalism discussion that's going on all over the world. How much does French society change with the influence of immigrants, how much do immigrants have to become French? How much, if they wish to become French, can they, and how much does "Frenchness" depend on ancestry, birth and blood?

The fact that French society places a high value on maintaining a central sense of "Frenchness" that includes a secular school system, and how it defines that secularism, is a product of its history. You can't just wave that away because it's inconvenient to a purely abstract examination of the rights and wrongs of the situation. The very fact that you do want to is distinctively American (though we're not, when you look at us too closely, very good at it ourselves.)

The right solution for the French, taking into consideration their different set of priorities and the different historical context that creates the cultural pain points, may not be one that you as an American are comfortable with. That's not an inevitable marker for a morally indefensible practice.

#192 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 08:31 AM:

dave @122, "Honestly, if the key point is going to be "it's OK to collaborate with an oppressive system, as long as you choose to do it", what the hell is ever going to change?"

If, for an oppressive system to be overcome, everyone has to stop collaborating with it, what the hell is ever going to change? If the only way to get change would be to change everyone's attitude or behaviour, then nothing would ever change.

And, if the general point is going to be "it's not ok to collaborate with an oppressive system, ever", then that gives rather a lot of power to the people who get to decide what does and what doesn't count as "collaborating with an oppressive system", and it can lead to situations where "collaborating with an oppressive system" ends up as code for "whatever someone in a position of influence disaproves of".

#193 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 08:58 AM:

me @191:
(It's probably worth noting that I think individual liberty and free speech are extremely important in American society, and not things to be lightly tampered with. I do, however, work within arm's length of people who think we've let them get completely out of hand, and who would really hate to see their own country go the way ours has. And I think that they have a valid viewpoint within their cultural context.

Just in case anyone was thinking I was dissing free speech and individual liberty in America, suggesting we limit them, or otherwise advocating some kind of European socialist fascist weirdo political overthrow.)

#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:05 AM:

abi @ 193... advocating some kind of European socialist fascist weirdo political overthrow

Coming soon, Ninotchka, starring Abi Sutherland, as a good Party Member who has a secret love for the bourgeois pleasures of bookbinding.

#195 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:22 AM:

What's the chance that the next Islamic Bomb will actually be from the French Caliphate? Don't forget that France has powerful influence in the fashion world, too. heh.

#196 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:24 AM:

heresiarch @ 188: Liberty and equality may be universal values, but packaging them together as the paramount values is more of an Anglo-American thing. I notice that when I mentioned liberty, equality and fraternity, you said:

What model of human nature do you have in your head, that you think running a society according to the principles of liberty and equality ends with everyone being the same?

That is, you picked up on liberty and equality, but forgot about fraternity. The thing is, fraternity is a core value here, fully on a par* with liberty and equality, and occupying the same place in the social compact: the government enforces it, and citizens co-operate. It seems to be more or less synonymous with solidarity: if someone else is down on their luck (ill, out of a job, whatever) the state can and must help them out on your behalf. When charities mount soup kitchens and similar to help the homeless in big cities, this is seen as a damning indictment of society. Why does a charity have to feed them? What's the government doing?

The thing is, you can't just add core values without creating problems. Already, different people's liberties tend to conflict with each other, and equality tends to conflict with liberty. Throw fraternity in as well, and you've got an overconstrained system. Something's going to have to give at some point. Equality and fraternity go pretty well together, so it's more or less bound to be liberty that loses out. (Viewed as individuals or within their religious/cultural community, those young Sikh men lost out for reasons that had nothing to do with them, but from a fraternal point of view, they took one for the team: these are the compromises you have to make in family life, and we're all brothers and sisters.)

To the French, the USA is mystifying in large part (I think) because to them it doesn't seem to have fraternity on the government side of the social compact, or even as a citizen-side consensus value on a par with basic politeness. This can can make US society look strange to an almost SFnal degree.

Annalee Flower Horne @ 178: Familiarity challenges and erodes assumptions.

Yes, and ISTM this is especially unfortunate for devout Muslim women because of the social restrictions they observe. My wife has a friend of long standing who converted to Islam many years ago. This friend holidays near here every summer, our children are similar in age and get on well together, etc, so they generally meet up at least once a year - but I've never met her, and (barring chaperonage) can't meet her, because I'm a man.

In the UK, this kind of thing would not be too big a deal, but in provincial France it is downright weird to have friends and not meet/get to know their partners. I'm a foreigner here myself and have only a vague sense of awkwardness at the situation**, but it must create a real social obstacle when dealing with actual genuine French people. It's Catch 22: if people got to know you and saw how you lived, they would find it harder to maintain their prejudices, but because of the way you live, they can't get to know you.

* AFAICT: I'm a foreigner here, I didn't grow up with these concepts, and they're so obvious to the French as to mostly go unstated. Do please read my theorising on the subject accordingly.

** And being English, I am of course well used to vague feelings of awkwardness.

#197 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:35 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 195... Don't forget that France has powerful influence in the fashion world, too.

Quick! Someone call Homespun Security!

#198 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:49 AM:

Jacque #160:
Lee @111: Nevermind the plastic bones and frankly plastic boobs. <shudder>

Personally, as a fairly hetero-normative guy, I think boobs should be plastic.

But not made of plastic.

#199 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 10:16 AM:

Vicki #184:

I do not therefore agree that men should be more immune from harassment when going outside topless than women should.

It depends on what you mean by "harrassment."

If you mean groping or threats of physical violence or something, then obviously, nobody ought to be subject to that. It's not a matter of which people should be more immune, it's just stuff that ought not to happen.

If you mean social pressure, disapproval, people telling you you're dressed inappropriately explicitly or implying it with their actions, then I think the situation is very different. This is how social norms are enforced. Perhaps the rule about women not going topless is a dumb social norm[1]. But in general, social norms are and should be enforced with this kind of pressure. This is how we can avoid the need for laws or contracts covering every aspect of life, all the time.

ISTM that this is a lot like the distinction between freedom of speech and freedom not to have your speech have any consequences. If you want to stand up in a public place and say that all the passers by are going to hell, or that 9/11 was an inside job by Obama's secret Muslim backers at Goldman-Sachs[2], you ought not to be arrested or beaten up for that. But you don't get any protection from your neighbors all deciding you're a nut. Similarly, if I start wearing cutoff jeans and a ragged t-shirt everywhere, and going many days between baths, my coworkers, friends, and neighbors will notice, and will apply subtle and not-so-subtle social pressure to change my behavior. That behavior will have consequences.

What the law can and should do is prevent the consequences devolving into mob violence or legally sanctioned bullying. But that's, IMO, all it should (or can, in practice) do.

[1] I'll admit I can't see much sense in most of the social norms w.r.t. fashion, even though I wear appropriate clothes for whatever social role I'm playing most of the time. It ought not to matter whether I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt or "business casual" in the office, but it seems to, even though my office and industry are pretty relaxed about that stuff. Thank God I don't have to wear a jacket and tie, at least.

[2] Who, of course, are really working for the Jews. Who have been run for many centuries by the Illuminati. The truth is out there....somewhere.

#200 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 11:15 AM:

abi #191: As to the polder model: http://willowwalk.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/09/revaluing-people.html

#201 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 11:28 AM:

Serge #197: Isn't that a coarse response?

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 11:31 AM:

Mary #118:

At least where we're discussing social pressure, in the US, the law doesn't really intervene. We rightly got rid of laws forbidding interracial marriage, and mostly got it accepted that lynching or mob violence wasn't okay there. But that can't change the social pressure in other areas. The law is a really awful tool for that kind of thing, IMO. Instead, that's changed over time based on changes in society. With luck, the same will happen w.r.t. gay couples in the future. But you can't pass a law to make that happen.

There are some areas where antidiscrimination law edges into this, but as I understand it, those involve establishing evidence for a hostile work environment. I don't know enough about this to know if it's a good or bad thing on balance.

#203 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 11:48 AM:

Fragano @ 201... It's true that I lean toward the uttering of blanket pronouncements.

#204 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 01:15 PM:

abi @ 191: "Unless you think the Dutch are engaging in some morally indefensible practice? In which case, please expound."

I did expound at first, then cut the section because it was really just a distraction from your core point. However, if you would like it, here it is:

***

@ 158: "He was, basically, trolling the debate, and they were fine with him being told how he could and could not make his points so that civic discourse could continue. Freedom of speech here is subordinated to the quality of the discourse, in other words."

Who gets to decide what constitutes "quality of discourse?" Quality is no objective value; people disagree what it means and no matter who gets to make that decision, someone else gets left out. At best, you get a definition of ‘quality’ following the lines of most people’s thinking, but I think you can immediately see the problem of defining “quality” as “widely popular.” In Europe denying the Holocaust is defined as excessively disruptive of society; in China discussing the grievances of Tibetans is silenced with the exact same justifications. (And this isn’t an artifact of authoritarianism—there is genuine, widespread dislike and hatred for Tibet among most Chinese people.) The only semi-reliable method we humans have found for determining the truth of a thing is through debate, by listening to and synthesizing different critiques until we have a conclusion that withstands the test of inquiry—ruling certain topics out of bounds strikes at the heart of this enterprise, crippling our ability to determine truth.

There's also a big problem with analogizing between moderating trolls on the internet and limiting free speech in a nation. The defense that’s always made of moderation without the consent of the moderated is something like "This is my site, and I'll run it however I please. If you don't like it then by all means leave, and start your own even!" This is a perfectly valid argument, and I'm one-hundred percent behind it: websites do belong to individuals, and people can leave with little or no cost.

This is not true of nations. Nations belong to all citizens, not just the bunch who currently have their hands on the levers of power, and going somewhere else isn't easy or cost-free. It means giving up your home, your friends, your job, your language, your national identity--hard things to forsake. Furthermore, the nation has access to means of deterrence--jail, violence, death--that are far beyond any website. All this means that nations have an obligation to accommodate a wider range of views than websites need worry about. Nations are obligated to make the nation as hospitable to as many of their citizens as possible, to strive for an ideal of heterodoxy that websites--far more limited in scope and power--can freely ignore. Websites can be run as benevolent dictatorships because the costs of them going bad are so very low. The stakes are a bit higher for nations.

(I’ll write a bit more about this topic in my response to Andy)

#205 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 01:17 PM:

(continuing)
abi @ 191: "Individual liberty? Freedom of speech? There's a fair argument that most of our society is built around containing and repairing the damage that these two forces, as implemented in the US, create."

When did I say American values were beyond critique? Heck no--I criticize American beliefs all the time. Entire blogs I read do practically nothing but. I'm constantly criticizing my own beliefs and the day I fail to defend them is the day I change them. If a Dutch person wants to criticize America then I am all ears.

"This is the classic assimilation vs multiculturalism discussion that's going on all over the world."

It's also the classic liberalization vs traditionalism discussion that's been going on since the dawn of modernity. How much deviation can society tolerate among individuals--politically, sexually, spiritually and otherwise--without breaking down? How much should we privilege the safety of "the way things have always been done" over the risks of new and potentially improved methods? Is diversity a weakness or a strength?

"The fact that French society places a high value on maintaining a central sense of "Frenchness" that includes a secular school system, and how it defines that secularism, is a product of its history. You can't just wave that away because it's inconvenient to a purely abstract examination of the rights and wrongs of the situation."

All traditions, good or bad, are products of a long and complex history. Free speech as well as slavery. Scholarship as well as authoritarianism. Why does France get a pass for its reflexive posturing that, say, the 1960's-era South did not?

"The very fact that you do want to is distinctively American."

No, it is distinctively liberal.

(I will respond to Andy's post, but I have to go now. Stupid "RL," with its stupid "passage of time!")

#206 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 01:50 PM:

heresiarch @204:

[Who determines what's trolling?]

In the first instance, the courts. In the second, the voters. Like any other set of laws, these laws are made by elected legislators. They're also tested against the Dutch constitution, which guarantees certain rights and freedoms (unlike, say, Making Light).

The only semi-reliable method we humans have found for determining the truth of a thing is through debate, by listening to and synthesizing different critiques until we have a conclusion that withstands the test of inquiry—ruling certain topics out of bounds strikes at the heart of this enterprise, crippling our ability to determine truth.

A Dutch person would agree, and would point out that certain behaviors so seriously damage the debate that they make it impossible to arrive at the truth. They'd probably mention some of the things that have been going on in the US lately, particularly at town hall debates.

The question then was whether Wilders, by his behavior, had done that kind of damage. The conclusion of the court was that he had, and that he had to represent his position in a way that did not do so. And he did, and did quite well in the recent European elections.

How does this not spiral into a tyranny like China? Are we poised at a precipice?

Nope. Because of the very thing you discount: culture. The range of debate is wider here than in the US, ranging from fierce authoritarianism to red-flag Communism: what does that say about effective freedom of speech?

They say the Dutch would prefer a meeting where everything is discussed and nothing decided to one where everything is decided and nothing discussed, (and lieve God, is that true). The Dutch culture of blunt expression, wide consultation and constructive conversation is bone-deep. I'm watching my kids absorb it in school and on the playground, in nursery rhymes and liedjes. I can see how the Dutch end up with these drives to come to consensus, as strong as the American value to maximize individual freedom.

Laws are only a part of culture, I think, and trying to assess them without understanding the context in which they are made, the degree to which they are obeyed, and the ways in which they are enforced is to only see half the picture. (For instance, if an American disagrees with a rule, she will defiantly break it. If a Brit disagrees, she will meticulously comply with it. If a Dutch person disagrees, she just ignores it.)


Sigh. Rereading this, I really don't think we're going to get anywhere with this discussion. I don't see anything I've said that will get you to see that the set of values you espouse as universal, the yardstick you are applying to justice, is culturally conditioned. As it happens, it's one of a number of similar culturally conditioned yardsticks whose readings coincide with human happiness, but it is simply not universal.

I feel like the sphere in Flatland.

#207 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 01:51 PM:

(It seems I had more time than I thought.)

Andy Wilton @ 196: "Something's going to have to give at some point."

So when these values are placed in direct opposition, who gets to decide who does the giving? It seems pretty clear to me that the answer in France is "secularists" and "dark-skinned religious people," respectively. Secularism is "more French," I guess, and so those dark-skinned religious folk learn the important lesson that they aren't French and won't ever be, short of giving up their faith.

"(Viewed as individuals or within their religious/cultural community, those young Sikh men lost out for reasons that had nothing to do with them, but from a fraternal point of view, they took one for the team: these are the compromises you have to make in family life, and we're all brothers and sisters.)"

The thing about taking lumps for the team is that take enough lumps while watching others get off scot-free, and you start feeling less like part of the team and more like a punching bag. Around that time, you start to think maybe you should find yourself a new team. Hey, maybe you should form a team with all the other ex-punching bags! And then Western Europe has a Muslim extremist problem.

The problem with treating immigrants like they don't really belong, and aren't really French/Dutch/etc. is that they might believe you. People who are not made to feel as though they benefit from the social compact have no reason to stick with that compact when it goes against them. If they have no voice, if they are not respected, if they are not given the space to do as they wish as it harms no one, then why obey laws, why pay attention to anything the other side has to say? If the other side is not interested in negotiating compromises, not interested in dialogue with you, then why would you be so foolish as to compromise with them?

#208 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:08 PM:

Serge #203: Even when you're three sheets to the wind?

#209 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:09 PM:

heresiarch: From where I sit the problem seems to be that you are espousing a universal value; and saying everyone else is being particular.

abi and Andy seem to be saying your universal values aren't; and that the particular values are valuable.

The hard part is that you seem to contradict yourself: I don't see anything I've said that will get you to see that the set of values you espouse as universal, the yardstick you are applying to justice, is culturally conditioned.

I think that statement is true; about the French, Dutch and US values being discussed.

#210 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Terry @209:

The statement I don't see anything I've said that will get you to see that the set of values you espouse as universal, the yardstick you are applying to justice, is culturally conditioned was by me, not heresiarch.

#211 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:12 PM:

Fragano @ 208... Are you suggesting I should quilt while I'm ahead?

#212 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:19 PM:

abi: oops.

heresiarch: My apologies.

#213 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 02:40 PM:

Heresiarch: no matter who gets to make that decision, someone else gets left out.

And who gets left out when you make the decision, on behalf of the people of France? As Abi notes, that sort of decision is cultural -- that is, it's made collectively by the people who are members of the community. Bluntly, you are not a member of the French community.

It's always obvious that "things would be much better if everyone did things my way". Simple, obvious, and wrong.

Nor is the American Constitution the last word in social design, nor even close. In particular, other countries have been eagerly learning from American mistakes -- in this case, our reluctance to recognize that speech (and dress) are also actions, with significant social consequences.

#214 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 03:36 PM:

"The problem with treating immigrants like they don't really belong, and aren't really French/Dutch/etc. is that they might believe you. People who are not made to feel as though they benefit from the social compact have no reason to stick with that compact when it goes against them."
Which ties right in with the discussion on The Prisoner's Dilemma thread.

Serge, Fragano, can't we selvedge the situation before a looming split?

#215 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:04 PM:

heresiarch, in reading back up this thread¹ to find out what the long argument is about – which turns out to be the French banning kids from wearing headscarves in state schools² – I come across your #42 referring to ridiculous fools who want nothing more than to impose their own strictly defined freedoms on everyone else.  Quite so.

Moving right along to your #207:  The problem with treating immigrants like they don’t really belong...  Whoa.  The French are treating immigrants like they do really belong, and therefore should, like everyone who belongs, keep religious symbols out of state school.  What I think I see you arguing is that instead, the French should make a special exception for one group of kids.  Would that help them to belong?

______________
¹ yeah, yeah, I should start from the top, but I always open books first in the middle, so why not threads?
² hey, this is about schools.  Schools make all sorts of rules about dress to try to keep the level of competition down.  School kids are... school kids, after all.  And those rules are usually very local-culture-referenced.  (Often they don’t have the desired effect, but that’s beside the point.)

#216 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:22 PM:

Leroy @ 190 writes: "purls of wisdom."

Not from me, Leroy. I'm just a crochety git.

#217 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:33 PM:

heresiarch @204 In Europe denying the Holocaust is defined as excessively disruptive of society;

My impression is that the argument on that matter goes more along the line of "most of the people who do that wouldn't respect other people's freedom of speech if they were in power themselves, either, and it's important to stop them early before they take over power".

abi @206, A Dutch person would agree, and would point out that certain behaviors so seriously damage the debate that they make it impossible to arrive at the truth. They'd probably mention some of the things that have been going on in the US lately, particularly at town hall debates.

This might be some of the arguments that some Dutch people use, but I think you're probably generalizing a bit here when you say "A Dutch person would..."

#218 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:38 PM:

Raphael @217:

I would expect pretty much every Dutch person of my acquaintance to agree that "certain behaviors so seriously damage the debate that they make it impossible to arrive at the truth".

You're right, though, that most Dutch people would not immediately mention town hall misbehavior. But if these phenomena were described to them, even in the most neutral terms, they'd do a serious WTF that we'd let our communication deteriorate to that degree.

#219 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 04:53 PM:

By the way, Geert Wilders is not a Nazi or a neo-Nazi. He's not a Holocaust denialist; quite the reverse.

He is probably best described as a nationalist. He wants the Dutch to devolve less of their governance to the EU, take in fewer immigrants, and not try to treat Islam the way that it treats Judaism, Christianity and humanism. He's trying to preserve Dutch culture.

His film Fitna, which was the proximate cause of his prosecution, attempts to draw parallels between Islam and Nazism. Many regard it as deliberate provocation: an attempt to get the Muslim population of the Netherlands so angry that they would do something un-Dutch and intolerant, and thus prove his point that they have not assimilated this key Dutch value.

It's still unclear how this will all fall out. It'll be argued in courts all the way up the line of appeal.

But he's not a fascist, a Nazi, or a Holocaust denier. Just so we're clear.

#220 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 05:17 PM:

abi @ 206: "How does this not spiral into a tyranny like China? Are we poised at a precipice? Nope. Because of the very thing you discount: culture."

(Question: What precisely is the distinction between criticizing Dutch culture and criticizing Chinese culture that makes the first unthinkable and the second off-hand?)

Cultures change. It's what cultures do. Very obviously and pressingly so in Europe, where demographics are veering in a very non-European direction. What happens in Europe when a region hits a density of conservative Muslims high enough to pass laws forcing headscarves on women? What if criticizing Mohamed is made punishable by jail? On what grounds will that be protested, if the power of the state to compel speech and clothing is already in place?

Fundamentally what I'm worried about is fail states: protecting free speech is a way of preventing a set of very nasty and widely prevalent fail states. Possibly that fail-state is protected against in other ways by the Dutch/French/European model--it's not impossible. But given the recent political success of the BNP and Geert Wilders and their ilk (and Muslim radicals on the other side), I'm not going to take it for granted.

"I can see how the Dutch end up with these drives to come to consensus, as strong as the American value to maximize individual freedom."

Consensus with whom? Geert Wilders is making a successful political career on denying entirely the possibility of consensus with Muslims and Islam. According to Wikipedia, some 63% of Dutch citizens think Islam is incompatible with modern European life. The consensus they're building rather pointedly excludes their Muslim neighbors. I don't think that this will end happily.

"I don't see anything I've said that will get you to see that the set of values you espouse as universal, the yardstick you are applying to justice, is culturally conditioned."

Well, of course it's culturally conditioned. So is my understanding of physics. So is your conviction of the worth of all human beings, up @ 126. So is your belief that different cultures can slice freedom of speech differently, for that matter. All knowledge is culturally situated--that doesn't mean it isn't applicable anywhere other than right here, right now. And the only way to find out whether or not---well, you know the chorus.

David Harmon @ 213: "And who gets left out when you make the decision, on behalf of the people of France?"

Well, no one, seeing as how I don't actually have a vote. Nor do I think I should, for pretty much the exact same reason I don't think that other French people should have a vote in whether Muslim students wear the hijab.

See, that's why I champion this approach: under this system, everyone gets to participate equally, conversationally. Under yours, someone gets what they want and someone else gets nothing, and someone chooses who is which.

abi @ 219: Ah, sorry. I was confusing him with the Holocaust denier who came up in the news awhile back.

#221 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 05:48 PM:

heresiarch @220:

My time is not infinite, and I really don't think we're going to get anywhere at all here. Cultural relativism is one of those bottomless rhetorical time-suck topics.

And I have a niggling feeling you're not quite arguing logically, but I'm not going to put the time in to parse that out either.

It's just...you're the one who brought up China, and then you use it against me when I cast the topic in your terms. You cite the (highly contested) meme of Muslim population growth to majority status in Europe, float a headscarf mandate and a blasphemy law, and then accuse the Dutch of being intolerant for thinking Islam is incompatible with Western European life. It's an irrefutable argument like that.

I've been trying, in my own inadequate way, to explain to you a complexity of culture and national character which forms the Dutch interaction with immigration, and will form the debate as it goes forward. (There's a completely different one in France.) Neither one is quite what you think it is. But clearly I haven't the skill convey this kind of fundamental cultural difference.

Let's just say that I have enough faith in the polder model, in the Dutch pursuit of consensus, to throw my lot in with these people. I think that it will come out well here, possibly better than in the US.

#222 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 05:59 PM:

Let's just say that I have enough faith in the polder model, in the Dutch pursuit of consensus, to throw my lot in with these people. I think that it will come out well here, possibly better than in the US.

In fact everything you've said here, with one exception,* makes me think the Netherlands might be a non-US place I could live...which makes it a possible flee-target if, say, Obama is deposed in a coup, or people of the mindset of Coulter, Beck, and Limbaugh come to serious power in this benighted land.
___
* I sometimes need to take a solitary walk to contain (or more accurately drain) my temper. If that's considered unfriendly, well, darlings, it's less unfriendly than a punch in the mouth.

#223 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 07:17 PM:

Serge #211: No, no, I'm urging sew-shall-ism.

#224 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 07:30 PM:

Xopher #222: the Netherlands might be a non-US place I could live

If you do, just make sure you don't publish any cartoons that might offend anybody.

#225 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 08:24 PM:

Fragano @ 223... Its shadow looms large.

#226 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 08:32 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 224: I guess I'm not the only person that occasionally gets "Dutch" and "Danish" confused.

#227 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 08:34 PM:

abi @ 221: "My time is not infinite, and I really don't think we're going to get anywhere at all here."

I'm sorry this conversation is starting to feel like beating your head against a wall. My head's feeling a bit sore too.

"It's just...you're the one who brought up China, and then you use it against me when I cast the topic in your terms."

Well, here's what's going on. You seem to feel pretty comfortable passing damning judgements on China without first becoming deeply familiar with the ins and outs of its culture. I'm okay with that--I think we can too. One-party rule is bad! Done. Yet when I apply the same sort of casual analysis to the Netherlands, suddenly it's all "your so-called universal principles are culturally conditional and can't be applied to other societies!" I really don't get what's fundamentally different between critiquing the Dutch and critiquing the Chinese. Declaring both off-limits would at least be consistent, but how one is fair game and the other isn't truly baffles me.

I don't know. Here's what I feel like is going on: you think my conclusions about Dutch culture are wildly off-base, but you can't quite articulate it for reasons of time or whatever. So rather than pointing out how the specific arguments I'm making about the specific details and consequences of Dutch culture are wrong, you're attacking the basic validity of making cross-cultural comparisons at all. While I'll happily admit that what I don't know about the Netherlands could fill a small, windmill-heavy Northwestern European country, I'm actually pretty adamant about the worth of cross-cultural comparisons and the potential (if not actuality) of finding moral principles that can be applied equally to all human beings. It's something that I've thought about considerably more than is probably healthy, and my opinions on it are as firmly planted as any I have.

What is frustrating to me is that I'm pretty sure that you and most other people here would agree that there is something inarguably bad about female genital mutilation and genocide, no matter the cultural context. We're all in the business of making universal claims of some sort or another. It's really just these particular claims I'm making here that are a bit dodgy--the problem is with these particular arguments, not with the entire class. In letting it become about the kind of claim rather than the particular claim, we chased each other down the wrong rabbit hole entirely.

"You cite the (highly contested) meme of Muslim population growth to majority status in Europe, float a headscarf mandate and a blasphemy law, and then accuse the Dutch of being intolerant for thinking Islam is incompatible with Western European life."

I think that telling Muslims that their religion is incompatible with modern European life is a good way of making it come true. Alternately, one could try to accommodate Muslim practice--try to figure out what parts of one's own customs and habits are less important, what compromises need to be made to forge a greater whole, and then ask them to do the same in return. One could make the argument that there's nothing incompatible between Islam and democracy. One could take the challenge of a foreign culture impinging on one's own and use it to become a better nation, rather than insisting on tradition for tradition's sake. One could build a future in which fierce-eyed Muslim women defended liberty, fraternity, and equality against all comers, regardless whether they wear the hijab.

"Let's just say that I have enough faith in the polder model, in the Dutch pursuit of consensus, to throw my lot in with these people."

So would I! Don't get me wrong--free speech in the Netherlands rank well below the state of health care in the United States in my list of Things Countries Should Work On. (I, um, don't actually have such a list.) This isn't about indicting the whole Dutch system, any more than pointing out the patriarchal connotations behind high heels is about exposing high-heel wearers as dirty patriarchy-lovers. It's about discussing new ideas so that people think about them, so that they can adopt, borrow from or discard them as they see fit.

#228 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:02 PM:

Albatross @199:

OK, to put this more explicitly: I do not agree with the axiom-set that says my nipples are inappropriate for public display and my brother's nipples are acceptable for display in the exact same public places.

There is a significant range between looks of disapproval and physical attack. It includes insults, shouting, and not-always-veiled threats of physical attack, which many people seem to consider acceptable ways of enforcing such societal values. A stranger shouting "slut!" at a hypothetical topless me is doing the same kind of thing--and with the same intent of controlling my behavior--as if the same stranger were to shout "dyke!" at me because he saw me with my girlfriend.

#229 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:18 PM:

Tim Walters @ 226... I'd better remember that in case the next Gathering of Light requires a trip to the bakery.

#230 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:29 PM:

Andy Wilton @196: Inasmuch as the original discussion that prompted this post was about whether or not women should be allowed to wear modest swimsuits to public pools and beaches, I don't think it necessarily scans to say that anyone who would wear such a thing remains cloistered away from men.

Certainly there are some veiled Muslim women who don't associate with men not related to them, but that's nowhere near universal. There are Muslim women in all walks of life, adhering to all types of standards in their dress. My point isn't that there are no oppressed Muslims, or no Muslims an intrepid westerner could not get to know. My point is that there are plenty of not-oppressed (or not more oppressed than any other non-Christian woman of color) Muslim women wearing the veil, and that having those people in your life makes it easier to see that things are far more complex than "modest dress=oppressed."

We can all go around dishing out anecdotes about this-or-that woman we know (of) who is totally oppressed or totally not oppressed, but anecdotes have never been very good at breaking down stereotypes. We start seeing difference as normative when we start seeing a lot of it, and paying attention when we do see it (as opposed to ignoring or rationalizing any difference that doesn't fit our assumptions).

Not everyone has the luxury of a diverse school or workplace, but even just paying attention to the strangers you pass on the street can make a difference in how you perceive them.

#231 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 09:46 PM:

Serge @ 229: One cheese dutch and one Danish crunch coming right up.

#232 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2009, 11:18 PM:

Tim Walters #226: I guess I'm not the only person that occasionally gets "Dutch" and "Danish" confused.

Yeah, I'm busted. Ah, well. My recommendation not to poke any fanatics' hot buttons is still a valid, but sad, safety practice.

#233 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 02:14 AM:

heresiarch @227:

I think part of my time-frustration is that I feel like I'm wasting it talking about peripherals. The Netherlands is an example. China is an example* We can talk all day about them and not hit what I'm trying to say to you.

What I'm trying to say is that you've been pronouncing a lot of judgments as certainties, about what's Good and Bad. And sometimes, when the people are on the ground, their evaluations don't match your ideals, and their experiences don't fit your statements. The missing piece there isn't automatically that they're Doing it Rong. Sometimes it's that the culture, the history, and the local circumstances don't lend themselves to analysis in the terms you're using.

And sometimes the outcomes of these choices are greater peace and freer discussion than is possible in places where your own principles apply†. And yet their principles can no more be grafted onto, say, American society than American absolutes about free speech could work everywhere.

I'm not trying to convince you of a fact, provable by facts. I'm trying to convey the fact of uncertainty, that you may not understand enough about the things that you're judging. (The solution then is education, rather than argument.)

-----
* In point of fact, I think that China has huge challenges to overcome, far bigger than the Netherlands or the US. I'm not sure that all of the choices they make to meet them are good, but I'm not ignorant of the size of the challenge of just making sure everybody eats this year, and maybe next year, too.
† I still maintain: the Netherlands has a wider range of political discourse than the US.

#234 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 03:44 AM:

So let's try another approach, then.

How do you go about finding moral principles that can be applied equally to all human beings? Specifically, how do you test them? How do you evaluate them?

Do you use some form of abstract validation? If so, on what principles is it based?

Or do you look at specific societies that use these principles? If so, how do you measure success? There are so many different ways a society could be said to succeed; how have you chosen among them? Is Omelas better than a society where there is more suffering, but it's shared equally? Is a society of deeply contented subsistence farmers a better one than one where people make great works of art and are wretchedly unhappy? Why?

And if you're looking at outcomes, how do you deal with extraneous influences, other cultural factors that aren't related to the principles you're considering? How about history, which conditions people's reactions to otherwise innocuous things?


I have my own standards, but I'm happy to declare that they're biased by my upbringing and my experiences. Sometimes those standards cause me to think less of societies because of things they do, but I always must acknowledge that I don't grasp the full complexity of the situation. Sometimes those standards also cause me to think better of nations than they probably deserve.

I consider my opinions of countries I haven't lived in long enough to understand to be written in pencil. I consider my principles valid first for me, then for the places closest to me, then for places further away to an increasingly lesser degree. I do my best to understand, but I acknowledge that I am fallible. I try to do good, within my understanding of good, and vote for good to be done, within the reach of my research into the likely consequences.

#235 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 04:26 AM:

Annalee Flower Horne @ 230: Inasmuch as the original discussion that prompted this post was about whether or not women should be allowed to wear modest swimsuits to public pools and beaches, I don't think it necessarily scans to say that anyone who would wear such a thing remains cloistered away from men.

Oh, absolutely, and I wasn't at all trying to suggest such a thing. The context I had in my head was PNH's I think that one of the necessary first steps to making a better world is getting to know the one we’ve got, which your post @ 178 seemed to echo, and my intended point was that some Muslim ways of living* will have problems benefitting from the familiarity effect that you describe. (That was why I said "devout Muslim women", hoping that the anecdote about my wife's friend would show what I meant by the word "devout". I can now see that the way I expressed myself here was hopelessly ambiguous, and that furthermore I should have inserted at least one caution along the lines of "I am not saying that my wife's friend or anyone else should change their behaviour because of this".)

Now ISTM that these ways of life will correlate to some extent with modest dress, and thus that the sample bias effect they suffer from ("I don't know any cloistered women") is likely to have at least some carry over onto modest dress. Once again, I am not suggesting that this is anyone's fault or requires action by anyone: with luck, increasing diversity among the modestly dressed will weaken the correlation over time, and the burqini looks like a positive step on that front.

*Clunky expression, but I can't come up with anything better. Stupid brain, too full of useless French conjugations.**

** I mean, when am I ever going to need to find the first person plural subjunctive of the verb "to be born"?

#236 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 08:39 AM:

abi #234: How do you go about finding moral principles that can be applied equally to all human beings? Specifically, how do you test them? How do you evaluate them?

As many despots have found, all that is necessary is to assert them, backed up by sufficient power and/or persuasion to enforce compliance regardless of the will of the population. At that point, it just doesn't matter whether the moral principles are objectively right or wrong.

I think that ethics are testable, but morals are not required to be rational, just enforceable by threat of punishment. Ummm, on the other hand, my ideas of ethics vs. morals might not match precise dictionary definitions.

#237 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Watching this discussion is really interesting. My intuition is that abi is basically right, and that universal rights/principles about how to run a society are very hard to come by. But I find it much easier to argue from heresiarch's perspective on this--indeed, this is exactly how I would have argued as a mostly doctrinaire libertarian, ten years ago. Arresting holocaust deniers? Nuts.

And yet, I don't have much sympathy for the argument that says that, because every culture and country has a different history and values, imprisoning or executing gays is somehow okay when done in foreign countries. But wouldn't an Iranian politician make an argument that sounded a lot like what abi's making above, justifying this? Yes, perhaps gay rights work out okay in your liberal democratic secular societies, though some in my country would question that. But here, failing to punish homosexual acts would undermine public order and morality, and lead to terrible consequences. Our society is thousands of years old, and that history has convinced us that permitting such things is a terrible idea.

At some point, arguing morality about anything is a rathole, because you can no more prove that it's immoral to jail gays than you can that it's immoral to let open homosexuality flourish in your society.

#238 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 09:57 AM:

Now, where did I put my combined wooden-stake/holy-water-syringe?

#239 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 10:03 AM:

I'm really interested by informed commentary like what Abi is providing here because I feel like my own country's society has badly failed. It's wrong that we should have ended up here, with torture cheered on and the entire officially acceptable political discourse pulled over to the rightmost 25% of the general population and all the rest, and it seems to me that our social immune system simply wasn't up to the task of responding to some kinds of human virus and cancer. I've lost pretty much all confidence in the ability of a particular set of values and priorities I think of as characteristically American to do the job anymore, not out of hypothetical concerns but because of what's happened to my country since I was a child. I don't worry that my country might descend into moral vileness, I see that it has in fact been perhaps fatally compromised socially and economically, and I've got no idea what might get it off this course anymore.

So I like learning about what others are doing and how it works.

#240 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 10:18 AM:

albatross @237:

The older I get, the more I travel, the more I live in different cultures, the less absolutist I get. Living in the Netherlands has done that more than living in the UK, but moving outside of the US at all started it.

Thing is, I'm not an absolute relativist (as it were) either. I think there are some ways of doing things that are markedly inferior to others. I think there are things that are absolute goods for societies to engender, like life, liberty, peace, freedom from want, and opportunity for achievement for their members. But how to get there, and where to make the tradeoffs between this group's liberty and that one's freedom from want? I've yet to see a set of rules that could achieve that, even for a spherical culture of uniform density.

Add in the fact that these cultures come to us trailing comet tails of histories and particular quirks, so that one nation's perfectly reasonable suggestion is another's anathema (SOCIALISM, OH NOES!), and I don't see any set of absolutes that (a) works, (b) excludes everything that doesn't work, and (c) can cross cultural lines.

I think there's juice in figuring out what constitutes a successful outcome, but I suspect that there are a range of different (and possibly mutually exclusive) criteria that even a single person would accept. And I don't know that you can go back the way and state that there is one-and-only-one way to get to a given successful outcome.

As I say about software testing, the more experience I get, the more I realize that the answer to pretty much everything is "it depends." The trick is figuring out what it depends on.

#241 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 10:52 AM:

I find myself leaning toward Abi's position as well for the reasons Bruce Baugh sites, though I have a great sympathy with heresiarch's position on the absolute value of free speech--perhaps because I am writer by vocation, perhaps because there are certain places where I feel the libertarians have a point.

I suspect that a huge part of the problem in the USA has to do with the ever-increasing legal equivalence between individual rights and corporate rights. The supreme court's treatment of corporations as though they were people (which looks as though it is about to be expanded) is, IMO, poisonous to the body politic.

Immortal, amoral, collective entities created solely for the pursuit of profit are fundamentally/=people and should not have the same rights. Pretending that the speech of these entities--who typically have vastly greater resources than individuals--is somehow legally equivalent to individual speech has had an incredibly distorting effect on our culture.

#242 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 10:53 AM:

Bruce, 239: You too, eh?

#243 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Bruce #239:

Well, f--k. You people[1] keep doing this to me, as with the bullying thread.

I have to admit, I've been feeling much the same way about the direction we're going in as a country. But my mostly unexamined assumptions were more along the lines of "the revolution was betrayed" than "maybe a dictatorship of the proletariat isn't such a great idea after all." I've assumed, without really thinking about it, that what I think of as the core ideas of the US are basically sound, and have simply been discarded or ignored.

I'll have to think about this. It's clear that some things have gone horribly wrong. Many were wrong for a hell of a long time, to be honest, but they always seemed like anomalies in my mind.

[1] I like to almost fill the bingo card up front, as a way of building tension in the post. Think of it as a kind of tense background music, making you wonder what's hiding behind that billowing curtain in the main character's hotel room.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 11:39 AM:

It's worth pointing out that the Netherlands is not ideal, either.

Race is a huge problem here. There's a word—allochtoon—which, technically, means someone whose parents were not born in the Netherlands. So, theoretically, I'm an allochtone. But if I identify myself as that, everyone shakes their heads, because I'm white.

Religious integration is really difficult, too, and I'm not just talking about Islam. There is a deeply Calvinist streak to the countryside; reconciling that with the urban culture of the Randstad has been the constant pursuit of the nation for decades.

We've touched on the deep question of cultural integration of immigrants already. Here, where tolerance is a prime virtue, they struggle enormously with the reactions of many traditional Muslims to the prevalent social liberalism. In many ways, Wilders' prosecution was valuable because it was a proof that intolerance by anyone will not be tolerated. But there's a lot of back and forth yet to go before the society finds its new balance.

The famous Dutch collaboration has a downside too. Many Dutch people feel that excelling is frowned on, and envy the more individualistic cultures such as the US for their ability to reward excellence.

And underneath it all is the constant awareness, the perpetual anxious care, of a people whose physical environment is almost entirely constructed. We all watch the dykes and fill in subsidence, monitor pollution and make room for the rivers. All the peace and prosperity this nation has built for itself rests on a foundation of constant maintenance of the infrastructure.

#245 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Super-interesting thread, both the original topic and the direction it has taken. I've typed reams of replies, but not hit post yet :-)

A couple of thoughts: on cultural assumptions -- I think they're often like oxygen: we really don't realize they're there until they're missing or just different. And while a natural tendency is to view any difference with suspicion, not all differences are bad. People do what they do for reasons, often excellent ones, when the context is understood.

I would argue that a large number of intercultural difficulties stems from differing ideas about the identity of people as individuals (a very Western, esp. US'ian, thing) vs. their identity as members of a group -- ethnic, religious, whatever. Values such as 'conformity' can have widely varying, even antipodal, valences, depending on this very basic view of identity. I'd have to agree with abi that the longer I live outside my country of origin, the less absolutist I've become WRT whether a particular value is good or useful. I have no answers about how to divine universal values. The closest I can get is to suggest trying to be clear about your own priorities (as an individual or as a nation), and bringing a healthy portion of goodwill to the table when looking for common ground.

It can be tremendously different to reconcile values even within the "same" culture. Tomorrow, October 3, is Reunification Day in Germany. I was here when the Berlin Wall fell, and in the first months there were endless talk shows and discussions between West and East Germans. It was fascinating to observe. They all considered themselves Germans, but they'd been apart for 40 years -- two generations, more or less -- and there were indeed some big differences between the two halves.

What I found very interesting at the time was the tendency[1] of West Germans to treat East Germans as traumatized victims of an evil totalitarian culture. They viewed them as having been brainwashed all those years, and thus not completely competent to handle things in the Big Free World. And indeed solutions were hammered out quickly and without Easterners being full partners.[2] (Again, my very humble -truly- opinion.) And the repercussions of that, in terms of Germany being a completely reunited country, are still being felt 20 years on. There's still a lot of suspicion and resentment, on both sides.

[1]truly, my personal perception here.
[2]not much different, in fact, from the way some people approach the headscarf debate.

#246 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:10 PM:

Race is a huge problem here.

That's what I keep thinking about, while lurking on this thread. American and European cultures are (supposedly) so different. But racism still exists in both places -- and sexism also, to judge by the "pity poor Roman Polanski" that's been going around.

Why is that?

#247 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Kelly @241 FTW: yes, the assignment of human rights to corporations is clearly a toxic development insofar as it hands some people (those who can control corporations) huge, disproportionate, political power. It's the death of egalité, never mind fraternité: corporations are the new aristocracy.

One point I'd like to throw in vis-a-vis France and the USA is that both of them are revolutionary republics forged against the intellectual background of the Enlightenment; but France, by virtue of going through several republics, a couple of empires, and a hostile military occupation (or four, depending on how you count them) has continued to evolve. Whereas the US constitutional framework, while an amazingly good attempt at defining an enlightenment state by the standards of the late 18th century, has failed to keep up with the pace of change and is now crumbling and distorted beyond recognition: but lots of people seem to have an odd belief that because the document is still notionally in effect, this longevity proves that it's the One True Map of how to run a revolutionary democratic republic.

Whichin turn leads to ideological fundamentalism. American political discourse today is about as flexible as religious discourse in Iran: forget the back-and-forth single-payer options in healthcare, where's the tolerance for critics of capitalism or advocates of unionisation? The range of debate has closed in: and in foreign affairs, the betraying symptom is a total doctrinal rigidity in assessing other constitutional frameworks or ways of getting things done.

You folks[*] need a new revolution.

([*] Sorry.)

#248 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:18 PM:

Abi: Oh, absolutely. I don't mean to suggest that I think utopia is anywhere handy.

Albatross: Truth is big and complex and weird. There's certainly a strong element of just plain bad people using all the resources at their disposal to do bad things. But it matters what's available in everyone else's mind to recognize the bad people and their bad stuff and to respond effectively, both to individual incursion and to systematic recurring attacks.

I'm writing a roleplaying guide to outsider heroes of the pulp era, and being forcibly reminded of just how awful the US has always been for a lot of its people has played into my current skepticism. As a well-meaning white person, the progeny of well-meaning white people, it's not comfortable at all to realize just how monstrous America has often been, and that this isn't just flukes and aberrations but ways of life across many generations and time zones.

One way of looking at what's happened to America since its peak of social mobility and minimum of class spread - 1968, give or take a decade depending on what factors you're looking at - is that the hegemony (Gramsci: look this guy up and read him on cultural hegemony) started systematically treating poor, working, and middle-class whites much more like minorities have always been treated.

#249 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:23 PM:

LDR @246: xenophobia -- fear of the "other" -- seems to be a default human fall-back state during situations of insecurity. Folks who are affluent and feel secure seem to be less prone to it (cf. comfy middle-class liberals vs. angry working class neo-fascists, here in the UK).

The peculiar American relationship with race is thoroughly fucked-up and toxified by the history of slavery in a way that isn't shared with Europe. And the laws against Nazi apologias in large chunks of Europe -- and the distaste for the death penalty -- are the legacy of a military rampage that killed up to 20% of the total population of some countries, and which is still within living memory. (Which in turn was shaped by another such rampage 380 years ago that reduced chunks of Central Europe to cannibalism and wiped out whole communities.)

Bluntly: we are the products of our histories. We can come to terms with this, and try to work out how to live better, going forward, or we can ignore it and reap the consequences. The US has always been a country with a founding myth that if things go bad, you can just up stakes and light out for the frontier. Changing gear from always moving on to fixing what's broken won't come easily ...

#250 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:26 PM:

Kelly@241: Immortal, amoral, collective entities created solely for the pursuit of profit are fundamentally/=people and should not have the same rights.

And companies can own other companies - not quite slavery but parallels can be drawn. I reckon they (and lobbying groups like AIPAC) are functionally the real citizens of all the western-style democracies - or the new aristocracy, as Charlie says. The rest of us have...individual votes, not greatly stirring to a legislator's heart by most accounts.

I suspect the prokarya are still muttering to each other about how the eucarya have taken all the best parking places, mind.

#251 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:36 PM:

Ten years ago I'd have been agreeing with heresiarch's absolutism on free speech, and probably on the headscarf ban as well. Now I think I'm at a very similar place to Abi. I wrote and discarded a post last night which read in part:

"Exposure to France forced me to accept that my own was only one of a range of possible viewpoints a reasonable person could hold. (I'm not arguing for total moral relativism, but the things I still feel sure of as objectively true - the wrongness of torture, for example - aren't enough to build a functioning society.)"

I don't think I'd have lost that absolutism without leaving the English-speaking world. Seeing the UK change around me probably wouldn't have done the trick. I'm too field-dependent: if we were all lobsters in a pan of water, I'd be the one going, "Oh, do you really think it's getting warmer?"

Kelly McCullough @ 241: I suspect that a huge part of the problem in the USA has to do with the ever-increasing legal equivalence between individual rights and corporate rights.

I think you'd be amazed at French attitudes to capitalism. Big companies have duties here, not rights: you're not allowed to cut your workforce unless you can prove you're making a loss, and if you close a factory without going through all the relevant steps they will literally put you in prison, and the man in the street says "quite right too." Mysteriously, the economy does not collapse: it's a bit slower than the UK in booms, and a bit better in hard times like now, but overall it does okay. The thing is, I don't think you could export the French approach to the UK, far less the US, not because it wouldn't work but because people would think it was morally wrong to treat companies so badly.

#252 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:37 PM:

abi #244 :  And underneath it all is the constant awareness, the perpetual anxious care, of a people whose physical environment is almost entirely constructed. ... All the peace and prosperity this nation has built for itself rests on a foundation of constant maintenance of the infrastructure.

Somewhat off-topic:  that may explain the excellence (relative to some other countries) of NL’s infrastructure.  When you’ve got to vigilantly maintain your infrastucture, maybe you get in the habit of constantly improving it.  So the Dutch keep building not only dykes and polders but also railway lines, tunnels, underground car parks (e.g. Museumplein in Amsterdam)...  whereas the British tend to leave their infrastructure poorly maintained and unimproved for too long until things get so bad that they’re forced to do something.  The British sewerage system is a case in point – out of sight, out of mind – many towns and cities, including London, are existing on systems built in the 19th century with only bolt-on improvements since then.

Though I do wonder whether the Dutch have done something about the waves in the motorway between The Hague and Utrecht.  After one rather quick drive (we were late), both children were seasick.

#253 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:45 PM:

#178 ::: Annalee Flower Horne:

Quaker plain dress isn't connected to gross oppression. Some Muslim cultures (sub-cultures?) do use modesty requirements to abuse women, and I don't think it's egregious for people to see a difference of risk between the customs.

This being said, there are also Muslim cultures where their modesty rules aren't an extreme burden, and Muslim women who prefer dressing according to the rules.

Probably relevent: Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah-- I haven't read all ot if, and I certainly haven't assimilated the whole thing, but it's interesting on the tension between idea of the obligation to not interfere with people and the obligation to help them, and downright intriguing on whether it's superior to only have a loyalty to the whole human race. He seems to be building toward the idea that people's ideas of what's moral and what's true are largely group effects.

#239 ::: Bruce Baugh: I'm worried, too. It seems to me that too much of the US has gotten hooked on impulsive cruelty.

I'm inclined to think that biophilia (what I'm calling the respect for the slack and comfort people need to live good lives) is a subtle mental state. It isn't aggressive and it's not about theory. If it isn't intuitively obvious, it's hard to express and very hard to defend. It lacks drama.

It's much easier to be frightened, angry, and outraged when biophilia is attacked than it is to convey why it's worth keeping.

I can only think of two major biophilic works of art-- LOTR and 1984, with the latter being mostly about how much the lack of biophilia hurts.

#254 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:52 PM:

abi @ 244 - There's a word—allochtoon—which, technically, means someone whose parents were not born in the Netherlands.

Presumably from the Greek allos, 'other', and chthon, 'land'; the antonym of "autochthon".

#255 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 12:56 PM:

Too much (and too heated, both others and myself) to catch up completely.

Some anecdata: I have a number of friends who've taught in China. They said it was strange to come "home" and feel the could less discuss things than they could when they were in China.

What they said was that nothing was out of bounds, with anyone they spoke to. Tiananmen didn't come up; mostly because they were too young to have a visceral sense of it.

The net... they'd get closed down when they went to the "wrong" sites. Which was creepy, because it was just their machine, on a shared network.

But it never lasted more than a day. It was a strange sort of reminder of things. They didn't push it, day in, day out. But they also said it was pretty obvious they could, albeit briefly, go someplace and get anything they wanted.

And I don't know that the US model; free speech, etc. is working. We've got a small group (between 15-30 percent) who have their hands on the levers of power. The will of the maority isn't being heard, and a smaller group (5-10 percent) would love to get control of that 15-30, so they could impose Dominion over the rest of us.

And you know what, our system isn't really set up (right now) to stop that. Get them into power; pack the court (not that it would take too much); pass some laws; with no standing to review, et voila we could be looking at a Nehemiah Scudder.

So I don't know that my gut reaction that "all speech should be allowed" is as strong as it is. I know this, in part, because I keep thinking it might be best to go someplace else, and live out my days; rear my children, in some other culture.

Because I'm starting to think mine is broken, and might be beyond repairing.

#256 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:01 PM:

Charlie Stross @249:

xenophobia -- fear of the "other" -- seems to be a default human fall-back state during situations of insecurity. Folks who are affluent and feel secure seem to be less prone to it (cf. comfy middle-class liberals vs. angry working class neo-fascists, here in the UK).

Xenophobia, yeah, definitely. But I suspect that the affluent can be just as xenophobic as the poor -- they might just possibly be less overt/violent about it.

The peculiar American relationship with race is thoroughly fucked-up and toxified by the history of slavery in a way that isn't shared with Europe.

That's very, very true. I know that many African-Americans felt much more comfortable living in Europe, at least in the days when America was still segregated. I wonder how modern-day Muslims would compare the two regions.

#257 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:15 PM:

abi 244: And underneath it all is the constant awareness, the perpetual anxious care, of a people whose physical environment is almost entirely constructed. We all watch the dykes and fill in subsidence, monitor pollution and make room for the rivers. All the peace and prosperity this nation has built for itself rests on a foundation of constant maintenance of the infrastructure.

Sort of irrelevant, but it occurs to me that Dutch culture, rather than American, would be the best model for space-station culture in science fiction. That's one of those utterly useless flares of insight...until I write a story where either a) lots of nations tried to establish space stations but only the Dutch ones succeeded, because the polder model kept the damn thing working, or b) many generations down people with names like O'Brien, Wong, and Miramahdi all act like modern Dutch people.

The writerly bits of my mind are just churning over this.

Charlie 247: You folks[*] need a new revolution.

I'm forced to agree, but there are also good reasons why we haven't had one.

First, there's a huge cost to a revolution on such an unprecedented scale. I would be surprised if the death toll didn't reach the millions, for one thing. And in a civil war (which is what this would be, even by the standards of people who claim the US Civil War wasn't a civil war), the bitterness only multiplies. Also, even if you're on the other side of the planet, do you really want us to have a civil war where both sides have nuclear weapons? (If only one side had them, it wouldn't be much of a civil war, but I'd bet the body count would be higher, not lower.)

Second, in our current US culture I don't think the result of a revolution (or even a Constitutional Convention) would improve things at all. I think the right to bear arms would survive, but freedom of speech and the press would be discarded, along with freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and probably jury trial.

These outcomes are all horrible. In order for a revolution to be a good idea, the result of NOT having one has to be WORSE, and not just a little worse, dramatically and demonstrably worse. Some right-wing commentators in the US are now openly calling for the US military to stage a coup to bring down Obama. The military isn't listening, of course, but that used to be one of the limits of free speech in this country; they're "advocating the violent overthrow of the US Government," and I think they should be clapped in irons. And no, we liberals never did that during the Bush Administration.

But if the military lost its collective mind (and they do NOT seem about to) and staged a coup, then the restoration to democracy (if any came) might fix some of the problems we have now, especially after Americans got a taste of what it's like to live in a country where you have no rights at all. But short of that, Charlie, I'm afraid we'll have to muddle through with our antiquated model, not because it's perfect, but because changing it is just too bloody dangerous.

Btw, when are YOU FOLKS going to get rid of your House of Lords? Now THERE's an antiquated, harmful, and ridiculous institution.

#258 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Xopher @257:
(continuing the off-topicness)

it occurs to me that Dutch culture, rather than American, would be the best model for space-station culture in science fiction.

Patrick's reaction to the newest Dutch province (Flevoland, completed 1983*) was, "Now I know what a generation ship would look like.

-----
* When Mark Twain said "buy land, they're not making any more of it," he wasn't thinking of the Netherlands.

#259 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:29 PM:

Andy, #235 (and others): I would like to mention, for the record, that I greatly dislike the phrase "modest dress" for clothing that leaves no skin exposed, because it appears to validate the claim that the way I dress is "immodest" -- which in turn lends weight to all the secondary assumptions which flow from that, such as the attitude that a woman who is dressed immodestly is inviting rape.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any non-judgmental equivalent which is equally short and easy to use. And I know that the people here don't mean it in the pejorative sense, so I guess I'll just keep twitching. :-)

#260 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:37 PM:

Charlie Stross #249: "The peculiar American relationship with race is thoroughly fucked-up and toxified by the history of slavery in a way that isn't shared with Europe."

Not exactly. There are European cities (Bristol, Liverpool, Brest, Seville) which built their prosperity on the slave trade. There were significant populations of enslaved black people in a number of European countries into the nineteenth century. The scale wasn't the same as in the Americas, true, but I'd suggest taking a look at some of those Hogarth and Rowlandson prints of 18th century life.

After he caught a great deal of flak for not attending the funeral of Léopold Senghor, Jacques Chirac was able to make amends by transferring the remains of Alexandre Dumas père to the Panthéon. It isn't a simple historical accident that France's most popular 19th century writer was biracial; it's the result of France's own involvement in the history of slavery.

The black and multiracial populations of Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Spain today are, in large part the results of those countries histories as slave-trading and slaveholding powers. Not only in their American colonies, but in Africa as well.

#261 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:37 PM:

Lee: "High-coverage clothing"?

#262 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 01:55 PM:

abi @ 258... When Mark Twain said "buy land, they're not making any more of it," he wasn't thinking of the Netherlands

...and then Lex Luthor went on to really prove him wrong.

#263 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Andy Wilton, 251: I think you'd be amazed at French attitudes to capitalism. Big companies have duties here, not rights: you're not allowed to cut your workforce unless you can prove you're making a loss, and if you close a factory without going through all the relevant steps they will literally put you in prison, and the man in the street says "quite right too." Mysteriously, the economy does not collapse: it's a bit slower than the UK in booms, and a bit better in hard times like now, but overall it does okay. The thing is, I don't think you could export the French approach to the UK, far less the US, not because it wouldn't work but because people would think it was morally wrong to treat companies so badly.

And what I find myself continually wondering is exactly how the average American has been taught to think that way, when it so clearly runs counter to our* best interests. I thank the gods and my parents every day that I was never indoctrinated with this particular form of lunacy.

Of course, of late I am also contemplating emigration, for the precise purpose of getting to someplace where my own attitudes are closer to the norm. Rather like Terry, I too feel that my culture is fundamentally "broken" and that it is unlikely to be repaired in my lifetime, if ever.

* Well, the best interests of most of us, at any rate.

#264 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Fragano@260: I think the difference is that most of the black population of those countries consider that they or their ancestors came to them by choice, generally from the colonies, and their links to the effects of slavery were considerably weakened in the process, not that they've been exactly ushered into the corridors of power with deference and equanimity anywhere. In America the collective memory of slavery seems to act as a huge barrier to the assimilation which America is otherwise so good at.

#265 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Xopher #257: I'm almost able to remember a line from (I think) a Heinlein story here. Something like "These loonies care for their machines like their lives depend on them."

Nancy #253:

Can you expand on what you mean by biophilic works of art? From my first take on what you were saying, I thought of this quote from The Hobbit:

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale and take a deal of telling anyway.

People having a basically balanced, healthy life don't make for much of a story, right? And in the modern US, at least for folks with kids and a mortgage and a job and ten thousand commitments, it's also almost like reading about a foreign world.

#266 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 02:59 PM:

Xopher @257: antiquated: yes, ridiculous: yes, harmful: probably not. And in any case, the House of Lords is going, by inches. They just abolished the Law Lords (judges sitting in the HoL) and brought in a Supreme Court instead ... yesterday! The main reason we haven't already replaced it with a fully elected upper chamber is that Tony F***ing Blair tried to rig the outcome of the constitutional reform vote on February 4th, 2003 (in a manner intended to give him a death grip on the upper house by reserving 50% of the seats for Prime Ministerial patronage), thereby gridlocking the reform process. Which will almost certainly not be revived under the incoming Conservative government, next year. More here (if you really care).

Fragano @260: Slavery existed in Europe (and European entrepreneurs ran slave operations overseas), but what didn't exist was a situation where 15-20% of the population were slaves of visibly different ethnicity from everyone else. My handle on white anti-black racism in the US is that it's akin to high-caste Hindu racism directed against Dalits, only with added phenotypic markers. (This is a metaphor, I need it because I'm a foreigner. Feel free to fine-tune it for me if you think it's off-key, okay?)

While many of the black population of the UK and elsewhere in Europe are descended from former slaves in the Caribbean, they're not living in a country where there's a caste system and the upper-caste people automatically label them as untouchables on sight. The cognitive framework for a caste-system never developed here. While there is racism, it's xenophobia-based rather than caste-based. And the manifestations are therefore a bit different. (I think.)

#267 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 03:15 PM:

#264 ::: Adrian Smith:

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that a lot of the lack of integration in the US is because blacks don't want to be in the mainstream. Afaik, most of the pressure is that too many whites don't want blacks to be in the mainstream.

#265 ::: albatross:

While the ordinary good life doesn't offer enough drama to work for most sorts of fiction (and realistic/naturalistic fiction, afaik, tends to have a strong focus on the more painful parts of life), LOTR and 1984 are notable for saying that ordinary life is valuable, it's what social institutions are there to protect (LOTR) and even small scraps of it are valuable (1984).

Maybe part of what I want is the sense that the author knows that ordinary decent life is not inevitable, but is possible. I might be looking for a non-tragic sense of the fragility of the thing.

Maybe I'm reading too much urban fantasy/paranormal romance lately, but the feeling I get from those is "love and friendship are all very well, but they're just in the story because a steady diet of physical and magical combat wouldn't work as a story". It's true that you need the contrast, but I want something that you could hand to a wingnut and say this is what you're throwing away.

Thanks for asking, and I'm willing to make more tries at coherence if this attempt didn't work.

#268 ::: Iorwerth Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 03:17 PM:

Bruce@248:Though one oughtn't to give up hope, as the hegemony isn't as all controlling as it's sometimes hypothesised to be. (Admittedly, I only really know of Gramsci via James Scott's critiques of him [1], which reminds me that I've got a lot of reading up on the subject!)

[1] And the urban legend of Gramsci the Alsatian in 'Spaced', of course.

#269 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 03:48 PM:

#266 ::: Charlie Stross

Among the very many major differences between slavery of African heritage people in Europe, the Caribbean and South America, and the U.S. and African heritage slavery is that the southern slaverholding U.S. made an industry out of breeding slaves for sale, for profit to the rest of the slave holding territory, and went to war to expand that territory where it was abolished or not allowed to have slavery at all. This was the Southern, slaveholding perspective on manifest destiny. Their economic future was expansion of slavery, the breeding of the slaves in the older, soil-worn out south, to sell to the new territories that were in perpetual need of labor to expand their cultivation.

This is how a gentleman lived, and lived very very very well, according to their perspective. Anyone else was, well, infra dig.

Thomas Jefferson, like the so many of the presidents after him up until Lincoln, were either Virginians or so sympathetic, like Buchanan, that they might as well have been.

This created a profound divide between the South'sr regard for slavery and former slaves and the descendants of former slaves, and that of the non-abolitionists of the U.S., who were not crazy at all for equality, but found slavery a profound antipathy for their economic vision of Manifest Destiny.

Throw in this mix of economics, then, the serious psychic kind of breeding slaves for the fancy market -- white skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, to treat just like any other slave, to have to do exactly as you liked, done to exactly as you liked because they were your property -- no, they've never gotten over it.\

The former confederacy loves recalling slave holding days, and it is no stretch at all to see that many would be pleased as heck to revive slavery.

They did revive slavery, at least labor slavery, immediately. This re-enslavement got called, later, Jim Crow, which sounds rather quaint, doesn't it? But the reality was -- and is, in our current private prison industry -- anything but quaint.

Love, c.

#270 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 04:10 PM:

Iowerth: Gramsci didn't think hegemonies were the socio-economic equivalent of the Terminator either. But we do have one very resolutely in place right now - on specific policies it can and does ignore upwards of three-quarters of the population, and on general social structure as it shapes wealth and opportunity it ignores or sets out to mess up 90% or more of us. (That is, it really isn't coincidence or incompetence that almost everyone's lost out on real wages, security, mobility, and the like since the '70s. It's consequences that were foreseeable, foreseen, and preferred by people in a position to do society-scale planning.) And it's done an outstanding job convincing most of us not just that we can't hope for better but that we shouldn't hope for better, that claimed improvement elsewhere is both false and dangerous. Dislodging it will take a lot of work.

As a benchmark, we know that it took something like forty-fifty years and multiple major traumas, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to get to the New Deal, and in the end racism kept it from becoming the basis of the sort of social democracy that prevails elsewhere. I have no idea what it'll take this time.

#271 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 04:34 PM:

I've not commented because I don't feel that I'm in a place to really put things into any better perspective (like Abi, my firm beliefs have softened the more countries I have lived in).

But having caught up on the thread, I then shifted to a light-hearted list of German links and landed on this:

Capitalism. Fascism. Socialism. Anarchy. Hedonism... - Moronail.net - Ars gratia hilaris.

#272 ::: Iorwerth Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Bruce@270: Oh, definitely. I guess in Scott's terms, this would be a situation where the values of a society are such that there's very little lee-way for subaltern groups to use moral blackmail on the dominant groups in a successful fashion [1], which never ends well. But I should really read Gramsci before saying much more. (Probably after I've finished with Foucault, though.)

And I quite get where you're coming from; from my rather left wing PoV, I find a lot of things in the UK frustrating at the moment; I can't imagine how I'd feel if I lived in the US. I hope it can be fixed, though. The alternatives are pretty horrible.

(Oh, I should probably mention that I'm really looking forward to the pulp RPG supplement!)

[1] Not that it ever has much chance of success, but it's often all subaltern classes have short of outright revolt, and that tends to be rather costly (though more common than one might think).

#273 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 04:54 PM:

Bruce Baugh @270: I have been wondering why the Obama Administration is not trying to revive some of the things from the New Deal -- like the CCC and WPA. Wouldn't it be better to put people to work, rather than just extending the time they can claim unemployment benefits?

I'm to the point that I'm beginning to think the government should take the foreclosed properties away from the banks and put people back in them. At least we'd have something from the bankers for the money we pumped in to save their businesses.

#274 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 05:28 PM:

Iowerth: What keeps me from just plain despairing is that progress is so often thoroughly unexpected. We don't see it coming, and then it's here. I allow room to be surprised.

Lori: Well, bluntly, the Obama administration has bought into the thinking of its corporate sponsors, and they approach things a particular way...

Situation A. There is $100. Someone has $50; the others have shares ranging from $1 to $15.

Situation B. There is $200. Someone has $75; the others have shares ranging from $5 to $40.

What's distinctive about our hegemons is that they very reliably favor A - they would rather have a larger share of a smaller pot as long as they're relatively better off, because they define their success to a large degree in terms of what others don't have. You find this again and again in accounts of and by the very wealthy when they talk about the post-war era in the US. It was awful for them, because they didn't get awe or deference, and all those common laborers were rising through the ranks and threatening to turn the social pyramid into some other shape altogether. They quite deliberately traded in real progress that would have benefitted others too for bogus statistics and the chance to get more and more of a pile that was much smaller than it could have been.

The Obama administration is beholden to the financial sector and others that would lose big by the development of any broadly-based stability and prosperity.

#275 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Ok, Bruce, I undestand what you've told me -- but it raises another question:

How the heck is the economy going to recover if money doesn't reach the consumer? Won't things eventually grind to a halt for everyone (including the rich) if we can't afford to buy anything?

#276 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 05:58 PM:

"ordinary life is valuable, it's what social institutions are there to protect (LOTR) and even small scraps of it are valuable (1984) … the author knows ordinary decent life is not inevitable, but is possible"

A big part of my strong objection to losing the Scouring of the Shire section in the LotR films. Plenty of fanboy service and eyecandy could have been trimmed down to leave time.

Yes, it's an awkward jump "We've just had the happy ending! Isn't it all roses ever after?", but to me it's the heart of the piece. No kings, supernatural monsters or magic. The sort of thing real people in our real world face and do in real life. And that jump reflects the feeling we get when we think it's all been done & settled, even with compromises and losses, then turn around and find, "No. They're back. With lawyers and spin doctors and always more money and connections to power and influence than us". Again.

Bruce Baugh (#274) have you seen my Statistics in Wonderland , aka Spreading it Around, or The Fallacy of Averages (A Child’s Guide to the Wonder of Statistics)? [Scroll down, it only looks blank. Don't know why, or how to fix it.]

#277 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 06:24 PM:

One addition, though many people here know more about this than I do. After slavery, ISTM that a lot of the black/white dynamic was used as a kind of caste system. I don't know how intentional this was, but it wound up being pretty good at keeping the whites who were on the bottom of the social pyramid invested in the social order, since at least they got to be above the blacks in the hierarchy.

I'm automatically skeptical of one-parameter models for complex social phenomena. But I do wonder how much of the rise of the Christian Right in the South has to do with a need for a substitute for that--a new story I can tell myself, so that I'm not really at the bottom of the heap despite my subsistence wage, lack of savings, bad teeth, bad marriage, etc.

#278 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 06:28 PM:

Adrian Smith #264 you need to note Charlie Stross's point at #266 about slavery existing in Europe. The difference with the the Americas was one of scale. The black slaves of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe were mostly (but not entirely) absorbed into the indigenous population the old-fashioned way (racism and all). The problem is that (and this is where I differ with Charlie at #266) the racism and domination came home with the descendants of the slaves in the trickle of migration over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in the large waves of labour migration after World War II. Some of that is xenophobia, some of that, though, is a sort of caste system.

Lord Curzon, I seem to recall from my reading*, expressed surprised during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, that the lower classes of the East End were as white as he was. The idea that "n.....s" or "w..s" began at Calais is a pretty racist idea in itself. Not much different from Metternich's dictum that Asia began at the east gate of Vienna.

The European upper classes of not that long ago certainly saw themselves as superior in kind from the people they ruled over at home, and that certainly translated into projecting a more familiar form of racism in the colonies.

And, Constance, it's worth noting that some anti-colonialist attitudes were bred during World War one when both middle-class and working class black and not-so-black colonials serving in the military came into contact with the far-less-than-enlightened racial attitudes of both working-class and upper-class Brits. The black supremacist doctrines originally at the heart of Rastafari** were enunciated by a one time member of the West India Regiment.


* I wasn't around in 1897, after all.

** The concept of racial supremacy dropped from Rasfarian doctrine when Haile Selassie condemned the idea in a speech at the United Nations. It's a bit difficult to claim that you are the chosen of god and white people are inferior beings condemned by god, when the living god has explicitly said otherwise. For a specific elucidation listen to Bob Marley's "War."

#279 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 06:39 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 274: Then it's worse than I thought - the US has actually developed anti-fraternity!

Lee @ 259: I seem to have become the guy with a plank on his shoulder in one of those slapstick routines. I'll try standing very still and see if I can avoid hitting anyone for a bit. Apologies for the twitches caused.

#280 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 06:44 PM:

Fragano @ 278... I wasn't around in 1897, after all

Your secret is safe with us.

#281 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 07:33 PM:

Serge #280... or should I say Sigerson #280: Shhhhh.

#282 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 07:33 PM:

Mez: Haven't seen those but will go take a look. :)

#283 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 07:45 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 266: The cognitive framework for a caste-system never developed here.

That's not exactly the case.

#284 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Fragano@278: I had no intention of denying that slavery existed and racism exists in Europe, and of course the after-effects of that racism and domination came home in the subsequent migrations to some extent. But the differences between the two situations seem to me to justify describing the American one as 'toxic' wrt the European - toxicity is a function of scale, after all. This is not intended as some kind of one-upmanship, either, let me hasten to add, Europe has all kinds of horrendous problems of its own.

Nancy@267: I think it goes both ways, but I suspect the anti-assimilationist element of US black culture, small though it may be, has a large amplifying effect when filtered through the perceptions of racist whites, serving as a justification for a lot of their attitudes. This is just my model of the situation, of course, I'm not making any overarching claims for it and I mainly present it here so that better-informed individuals can shoot educational holes in it.

#285 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 07:51 PM:

Xopher @257: [..] it occurs to me that Dutch culture, rather than American, would be the best model for space-station culture in science fiction.

"God made the Earth, but the Dutch made Holland."

I had thought there might be something in a metaphor between creating a habitat in the hard vacuum of space, and the Dutch wresting land from the sea.

#286 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 08:03 PM:

abi @ 233: "What I'm trying to say is that you've been pronouncing a lot of judgments as certainties, about what's Good and Bad. And sometimes, when the people are on the ground, their evaluations don't match your ideals, and their experiences don't fit your statements. The missing piece there isn't automatically that they're Doing it Rong."

And what I'm trying to say is that when I say I still think they're Doing it Rong, I'm not doing it automatically. I'm doing it mindfully: I have heard their arguments, considered them as best I am capable and I remain unconvinced. I have checked the box marked "You may be straying into la-la land, you know," and continued on, conscious of my limited perspective and limited intelligence, because in this limited world of limited choices that is the best option I could determine.

I have no certainty beyond the fact that given the information I have, this is the best conclusion that I can draw. As my information changes, so may my conclusion change. But reserving judgment always, waiting for a clearer view of things, seems to me to be an approach that results in nothing.

@ 234: "Specifically, how do you test them? How do you evaluate them? Do you use some form of abstract validation? If so, on what principles is it based?"

I see creating and testing these criteria and methods as being as fundamental a part of the undertaking as employing them. I can't hand you a set of neatly typed parameters and definitions, because if I had such a thing then determining morality would be no more arduous than punching numbers into a calculator. It's not, and guiding principles like the exhortation to eliminate suffering, the categorical imperative or empiricism are rare, and their proper application and understanding are themselves subject to question.

Morality, much like science, is like a house in which we live even as we are building it. There's a temptation to wait until it's finished before using it, but that's impossible: it's only by moving in, jumping up and down on the floorboards and banging on the walls that we can figure out which parts of the building are sound and which parts need to be torn down and rebuilt. It's by putting moral principles to the test, in argument and eventually in life, that we can determine their worth.

#287 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 08:36 PM:

Lori Coulson #275: How the heck is the economy going to recover if money doesn't reach the consumer? Won't things eventually grind to a halt for everyone (including the rich) if we can't afford to buy anything?

What makes you think that the rich actually want the economy to recover? They already have money, but power is better.

#288 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 08:51 PM:

Lori @ 275
You noticed that too!

They want to be Masters (or Mistresses) of All They Survey, and they forget about the very real possibility of angry peasants showing up with pitchforks and torches (or backhoes and cranes). What's Very Good for them isn't good for the country, but they don't see that at all. IMO. YMMV.

#289 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 09:44 PM:

PJ Evans @ 288...

Count de Monet: It is said that the people are revolting.
King Louis XVI: You said it! They stink on ice!

#290 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 09:52 PM:

#278 ::: Fragano Ledgister

Which is one of the many reasons we are waiting impatiently for Garnette Cadogan's biography of Bob Marley. He's got this stuff nailed, in the way it should be.

Love, c.

#291 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 10:03 PM:

#284 ::: Adrian Smith

Fragano@278:

I had no intention of denying that slavery existed and racism exists in Europe, and of course the after-effects of that racism and domination came home in the subsequent migrations to some extent. But the differences between the two situations seem to me to justify describing the American one as 'toxic' wrt the European - toxicity is a function of scale, after all. This is not intended as some kind of one-upmanship, either, let me hasten to add, Europe has all kinds of horrendous problems of its own.

And all those Great Empires in the New World -- Spain, Portugal, France, England, and yes, the Dutch -- have left their legacies upon the slave codes in the U.S.

Another major influence is that at least Spain and France provided a legal escape from slavery, whether observed more in the breach than in the execution.

However, when the American legalities came to be instituted in the Louisiana Territory -- Spanish and French, i.e. the legacy of the British legal codes governing the noirs -- all that went by the wayside.

A very big deal, in every big way, in terms of the history of the U.S. and U.S. culture.

Love, C.

P.S. This discussion has gone far from the subject of this topic. Please, pardon, I have just returned from a most intense experience of many days in New Orleans, the heart of American, Spanish, and French slavery in the United States, the heart of the Confederacy, where the first military revolt against Reconstruction -- meaning integrating our previously enslaved population into the Constitutional United States as equal citizens took place -- it was a success, of course -- we allowed it to be a success.


#292 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2009, 11:12 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @267:

Maybe I'm reading too much urban fantasy/paranormal romance lately, but the feeling I get from those is "love and friendship are all very well, but they're just in the story because a steady diet of physical and magical combat wouldn't work as a story". It's true that you need the contrast, but I want something that you could hand to a wingnut and say this is what you're throwing away.

Emma Bull's Bone Dance?

#293 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:30 AM:

abi @ 240: "I think there's juice in figuring out what constitutes a successful outcome, but I suspect that there are a range of different (and possibly mutually exclusive) criteria that even a single person would accept."

I think that arguing that different societies make different trade-offs between competing social goods is a different, and much better, argument than saying that due to their unique cultural practices they have entirely avoided the side-effects of social_practice_x. For example, I think it's reasonable to say that dangers posed by Dutch restrictions on free speech are more than compensated for by benefits reaped in other areas, whereas I don't think it's reasonable to say that Dutch culture somehow just makes those dangers go away. I think it's reasonable to say that this particular woman reaps more personal and social benefits than detriments from wearing the hijab, but I don't think it is reasonable to say that, due to her religious devotion, the detriments do not apply to her. Does that make sense? Free speech is absolute to me in the sense that the benefits and dangers are inherent to it in all situations and cultures, not in the sense that maximizing free speech is necessarily the best trade off everywhere and anywhere.

Bruce Baugh @ 239: "I'm really interested by informed commentary like what Abi is providing here because I feel like my own country's society has badly failed."

To the contrary, I think the fact that a crew of power-hungry sociopaths like the Bush administration occupied the center of American government for eight years and then left is a testament to the power and resilience of the American system. I can't imagine what would happen if a similar group were to seize control of, say, the Chinese political apparatus. That would not be a blot on the national reputation, that would be a nightmare of surveillance and ideological purging that would last decades if not longer; the sort of thing could start perpetuating itself 1984-style. What the Bush administration would have done in the wake of 9/11 had they had access to even the sorts of free speech laws prevalent in Europe--what are the odds that Markos Moulitsas and Glenn Greenwald wouldn't have ended up in jail on speech crimes? Joe Wilson? Richard Clarke? Would the netroots revolution even have happened, if the Bush administration had been able to jail their critics?

I really don't have many nice things to say about the American political system, but I honestly think that the Bush years are an example of the built-in limitations of the system doing their job when the people and the culture failed utterly.

Charlie Stross @ 176: "I think the solution is obvious, but I'm going to make my own start on being part of it by not telling you what to do."

@ 247: "You folks[*] need a new revolution."

Goodness. That didn't last very long, did it?

#294 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:51 AM:

heresiarch @286:
There's a temptation to wait until it's finished before using it, but that's impossible: it's only by moving in, jumping up and down on the floorboards and banging on the walls that we can figure out which parts of the building are sound and which parts need to be torn down and rebuilt. It's by putting moral principles to the test, in argument and eventually in life, that we can determine their worth.

If you think i'm being inactive, we're not communicating very well. As I said, @234:

I consider my opinions of countries I haven't lived in long enough to understand to be written in pencil. I consider my principles valid first for me, then for the places closest to me, then for places further away to an increasingly lesser degree. I do my best to understand, but I acknowledge that I am fallible. I try to do good, within my understanding of good, and vote for good to be done, within the reach of my research into the likely consequences.

That's not inaction. That's mindfulness of probability of error.

I guess, though, that you're annoyed that I won't argue everything out, all the time, from the get-go. Sorry about that, but I really think that there's an information-gathering, learning stage, and a pondering stage, before we necessarily enter the ring. Also, I'm not really that argumentative a person.

Among the things you're assuming, in addition to the idea that your moral house has not by shaped by your own culture, is the idea that everyone forms their conclusions by the same means. Some of us don't actually enjoy arguing, and form conclusions by information-gathering, pattern-matching, and other slightly less gladiatorial means.

and @293:
I think that arguing that different societies make different trade-offs between competing social goods is a different, and much better, argument than saying that due to their unique cultural practices they have entirely avoided the side-effects of social_practice_x.

I can't recall making the latter argument. I think it's a given that every legal practice is a tradeoff one way or another, and the tradeoffs pinch in different places for different people. Because of culture, history, yadda yadda.

#295 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 04:23 AM:

heresiarch @293:

By the way, your comment to Charlie was unduly personal.

Generally, you seem more personally vexed by this topic than you generally do by arguments on Making Light. You're skipping steps, not checking facts (looking up Geert Wilders before talking about him, for instance) and making broader statements than you usually do.

Is this something you want to continue at this point?

#296 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 05:19 AM:

Tim @283: wow, that's interesting! I'd never heard a whisper of it.

Heresiarch @293: I make no claims to be internally consistent. Internal consistency is for robots, not people. YMMV, of course.

#297 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 07:54 AM:

Heresiarch: But it didn't start with this last Bush administration, and it hasn't ended with Bush's departure. Let's start with the very fact that Dick Cheney could be the de facto chief executive, rather than being driven out of public life in shame and disgrace years ago. But the broader concern still, well, concerns me - the system of parties, corporate influence, interlocking media and punditocracy and all the rest excludes anywhere from half to 90%+ of the country, and has done so for decades.

I was thinking about the idea that a lot of this is just somehow a fluke. But real wages peaked in the late '60s or '70s, and social mobility has been in decline ever since as well...forty years includes, say, the American Revolution and the War of 1812, or the Mexican-American War and the building of the transcontinental railroads, or both world Wars. Forty years is long enough to say "this is what the society truly is, until something forces a change". Our major political and social institutions show real continuities of membership and leadership running back to the red-baiting crew that Nixon rode to prominence, and change of party seems to make no difference at all when it comes to the fundamentals. The Republican Party has embraced its role as the new incarnation of the Confederate impulse Constance has (IMHO entirely correctly) identified, and the Democrats have settled into a routine where the leadership always panders to moderate and liberal sensibilities at election time and always betrays them between elections.

Like a lot of the American public, in 2006 and 2008 I voted for candidates promising the beginning of the end to the occupation of Iraq, investigation of and impeachment for war crimes, and like that. We aren't getting it. And when it comes to health care...it's not so much that I insist that we really need a single-payer system, though we do. It's that a solid majority of the country wants it and we can't even get it discussed anywhere it matters, anymore than we could get discussion of (say) penalizing the bankers responsible for soaking up untold trillions of dollars...

At this point I should probably just say "Glenn Greenwald and Avedon Carol have this covered."

#298 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 08:14 AM:

But I remind myself that I've adopted the policy of not arguing this stuff anymore. I've spent enough years going around and around on fundamentals; I'm trying to confine myself now to discussion with people who agree on those about what to do about it, and what to do within it since we have to live day by day. I know we disagree on some of the fundamentals, Heresiarch, and I'm genuinely not interested in either you attempting to reeducate me or me attempting to convince you of the facts and principles on which my comments rest. So don't feel like you need to do anything about my last.

#299 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 08:53 AM:

I had wondered if the puns spun would unravel the thread, but I hadn't realized it was a gordian knot.

#300 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 11:09 AM:

Heresiarch: I am willing to concede the French, and the Dutch, and even the Chinese, have made mindful decisions about how to solve ther problems; through the lens of their culture. I am not certain the assumptions I don't notice aren't shaping what I see as (sort of) obvious.

And that's with a lot of training, and practice, at divorcing myself from my culture to see the other guys' sides of it.

I am not French (I read a wonderful book, a parallel study of US/French culture, by a frenchwoman, married to an american. IIRC she was an anthropologist; in any case the book was put out by Oberlin. The insights on things like child-rearing [in France having a child was, and perhaps still is, a feminist statement, in the way not having one was in the states. The reasons were, of course, quite different], and having people over for dinner, were really interesting, but I digress).

I am not Dutch, nor Chinese, nor Russian, nor Ukrainian. I don't think I can do more than approximate the needs they, as a group, have.

To the contrary, I think the fact that a crew of power-hungry sociopaths like the Bush administration occupied the center of American government for eight years and then left is a testament to the power and resilience of the American system.

I don't know. I thought that after Nixon. I was wrong. The system allows for certain types of "frog-boiling" behavior. Talk to me in 30 years, when we can see if the water temperature is back to where it was in 1992.

Because I look at things like the waterhoses and police dogs in Alabama, and then the "Free Speech Zones" in NYC, and the raids during the Republican National Convention in 2008, and I don't see change for the better.

I see things getting worse. Bull Connor didn't import cops from other states to do what was done. Minneapolis/St. Paul did.

I look at tasers, and "preventative detentions" and the willingness of the present administration to adopt the abuses of the previous, and I am not willing to argue the Bush administration is so gone as you seem to imply.

They left the office, but the people of like mind are pretty sure they can get back to the levers of power. A really robust self-correcting system would have turned them out for their malfeasance; not let them run out their elected course, and say, "we need to look forward."

#301 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 12:49 PM:

addendum: When I said, "see as sort of obvious", I meant as, "obvious conclusions after mindful thought and analysis."

I am sure there are bedrock issues which are purely local in origin (my feelings on guns, to name one), and which, no matter how mindfully I measure theml, still have hindbrain aspects.

#302 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Bruce #297 and heresiarch #286:

We have retained substantial free speech rights, which is IMO quite valuable. And I think heresiarch is right that, if we'd had speech codes available during the Bush administration, we'd have an even more compliant media. A few prosecutions (with prosecutors and judges selected for political reliability) would have been enough to keep the rest in line.

But it's worth asking why we retain that free speech. At 20, I would have said the first amendment. But other parts of the constitution (think of the tenth, or even fourth amendment) are ignored as convenient. Routine use of no-knock warrants for drug cases, massive illegal surveillance, no-trial detentions of suspect for months or years--those are all just as much violations of the letter and spirit of the constitution as banning unpatriotic speech. And I think you could see a number of places where the Bush administration and its American Pravda mouthpieces were pushing in that direction--redefining criticism of the war as dangerous and irresponsible and treasonous, accusing people who wanted to debate ending the war of giving aid and comfort to the terrorists, telling people they needed to watch what they said.

The difference is that there has been a set of big players in the US, the big news organizations, that had an interest in defending the first amendment. Those guys had power, they had money and lawyers and a loud public voice and connections among the powerful. And so, the principled arguments from folks like ACLU lawyers carried the day.

Now that those big players are losing power[1], I expect some changes. When the source of irritating and offensive-to-the-powerful free speech is overwhelmingly individuals and small groups without lots of political or social influence, I expect that we'll find that the first amendment is another of those `quaint' but outdated ideas of an older time, which doesn't really make much sense in the modern age.

[1] I suspect some of the blatant media manipulation of late has had to do with the relative loss of power of big news organizations. Even as those belong to larger corporations with plenty of power, the news operation has less power and importance within (say) GE or Disney.

#303 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Adrian Smith #284: Scale depends on what you're measuring. The non-white population of Greater London is larger than the non-white population of the state of Georgia, though both have approximately the same population. Which, would you say, has the more toxic race problem?

#304 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Albatross: The thing is that I don't see these folks losing any actual power. Are they ceasing to amass great fortunes? Do they have any real trouble getting legislation they want? Are they less likely to get massive handout and bailouts when it's convenient?

This is part of Gramsci's point about hegemonies: They're insulated from the forces that ordinarily determine social position. Ordinarily, for instance, the host of the most popular show on a network would expect to keep his gig, but Phil Donahue famously didn't. In most circumstances, the decision-makers responsible for any substantial portion of years of ongoing loss would be fired rather than promoted to the top ranks of the Treasury Department, but not when you're in the right sectors. And so on. Hegemons can be hated and it doesn't matter, because the system does not allow that hatred to manifest as disenthronement. Measures of popularity, market share, and the like simply don't add up to the whole story.

#305 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 02:21 PM:

abi @ 294: "I guess, though, that you're annoyed that I won't argue everything out, all the time, from the get-go."

Well, no. I'm actually terribly grateful that you've taken the time and energy to continue this conversation when it's obviously been a lot less fun for you than, say, a basket of kittens would be. What annoys me is the claim that inarticulable cultural differences render universal moral principles impossible to determine and evaluate--which at this point I'm pretty sure you're not making, so, you know.

"I really think that there's an information-gathering, learning stage, and a pondering stage, before we necessarily enter the ring."

You're right, and my analogy didn't offer nearly enough space for those parts of learning. There's a reason for that, which I'll get to eventually.

"Among the things you're assuming, in addition to the idea that your moral house has not by shaped by your own culture, is the idea that everyone forms their conclusions by the same means."

Not quite. That part of the process is black-boxed in my mind--what comes before argument is not something I'm worrying about at all. The point I'm focusing my attention on is when we've moved from the internal part of the process to the external: we have come to certain conclusions, by whatever means, and but in order to actualize those conclusions we need to persuade others of their validity.* Let's say "Murder is wrong" is the conclusion at hand, and just not murdering anyone yourself really isn't going to cut it.

At that point, "I feel it in my bones" or even "my life has taught me this" probably won't be particularly convincing to people who don't already feel it in their bones, or who haven't already lived a similar life. Intuition and experiences are really hard for other people to replicate in their own minds, short of actually going out and living through the same events. Logical argumentation, on the other hand, is relatively easy to replicate even in fairly hostile minds. There are many times that I have approached an argument sure it was wrong, and walked away convinced. Thus: logical persuasion is the only moral form of compulsion.

*But it's a recursive process. No one ever moves entirely beyond the learning and considering phase; it's always running in the background. Or ought to be. That's why I focused on the argumentative kind of learning--that's the style of learning that often occurs during, er, argument. I don't think that makes it better than more internal, more reflective styles of learning--it just happens in a different way.

"I can't recall making the latter argument."

Then sorry! My bad.

@ 295: "Generally, you seem more personally vexed by this topic than you generally do by arguments on Making Light."

Disagreeing on fundamentally important topics with people you deeply respect is stressful. I'm not trying to skip steps, but we're working from a really different set of assumptions (about our own AND each other's positions) here and it's not always clear to me what is given and what needs an explanation. I just spent a long time arguing against a position that you thought it was perfectly clear you weren't taking, and how many times do I have to re-iterate that I'm aware of the potential pitfalls of cultural assumptions? I feel this is stressful, and hard, and still worth doing.

Charlie Stross @ 296: "Internal consistency is for robots, not people."

Robots, sure, and also people who are trying to make replicable claims about the nature of reality. You know: scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and so forth.

It's not like I'm expecting you to ensure that your every action is compliant with a cohesive set of philosophical maxims--just that your views on prescribing cures to other people's ills be consistent with your views on prescribing cures to other people's ills. It's not that strenuous.

Bruce Baugh @ 298: "I know we disagree on some of the fundamentals, Heresiarch, and I'm genuinely not interested in either you attempting to reeducate me or me attempting to convince you of the facts and principles on which my comments rest."

That's fine by me. I've already reached my daily recommended allowance of "ARGHHH!"

#306 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:09 PM:

I should add, though, Heresiarch, that I didn't mean as much "begone sirrah!" as I fear that comment had. It's more that I as an individual am finding it more rewarding to focus on actually doing stuff with people I'm in basic agreement with, and that I've been finding more passes through the fundamentals kind of sterile. It's a worthwhile activity, just not for me right now.

#307 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:12 PM:

Heresiarch @305: you might also note that I was refraining from being prescriptive towards individuals and coming up with a big-picure prescription for a problem on a very different scale.

#308 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:18 PM:

Bruce #304:

Both the people and the institutions at the top are still susceptible to consequences, they're just insulated from them. For example, Lehman is gone, despite having been among the great and rich and powerful of this world. Similarly, AT&T is gone, AMC is gone, GM and IBM and Kodak are shadows of their former selves. Powerful people have also lost power--not just Bush and Cheney, but second-tier types like Gonzales and Yoo, and many CEOs who brought their companies to ruin while also wrecking the global economy. They could use political influence (at least as much ideological capture of decisionmakers as direct political influence, IMO) to get the government to prop up their industry in something like its previous form, but they couldn't avoid a lot of changes. And it remains to be seen what will happen next--their survival isn't guaranteed, any more than our country's solvency is guaranteed.

Change in the power structure of the society still happens. Reality can't be trumped forever, however much regulation and the moral suasion of the media and subsidies are applied to try to trump it. The big news sources are losing power, as they lose market share. That is going to have a huge impact on the US and the world. One way that impact will be felt, I fear, is in the lack of people with both power and a strong interest in free speech as a near-absolute right. Instead, the news companies will have less power, and also less interest in that absolute freedom of speech idea--freedom of "responsible" speech from trustworthy media organs, perhaps, but not freedom of irresponsible Greenwalds and Balkos.

#309 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:31 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 306: "I should add, though, Heresiarch, that I didn't mean as much "begone sirrah!" as I fear that comment had."

No, no offense taken! I understand the impulse entirely. Getting to choose which arguments to get into is a right I extend to every individual.* Beyond that, there are a lot of conversations that can't take place unless both parties agree to some basic premises, and there's nothing wrong with not wanting to retread the arguments behind those premises over and over. If every conversation is "Intro to Topic X," there are a lot of important conversations that don't take place. So no worries.

In general: I was staring into space just now, and realized that my thinking on the importance of free speech is much more complex and measured than it was at the beginning of this conversation. So thanks.

*I hope this doesn't set off anyone's anti-universalist alarm bells.

#310 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:33 PM:

albatross: The power shifts, but who gets the levers of the new power? The "shape of the world" has moved a lot in the past 60 years.

The Bush family is still able to move those levers; even when the points of leverage they were using 60 years ago are gone.

The Rom have a saying, "Money has no memory." It's true. If you have enough money to get intial access to the levers of power, and the ability to make friends, it's going to take a lot more than AT&T losing it's place in the picture to get shoved out.

Lehman Bros. may be gone, but where have the people who ran it ended up? Goldman Sachs has been intrumental in at least three major blows to the US/World economy; at the end of the most recent one the people who ran it got themselves put in charge of the economy.

They got themselves bailed out by using the gov't to disolve AIG, in such a way as to save their bacon.

That's some pretty serious insulation.

#311 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:40 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 307: I'm guessing you see some sort of game-changing difference there that I don't, but honestly I'm just going to leave it there. As I said to Bruce, my dosage of vitamin ARGGH is reaching dangerously high levels, and I don't really feel like getting into it.

#312 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 03:57 PM:

heresiarch @305:

I think we've come, not so much to agree, as to understand each other's positions as reasonable. I'm content with that.

#313 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 04:51 PM:

Me too.

#314 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 05:15 PM:

heresiarch @311: two words -- "scale" and "privilege".

As a white male, I am a beneficiary of a certain privileged position in western society. It behooves me to step lightly, especially when it's a matter of discussing the good life with those who are not similarly privileged. (See also "invisible knapsack of privilege" etcetera.)

On the other hand, as a non-citizen individual, the nature of the power imbalance implicit in my relationship with the whole United States of America is very different.

Put it another way: $ME lecturing $OPPRESSED_MINORITY_PERSON about how to live their life: could be construed as bullying. $ME passing comment on vast collective enterprise so huge that it's scale can barely be apprehended: not so much.

#315 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 06:21 PM:

I love it here. 312 and 313 (and to some extent 314) remind me of one reason why.

At the risk of doing a "you people," I love you folks!

#316 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2009, 07:45 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @303: I'd really hesitate to make the comparison - London's non-white population is more heterogeneous, and it's London, so there's a lot happening there. Georgia's problem sounds more like one problem, and the situation sounds relatively stagnant by comparison. So over time I'd expect more violence in London, but more real change.

OTOH, if you're saying that the toxicity metaphor is too ill-focused to be meaningful, you may have a point. In my case it's what I've picked up from reading the writings of racist whites - there seems to be a richer culture of racism in the US. The Brits by comparison...eh. Though I will be suitably horrified to read counterexamples if you have any to hand, I imagine you've gone into this stuff in more detail than I have.

#317 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 12:50 AM:

Adrian Smith #316: there seems to be a richer culture of racism in the US. The Brits by comparison...eh.

More classist than racist, maybe?

As for the rich culture of racism in the US, the next step, of course, is for more cross burning sites to be listed in the National Register of Historical Sites, complete with nice, tidy "eternal flame" monuments. I expect that will be a priority in the upcoming 2012 Nehemiah Scudder administration.

#318 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 01:45 AM:

Earl Cooley III@317 I suppose "Our racists aren't as classy as your racists" has to be one of the more backhanded compliments you can pay someone. And there was Enoch Powell, who had a bit of intellectual heft. But yeah, class. We've managed to keep accent as a class marker where most countries have ditched it somehow, at least to a greater extent. Don't know what you use in America, there must be more than just orthodontics.

#319 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 03:43 AM:

I don't view comparing the quality of various countries' racists as the kind of competition that one can really win, although I suppose one could play the dozens with that as the theme.

#320 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 11:09 AM:

Earl, #319: Off on a tangent -- has anyone got an etymology for "the dozens"? It's been bugging me for years; it sounds as though it should be related to something French.

#321 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 11:16 AM:

dozen douzaine

#322 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 11:35 AM:

Lee @320: This gives two possible etymologies.

#323 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 11:45 AM:

Adrian @ 318: Actually there is some class distinction associated with accents in the US as well. Broadly speaking, the more noticeable one's regionalisms are, the less educated and therefore lower class one is assumed to be. The fairly neutral "mid-Atlantic" accent most often heard in broadcasting amounts to the US version of Received Pronunciation; further from that is generally (if subconsciously) interpreted as less cosmopolitan/sophisticated/educated/authoritative.

#324 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 12:33 PM:

Lee @ 320: The OED seems to think that the etymology for "the dozens" is roughly the same as for the noun "dozen," which is from Old French (as Serge indicated at 321). The earliest quote given for "the dozens" is 1928.

Elsewhere in the entry for "dozen," the OED also mentions various versions of the phrase "talking nineteen to the dozen," for "talking very quickly." I wonder if that has anything to do with the insult game?

#325 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 12:44 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 318: "We've managed to keep accent as a class marker where most countries have ditched it somehow, at least to a greater extent."

How interesting. In every language I know well enough to notice accents in (American English, Chinese and Japanese), accents have had pretty strong class implications. Which languages were you thinking of that don't? (honestly curious)

#326 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 03:40 PM:

Adrian Smith #316: Let's just say that the chances that an outright racist would get non-white votes in Georgia would be lower than in London (given the peculiarities of recent British history -- and the chances of someone black or South Asian casting an anti-Polish immigrant vote for the BNP or the English). Georgia's non-white population, btw, is becoming more diverse.

#327 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 06:25 PM:

Earl Cooley III @319 I don't view comparing the quality of various countries' racists as the kind of competition that one can really win, although I suppose one could play the dozens with that as the theme.

I'm not sure whether anyone here is playing that to "win"- more to see what conclusions can be drawn. Would you use the same argument to dismiss a debate on a health forum about the differences between malaria and cholera as pointless?

#328 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 08:05 PM:

Raphael #327: Would you use the same argument to dismiss a debate on a health forum about the differences between malaria and cholera as pointless?

Wait, what? No, I would not. I was (apparently too obliquely) trying to get across the notion that I didn't want to be drawn into such a winner-take-all debate on the topic of racism. I mentioned playing the dozens because I thought people would be interested in looking it up since the term had (some of) its origins in slave market slang (which they did), not because I wanted to play Flamer Bingo.

#329 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 12:33 AM:

heresiarch@325: Eh, now I've gone and put my foot in it, I knew this would happen. There's a quote about how every time an Englishman opens his mouth, another Englishman despises him. I think it's that the UK still has a distinct upper-class variant - what's known as a "public-school accent", which is one of the things people send their kids to public school to get, and which I think can still help with access to privileged sectors of British society. The distinction between a more standardised educated accent and a more localised not-so-educated one is probably still pretty widespread.

#330 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 01:58 AM:

Adrian @ 329: Lerner & Lowe, "Why Can't the English," from the musical My Fair Lady. Yes, your comment at 318 tripped the Rex Harrison recording in my brain.

Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction by now should be antique
If you spoke as she does, sir, instead of the way you do
Why, you might be selling flowers too!

It has occurred to me that the inimitable Prof. Higgins must have been rather pigeonholed in his linguistic studies, not to realise that accent is a marker for education and class distinction elsewhere.

#331 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 05:20 AM:

Not only accent, but also choice of words and prounciation, are class markers in all the languages that I’ve encountered.  Of course, they’re often regional markers too.  I once shared an office with a Belgian who claimed, credibly, to speak five different flavours of Flemish:  the place where he grew up, his current home, his wife’s family’s home, the town where he went to university, and “Received Flemish” (whatever the correct term for that is) as spoken on national radio and TV.  And that’s in a tiny country without major geographical features to encourage different dialects, such as you find in Switzerland.  The class and regional variety in the Netherlands is about as rich, even before you get to the distinct languages and dialects that abi discussed here a couple of months ago.

Then of course there’s the ever-fascinating variety of accents and mannerisms of speakers of English across the world, as first or second language – for example, the audible differences between English-speaking South Africans, whose first language may be English, Afrikaans, Tswana, Zulu, Xhosa, etc.

#332 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 02:33 PM:

I speak several dialects of American English.

One of the things the Defense Language Profciency Test does on the extended scale (it's some sort of "logaritmic" scale, from 0-5 with half steps; the standard scale is to 3 which equals "native speaker with secondary education; possessed of specialised vocabulary for specific functions [usually work related] though some accent may be present), is measure the ability to not only function in different dialects, but to speak in those dialects in a level manner.

So one able to treat the people one uses those dialects with as equals.

It's a rare thing for a native speaker, even an educated one, to manage more than a 4+. I don't know if I can manage to get better than a 4+, and I am pretty good at using words in person.

#333 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 02:35 PM:

This is a terrific thread, and I wish I had come in earlier.

Rikibeth @ 292:
Algis Budrys' "Some Will Not Die" is the only post-apocalypse story written by an American citizen (not native-born, note) I can think of where the point that cooperation will naturally overcome the "war of all against all" is made well. I wonder if it would impress any conservations.

What Happened to America, my take:
I think the US was overtaken by a fundamental phase change in the way its society worked that magnified the effects of faults which previously had not caused major problems. The most obvious part of the change was the increase in average population density of inhabited areas¹ and the reversal of the proportion of agrarian versus urban/suburban populations. Consider some examples:

1. Most of US culture has always been seriously anti-intellectual. Until the second half of the 20th Century the division between rural and urban cultures, and the fact that rural populations did not have much effect on the urban monopoly of industrial production and communications, meant that this anti-intellectualism did not prevent progress in science, technology, economic theory, etc.
2. The default setting for religious and cultural assumptions has always been Protestant Christian. Because most Protestant sects are much more decentralized and balkanized than, for instance, the Catholic Church, this resulted in a geographic patchwork of different religious styles and cultural frameworks. The rise of Christian Fundamentalism in reaction to the stress of the 20th Century produced an umbrella under which different sects could agree on what they objected to.
3. The large disparity in income between the top and bottom of the social pyramid has always been accepted as a good thing in the US, because it was assumed that any given person could rise in the class system, or at least accumulate as much wealth as he (the default assumption then) wanted. The rise of large corporations resulted in part from the growth of business from local to regional, and then national scope; these corporations tended to push out small entrepreneurial enterprises, the classic vehicle for the class migration.


1. Here I mean the density of the land which will support more than scattered hermits and hard-scrabble farms. This excludes the Great Southwest Desert and much of the high mountain areas in the Western US.

#334 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 333: Algis Budrys' "Some Will Not Die" is the only post-apocalypse story written by an American citizen (not native-born, note) I can think of where the point that cooperation will naturally overcome the "war of all against all" is made well.

How about Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank?

#335 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 04:41 PM:

Bruce #333:

I keep thinking one big change was the increasing centralization of power. Much of this was for good reasons: The civil rights struggle pretty-much required having the feds override state and local policy. Chain stores have some big economic advantages over smaller mom-and-pop stores[1]. Nationwide media and interstate highways and relatively cheap air travel all combined to make the country smaller in many ways.

But the previous decentralization (as with churches) had some real advantages, too. Most of the kinds of feedback you can provide to government and media and companies that sell you stuff works a lot better when they're local.

ISTM that what we've learned, or maybe always had, is the idea of voting with our feet. We're used to that being the kind of feedback we're allowed to send--I leave town and move somewhere else, I stop buying my cheap plastic crap at Wal-Mart and switch over to buying it at Target, I stop going to my old church that's become too politicized, and instead move to a new one that's a better fit for my beliefs. Nobody calls you a troublemaker or smears you for that--as they will, if you picket or try to organize a boycott or ask annoying questions at the stockholder's meeting, or even sue someone to get them to stop doing something wrong. But that doesn't work so well for national scale decisions, unless you want to emigrate. In a winner-takes-all political system, it also doesn't work too well for parties[2].

Our political culture seems to me to be poorly suited for this greater centralization--for a world in which many decisions that have big effects on our lives are made in some distant corporate or government office or courtroom, thousands of miles away, with absolutely no meaningful feedback from us about it[3].

The other really destructive thing about this centralization is that it offers a chance for smallish groups of people to impose their will on the whole country, in all sorts of ways. Want to change what gets sold in mom-and-pop hardware stores all across the country? You'll have to pass a law to get anywhere. Want to change what gets sold in Wal-Mart and Target stores all across the country? You need to convince the management of two companies--through lawsuits, threats of bad publicity, blackmail photos of the CEOs and their teenaged girlfriends, threats of IRS audits, whatever. Want to change the drinking age? You don't have to convince 50 state legislatures, you just have to get highway funding tied to the drinking age. And so on.

Perhaps it's unsurprising that, as it becomes easier for small groups to seize control over more and more of daily life, the richest and most powerful people seem to be gaining more and more power.

[1] I lived through some of the mom-and-pop hardware store service in small towns in Illinois and Missouri. My experience is that Wal-Mart is about an order of magnitude nicer for a customer in most ways, whatever bad effect it may have on the larger world.

[2] I suspect it *does* work well for large organizations--they care about lost business, and it's hard to get any large organization to change their behavior in any other way. And at any rate, this cleanly keeps you from having to deal with them anymore. The problem is, sometimes it's just a choice between equally-unresponsive gigantic telecom providers or something.

[3] IMO, you can see the tension from this in the health care debate. Lots of people are seriously worried about some kind of national healthcare system taking power and choice away from them and their doctor (who they can at least talk to), and handing it to some distant bureaucracy. This is the real fear, with real experience behind it, that Palin's "death panels" rhetoric draws on. And the beautiful irony (in the Randian "offer them poison as food and poison as antidote" sense) is that the alternative to this is to keep having insurance companies take power and choice away from them and their doctors.

#336 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Trading Places, from 1983, made some quite sharp points on the subject of class in the USA.

#337 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 07:31 PM:

Tim Walters @ 334:
How about Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank?

Good point; I've never read it, only heard about it, so it didn't occur to me.

albatross @ 335:

I suspect most of the groundwork for the centralization of the Johnson years was laid during the Second World War. Many people got used to the idea of changing their lifestyles and economic decisions based on what the Federal Government told them, and local governments got used to being overridden on issues that affected the war effort and the nation as a whole.

ISTM that centralization was an effect of better communications and transportation: when the central government can get information and issue orders in the span of hours, and move goods or troops in the span of a few days, it has a lot more leverage on local governments than when the communication times were days and the transport times were weeks. And those same improvements in communications were what connected local and regional populations together and forced them to deal (or not!) with their differences in outlook and lifestyle.

#338 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 08:42 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 337: Thinking about it some more, there's Earth Abides, The Postman, Always Coming Home, and The Long Tomorrow. I'm not sure the idea of cooperation-based response to the apocalypse is all that unusual in American SF, although the individualist response is certainly popular.

#339 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2009, 09:17 PM:

re 303: Not to be a a pedant or anything, but since These Things Can Be Looked Up, I checked. Georgia has ca. 9.7M residents, of which 30% are non-white. Greater London has 7.5M residents, of which about the same percentage is non-white. Of course the black proportion in Georgia is well over twice that of Greater London.

#340 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 03:33 AM:

albatross #335: I stop buying my cheap plastic crap at Wal-Mart and switch over to buying it at Target

My favorite cheap plastic crap these days is movie tie-in toys (invariably made in China) from McDonald's; you can buy them separately for a buck or two each instead of with the Happy Meals. They make outstanding computer desk protective totems.

#341 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 04:32 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 333 and after, re individualism vs co-operation in American SF: it's not post-apocalyptic, but this made me think of Larry Niven's "Cloak of Anarchy". Individualism just doesn't work when the state breaks down: groups will always form, and you'd better get yourself into one fast. "Anarchy isn't stable. It comes apart too easily."

Albatross @ 335: Nobody calls you a troublemaker or smears you for that--as they will, if you picket or try to organize a boycott or ask annoying questions at the stockholder's meeting, or even sue someone to get them to stop doing something wrong.

As seen from outside the US, this looks really contradictory[2]. If America prizes individualism, how can it view 'troublemaking' as a bad thing? One guy standing up to a faceless corporation ought to be a hero. This reminds me of another BoingBoing comment thread standard, the one where Mark posts about a concert violinist getting tasered or similar, and a whole load of commenters chime in with, "He had it coming, he should have done what the cop said," or words to that effect.[1] The criticism doesn't just seem to be tactical (you should pick your fights) but also moral (you shouldn't stand up to authority). I don't get it. What could be more individualist than standing up to authority? Am I missing something?

Charlie Stross @ 247: You folks[*] need a new revolution.

Given the above, I don't think that would be possible. If people don't instinctively stand up to corporations or cops, how will they bond effectively to form a revolutionary mob? The French can improvise a revolution at the drop of a hat, but then they're trained for it from childhood. Anecdote: when the Ministry of Education here wanted to change the curriculum for 16-18 year olds, the kids went out on strike. At my son's school (affluent town, conservative-leaning, not at all a rough neighbourhood) they formed an action committee, threw up barricades[3], lit fires, formed human chains across the road, the whole bit. The police stopped by to check that things were properly organised, then left one guy to keep an eye on things, from a distance, just in case. (He looked bored: I mean, it was great that the kids were getting some hands-on civics education, but it's not like they were going to break out the Molotov cocktails or anything. This was babysitting, not riot duty.)

[1] I can't see the comments from that link, but that's my recollection of how it went, and the pattern's so firmly established that you often see commenters anticipating it now on that kind of post.

[2] HUGE disclaimer to what follows: I am horribly ignorant about the US, have spent a total of seven days there in my entire life, etc etc. If I've completely misunderstood, please regard this as an amusing example of how we really should learn about the world before sounding off about it.

[3] Big piles of furniture, way above head height. It's amazing how high teenage boys can stack stuff, when there are teenage girls watching.

#342 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 05:02 AM:

Me @ 341: ...I don't think that would be possible.

Overstating the case: I should have said something more along the lines of "...I think that could be difficult." Any society can revolt, it just goes against the grain in some more than others.

#343 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 07:15 AM:

#341 :  the story about the tasered bicyclist is from 2007.  I’m out of date on the current state of US authoritarianism:  I haven’t been in the US since 2004 and, as a foreigner, have avoided visiting since then.  Can USians, or foreigners who have entered the US this year, comment on whether the Obama administration has tried to dial back the behavior of police, DHS, immigration, etc., and if so, how are the results so far?

#344 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 07:49 AM:

#343 ::: John Stanning:

I follow The Agitator, the go-to blog for American police and justice system atrocities. Things haven't gotten better. I haven't heard of the Obama adminstration doing any work on the problem (unless you count Obama talking to Henry Louis Gates and that officer). Things may be getting worse.

#345 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 08:56 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 340... They make outstanding computer desk protective totems

Do resin toys work that way too? Yesterday I received my Atomic Robo statue (with removable BIG gun) and I thought it'd look good near my computer along with Captain America.

#346 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 09:14 AM:

Andy:

I recognize the contradiction, but can't explain it.

#347 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Another Damned Medievalist wrote at #29:


You know, I'm still just boggling over the way the two main points of that first post have been ignored. Very little on whether or not the state has a right to exclude religious clothing (and by the way, is the UK guilty of encouraging the oppression of Sikh and Jewish men because it allows them to wear their traditional headcoverings and/or required facial hair?). Very little on whether or not it's cool that women who choose (or don't, for that matter) are now afforded the option of going out to public bathing venues.

Well, I’ll try to tackle this…

In the US, at least, the governing principle would be separation of church and state. The state, under this principle, shouldn’t have the right to ban a garment or form of dress specifically because it is religious. So a general ban on hijab (Muslim modest) clothing would not be allowed.

What could happen in the US might be a general law that happens to affect a type of religious dress. For example, it would be reasonable for a US city or state to pass a law saying that people in public can’t wear a garment that severely restricts their vision, including peripheral vision, because it’s dangerous to be walking about not able to clearly see and avoid the traffic around you. This would affect a variety of garments, such as very dark sunglasses, an old-fashioned sunbonnet with a deep brim (think “Little House on the Prairie”) and a burqa (the specific garment of a cap with a pleated veil attached, and a small section of mesh to see through, associated with Afghanistan.)

Or they might pass a law saying you can’t go about in public with your face obscured. This would affect bank robbers wearing masks during a robbery, KKK members trying to hide their identity during a cross-burning, people with a cold or the flu wearing a medical face-mask to avoid spreading germs, or Muslim women wearing a niqab (the specific garment of a veil hiding the lower part of the face, but not the eyes, associated with Saudi Arabia.)

Another potential law/regulation might be Army uniforms requiring a particular sort of hat or helmet in certain situations. This would affect Sikh men wanting to wear a turban, Muslim women wanting a head-scarf, sports fans thinking they have to wear their lucky cap on the day that their favorite team has a game, etc.

***

Of course, the situation in the original article is happening in France, not the US, and their focus is, legally, more on maintaining a deliberately secular state, rather than on merely separating church and state. In this situation, place becomes a bigger issue, because places where the government is in control are expected to be secular. So state-run schools, public government buildings, municipal parks and swimming pools, and other places controlled by the state become the focus of regulation.

*****
*****

A separate issue is the idea of dress-codes and modesty-codes, and how they are implemented. There seems to be a tendency to see more required covering as oppressive, and less required covering as not oppressive.

I tend to think that what matters more is the spirit in which the code is interpreted.

In this situation, many people are calling the “burqini” an expression of oppression.

Frankly, the people who think women need to be controlled by oppressive measures would never have come up with the idea of a burqini. People with an oppressive/authoritarian mindset would simply look at existing bathing suits, label the suits immodest, and tell women that they aren’t allowed to go swimming because swimming and bathing suits are immodest. The authoritarian demands that you choose between modesty and immodesty, between a narrow, restricted life and doing things you might enjoy.

The burqini is an expression of a liberal mindset. The attitude that went into designing it is one that wants to increase freedom and options. The liberal mind says: “you want to dress modestly, and also enjoy swimming? Lets figure out a way for you to do both of the things you want!” It’s a problem-solving mindset that should be familiar to SF fandom, which confounds the authoritarian and oppressive mind.


****
****

And finally, as a feminist, I see an important line as being whether or not the woman in question appears as a unique human being. In particular, I see a bright line in whether or not the face is obscured. When people can see your face, you’re an individual to them. When your face is obscured (with the burqa and niquab) you are de-individualized, not recognizable at a casual glance as a unique human being. With the more common forms of hijab dress (headscarf, chador [the long black cloak, associated with Iran], jilbab [a long, somewhat snug-fitting jacket worn over ordinary clothes when you go out – you see this on younger women in Iran fairly often], etc.) the body is covered, but the face is seen, and the woman wearing the garment retains her identity as an individual in the public eye.

#348 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 11:13 AM:

John Stanning, from what I've heard, none at all. Most of the police in the US aren't federal anyway, so they aren't under the Administration's control, and with federal authoritarianism, the new Administration has apparently concentrated on Guantanamo and little else. (The Justice Department has apparently done a few cautious things that could perhaps theoretically get Bush-era abusers in trouble, but that's apparently unlikely to lead anywhere.)

#349 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 11:34 AM:

Andy Wilton @ 341: What could be more individualist than standing up to authority?

Why, standing up to political correctness and the indoctrination of the America-hating liberal media, of course.

Seriously, that's how some of these guys think.

I think there's at least some truth behind our national self-image of individualism and self-reliance, but it's also a very popular marketing strategy used to sell anything and everything, from automobiles to authoritarianism.

#350 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 01:13 PM:

Bruce@333: Another cooperative disaster story, Eric Flint's 1632. Well not "apocalypse", but an Appalachian town being thrown back to the year 1632 by an alien spaceship accident (the townspeople don't know that). It's all about working together, and expanding their community to involve locals as soon as possible, and so forth.

Also it's an explicit point in the book that they have the level of skills they have in the group partly because a bunch of people were in town for a union meeting at the time of the event.

Typical Baen books fare :-).

And I don't think anybody has mentioned Lucifer's Hammer yet, either (Niven & Pournelle), but a lot of that is about working together to make the new enclave they're putting together work.

#351 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 01:35 PM:

Yeah, I was thinking of Lucifer's Hammer, too. Along similar lines, think of the Nantucket books and the Change books by Stirling--in both sets, survival is very obviously a community affair. (If he'd focused the story on the CORA ranchers or the Republic of Richland, the story would probably have seemed more individualistic in focus; the Bearkillers are at least a little closer to this. But the Mackenzies, the Corvalans, and the Association are each, in their way, operating on a hugely social cooperation model of how to survive.)

But maybe I'm missing the original point Bruce was making?

#352 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Andy and albatross: I'll take a stab at it.

It seems to me the contradiction is driven by Americans' attempt to balance individualism with a strong will to believe the mythology of the rule of law. Despite manifest evidence to the contrary, yanks dearly want to believe that the principles and mechanisms of law work - that the law will on balance reflect the best intent of society, be enforced fairly, that procedures advancing equal justice will be followed, that abuses can be remedied by going through channels with an appeal to proper impartial authority, and that when all else fails we can turn the bastards out in two, four, six years at most.

In the dominant social class, this breeds a presumption that law enforcement officers are generally honest and sincere in their effort to maintain peace and order in society to the best of their limited resources and ability, subject to significant proof of their brutality, venality and/or stupidity. (The less privileged classes still generally believe in the mythology of the Rule of Law, but likely have an entirely more accurate, human, pessimistic view of its enforcers.)

#353 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 03:58 PM:

albatross, #346: It's our own cultural variety of doublethink. The exact same people frequently believe both of those things simultaneously, and will switch from arguing one to the other at the drop of a hat, without ever becoming aware of the inconsistency.

Alternatively, you can argue that "rugged individualism" is one of the myths used by the PTB to manipulate our collective behavior, and not really a part of American culture any more -- but I think that's more true in some cultural subgroups than in others.

Incidentally, do you see any difference in the argument, "You shouldn't have mouthed off to the cop" when it's coming from the angle of "because everyone knows that there are enough asshole cops out there to make it a high-risk proposition"?

#354 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 04:29 PM:

albatross, #346: Adding to previous comments -- this doublethink is also heavily enabled by propaganda replacing civics education.

#355 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 05:00 PM:

Lee #353:

I was going to try to say something of my own, but wanted to quote from this. And now, I find I don't want to comment, so much as just say "go read this, it's a really fascinating comment."

Money quote (but go read the whole thing):

Lonely dissent doesn't feel like going to school dressed in black. It feels like going to school wearing a clown suit.

That's the difference between joining the rebellion and leaving the pack.

#356 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 05:14 PM:

albatross @355:
Thanks for that link. This is a perfect description of my older kid:

What takes real courage is braving the outright incomprehension of the people around you, when you do something that isn't Standard Rebellion #37, something for which they lack a ready-made script. They don't hate you for a rebel, they just think you're, like, weird, and turn away.

Not that I know what to do to make his path easier.

#357 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 05:32 PM:

Andy Wilton @ 341: "... they formed an action committee, threw up barricades[3], lit fires, formed human chains across the road, the whole bit. The police stopped by to check that things were properly organised, ..."

I think I see where you're getting stalled.

In American culture, we do not have any notion of the "proper" organization of such things. Thanks to how our labor movement evolved in the early part of the 20th century, our notion of "strike" has come to mean refusing to show up for work before the boss decides you're locked out, and instead, forming a picket line on the public sidewalk down or across the street from the object of the demonstration.

If you've gotten to the point where you're lighting fires, forming barricades and human chains across the roadway, then you may as well be singing L'Internationale while you're planting bombs in the preschools and putting LSD into the water supply. The whole idea of civil disobedience is disconcertingly unpatriotic un-American to most of us. (Most, I said. There is a beleaguered minority of people here who remember how there was a time when it wasn't possible to mine coal in America without the use of machine guns and children.)

Worth noting: the prevailing cultural hegemony finds the idea of trying to teach Americans how to organize a proper revolution to be even more unpatriotic than actually organizing one, which goes to explain why the Patriot Tea Party phenomenon is such an abject farce.

"If people don't instinctively stand up to corporations or cops, how will they bond effectively to form a revolutionary mob?"

Thought experiment: ask the reverse of this question. If people don't bond effectively to form a revolutionary mob, then how will they develop an instinct for standing up to corporations and the cops? (and if your goal is keep people from standing up to authoritarian power, then the question becomes: what's the best way to keep people from bonding effectively to form a revolutionary mob? p.s. At times, I think the list of answers must include: fergawzakes, don't let them see how the foreigners manage to do it.)

#358 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 06:18 PM:

Serge #345: Do resin toys work that way too? Yesterday I received my Atomic Robo statue (with removable BIG gun) and I thought it'd look good near my computer along with Captain America.

It is not the material in which the totems are constructed which gives them protective power, but the iconography they project; luminous beings are they, not this crude matter. My Einstein Bobblehead of Wisdom advises me not to hit the Post button too soon; Scrat the Persistent covetously protects the Acorn of Data from skittering off into Chaos; there are many others, each with its own aspect and purpose.

#359 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 06:21 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 249: ...The US has always been a country with a founding myth that if things go bad, you can just up stakes and light out for the frontier."

Yeah, well... for us native Californians, that myth has always rung a bit hollow. (On a vaguely related note, I must recommend this YouTube video of an excellent 1982 live performance of Call Of The West by Wall Of Voodoo. The song quite nicely captures what I believe to be the typical native Californian's internalized concept of the mythical American frontier.)

Out here in Schwarzeneggerland, we've almost completely exhausted that motivating energy as I think everyone here has always known we must eventually, and there ain't nowhere for us to light out for anymore. The ennui is setting in pretty bad. It practically condenses out of the air like fog falling out of redwood tree. Not sure how this will play out for us going forward, but I wouldn't be surprised if that Revolution in conceptual modeling that you think we need starts here.

ObTopic: one thing we have going for us in California is an abundance of ethnic diversity, though it isn't as well mixed as it could be. If we can get our state constitution reorganized properly, we might well revitalize the California dream. Don't hold your breath though... we pretty well messed the bed over the last thirty years or so. We could be in for a long period of decline.

#360 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 06:50 PM:

albatross @ 351:
I maybe wasn't clear about it, but I was talking not so much about group cooperation as about the way groups are so often portrayed as hierarchical organizations with strong leaders who create and run them. In "Lucifer's Hammer" and Stirling's stories, for instance, a lot of words are used to describe how the leader takes on an Attribute and raises an Aspect¹. Conversely, Budrys' story talks about how groups of people agree to cooperate against the strong men.

1. "Great Souled Sam" of "Lord of Light" had a great deal of trouble with self-appointed leaders of that sort.

Lee @ 353:
Yeah, what you said. The "contradiction" is between what we want to believe about ourselves as a nation, and the way we actually think and behave.

j h woodyatt @ 359:
For the last couple of decades rich Californians have been moving to the frontiers of Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Never ask the older settlers of places like the Bitteroot Valley or the central Willamette Valley, what they think of Californians unless you want to hear real swearing.

#361 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 07:01 PM:

The book by my bed right now is the Parable of the Sower. Great reading for Californians.

#362 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 08:18 PM:

albatross, #355: Fascinating, indeed. And there's a lot of truth in it. One of the reasons that I have consciously decided to speak up in group situations when my views seem to be in the minority is based on exactly that observation. Somebody has to be the seed crystal, and I have much less to lose than many people by being that person; I have no day job to be fired from, no apartment to be evicted from, no children to be taken away from me, and my partner has my back.

Relating back to the topic under discussion, and incorporating Tim Walters @ 348, it would seem that most of the people who take a Brave Stance against "liberal-driven political correctness" -- and who think of themselves as robust individualists for so doing -- are actually joining the rebellion, led by the likes of Limbaugh and Beck.

Except that, realistically, the "rebellion" is going in the other direction at this point. Someone finally had the nerve to stand up and say that Limbaugh and Beck are full of it, and people are now much more comfortable going along with that, rather than uneasily keeping quiet.

#363 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2009, 08:30 PM:

Andy Wilton @341: I'm trying to see how barricades and bonfires served a practical purpose in protesting a curriculum change. Preventing the delivery of new textbooks?

Or are they now just signifiers of protest, rather than constructions with military utility?

#364 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 05:13 AM:

Rikibeth @ 363: For the kids, these are signifiers of protest. That's what protest looks like on TV, that's what their elders do at university, that's what everyone knows you're supposed to do.

When adults are angry about something, barricades etc are mostly there to send a message of "We're serious, we're prepared to take casualties and we won't be intimidated," but there's also a tactical purpose of sorts. If the police escalate things, they'll be operating with reduced mobility against protesters who work together and use equipment (tractors, lorries, excavators etc). The cops have to use more force, which makes for more sensational TV and more pressure on the government.

It's never exactly military though: the point is always to get attention and shift public opinion. When things really get rough and protesters shut the motorways down, this acts as a kind of impossible-to-ignore opinion poll. If the public think the protesters have a legitimate grievance, they'll blame the government for the disruption. The government can't break up the roadblocks with anything less than armoured vehicles, and no-one wants that kind of archive footage as their political epitaph, so that only leaves negotiation or retreat.

The thing is, this culture of protest would naturally turn into revolution if the issues were serious enough and the government stood firm. I think this kind of ties back in with heresiarch's worry on fail states way upthread (@ 220): the French see protest, not free speech, as the ultimate guarantor of their rights.

#365 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 06:53 AM:

I don't think that in the US, on the national level, there are any effective means of protest. The combination of a very narrow range of establishment political opinions, plus really huge amounts of corporate money and connections, plus a very tightly bound-in media leadership, means that very little deemed inconvenient to the visible authorities gets coverage unless their bosses want it to. I've seen just plain too many well-organized, well-attended gatherings get completely brushed aside to feel that any sort of protest I'm aware of is likely to get anywhere at all.

It seems to me that the only effective channel for affecting law and policy is money, and a lot of it. Which is why I've made it a practice to donate some each month to a group doing work I approve of. Have to decide who to support this month. I can't give much, but even a bit helps fund some lobbyists, litigators, and the like on the spot, and (as nearly as I can tell) they're the only ones with a shot at affecting things. Protestors have become irrelevant.

#366 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 07:04 AM:

Bruce Baugh #365: I don't think that in the US, on the national level, there are any effective means of protest.

I can think of one: outspend the lobbyists for the bad guys. We'd need more activist progressive billionaires for it to really work, though.

#367 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 07:42 AM:

Andy, 364: the French see protest, not free speech, as the ultimate guarantor of their rights.

A French friend once told me, "La société française n'avance pas par évolution, mais par révolution."

#368 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 07:54 AM:

I'm taking notes for my next NaNoWriMo novel-thing.

The ninja clowns may return, I'm not sure.

#369 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 09:23 AM:

#365 :  I guess an effective means of protest is to assemble so many people that every channel has to cover the event (like this, or the Million Man March) – but even then the message would have to be very clear to prevent the opposing media from twisting it out of shape.

#370 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 10:02 AM:

But that's my point, John. The major media outlets don't "have to" cover anything, nor, having decided to cover it, do they have to do so prominently, fairly, or correctly, and now they know that about themselves. There's nothing they have to give any attention to, and nothing they have to refrain from twisting if they do choose to acknowledge it.

#371 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 10:16 AM:

TexAnne @ 367...

"La Révolution est comme une bicyclette. Si elle n'avance pas, elle tombe."
"Karl Marx?"
"Non. Eddy Merckx."

#372 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 10:18 AM:

(And, alongside that, no quantity of public demonstration, whether well-covered or not, need matter to decision-makers if their patrons don't want to deal with it.)

#373 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 11:01 AM:

John Stanning #369: Right, and we can see how well that worked against ShrubCo -- who had no problem ignoring the largest protests in American history, with fulll aid and complicity of the mass media.

#374 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Nancy @344 had a comment wandering the Paths of the Dead; it's been redeemed and is now among the living again. Comments renumbered since then.

#375 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 04:55 PM:

re 373: Well, a couple hundred thousand people demonstrate every year, and nobody pays much attention unless they have to drive across the mall.

#376 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Nancy #344:

I suspect part of that is that the president has relatively little direct power over the conduct of local and state police, who do most of the actual policing.

#377 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 07:26 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 360: "For the last couple of decades rich Californians have been moving to the frontiers of Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Never ask the older settlers of places like the Bitteroot Valley or the central Willamette Valley, what they think of Californians unless you want to hear real swearing."

Meh. You can see the same phenomenon without even leaving California. Ask people in San Luis Opisbo what they think about people from Los Angeles and Orange County, or people in Yreka what they think about people from the SF Bay Area and Sacramento. I doubt the state boundary is really that much of a cultural marker compared to the basic rural-suburban split. Yes, California has been exporting its rich, exurban parasites into the rural areas of surrounding states (as well as its own) for some time. In recent years, we've been exporting our underclass suburban parasites too. I contend that has more to do with people feeling alienated by high population density with bewildering ethnic diversity, and also very high costs of living, rather than lot of people responding to an emotional call to move to the wild, wild frontier.

The main reason I think it's possible for something revolutionary to come out of California is that all the potential for incremental reforms to do any good have pretty much been exhausted now. The place is ripe for a major refactoring of how U.S. state governments are organized right at a time when the federal government is almost as dysfunctional as the state government.

To the extent that any U.S. state can really move very far from the baseline set by the U.S. constitution and our federal government, I think Califorinia— if its electorate finally decides pulls the trigger on a convention— might very well show the rest of the country how it should be done.

#378 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 08:31 PM:

ou can see the same phenomenon without even leaving California. Ask people in San Luis Opisbo what they think about people from Los Angeles and Orange County, or people in Yreka what they think about people from the SF Bay Area and Sacramento.

I was trying to think who would get picked on if you asked people from Los Angeles and Orange County.

Bakersfield?

#379 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 08:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 360... For the last couple of decades rich Californians have been moving to the frontiers of Oregon, Idaho, and Montana

Quite a few former Californians here in New Mexico. Former Canadians too. :-)

#380 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2009, 10:03 PM:

#378
Palmdale?
El Centro?

#381 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2009, 06:38 AM:

The Agitator today has an especially choice collection of police abuses and failure to punish the police who did them.

Here's another from the comments-- I'm including it because the comments are in flash, and won't be convenient for everyone.

4 years ago I had a laptop stolen from my car. Since I carry special insurance riders on my computers, I had to file an incident report with the police. A few days later, a detective called me to inform me that my computer had not been stolen and that I had traded it for drugs. I was told that it was in my best interest to give him my drug dealer. I told the detective I have never been a drug user and was clueless as to who deals drugs in Cincinnati. This cop forged a fake criminal complaint and affidavits. He alleged that I filed 2 conflicting police reports, 2 conflicting reports with my insurance company and admitted to my insurance company that the computer wasn't stolen. All this was false. The police never took a report and the insurance company only had one report that they agreed with in full. The insurance company even took action against the City of Cincinnati to get their name removed from the fake criminal complaint. At this point the cop had committed 8 counts of purgery.

What did the prosecutors office do. Than ran with it. The prosecutor and cop got the grand jury to come back with 2 felonies. My attorney waived all hearings and requested an immediate bench trial. The prosecutors office tried to fight discovery. It's a little hard to turn over non existent documents claimed to exist in an affidavit filed with the court. The judge order compliance with our discovery request. A month later at the trial, the prosecutor want to proceed only of the testimony of the cop. We made a motion for dismissal since the prosecution's case would be purgered testimony since it conflicted with the cops filing of the criminal complaint and affidavits with the court. The judge dismissed the case. The cop came over and threated me in front of my attorney that he would make up something else to stick me with.

All this was done because I wouldn't randomly pick an innocent black man and commit purgery in court claiming he was a drug dealer. Nothing ever happened to the cop or the prosecutors. They are free to continue there misconduct. I had resources (cash) and bright private lawyers that could shut this corrupt bunch down. If this case had other people with lessor resources, an innocent person would be doing some time.

The US has a serious police problem, and it doesn't seem to be getting public notice.

#382 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2009, 12:22 PM:

abi @ 356: This is a perfect description of my older kid

It sounds a lot like our older kid too, back in primary school. He hardly even seemed to be the same species as the other kids: there was no hostility that we know of, but plenty of thinking "weird" and turning away. It took its toll in stress.

FWIW, secondary school has worked out much better so far (* looks round for wood to touch *). His academic choices have, more by luck than design, landed him in with a very diverse class - kids who speak French as a third or fourth language, kids who've been to school in other countries - and this seems to have made them all very accepting and open-minded. We count our blessings, and cross our fingers for the next one.

(That YMMV seems too obvious to need saying, but we wouldn't have happened on our son's school if not for conversations with others.)

#383 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2009, 12:36 PM:

Getting back to the discussion of women's clothing and choice -- I've been reorganizing my library and was thumbing through Deborah Tannen's _You Just Don't Understand_ and ran across the chapter "Marked," which looks substantially similar to this essay: https://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/nyt062093.htm. Basically, her premise is that since men are considered the "unmarked" version of humanity, anything a woman does or wears _starts out_ "marked." Hence my complaint that there is nothing I can choose to wear that cannot be interpreted by someone as an indication that I am oppressed by the patriarchy -- or by someone else as meaning I am thumbing my nose at the patriarchy.

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