Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tierney Shows His Hand

Still suffering from a nasty cold, so another guest blog here from "i":

Well, whatever his motivations in his previous Op-Ed piece, John Tierney displayed his affinity for the “just so” stories of evolutionary psychology: men are aggressive, competitive, and dominant and women are nurturing and supportive because it was selected for by evolution.

I may not be a biologist, psychologist, or anthropologist, but I know circular reasoning when I see it. And evolutionary psychology is, to my mind, one of the worst examples of this logical fallacy masquerading as science since Medieval metaphysics. You start with a prejudicial supposition about male or female gendered behavior, attitudes, etc., you design an experiment that proves that men and women fit these stereotypes, and then you make up some story about how this stereotype was in fact selected for genetically. Never mind that, as our feminista has already noted, we aren't talking about inter-species mutations here but intra-species behavior, never mind that it hasn't been demonstrated that these traits are actually being selected for by showing a change in populations over time, never mind that these traits may just as likely be passed on by historical-cultural factors from parent to child. Men are competitive go-getters ‘cause women like it that way and will sleep with them, so their competitive domineering behavior must be genetic, “natural,” and therefore justified rather than a socially constructed role that is oppressive, has questionable social value, and might be altered for the better. As Tierney notes (in another lovely logical leap), this explains why groupies hang out looking to hook up with rock stars…they're just genetically drawn to the competitive success of the dominant male.

It's about time for the return of an important book that got a bad rap, The Descent of Woman. Whether Elaine Morgan's theories are true is an issue for anthropologists to figure out. Irrespective of the details of the theory, the single most important thing Morgan has offered to our evolutionary interpretations is the following question: what happens if you focus on the female rather than the male as the primary force of evolutionary change rather than trotting her out as simply the sexual vessel for the production of progeny for the benefit of “man” (in other words, the male)? When you try to imagine why we lost our body hair, or why females grew breasts and fleshy buttocks, or why we all possess the subcutaneous fat more common to sea mammals than land mammals, instead of focusing on the male hunter (who paradoxically has more hair than his female-gatherer counterpart), instead of assuming, just because you find T & A hot, that this must be the evolutionary purpose of this tantalizing flesh, instead of simply ignoring this strange fatty matter that keeps us warm without hair, maybe we could look to the female role between mother and child as the dominant force in evolutionary change from pre-hominid to hominid species.

In short, what continues to blow my mind is why otherwise scientific individuals (males and females alike) fall prey to evolutionary psychological theorizing of the former sort, the kind that is set up to justify the already prejudiced conclusion that the gender status quo is natural and inevitable and that the roles that continue to oppress women are scientifically and naturally justified. Tierney merely cites these scientists, but is just as guilty due to his wholesale and uncritical acceptance and affirmation of their hype.

Monday, May 30, 2005


In NYT editorial column (5/30/05) warns us or incites us to support Mr. Tanner's bill for non-partisan redistricting. Read below:


Ending the Gerrymander Wars

Congressional redistricting has become a blood sport. Texas kicked off a new era in 2003 when it redrew its lines for a second time after the 2000 census to give the Republicans five more seats. Now, there could be similar midcensus redistricting in several other states. In these partisan machinations, voters are the losers. The new lines eliminate contested elections, and contribute to the bitterly divisive atmosphere in Washington. A new bill in Congress calls for national standards for drawing Congressional districts. It would vastly improve the functioning of our ailing democracy.

Gerrymandering has always been part of American politics, but it has reached disturbing new lows. Party operatives now use powerful computers to draw lines that guarantee their party as many seats as possible. The longstanding tradition that Congressional districts are redrawn only once every 10 years was obliterated in Texas in 2003, when Tom DeLay pushed through a partisan "re-redistricting." Democrats are now talking about doing the same thing in states they control, such as Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana.

Partisan redistricting puts the interests of political parties ahead of the voters. The parties want districts they know they can win, and they have done a good job of creating them. In the last election, there were only a handful of competitive Congressional races; most races were decided by landslides.

The voters, however, are best served by competitive districts in which candidates need to work to win their votes. The decline of swing districts is having a corrosive effect on Congress, which is more than ever made up of members from the extremes of both parties, who do not need to appeal to voters in the middle for re-election.

Redistricting reform is difficult to achieve at the state level. Most state legislatures have a vested interest in the status quo. And in these partisan times, a party that controls a state government is likely to oppose any redistricting that gives Congressional seats to the other side. National standards are needed that would require every state to draw Congressional districts in a way that put the voters' interests first.

Representative John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would do just that. His bill would create nonpartisan redistricting commissions in every state. The commissions would be prohibited from taking the voters' party affiliations or voting history into account when drawing lines. Instead, the bill would emphasize continuity of counties, municipalities and neighborhoods. The bill would also limit Congressional redistricting to once every 10 years.

It is no surprise that the bill's sponsor, Mr. Tanner, is a moderate Democrat from Tennessee. Southern Democrats, Northern Republicans and moderates from both parties and all regions are the ones being pushed out of Congress by partisan redistricting, and re-redistricting.

Drawing less partisan lines would reinvigorate the center in American politics, and make House members pay more attention to their constituents and less to their party leaders. That is why Mr. Tanner's bill is likely to have a hard time in today's Congress. It is also why it is important for everyone who wants to improve American politics to support it.


The editorial ends with an expected cynical tone when it points out that why Mr. Tanner is sponsoring this bill: he is one of the many moderates being pushed out of Congress. I am not sure if I should worry to much about this. But, it suggests that everytime a bill comes forward that seems to resemble the "right" thing to do for democracy that it is motivated, at bottom, by self-interest or self-preservation. So be it. I think its of paramount importance to support Tanner's "Fairness and Independence in Redistricting bill" This bill (H.R. 2642] is endorsed by John B. Anderson's (remember him?? 1980) Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy. You can read Anderson's piece on the necessity for national standards for redistricting here. I am too naive to know, yet, if Anderson's endorsement is the kiss of death--or, it the bill itself has no chance. Any thoughts?

When I think about Delay's outrageous redistricting scheme in 2003, I cannot believe that he got away with it. When all the democrates fled--to halt a vote--he had the Speaker Tom Craddick issues warrants for their arrests and tried to involve the Department for Homeland Security. Doesn't this just seem like madness to you?

For what its worth, I am now convinced that reformation of Gerrymandering is a crucial step toward building a stronger and better democracy. Thinking back on my blog that considers cooperation: unless we have fair elections, where the best candidate wins--and wins because he/she will best represent the people, we have no real say in Congress. And, we are letting the Republican machine remake the country over in its own image (which, to me, sounds a lot more like fascism).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Evangelicals Among Us

I am in NYC with a cold! But, luckily a former student of mine just sent me an interesting reflection on leaving College and returning home, only to find that what he criticized in his Senior Thesis (a particular type of "religion" game) is one of his long time friends. So, in lieu of my own ramblings this evening, I am posting Tom's:

Last night I encountered an old friend at the bar. The conversation was brief, but the little that was said started gears in my head spinning for the rest of the night and into today. I graduated from high school with JT and she was one of the most intelligent and artistically (especially performing arts) inclined people I’ve ever met. Simply speaking to her gave you the inkling she’d go on to do great things…not to mention the fact she is one of the nicest and most personable people I’ve been privileged to know. She attended a Christian college in Western Pennsylvania for the last four years and recently graduated with a degree in music. Outstanding, she’s on her way to fulfilling her dreams…so I thought. But then, the clincher, she’d just returned from Colorado Springs where she interviewed for a position as a youth music director. Ok, so Colorado Springs isn’t my favorite city in the world…but it may have its bright spots, right? Well…the interview was with a 5000-member mega-church.
I didn’t know how to react; I didn’t know what to say. It dawned on me later in the evening that the most important question to ask and discuss when it comes to “the religious right” might be this: “How do we talk to (or interact with) them?” In previous works and conversations about the staunchly conservative evangelical movement it was easy for me to set them up as the other, as those fanatics out West or in DC that are essentially bullshitting us all with their anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, anti-political version of faith. I wasn’t likely going to come face-to-face with them at Gettysburg College. There are conservatives, without a doubt, but mostly of a different breed. Looking back, it seems that in my mind evangelicals became a force to somehow oppose. They took on a singular identity, a stereotype.
So when confronted with this old high school friend I was taken aback. I was forced to reevaluate everything I’ve thought to this point. They’re not some vague other; they’re my friends and my neighbors. This complicates the problem exponentially in my eyes. It’s easy to discuss a faceless other, but much harder to look a friend in the eye and say “That’s just not so, you’re just not examining what you believe.” My only reaction was to quickly turn the conversation to pleasantries of “how’s your family?” and “have you seen so-and-so?” and avoid the problem altogether. But it remains: How do you talk to someone so embedded in their web of beliefs, their faith, that they don’t allow room to question and examine it without coming across as utterly and overtly offensive to them? How do I point out to my old friend my ideas about the evangelical movement without destroying the friendship?
So these are my most recent thoughts and ramblings; the most recent unanswered questions drifting in my mind.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Thousand Acts of Courage and Compassion: Some Thoughts on Cooperation

One of my readers--"i"--made some excellent points about the difference between compromise and cooperation. In particular, "i" reminded me how productive and hopeful cooperation can be for democratic practices. Rather than assume from the outset that our differences and disagreements are irreconcilible, we enter into discussions "open" and ready to actually discuss and educate others and ourselves about how to think about the political issues challenging us. If we think of democratic discussions as opportunities to actually discover the truth (in J.S. Mill's view of truth seeking in On Liberty), then our orientation to debate would be quite different: we would enter into them relishing the opportunity to learn by letting the best argument(s) win.

The only way that we can actually have such democratic conversations--in my mind--is if we presuppose that we are fundamentally capable of cooperation. We can acknowledge that we arrive at our views differently via different life experiences, access to information, and exposure to counter-arguments. And yet, we don't see the difference of opinion as insurmountable--as a "non-starter" (to use some good jargon). We have "faith" in our ability to listen and learn from others, which would entice us to seek out those who disagree with us to "test out" our own positions. Cooperation, nonetheless, requires some "animal faith" in human beings (that is for you "i"). Namely, we need to trust that humans are thoughtful, inquisitive, reasonable and communal creatures.

Another important ingredient necessary for cooperation is to subordinate the acquisition of "power" to truth seeking [remind me to spend some time talking about what I mean by truth in another blog]. This criterion is hard to fulfill. In a conversation with the public relations officer of Planned Parenthood (PPFA) in Central Pennsylvania today, I had a painful reckoning with the sad state of our democracy. I met with him to discuss how I can volunteer my services to PPFA this summer, and we ended up discussing the reality of not only Pennsylvania politics, but national politics as well. My mouth dropped when he explained gerrymandering to me. I finally realized why my Political Science students are so different from my Philosophy students: they are simply more jaded. It turns out that legislative districting is so rigged that we have little hope in electing new leaders to Congress (or elsewhere). Apparently, there are only 30 House Seats where either a Democrat or a Republican can win. When you combine that knowledge with some observations about how the Republican leadership works, then your hopes of the power of democracy can be seriously jeopardized. Things are fixed. Only a god can save us now!

As long as our "representatives" care more about amassing power, and less about listening to us, we are damned. We are beholden to power hungry politicians whose appetite for power has convinced them of their infallibility. And, as far as I am concerned, convincing yourself that you are infallible is deadly to a cooperative democratic process. Mill writes:

"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. First the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility."

Connie Bruck profiles John McCain (certainly a real burr to the Republican Leadership at the moment) in this week's New Yorker (May 30, 2005: "McCain's Party"). In discussing his experiences as a POW, Bruck reports the following:

"As a young man, he said, he had thought that all glory was self-glory, and that he was so strong he could achieve whatever he wanted; but he learned in prison that he was dependent on others. There he was the recipient of a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love . . ." (my emphasis).

I mention this passage from Bruck's article to point out how odd we are about the concept of cooperation. This passage points out yet another aspect of cooperation: the acknowledgement of how important dependence on others is for weathering the vicissitudes of life. My deepest fear is that an ideologue, who preaches competition and denounces cooperation as "socialism" (or worse yet "fascism"), will read McCain's description and romanticize the sacrifice and compassion that fellow POWs show each other, while dismissing the general insight of his comments: that we are fundamentally dependent on each other.

Every day, every minute, every second nameless and faceless individuals make courageous and compassionate sacrifices for their fellow human beings. They choose to cooperate. And, I would venture to say that it is far more advantageous to the human animal to cooperate than to compete to win.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Escape from American Idol

I am still travelling at the moment, and therefore was unable to write my post. Our hosts last night spurred us to watch the final American Idol, a show that I have never watched and hope to never watch again. I was squirming in my seat for two hours, bombarded with advertisements for Ford and Coca-Cola. And, I didn't really think that any of these singers were all that impressive.

So, this is one of those moments when I realize how out of synch I am with the average, American public. I hope its not because I am simply too snooty or ivory towerish to identify with reality shows such as this. My real distaste comes from the pace and business of the show. The editing, the sound, the colors, the product placement simply make me dizzy. And, of course, Fox (which produces the show) tends to always makes me feel really stressed out during one of their programs. Sadly, the major focus of these programs seem to be to sell, sell and sell. There is no excuse, otherwise, for why I had to wait 2 hours for information they already had.

When the program ended, we got DC Fox news, and boy was that even more uncomfortable. The first seven minutes were about: 3 murders (including a stabbing at the Nordstrom in Bethesda), a school bus driver who sexually assaulted a 9 year-old girl (and has a day-care in his home), and the unbelievable dilapidation of DC public schools in NW. I had to stand up and excuse myself. After 2hrs and 7 minutes of FOX, I was absolutely agitated. If I were to watch that everyday, I would be a neurotic mess.

As an antidote to last night, I am sitting in this quiet and peaceful library at James Madison University. My only frustration has been that the space bar on the key board sticks, so I have to type more slowly than I would like.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Compromise, Cooperation and Competition

The Senate, purportedly, preserved their bi-partisan, collegial spirit today by averting the "nuclear option." The center, it seems, did hold after all (despite predictions to the opposite by the David Brooks). From what I did catch of the news, the "ends of the spectrum" are both unhappy, but overall this compromise is a good thing. Of course, this got me to thinking. What is so great about "compromise" per se. During this Senate showdown over judicial nominees, there has been a lot of reminders of when the the filibuster was used to stall Civil Rights legislation. I started reflecting on the spirit of "compromise" here: what exactly is a compromise on extending, say, voter rights to African Americans? Do you, um, give half of the African Americans rights? Or just the middle-class men? (raised eyebrows).

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to the spirit of compromise. Moreover, I am still not sure how I feel about this particular compromise that was worked out. I have my own "end of the spectrum" interests at heart: to preserve the filibuster in the case of a frightening Supreme Court appointee. The Democrats will still be able to filibuster under "extraordinary" circumstances (language that probably everyone can agree is vague and subjective). However, at what cost have the Dems worked out this compromise? By virtually giving a pass to Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers and William Pryor, the Dems may have compromised, cooperated even, but left us with three new, extremely conservative life-time appointment judges. Owen commends Bush for appointing judges who "follow the law." My, oh my. Since when is it that easy to follow the law? I mean, don't we have Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges precisely because we need to interpret the law? I just spent an hour today reading a fascinating article on the difficulties in determining if patients with Multiple Personality Disorders (MPD) are criminally responsible for actions they undertake by one "self," when another self has no recollection or memory of it. Can we consider MPD patients as even possessing "personal identity"? If you think that is an easy question to answer, you are definitely living in a different universe from me.

But let's leave aside the issue of interpreting the law. William Pryor has stated that he finds the ruling in Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history." He even opposes abortions for rape and incest victims. Right, so, can we count on this chap to "follow the law"?

So, compromise doesn't appear to always be the right thing to do (and yes, I am making a normative judgment here).

Now, let's talk about cooperation and competition. Op-ed columnist John Tierney today argued that women have different appetites for competition than men do, which accounts for why women not only are less likely to be CEOs and therefore not paid as much as men (because we know the CEOS make the big bucks). Tierney's argument was interesting and puzzling. He admitted to his suspicion that women have evolved in such a way to avoid risky and regular winner-takes-all competition (so its nature after all), yet he reports women are probably a boon for buisness since they will nurture corporate environments.

I gotta say, this op-ed really makes me shake my head. I had an argument with a Cato analyst very similar to this two years ago. He argued that the gospel-truth-economists point out that women are risk-averse, which explained why few women were CEOs. I asked him to explain what was so valuable about risk-loving folks. I mean, afterall, it may be hard to distinguish foolish and dangerous people from good CEOs on that logic. For, if you are willing to take frightening risks with your company, and by a stroke of luck you make money, then this merits your unfathomable salary.

I also question the logic that women are risk averse. Afterall, how many women take the risk to marry and have children with competition-crazed men each year, only to find themselves divorced and destitute single moms? Shit, marriage itself seems like a pretty risky endeavor.

But of course, this whole "women-are-cooperative-and-men-are-competitive" crap comes from a belief that because women can have children, they must, by nature, be nurturing. Boy, oh boy, is Tierney a bit off. I have seen some pretty nasty, backbiting, and competitive women, who will glady stab their best friend in the back for a cute "frat guy" who is woefully less capable or intelligent as they are. Doesn't Tierney ever watch Joe Millionaire or The Bachelor?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Escape from the 19th Century

My colleague sent me a link to a CNN story today about a pregnant young woman whose Roman Catholic high school attempted to prohibit her from walking with her graduation class. The father--a graduating senior at the high school--was not, however, prevented in any way from participating in the ceremony. The news story claims that the high school cited "safety concerns." I am still trying to figure out exactly who was at risk? The developing child? The mother? Or, the rest of the guests at the ceremony? Someone please clarify this for me.

The puritanical ideas re-circulating in our culture have one target: women's bodies. There are regular reports of pharmacists denying to fill women's prescriptions for birth control or Plan B, citing "moral conscience" as their defense. Good lord! As my friend Jessica pointed out, refusing to fill a doctor's prescription because you don't approve of the medication would mean, for example, that pharmacists could turn away prescription requests for antidepressants because they found such medication morally problematic.

What would be more interesting is to see if pharmacists will begin to refuse to fill prescriptions for Viagra, Cialis or Levitra to young, single men, who, afterall, shouldn't be sexually active before marriage. Why on earth would they need to treat their "erectile dysfunction" if they aren't married anyway? Would the men join us in our outrage at corporate policies of Wal-Mart and CVS?

This line of thinking is reminiscient of the Victorian culture that Sigmund Freud attempted to unravel in the 19th century--a culture so twisted about sex! Of course, Freud was no friend to women; women's unruly sexuality was largely responsible for men's mental illnesses as well as threatening to the work of culture building. Women certainly were incapable of developing "super egos," which would teach them the proper rules of cultural behavior.

I was reminded of the damage Freud did to women by a biologist who rode with Za and I to Charlottesville today. He asked me what I am working on this summer. I told him that I was writing about how women are more likely to be diagnosed and treated as depressed because in the handbook for diagnoses (the DSM-IV), the criteria could just as easily be construed as picking out pathological femininity as depression. Our cultural disease with unruly and emotional females might have found its way into the fuzzy criteria of the DSM. These diagnostic criteria are simply too inclusive. This is partly responsible for why so many women are targeted by pharmaceutical advertisements for antidepressants, as well as more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants.

I have to say, he had a very interesting reaction to my work. When he attended medical school, the students interested in psychiatry were trained to be psychoanalysts. He complained about how psychiatrists required patients to be in therapy three times a week for multiple years with very little (if any) outcomes. "Thank god that psychiatrists have finally turned to pharmacological therapeutic agents, whose results we can measure" he exclaimed. His passionate dislike of Freudian psychoanalysis was clear.

I agreed that psychiatry had come a long way, baby. But, what I found fascinating was how his hatred of the old days of psychiatry made it difficult for him to find fault with the excesses of psychopharmacology today. As far as he was concerned, psychopharmacologists could do no wrong in comparison to the pseudo-scientific days of Freudian psychotherapy (I may be overstating his case, but he was pretty impassioned). We had finally escaped from the 19th century.

Have we really escaped from the 19th century? For me, proof of this would require that our cultural fear of women's bodies had been significantly "worked through." I am not sure that a more effective agent (SSRIs that through an advertsing blitz convince women to request themselves) for keeping women's "hysteria" under control is a sign that psychiatrists have finally escaped the 19th century. Hell, we haven't escaped the 6th century B.C. . . .

**Disclaimer: My own views on the advances and gains of SSRI treatment are far more nuanced than this blog might sound right now. And, frankly, I am grateful that I was reminded by this biologist of the dark ages of Psychiatry.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Equality NOW!

I just returned from my "activist" training at the NOW headquarters in DC. I left feeling really energized and excited about being part of the NOW community. I met women from Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, and Arkansas. Each of them was excited about starting a local chapter. The future of a progressive women's organization like NOW depends on local and state actions. NOW's chief lobbyist, Pat Reuss, explained that we are completely ineffectual at the national level. We have to focus our attention on making Senators and Congresspersons take notice of us in their home states and districts.

I am really impressed with NOWs mission and structure. It truly feels like a grassroots, non-hierarchical institution. All the DC NOW officers met with us, including Kim Gandy . She asked me if was part of the "teach in" at Gettysburg last year, which challenged the "Conservative Conference" posters that read: "Modern Feminism's Betrayal of Women." Some very right-wing students, backed in part by the Leadership Institute, invited equally right-wing speakers such as anti-choice women who claimed that the original feminists were pro-life. I realize now, after sitting through this training, why the teach in was so important to NOW: they want to see action, action, and action locally.

The students who took part in that action became committed to women's rights and are all now going to live in DC to work for non-profits that advocate women's equality. Action certainly does commit us more intensely to political struggles.

Starting this odyssey of activism is wonderful, even if my Dad is fearful. While yes, I need to try and keep the philosopher in me alive, the committment to fighting for my core values is empowering. After we broke yesterday, I rushed to meet my brother and Dad for dinner at the Capital Grille. Neither of them asked me about my NOW training. I was squirming in my seat. I know they were dying to ask and I was dying to tell them, but we all knew it would end in a shouting match.

On an earlier occassions, my brother asked me "does NOW fight against sexual harassment against men in the workplace?" and, my Dad wanted to know: "Does NOW protect abused husbands?" I need to learn how to better respond to these questions. They have a derailing effect. Of course, the logic behind them is: NOW supports equality, so does it defend men's equality too.

If both my Dad and brother were truly committed to the fight for male victims of violence, then I would be more patient. But, let's face it: these sorts of questions are thrown out to weaken the credibility of NOW, to suggest that they do not really believe in equality. What bothers me further is knowing that women constitute 85% of the victims of sexual violence (and that is a conservative estimate). So, yes, some men are violently abused by their intimate partners. But, worldwide, violence against women is an epidemic--with enormous economic and social costs.

I guess I will spend the greater part of my life trying to understand why fighting for women's equality is "radical."

Saturday, May 21, 2005


I rose in darkness today so that I might soon drive to DC for my NOW Activist training. I am a little nervous, since I don't know anyone and have to share a room with a total stranger. But, I am also exhilirated; I couldn't sleep last night.

Off I go . . .

Friday, May 20, 2005

Maintain Balance

My Dad and his wife have been visiting me for the last two days. My father is a pretty charismatic guy--easy to get along with, happy to meet my friends, and generally curious about everything. He inspired a lot of my interest in Philosophy through countless conversations throughout my childhood. I have to say that to this day I find it rather remarkable that he always encouraged and nurtured my intellectual development. Perhaps he did it because he wanted to have the sorts of conversations that we always ended up having during long drives together.

As I have gotten older and more committed to my political convictions, I try to be careful about certain discussions with my Dad. He loves Fox News, Time Magazine and Christian Theology. I am pretty sure he is pro-life, but I just don't ask.

Yesterday, however, we ended up having a rather long and intense conversation. The heart of his comments were to caution my recent activism. His fear was that I was going to be used or compromised by the people in the "Left" (his word) organizations that I supported. I got angry, of course. I found myself bristling when he asked why so many academics do align themselves on the left, or when he would rejoin my criticism of Tom Delay with accusations that Democrats are just as bad. Partly I was annoyed because I thought he was engaging in a game of red herrings; the point is Tom Delay is corrupt. Why not admit that? He also pressed me to consider that most of the excesses of today will be resolved in the future: "if you would just take history as your guide you would not be so angry right now."

Angry! Passionate! Activism! My father is concerned that the end result of my actions will be my transformation into a xenophobe. Boy, that pissed me off. Partly because I found it more than hypocritical. I also wondered if he held onto some sort of Hegelian view of history, wherein human actors are claimed and utilized by Geist to bring about the ultimate goal of human freedom. I asked him: "do you think there is an invisible hand guiding history, or rather folks like me who stand up and demand history to change its course?" I still don't know what his answer is to that question. But, I think I might have succeeded in getting him to reconsider the "nuclear option" as a violation of free speech (i.e. it consitutes what J.S. Mill called the "tyranny of the majority.")

Anyway, our conversation ended when we arrived at the National Civil War Museum.
The first exhibit depicts "average" citizens views of the ensuing civil war. I was struck by how similar the reasoning was (whether it was abolitionists, states' rights folks, modest Southern farmers or Northern bankers) for or against the Civil War to our current "war" in Iraq. In particular, I was struck by the cynicism that modest Southern farmers had toward this war, and how torn they felt about fighting for or against the Confederacy. I was also pretty moved by how committed many southerners were to protecting their institutions and values from regulation by the Federal gov't (afterall I had just been passionately defending "minority rights" and "free speech" minutes earlier in the car with my Dad).

I started wondering if I should listen to my Dad a little bit more. I blame my training in Philosophy for this self-criticism that washed over me. After all, true students of philosophy need to TRY to purge themselves from ideology as much as possible when evaluating arguments.

Am I--as my Dad fears--succumbing too much to anger and outrage that I am losing sight of the "good folks on the 'right'"? I hope not, but let's face it: it's a real possibility!

This really struck me as I read Joan Didion's piece, "The Case of Theresa Schiavo," in the current New York Review of Books. Didion points out that at the heart of the case over Terry Schiavo were serious moral questions that neither side engaged, particularly because they were overshadowed by previous political maneouverings: the absolute defense of life or the right to die. I have to admit I am guilty of not considering more carefully some of those moral questions independently from my deep desire to protect a person's (woman's) right to make her own decisions about her body. Ok Dad: I heard you!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Spring Mix w/Carrot

A lovely writer that I know sent me a link to her blog.
She inspired me to do what I have been threatening to do for a long time: start my own. However, if you just clicked onto her blog, I better warn you that in no way will I be as poetic as Ali. I am trained as a philosopher, which means I tend to write about abstract stuff. But, I am bravely moving ahead with this project.

I am happy to report another beautiful day in Gettysburg. I was inspired to put on my new lime sweater with matching sandals. It cracks me up that I have become this girl who wants to coordinate my top and bottom! But, I chose an outfit that SHOUTED OUT spring.

I killed my budding herbs; I foolishly planted them into the ground while the weather is still fluctuating. When I went to check on them this morning, they had wilted. Hmm, maybe the hot sun did that? Gardening is absolutely a challenge for me, but I am not giving up. Oh, and I am starting to obsess about my lawn. Ok, its official, I have become a typical homeowner.

When I was a struggling graduate student--alienated and anxious--I never thought I would end up in Gettysburg, PA as a homeowner. So what do I worry about now? The lawn! What did I worry about then? The ontological difference (not Heidegger's mind you, but Irigaray's notion of sexual difference).

So here I am instead, wearing lime green, and listening to the "Spring Mix w/Carrot" that Jackie burned for me.