Is It a Big Deal If the Paris Attack Gets More Coverage?

There is a distinction between “sadness” and “shock.” Most people have been assuming “sadness” is the motive for the international community’s condolences towards the victims of the recent string of global tragedies, since few other emotional responses seem reasonable. The obvious political implication from this narrative is that only Western lives matter. However, what if shock were the motivation for the world’s responses? Does that still mean there is a double standard?

Consider an analogous situation in your life. Would you expect your friends and family’s response to you being attacked in your own house compared to on a high-crime street late at night to be similar? For myself, being attacked in my own house would be more noteworthy, since I expect my home to be much safer than the dangerous street. This doesn’t mean that my life is valued differently in each situation, and I presume my friends and family would feel equally sad no matter where I am attacked. But surely an attack in my home would garner a greater reaction. This is because “shock” is determined by the violation of an expectation, not by valuations of the tragedy’s magnitude. Although it is unfair, Europe is meant to be a safer and more stable place, so an attack comes at a greater shock. Let us compare France with Lebanon for instance: Wikipedia lists 59 attacks in Lebanon since 2004 to France’s 13. In saying this, I do not mean to compare suffering, but only to illustrate expectations. This theory would also predict that an attack in Japan, where violent crimes are largely non-existent and radicalized demographics are uncommon, would receive wider coverage than France.

When unstable regions are attacked, we understand the tragedy, but we only see it as a representation of an existing trend of violence that we expect to continue. However, when the West is attacked, we are disturbed that such events could even occur. The West sees extremism as something we have already defeated, a remnant of weak governance that our strong democracies have overcome. Even the rest of the world shares a similar view, in which they look to Western political structures and stability as models for theirs. The shock of a Western attack is surprising to all. Does this mean that we are saddened more by destruction in the West? I don’t think so. We can still show equal sympathy to all sufferers.

One may make the argument that the loss of human lives is such an atrocity that all instances of it should be received with the same level of outrage. I find this unrealistic, as the psychological strength of desensitization is too strong for us to will away.

But the West is not completely off the hook. The disparity in coverage also reveals things about the underlying structures of the international system and West. First, it reveals our pessimism. In order to be outraged, we must first be able to conceive of an alternative. But the neglect of Beirut and Iraq underscores the belief that nothing could have been done, that the Middle East is destined for violence, and that only the West has control over history. To shield ourselves from the guilt of this perception, we retreat from the global world so that the daily suffering of others do not faze us. And it is only when this shield is breached, such as through a terrorist attack, that we are forced to confront the world. Even those outraged exhibited this bias; if they were truly as conscientious as they claim, then we would have seen social media bombarded by images of Beirut before Paris. Yet, not even my international or Arab friends did so. Instead, it takes an offensive against the powers that be to motivate cosmopolitanism.

Next, it shows how little the international system is based on rational design and institutions. Perhaps in a more self-conscious world, the same precautions and effort taken in the North would be applied to the South, but the international system has faith that it could rise to the occasion without much institutional force. The problem isn’t in our ideas however, but our institutions. The actions of many would have you believe that cultural shifts are what make or break the world, and that somehow we can end global oppression through heavy introspection. If we want to change the world though, then we must think materially. We must ask what policies and incentives make Beirut expected and Paris shocking, not what ideas do so. International forums for discussions and soft power are not sufficient. Put more bluntly, sovereignty makes us complacent to our allies, and internationalism – the belief that equal, but separate nations can create utopia through cooperation – is innately flawed.

Finally, the disparity in coverage further confirms the West’s dominance. Counterterrorism has not always been a science, and for the longest time, it was governed through intuition. But 9/11 was the beginning of a new regime. Since then, the War on Terror became an innate feature of the world order, in the same way poverty or climate change is. That is to say, terror is not something we think we can realistically defeat, but only manage. So, through the backing of the US, counterterrorism became technical and precise. This showed that only the great powers of the West can fundamentally change the system and realign every single other nation’s goals. This is necessarily frustrating for most. Here lies the motivation of China, Russia, and the developing world: greed for sure, but frustration that they cannot control their own destiny as well.

Advertisements

How to Intellectualize the Yale Protests

Progressives are having a difficult time justifying the Yale protests, as well as similar events such as the Black Lives Matter interruption of Bernie Sanders and the Baltimore Uprising. These “social justice warrior (SJW)” movements often lack overarching consistency and intelligible discourse, and so it is difficult to academically rationalize them. The consequence of this difficulty appears to be a split in the Left’s support. However, I think the Yale protests represent two mutual forces in progressive politics: identity politics and emotional suffrage.

The Yale moment provides damning evidence for the follies of identity politics. Such politics have been a staple of American liberals since the formation of the New Left in the 60s, to the dismay of Marxian Old Leftists. Identity politics fails because it assumes a static world of categories, and thus doesn’t attempt to liberate people from their identities. It refuses to acknowledge how identities have been shaped by capitalism’s elites, rather than being innate features of the human condition. As such, identity politics aims to elevate different groups to the level of their oppressors, ultimately establishing a world of inward-looking and alienated groups that shield themselves from any traces of discourse, criticism, and civility. Marxists and humanists however, see identity as arbitrary, constructed, and thus, irrelevant. Although they will passionately engage with the emancipation efforts of various perceived groups, these struggles are only on the sidelines. Materialist concerns – class, poverty, and even the concrete goal to attain full citizenship for Africa-Americans – remain central. To Marx, labor is the source of value for everything, and identity politics violates this by placing value on what one is perceived to be rather than what one actually does. While white males dominate the world, the oppressive framework is not the “white male power structure.” To socialists, oppression comes from the capitalist power structure, through which racism, sexism, bigotry, and yes, identity, arises. To clarify, this doesn’t mean that issues such as racism and sexism are secondary to economics, but that these forms of oppression are themselves forms of class struggles. Therefore, we shouldn’t compartmentalize various kinds of oppressions, but treat them as part of a cohesive unjust system. The difficulties of identity however, are not completely lost to the New Left, and so they fill the void with intersectionality theory. But, I believe we will soon realize that the problems of identity will not go away just because we further specify them.

Yale’s protests illustrate these problems in major ways. First, the protests demonstrate the twisted bargaining incentives of a politics based on identity. An identity group primarily cares for itself, and so it makes radical claims that best attain its narrow goals. The ends is to equalize groups, and the means to get there is not important. The consequence is that these groups can make inconsistent demands. For instance, Yale’s protesters demand administrative policing of student costumes since it aids their goals to end a racist culture, but simultaneously oppose actual policing as oppressive. Granted, police brutality has been harmful, but you would think that a community well-experienced with violations of civil liberties would be hesitant to extend the reaches of another official body into daily lives; as one Yale instructor noted, it is odd that the protesters at Yale decided to project their anger at administrators rather than at the racist fraternity itself. But such is not the case, because when administrators enforce political correctness, it becomes the will of the SJWs – the in-group – that are forced. This is not to say that bullying and oppression is protected under the guise of “free expression,” and thus free from official control, but that not all offensive acts should be considered bullying. And while cultural change requires top-down management, we must be careful not violate our right, although surely immoral, to be racist (in my opinion, Yale’s original email represents a valid approach to official management, while the extra provisions the protesters call for do not).

Second, the Yale protests show how identity politics highlights in-group/out-group distinctions. To SJWs, Leftist critiques no longer exists; all that remains is an “us vs. them” mentality. If you are not an ally, which is to say a non-judgmental and silent partner, then you are the enemy. Consider the video of Nicholas Christakis, which shows how he personally sympathizes with the views of the protesters; like them, he considers cultural appropriation immoral. Likewise, his wife’s email only sought to question the authority of the administration, not to challenge the obvious bigotry of racist costumes. I would imagine both of them share similar views, if not methods, with most progressives. However, since they do not adhere 100% to the beliefs of the protesters, they are cast as conservative bigots. But not even Marxism should gets a pass from emphasizing in-group identity, and when French Marxists began to do so, Marx declared, “I am not a Marxist.”

In some ways, identity politics wants everyone to be their mother: compassionate and irrationally supportive, tirelessly working to create a safe home. However, socialists see their comrades as siblings: on their side, but willing to kick their butts if they are being stupid. Leftism ought not to adopt the symbol of mothering “safe spaces” or the language of “solidarity” and “allies,” because such tactics presumes that our support of movements is only in name. In reality, at least to socialists, fighting oppression always helps us, no matter where that fight is held. There are no such things as allies. Only soldiers. To quote the aboriginal activist Lilla Watson, “if you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

That being said, I do not think we should dismiss Yale’s SJWs. These movements are emotionally-charged, which you should know if you saw the confrontational Yale footage. As such, they represent a justified symptom of a corrupt system. They are irrational and emotional reactions to an oppressive environment, and they should be approached with sympathy, not intellectualization. It is akin to how one ought not to punch someone who insults her dying mother since it would lead to escalation, but it is still understandable if one does. Or I’m sure many of you have dealt with a frustrated friend, in which even though both you and your friend knew you were right, you still found it prudent not to bring it up.

Perhaps the emotional explanation not only underlies the SJW movements of the past few years, but of identity politics as a whole. After all, the 60s was characterized by a disillusioned Left vis-à-vis Stalinism. It appeared that the “rational” method for emancipation that socialism promised has turned into oppressive authoritarianism. Therefore, if intellectual progressivism doesn’t work, then fuck it, let’s yell and scream since that is all we have left. But while the reaction of marginalized groups are not only justified, but expected, they do not offer a practical way to achieve freedom. We would be wise to remember that ending oppression is not the only goal, because equally important is how we do it.

 

Anarchism is More Oppressive

Being relatively ignorant of anarchism, and its American cousin libertarianism, I read James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism to see what all the fuss was about. The fear of the anarchist is legitimate; history has often shown States abusing their power. However, it seems to me that anarchists and libertarians are too concerned about “official” forms of oppression, which is understandable as these sources of power are more salient. But as far as I know, anarchists lack a compelling argument for how to deal with informal sources of oppression, and because of that, I must remain pro-government. Even if government is inefficient and oppressive, it would still be a lesser evil to the alternative.

Oppression can broadly be categorized into two forms: official oppression and informal social oppression. The former is wielded by the so-called State, which presumably acts as an autonomous agent, and the latter is located within the community or family. My problem with anarchism is that it takes for granted the oppression that society can impose on its members. Scott for instance, notes examples in history of “anarchists” societies existing in peace and stability, but neglects to mention how these societies possess rigid social hierarchies that enforce class and gender-based roles. Even if we go back to idyllic tribal societies, power is centered in the patriarchal family.

The implicit claim for anarchists and libertarians is that the family and community are justified in exercising power, while the government generally is not. For instance, libertarians may find the government oppressive for forcing their kids to go to school or for over-regulating vices. Yet, these same people may find it legitimate for a parent to force a child to go to school or to beat a child for smoking pot. Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t see any reason a priori that a parent should be able to conduct these acts, while the government shouldn’t. Oppression is located in the act, and oppression is oppression is oppression. If it is oppressive to beat children, then it doesn’t matter who commits the act. If it is oppressive to tell children to go to school, then it doesn’t matter who issues the order. Often times it seems like rather than fighting oppression, libertarians and anarchists simply desire to give the patriarchal family a monopoly on oppression. The consequences of this policy would be terrible, as it will allow the family or community to oppress its members rather than to pursue what is best for them. An anarchists/libertarian may say that only a community knows what is best for itself, but I am not as optimistic. Societies may know what is best to maintain their stability and efficiency, but I am skeptical that they knows the best way to ensure human freedom.

Consider crime. The typical anarchist arguments I find for crime is community-based. The community will self-enforce laws, and a community tribunal will dictate punishments for crime. But is this really just? History has shown community tribunals executing and ostracizing members, which I don’t find a very liberating philosophy for justice.

Freedom means more than freedom from structural boundaries. It also means freedom from social judgement and norms. A society cannot be free if it forces people to adhere to arbitrary community norms. The cliché examples are racism and sexism, but consider less visible forms of social oppression. The child bullied for dressing a certain way. The man in an African tribe that doesn’t want to participate in rituals. The rural American who doesn’t believe in God. In my opinion, subtle social oppression is less desirable than official oppression. At least when the government oppresses me, I have a locus for aggression. When my friends and family oppress me, there is no one I can turn to or attack. While State oppression may make me fear for life, social oppression can turn me suicidal.

The most consistent basis for anarchism I can think of is some type of moral relativism. The argument would state that since morals are inherently relative, there doesn’t need to be a government force to promote “moral” policies. As such, it is alright if communities dictate their government and social norms differently. Perhaps one anarchist society will find corporal punishment for children acceptable, while another will not. Perhaps some will find executing heinous criminals justified, while others will find it cruel. Since there is no overarching morality to dictate these decisions, all we can rely on is community consensus. I admit there is basis for this argument, and a similar argument forms the basis of even a big government ideology like democratic socialism. But this argument is self-defeating for anarchists and libertarians. If there is no moral basis for anything, then how can one make the moral claim that State oppression is bad? It’s contradictory. Personally, I think certain moral norms exist independent of culture. For instance, no matter who or where you are, rape is immoral. Furthermore, the reason I support democracy is because I recognize the fallibility of humans, and so a democratic market of ideas is the best system to minimize injustices we may not recognize. And one of the ways representative democracy avoids the relativist and “mob rule” problem of anarchism is its constitutional framework, which provides a knowable and structured way for people to organize their lives.

I will admit though, that I still do not have a comprehensive understanding of anti-government theories. For instance, many anarchists protests social issues that are upheld through culture rather than official institutions. However, as far as I can tell, the anarchist solution for social problems appears to be “yell at bad people until they start acting good.” That’s not a tactic I can support, and until I hear a more practical anarchist strategy, I must remain a government-loving socialist.

 

To the Oppressed of Baltimore: Riot Away

What is one to do when society looks at him with such disdain that merely playing with his children on a public playground warrants police harassment? Someone who has been oppressed his entire life, whose voice is constantly invalidated? Is it really any surprise that the marginalized of society would resort to rioting? Rioting is what the oppressed must do when democratic institutions have failed them. Rioting needn’t follow any reason or logic; it is the art of political expression. Rioting is the final stand for those with no other option.

It is a nice idea to believe that those who desire change would act through our mainstream social institutions, but this is not feasible for those who live outside the mainstream. Convictions, such as for peaceful protesting, are a luxury of those on the sidelines; peace is only an option to those who can wait for democratic change. But those in the trenches follow a logic of survival and emotional irrationality. They cannot wait, for even a day of “peaceful democratic protests” risks their lives. This is perhaps something many of us understand, even if we don’t apply that understanding to blacks. Herein lays the racism of anti-rioting rhetoric.

Many of us, empathic we are for human emotional volatility, understand that we can be driven to things we ought not to do. If a father illegally beats up the pedophile that molested his child, we may rationally understand that such as act is not acceptable; we may say that all humans, even the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, deserve the right to due process. Yet paradoxically, we would both sympathize with and understand this father’s actions, and certainly most of us would not harbor ill-will towards him. While his actions may have been unacceptable, they certainly were understandable. All if forgiven. That is, if the perpetrator is white. But God forbid that black men, who have faced poverty and violence and oppression for over 200 years, should ever give in to their frustration. As society sees it – both the Right and the Left – frustration is a privilege only the powerful of society are afforded, while the marginalized must be quiet and obedient. The marginalized do not get to express their frustration in the same way the powerful can. While spitting on a white man may justifiably lead to a swift punch in the face, apparently blacks and the poor, who are condemned to a life of struggle much greater than being spit on, can only retaliate through a strongly worded letter to their congressman. Before you argue that the spitter deserved it since he was responsible, but that random people who mind their own business are not responsible for the conditions of blacks, let me quote the psychologist Beverly Tatum:

“I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of our White supremacist system and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt – unless they are actively anti-racist – they will find themselves carried along with the others.”

The racism of anti-rioting rhetoric is the double-standard that expects the marginalized to uphold moral convictions more firmly than the powerful. In a sense, it is the invalidation of their human irrationalities, and thus their humanity. More telling is who the anti-rioters have judged as the greater evil. It is not the police, who have often killed without justification or remorse, but the oppressed, who have been driven to their acts; whenever the police have done something wrong, then it is understandable given the stresses they face, but for some reason the benefit of the doubt is not given to marginalized rioters.

Opponents may point to blacks being the primary group to engage in rioting, but I would disagree. Rather, being marginalized is the primary predictor of rioting. When America was oppressed by England, didn’t we destroy the private property of others in pursuit of our ideals? Students, another marginalized group, frequently riot. However, even if I concede that blacks are prone to riot, so what? What is your explanation for this? Perhaps you would argue based on the inherent deviancy of African-Americans, in which case there is nothing left to be said beyond such blatant racism. Perhaps you would root it in culture and charge blacks with the task of fixing themselves, but culture does not magically appear from nothing, and there are material conditions that forced blacks to resort to these behavioral patterns that were beyond their control (and by that I mean, slavery). This latter “cultural deviancy” argument is all too common not just from conservatives, but even from progressive black rights activists who claim to be part of the cause. But such an argument is racist, because it blames blacks for their own conditions, when there is no reason that should be so if we don’t believe blacks are inherently inferior – it’s too absurdly coincidental to believe that all these black people freely chose to behave in the same manner independent of any common experience.

Next, opponents may point to a statistical likelihood. They may say that the oppression black people face is justified, since they are statistically more likely to commit crime. Such is an instance of “statistical oppression.” To quote Camus, “we are all special cases.” It is easy to reference statistics from a position of stability, but not quite as easy when you are the one being stereotyped. I believe this is something white America, who constantly cries out “I was not the one who enslaved you!” could easily understand. Well, the black man walking down the street was probably not the one who mugged you, yet it is ok to harass him just because of probabilities? As a point of information, intra-race crime is generally higher than inter-race crime. This means white people are more likely to be killed by white people than black people.

The most legitimate criticism against rioting is in defense of the “innocent” people who have been harmed along the way. In this case, the hypocrisy is that throwing an object through a store window elicits public outrage, but the public is complacent towards the greater issues blacks and the poor face every day.

It is here that I reemphasize that I am not saying rioting is acceptable, but I am saying rioting is understandable. And consequentially, those who oppose rioting tend to do so hypocritically, since they understand that humans can be driven to their actions when considering the mainstream but not when considering those on the sidelines. Even many who recognize that the police are bad still spend more time criticizing rioters, but although the acts of the police and of the rioters are both bad, police brutality is the greater evil. The message here is that rioting must be seen as a political process emerging from people who have so much anger that they might deviate from rigid political ideologies and goals. We cannot treat rioting as black-and-white, in which we simply say that rioters must control themselves. As the old adage goes, “rioting is the voice of the voiceless;” after your essays, petitions, protests, and cries have been invalidated, what other option do you have? Because sitting complacently waiting until the elites enact the change you desire is not acceptable.

What Does It Mean to be a Feminist: Conservative Feminism vs Progressive Feminism  

The internet has been full of stories on successful and inspiring women because of International Women’s Day, which is great. We truly have gone a long way in breaking down gender norms, even if we still have a long way to go. However, despite the widespread acceptance of IWD among progressives, the Feminist philosophy underlying the support isn’t very homogenous. Therefore, I wanted to take the opportunity to examine the various positions on gender equality, without explicitly taking a position myself.

Feminists often say that to be a Feminist is to believe women are equal to men. While this is true, this statement’s interpretation isn’t as cohesive as it implies. “Equality” doesn’t have a universal social definition, so many groups understand it differently, even in ways that other Feminists may find offensive. The philosophies that underpin these beliefs on gender equality are varied, but a simplified spectrum can be constructed. On one side of the spectrum is the Conservative-Feminist understanding of gender equality, based on a belief in gender complements, and on the other side is the Progressive-Feminist understanding of gender equality, which is based on postmodernist constructivism. Most likely however, most Feminists lie somewhere in the middle as moderates, but it is still useful to look at the extremes.

Conservative-Feminists tend to draw their beliefs partially from an authoritative source that portrays women and men as complements rather than literally equals. Even if they accept that gender is a spectrum, non-binary genders are seen as exceptions rather than the norm that their theory should fully incorporate. Some draw their authority from religion, such as Feminist Muslims. To the religious, the differences between men and women stem from a fundamental difference in their nature, which assigns each sex to a specific set of duties. However, religious Feminists contend that both set of duties have equal moral worth to one another, and so both sexes are strictly “equal.” Other Conservative-Feminists draw their authority from science, in which the biological realities of each sex make them complements. For example, women give birth and men don’t. However, society shouldn’t punish women just because they give birth, and so a Feminist society should accommodate them through programs such as extended maternity leave. Another example is that women are physiologically weaker than men, and so rather than preventing women from playing sports, we should find ways to celebrate their athleticism, such as with women-only sports leagues. Even though both the religious and biological strands of Conservative-Feminism may perceive each other as sexist by virtue of their authority’s invalidity (e.g. religion is not as valid as science, so religious Feminism is just a rationalization for sexism), their differences are in degrees, not absolutes. Both adhere to a separate but equal philosophy.

Progressive-Feminists however, take a much more radical approach. To them, sexism is mainly rooted in the subjectivity of language, especially its arbitrary construction of biological categories. Taking a postmodernist perspective, Progressive-Feminists think the acknowledgement of the groups “women” and “men” itself upholds sexism, since the complexities of real life doesn’t lend itself to neat categories. Because of these views, it wouldn’t be accurate to say extreme Postmodernist Feminists are concerned with “women’s rights.” Instead, they are concerned with dismantling broad “gender norms,” which conveniently happens to coincide with the goals of women’s rights activists. The important distinction however, lies in language; by using the words “patriarchy” and “women’s rights,” postmodernists argue that the oppressive idea of gender is upheld. This consequentially would uphold these very same gender norms that Feminists are trying to dismantle. More importantly, suffering itself should not be subject to comparison and categorization, since its magnitude is subject to the beholder. Therefore, concepts such as the “patriarchy” support a form of “reverse sexism,” since the language implies a male-over-women dynamic, while neglecting the suffering males have when conforming to gender norms (less radical Feminists argue that “patriarchy” includes male suffering, but postmodernists are not convinced due to the power language has independent of its intention).

As such, we ought to only perceive humans as humans with varying traits, rather than generalize those traits into statistical groups. Consider a distribution of physical strength:

Feminist - Fig 1

Most people would fall into the middle category, but there would be a few outliers along the edges For postmodernists, this graph is as far as we should go. However, Conservative-Feminists go a step further into generalizing groups for the distribution:

Feminist - Fig 2

The red represents the constructed category of “women,” the blue represents “men,” and the violet is where both groups intersect. Since both groups overlap, women are not inherently inferior to men in strength. Rather, it is more likely for an individual woman to be weaker than an individual man, and so these categories based on strength are justified. Postmodernists however, consider this sexist, because it oppressively makes women the statistically weaker group.

Conservative-Feminists may contend that they didn’t construct these categories, but instead looked at objective science and reality. However, postmodernists tend to be scientific anti-realists or constructivists, in which the project to realize an “objective” reality is futile; science is not fully objective, and so scientific claims are imbued with its scientist’s biases. This claim itself is not radical, and many prominent scientists accept that science has constructed components; Stephen Hawking for example, doesn’t believe there is such thing as theory-independent science, which is to say that all science relies on a socially-mediated process of theory formation and interpretation (i.e. there are no objective interpretations of observations, and so all of science goes through a subjective filter known as “theory”).

Perhaps the primary evidence of the Conservative-Feminist side is biological features that are easily verifiable, such as genitalia or chromosomes. They see these features represented by a binomial count. Red represents the socially-constructed “female” feature (XX chromosomes, vagina, etc.), and blue represents the “male” feature (XY chromosomes, penis, etc.):

Feminist - Fig 3

However, Progressive-Feminists see it as a multimodal distribution:

Feminist - Fig 4

And for this distribution, postmodernists believe that conservatives once-again draw arbitrary constructions based on statistical likelihood:

Feminist - Fig 5

Reality isn’t so simple. Genitalia, and even chromosomes, always have slight variations that put them on a spectrum rather than a category. It is only because humans perceive the world in terms of patterns that we construct mental categories of observations and a corresponding language in which to express these categories. The Progressive-Feminist’s project then, is to demonstrate the arbitrariness of gender as a concept so that we only perceive humanity as one group.

We can see how postmodernists may see the policy prescriptions of Conservative-Feminists as sexist, in the same way segregated schools were still racist despite the rhetoric of ”equality.” Championing women for certain abilities, such as the “Respected Mother” image, is itself sexist. Providing “women” with their own leagues also becomes sexist, and a better policy would be to create leagues dependent on strength levels (like in boxing).

Practically, the goal of postmodernists is to reduce the spread of the distribution of traits. This is to ensure that those who lie along the top and bottom fringes are there because they want to be there, not because they were forced to be due to social norms. Biologically, this would entail things such as gender-reassignment surgery.

I think it is important to realize these philosophical differences, instead of just pretending all Feminists want the same thing, using buzz-phrases like “Feminism is just believing women are human.” By recognizing the heterogeneity of Feminism, a more cohesive movement can be built that can better address its detractors.

How I Became Skeptical of Technology: A Conjecture on Human Nature

aaa black

Once upon a time, I believed that my pessimism of technology’s effect on human meaning and socialization was a product of my age. I may be a millennial, but like most 20th century millennials, I grew up with, not absorbed by, the internet. Technology and the internet gradually became a larger part of my life, and so I still retain the nostalgia of a pre-technology social world; unlike the 21st century generation of the Global North, I remember a world without cellphones and quick connections, and a world where we had to use our imagination to play instead of join arms in some virtual environment. This nostalgia made me skeptical of the internet’s benefits to our social life, but all-too-familiar with inter-generational bias, I resolved that my skepticism was simply because I was out-of-touch. Instead, I assumed that technology and the internet was benefiting the new generation in ways I couldn’t understand, since I wasn’t raised in technology to the same degree they were.

Take Facebook. The social networking site is constantly charged with breaking down social traditions. Critics claim something is lost when we interact through IM instead of face-to-face, and the time we spend on it instead of outside reduces human meaning. The image is that we are a slave to Facebook’s, and the wider internet’s, demands to stay inside and live a virtual life. China has even deemed internet addiction a legitimate mental disease, and South Park ran an episode satirizing the controversy. As for myself, I gave techno-socialization the benefit of the doubt. I assumed that virtual communication can have just as much meaning as face-to-face conversations, in which we would form subtle cues to express complex human emotions. For example, any veteran of IM-ing knows that “hey,” “hey!,” and “heyyy” have different, albeit undefinable, connotations. As for our obsession to stay online or play videogames instead of roam outside, I assumed a subjective bias. Let’s say the previous generation values an online-outdoors split at 20-80, my generation values it at 50-50, and the new generation values it at 70-30; ultimately, I couldn’t justify one proportion over the other without making baseless assumptions. And so, I assumed technology and the internet only had positive consequences that newer generations understood better than I did.

However, after watching the TV series Black Mirror (on Netflix. Go watch it now!), I reexamined my skepticism. In the most compelling episode [SPOILER], “White Christmas,” a near-future world has humans implanted with an augmented reality. For example, we can take pictures with our eyes and access the internet with our minds; think Google Glass in our brains. However, there was a frustrating consequence – people could also be “blocked” technologically, in which you only see an inaudible silhouette of the person who blocked you. In one scene, a woman blocks her spouse after a small fight, and no matter how much the spouse asks for forgiveness, the woman is unable to hear him. In a more drastic scene, a man accused of obstructing justice is, as part of a plea bargain, not prosecuted but “blocked” from all of society (a graver punishment, no doubt). It is incommunicable, but this type of world seems hardly desirable. We are inherently social creatures, and so the ability to block people forever, with no outlet to redeem ourselves, seems contrary to our nature. And although this technology can be used selectively, the mere possibility of it seems to degrade the meaning of our social world. It creates a limit to our passions, since we will always be “walking on eggshells” as we fear the dreaded block. This may protect some, but it harms humanity’s interconnectivity as a whole. It would be similar to the invention of guns or nuclear weapons – theoretically beneficial, but ethically ambiguous. Take nuclear weapons, for example. Although we have yet to destroy ourselves, the possibility that we could makes humanity its own existential threat; perhaps the world is safer, as certain deterrence theorists would tell you, but a peace based on self-annihilation seems hardly meaningful to many.

To fully understand the intersection of technology and society, we cannot ignore our nature. Our nature, although uncertain, contains the roots to our happiness and fulfillment.  And it would be absurd to assume a blank slate, in which human nature is malleable to all situations. After all, biological realities exist. We live in an odd intermediary stage, in which technology has outpaced our transcendence of our primitive nature. As adaptive as we are, we still have roots to traditional socialization and the wild. Ignoring survival threats, it is where we are generally most comfortable, even if it may not seem so in our pursuit of gratification and convenience. My argument is that we should keep this in mind as we integrate technology into society, not that we should eliminate technology. In particular, we shouldn’t misconstrue the preference for, convenience of, and security of technology as representative of human meaning.

Certainly, we will one day evolve to appreciate technology more (most likely in a cultural-evolutionary sense), but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet. By this I mean, humanity is not inherently incompatible with advanced technology, but perhaps its current manifestation is. Perhaps technology causes us to lose something indescribable, but important, that a future “singularity-age” humanity can regain.

A Justice System without Free Will

It seems evident to me that free will is an illusion. I will not argue for this view here, but I will address one common concern. Usually when arguing for determinism, people counter that the justice system will fall apart. Ignoring the fact that the consequences of believing in determinism are irrelevant to the empirical question of free will’s existence, I don’t think a deterministic worldview necessarily invalidates justice.

The modern American justice system is retributive; it punishes people because they have done something wrong. This works because people are assumed to have free will, and so they are responsible for their actions. Even if punishing criminals would lead to negative social benefits (e.g. tax spending), many in society would still advocate it. Simply put, we get an intuitive pleasure from revenge against those we believe intentionally did evil. Of course, there are much more practical arguments, such as deterrence. The fear here is that if we don’t punish people with retribution, then future criminals will not be deterred. This argument is on somewhat loose empirical footing. From the literature on ego-depletion, people commit crimes when their willpower is exhausted from doing other daily tasks (willpower being a limited cognitive resource). This is why the poor are more likely to commit crimes – they face more daily stress, and so their willpower is depleted much quicker.  As such, even if the costs of a crime are high, criminals may not be able to “rationally” carry-out a cost-benefit analysis. This is not to say that there is no deterrence effect from punishment, but that it is often exaggerated. To be fair, the academic literature does not reveal a consensus. In fact, beliefs about crime deterrence seem to be based on ideology. For example, arguments on the deterrence effect of capital punishment are somewhat occupation-based, in which economists are the only social scientists who tend to find a deterrence effect.

I advocate the sociological understanding of crime. Criminals are not malicious, but are instead driven to their actions by environmental factors. I do not reject the deterrence effect of punishment completely though (it would be absurd to), and so I recognize that it is problematic to absolve criminals of all agency. Indeed, if we punished no one, I agree crime will increase. Yet, we must still pay attention to the injustice of criminal punishment; if free will doesn’t exist, then how is it fair to punish people who did not choose to commit crimes? They may not have free will, but they still feel suffering. The solution is to embed a moral purpose into the justice system other than revenge.

I believe the best way to do this is to treat criminals as if they are sick. Take someone with a deadly contagious disease. The sick man runs the risk of infecting people, but we recognize this is not his fault. As such, instead of killing him (surely the easiest response), we quarantine and treat him until he gets better. We don’t condemn him. The justice system can work in a similar way. Once we recognize that criminals are not at fault for their actions, we can try to help them instead of punish them. For example, if someone is a mugger, we can isolate him in a prison so that he does not mug more people. However, rather than just holding him there, we can change his social standing so that he has better alternatives to crime. We could train him in a professional skill for example, so that he can get a job and not resort to mugging. For crimes like rape or murder, we can provide psychological counseling to curb their behavior, so that later they can reintegrate into society without any urges to rape or murder. I realize this may seem absurd – “how can we just let rapists free?!?” – but once we accept a deterministic worldview, the alternative in which we punish people for things they did not freely will to do seems even more absurd.

Philosophically, the restorative justice system is the moral choice. It gives people the chance to redeem themselves and live a dignified life, where actions beyond their control do not follow them. Practically, it will lead to greater social benefits by creating more socially-beneficial members of society. As the saying goes, prison is a place where criminals learn to become better criminals. Consider the positions criminals are in: they get out of prison, and no one will hire them. What else can they do to survive except turn back to crime? If we instead remove the stigma of prisoners, and help them reintegrate into society, then their recidivism rate will go down. A version of this system already exists in some places around the world. In Norway for example, criminals are taught new skills and there is no lifetime imprisonment; Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer who killed 77 people at a youth camp, was only given a 21 year sentence. Of course, his sentence can be extended if he is not deemed to have been rehabilitated, but it sends a message that the Norwegian system accepts that all humans can be redeemed. This echoes the medical-styled system I am advocating; just as a sick man is only quarantined until he gets better, criminals should only be imprisoned until they are “better.” We should not be so quick to condemn people for actions beyond their control, and we should always allow people to be redeemed. Remember the words of Foucault: “There is no glory in punishing.”