Sunday, April 13, 2014

Things you find: TV News as it is done again and again

Something to finish off your weekend, an oldie but a goodie:

The tumblr post I got this from suggested it is how the BBC reports, well, everything.

[As per normal, cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Austrians and Marxists are wrong about the state

In 1718, after admiring how orderly his recently conquered province of Livonia was, Peter the Great (r.1682-1725) commanded an enquiry into how this was so. The enquiry found that the Swedish crown had spent as much administering Livonia as Peter spent administering the entire rest of the Russian Empire. Peter promptly dismantled the provincial administration.

In 1800, the United Kingdom (population under 20m) had the same number of government officials (pdf) as Qing China (population over 300m). The British central government extracted around four times the revenue (pdf) the Qing central government received, and did so from an economy about a sixth the size of the Chinese economy.

How so?

The social bargaining state
The British state deeply penetrated society, as did society the state. Britain was famously a Parliamentary state, constructed on high levels of social bargaining. In this continual process of social bargaining, the British state was able to extract far more resources from its society as a trade-off for providing far more benefits. The British state was therefore much more responsive to its society, providing a far greater range and level of public goods--the British state probably spent as much on the Poor Law as the Qing state spent on the equivalent (famine relief). In particular, the sale of British government bonds meant that private interests had a serious stake in the viability and success of the state. An arrangement that was both based on, and led to, high levels of information flow between state and society.

In early C19th Qing Empire, one county magistrate administered, on average, 300,000 people.
Conversely, the Qing state relied entirely on command-and-control mechanisms, with any social bargaining being of an extremely passive variety. Chinese law was designed to minimise recourse to the courts, with families and associations left to manage their own affairs. The Qing state had effectively no capacity to borrow, relying on the build up of silver reserves to deal with emergency financing needs. Its financial resources were limited to past and present revenues. Conversely, the British state, with its capacity to borrow, was not constrained by past or present revenues but could raise money from future income (pdf):
Britain’s debt rose with only a few peacetime pauses to 215 per cent of national income in 1784. After a brief peacetime decline in the following decade, it rose again to 222 per cent of national income in 1815 and reached a peak of 268 percent in 1821, ...
... between 1760 and 1860 Britain’s it was never lower than 100 per cent and from approximately 1780 to 1845, never lower than 150 per cent of GDP.
If the income of the British central government was around 15% of GDP (it likely peaked at around 20% of GDP in the Napoleonic wars and was still above 10% in 1850), that would make its debt never lower than 10 times its income in this period--by comparison, the current US federal government debt is around 5 times its income.

The command-and-control passive-social-bargaining-only Qing central government extracted about 3.4 grams of silver per head of population. The actively social bargaining state-and-society-penetrate-each-other British central government extracted about 304 grams of silver per head of population. In other words, 90 times as much silver-equivalent per head--hence receiving four times the revenue (in silver) from an economy less than a sixth the size. Yet it was the Qing government, not the British, which was regularly rocked by massive popular revolts.

British politics--noisy, public and clubbable.
British politics--noisy, public and clubbable.
So, when the two states went to war in the Anglo-Chinese War, the first of the Opium Wars, the Qing Empire was going to war with a state that had better military technology, better military organisation, over four times its income and great capacity to borrow funds. It was not going to end well (for the Qing). Despite the fact the Qing Empire's economy was around six times as large with maybe 18 times the population (around 21m to 380m).

The states that developed in Europe, particularly Northwestern Europe, were dramatically different in their evolution and outcomes than the states that developed elsewhere. Trying to develop a typology of the state based on European experience is to normalise the profoundly exotic. This is not a good place from which to base analysis. Even given that the process of colonisation and emulation spread practices and techniques of European state across the globe.

This (relatively) new thing
The state is a relatively new feature of human society. The first states grew out of chiefdoms a few thousand years ago. As recently as the early C19th, much of the world's land area was not under the control (nominal or otherwise) of any state. Scrolling through the online TimeMaps historical atlas is a useful reminder of how part of the processes of history have been the expansion in the coverage of states. (The maps exclude the steppe polities, but they could reasonably be regarded as chiefdoms rather than states.)

Which also brings to mind how little stateless societies have achieved. A few basic inventions--fire, wheel-and-axle, farming, herding--but little else. Sure, they were the basic inventions on which the rest of human history has been built, but the overwhelming bulk of human achievement has been within state societies.

Starting with the fact that they are a lot safer to live in. Even given the horrendous killing records of modern states. State and non-state societies may have roughly similar range of homicide rates (pdf), but add in deaths from war, and state societies have much lower death-by-violence rates. It seems that on simple don't-end-up-violently-dead grounds, Hobbes's Leviathan is worth having. Especially as a lack of states does not mean a lack of war; it just means war becomes a much more immediate and common experience.

The paradox of rulership
The paradox of politics--we need the state to protect us from social predators but the state is the most dangerous of all social predators--does indeed operate. Actually, we should really call it the paradox of rulership, since it begins to operate before actual states are achieved.

With lower levels of social predation, higher levels of social achievement are possible. In order for chiefdoms to become states, a certain level of population concentration and production is required. Indeed, a constant part of the story of the state from its origins onwards is its attempts to remould society so that it can be supported. In doing so, it seeks to raise the level of social activity. Hence the connection between state societies and human achievement.

Which is where both Marxism and Austrian school economics tend to go wrong about the state. They wish to draw a sharp moral distinction between state and society based on presumptions of causation. The natural tendency of the Austrians is to adopt the principle that human achievement is born in society without, even against, the state. Their principle is that human society is so great, that the state deforms it. But this is far too simplistic a conception. Again and again, the achievements they point to are profoundly based on the public goods provided by the state. And the prosperous liberal capitalist societies they extol were achieved in societies where state and society interpenetrated each other more profoundly than any other societies in human history up to that time. The Austrians keep wanting to leave the state out of (positive) historical causal processes when it was intimately, and necessarily, involved in them.

The natural tendency of Marxism is the reverse: hardly surprising, in many ways Marxism and Austrian school economics are mirror images of each other.  The natural tendency of Marxism is to hold that society is so flawed, that (only) the state can redeem it. But the state is not some epiphenomenon of social processes. State and society mutually create each other. An unequal and exploitative society has been created by, and created, its state.

Indeed, given the role of the state as dominant coercive power, the state will be the biggest force in moulding the society. But, in any decent society, it is a process of mutual creation; the notion that the state is socially omnipotent, that it can create any society with any characteristics it wants, is simply not true. Not least because the state is not, and cannot be, omniscient. Crucial to how state and societies operate is the information flows between them. Here the Austrians were spot on--the economic calculation problem will, in the end, defeat any such grandiose ambitions of state-as-society.

The scale of information flows were why the states of Northwestern Europe were so spectacularly successful. State and society interpenetrated each other, allowing high levels of information flows between them, and for state and society to tend to support and increase, rather than crush, the operation of the other. In particular, social bargaining led to more capital leading to more economic activity and more social bargaining leading to more revenue for states.

Mutual needs
Simple minded cheerleading--society good!, state bad! versus society bad!, state good!--is historical nonsense. We remain necessarily enmeshed in the paradox of politics. The notion that the paradox can be "solved"--either by creating a naturally just state or by dispensing with the state altogether--is delusory.

Of the two delusions, belief in a state which can transcend the paradox of politics is by far the more dangerous. For that project is profoundly and naturally tyrannical. To create the entirely just society, the state has to have enormous power. And if it is on the business of final justice, its actions are inherently absolutely worthy. This utopian project both expands the state to fill up any social space and justifies its power to crush any social dissent (as it defines it). It does not stop the state being predatory, it just turns it into the ultimate social predator. With C. S. Lewis's warning being absolutely apposite:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Later re-run as commissars and gauleiters.
Later re-run as commissars and gauleiters.
Conversely, belief that all will be so much better if we do without the state--as long as the belief is not prosecuted by acts of violence--merely encourages suspicion of the most dangerous social predator. A certain amount of that is just good sense. There is nothing in any of this which guarantees all state actions will have positive social consequences.

Indeed, the bootleggers and Baptists phenomenon reminds of how the state generates bootleggers. Just as those who complain about "developers" rarely pay any attention to how, for example, government approval processes squeeze out small developers (who are much less able to handle approval delay risks) thereby generating the housing industry dominance of well-connected large developers who then game the system. Like the rest of us, public policy operates in a world of unintended consequences. The state is not an epiphenomenon of society; it moulds the society, which then moulds it.

We live in the world of the paradox of politics where state and society create each other. The blessing is to be the heirs of a social evolution of an ever-widening spiral of social bargaining which ended up with universal suffrage and elections that matter. With states that, for all their moral limitations, are remarkably responsive and support--indeed, significantly create--societies of great openness, freedom and prosperity.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

That exporting revolution business

Afghanistan successfully held provincial and first-round presidential elections. Various folk are in the running for President. Part of building a viable democracy is building the habit of elections and change-through-elections. Since the incumbent is barred from running again (two-term limit), a new President must result. 
Afghan women register to vote.

The high turnout is encouraging, especially as the Taliban threatened to disrupt the election, and there were some killings. But more is required for a free political outcome than elections: a viable democracy requires a viable state which requires lots of day-to-day habits and expectations. Still, having a high turnout election successfully conducted is a positive sign, just not a definitive one. 

As an aside, we tend to forget that the US is a revolutionary state. It has proved to be still willing, if sufficiently provoked, to fight to export its revolution. Always an inherently tricky matter. One could argue, after all, that the late Soviet Empire's attempt to export its revolution managed, in the longer run, to actually export the American one. Not what was intended ...

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Monday, April 7, 2014

First they came for the pagans and the queers

The upside of Mozilla's purging of Brendan Eich is various folk are getting the point that penalising opinion and purging workplaces is so not a good idea.

The downside is a lot of folk just don't get the bigger issue. This piece, for example, First They Came For The Mormons, exemplifies the common notion that "this" started with gay activists or modern progressivism, or whatever. This post mostly gets the bigger issue, the comments below mostly do not.

An old, traditional pattern
No, this is not a "new" thing, moral exclusion started much earlier and is deeply entwined with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. What happened to Brendan Eich is actually a relatively mild version of what was done to queer folk for centuries. The habit for much of the C20th, for example, of whenever bars catering for a queer clientele were raided, having all those apprehended listed in newspaper reports was exactly the same as finding out who contributed to the Proposition 8 campaign and then targeting them. (Ugandan newspapers are continuing that inglorious tradition.)

It is the modern, scaled-down, version of the theology of Deuteronomy 13Deuteronomy 13 enjoins the killing of those who have wrong beliefs--i.e. worshipping pagan gods:
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.
Thoughtcrime was Biblical long before George Orwell. Purifying society by purifying public belief by outcasting the wrong-thinker is entirely Biblical.

The Christian right's social model
And enforcing social conformity by boycotts and outcasting is entirely something the Christian right perfected long before the Brendan Eich case. There is a long history of Christian boycotts targeting the (extremely vulnerable) queer minority and those who stood up for them. The attempts to block TV shows and plays that dared to present them positively. To block openly employing them. To block any form of legal protection. Declaring permitting access to the ordinary amenities of life to be "promoting homosexuality".

It cannot be said often enough: the purging of Brendan Eich is the Christian right's social model in operation. The notion that you can cut a group out from the herd and deny them ordinary amenities of life is precisely what the Christian right did, attempted to do and continues to demand the right to do. When Scalia J wrote from the bench of US Supreme Court that "Americans" should be entitled to show their "disapproval" of "homosexual conduct":
Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.
he was endorsing the practice (though not the direction of the targeting) that the purging of Brendsan Eich represents. Being denied ordinary amenities for failing to conform is exactly what was meant in the above passage (except the doers and target has changed); expressing moral disapproval for conduct is what has now been done to Brendan Eich, and was done to queer folk for generations.

MICKEYoneThose who see this purging as somehow something new, or a speciality of the left, are, at best, ignorant of this Christian history of boycotting and denial of ordinary amenities of life to enforce conformity; so that they literally do not see that it is precisely what the Christian right wanted and did and still seeks the right to do. For part of moral exclusion is an impoverished epistemology; the notion that what happens to the morally excluded literally does not count. That what was done to the queers has no implication for "real" people.

But there are no "proper" and "improper" persons, nor are there any "do not count" folk who are different from "real" people so that what happens to them has no implications for "real" people. What happens to any group counts, because it is a model that can be used against others--any others. is a deep sense of entitlement here--that people like us are entitled to do this to "them" but no-one is entitled to do it to people like us. Sorry, that sense of entitlement is entirely in your head and it will be taken over (and inflicted on) whomever has enough social power, and feels sufficiently entitled, to do it too.

There is, of course, a notion operating that traditional outcasting is somehow different. But that is simply a persistent flaw in conservative thinking--by valorising the past, one is blinded to inconvenient aspects of it. Yes, queers did have this experience and yes it did count. Both in itself and in providing a model for others to follow. The historical, very traditional, chickens are coming home to roost.

Fetishes of order
Which leads to another persistent flaw in conservative thinking--creating fetishes of order which are in fact causes of disorder. In the late 1920s and 1930s, a fetish of order which was a (disastrous) creator of (economic, then social then political) disorder was the gold standard. Nowadays, narrow inflation targeting performs the same role--a fetish of order which is a creator of (pdf) (economic) disorder.

A-Parents-Guide-To-Preventing-Homosexuality-193x300The denouncing of homosexuality and homosexual pairing is also a fetish of order which creates social disorder. It tears apart families, leads to youth suicide and other self-destructive behaviour; when reflected in law, makes people vulnerable to blackmail and strips them of legal protections (as going to be police over any crime becomes so fraught), makes them vulnerable to criminal exploitation; makes building stable relationships harder. But you only notice this if the experience of queer folk counts; experience (and aspirations) which moral exclusion excludes from counting in its impoverished epistemology.

Acts above people
A moral exclusion which puts acts above people. Christ spends much of the Gospels criticising acts-based religious authority. Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian priests and clerics quarantine that by claiming Christ that was just attacking Jewish religious authority--the well-known blame the Jews move. And then promptly contradict that quarantine by saying that (the rest) of Christ's teaching was for everyone.

Let's not engage in the blame-the-Jews quarantining of the inconvenient past. This is all an excellent lesson in the power of the Gospel teaching--don't focus on acts and fail to see the person. In particular do not fail to see them as a person, as an object of moral concern and protection, just like you. Which means listening to their experience and aspirations as you would want to be listened to. Which means permitting them access to the ordinary amenities of life as you would want access. Do as you would be done by. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Do not delude yourself that there is someone or some group out there who can be stripped of moral standing and protections, and access to the ordinary amenities of life, and yet this has no implications for you and yours.

A delusion which the Christian right has bought into for decades and the progressive left is doing now. Asterisked Christianity as its own reward.

Repeatable patterns
There is a certain amount of velvet rage in the purging of Eich. A cry of rage and pain over past and present miseries. Understandable but not helpful.  Well, perhaps a helpful moral lesson but not in the sense the purgers intend.

Brendan Eich apparently also donated to folk such as Patrick Buchanan, who said that:
... our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide ...
... homosexuals have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution ...
That expressing of moral disapproval for homosexual conduct Scalia J that judicially opined is just fine. Eich also donated to the cause of denying queer folk access to ordinary amenities of life (i.e. marriage). Well, having a career is an ordinary amenity of life too. And folk have expressed their moral disapproval for Eich's anti-equality-before-the-law conduct. For his failure to successfully recant as, say, Hillary Clinton has done.

blog4But recantation of their homosexuality and homosexual conduct is precisely what was and is demanded by the Christian right of homosexual folk. Which is yet another way in which queer-hatred is like Jew-hatred: making an utterly unreasonable demand (give up your sexual nature, give up your religion) as a requirement for full moral standing and equal protection of the law. Along with pretending it is not hatred, it is just "moral concern".

The velvet rage is understandable, as the "moral disapproval" of homosexuality still tears apart families and ruins lives. But however useful the moral lesson from the Eich case that the moral exclusion beloved of the Christian right is a force for social disorder--not merely for queer folk, but by providing an example for anyone to use--it is still not a path to take.

The Jewish roots of homicidal purification
For we should remember that the Holocaust had Jewish roots. The notion that society is rightfully purified by blood and fire destroying a corrupting and perverse minority was part of Catholic and Orthodox teaching for generations: that was (and remains) the mainstream Christian reading of Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather than the traditional rabbinical reading that the cities of the plain were destroyed for withdrawing moral protection from the vulnerable--indeed, were so anti-moral that they punished those who protected the vulnerable.

And from whom did Christians learn to read Genesis 19 as moral purification by slaughter of a vulnerable minority? From Jewish natural law philosopher Philo of Alexandria, in On Abraham: XXVI-XXVII and Special Laws III:VII.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_097r_3Now, I am sure God-fearing family man Philo had no inkling that this notion that society was purified by slaughtering a corrupting and perverse minority had any implication for folk such as him; that homicidal denunciation of pagan degenerate queers had no implication for "right-thinking" and "right-acting" folk. But, of course it did. Because one person's proper thought and conduct is another person's corruption and perversion. The constant iteration by the Church down the centuries of Philo's notion of moral cleansing by slaughter of a targeted "corrupting" and "perverse" minority very much had implications for folk such as him, as centuries of Christian pogroms proved.

k5182.gifA notion of moral-cleansing-by-slaughter that the Catholic Church happily took up as a tool of preaching; endorsing (and, where they had temporal power) practicing "purifying" judicial murder of corrupt and perverse sexual actors and corrupt and perverse thinkers. Indeed, happily spreading the idea, in a compilation compiled by a (later beatified, mainly for doing so) prince of the Church, that Christ insisted on having all the sodomites killed--purifying the world--so that the Incarnation could happen. The Gospels as born in purifying massacre.

All leading up to the greatest pogrom, the starkest purifying massacre of all, the Holocaust. (Though the slaughters of Leninism also come from this root.) If you constantly preach that some vulnerable minority is corrupting, perverse and against God; if you preach that God endorsed purifying slaughter of such a minority, then there will be consequences. Not least because you also set up and inculcate the example for others to follow.

Just as pro-gay-rights folk are practising the outcasting that the Christian right has so long practised and still endorses. The Christian right that set up the example for others to follow.

And now really does not like the consequences. However tempting it might be to say "tough", stew in the social juices you prepared, it is still not the way to go. Because moral exclusion is a moveable feast, a social game anyone can play, if they have the power.

Let's not (also) go there
A game that does, as has been pointed out, greatly increases the cost of losing social struggles. Part of the civility of a good society is to not make politics mean that much, to have such profound implications. Nor religion, for that matter.

Yes, the sense of righteous entitlement involved is intoxicating. Yes, it is great to be a gatekeeper of righteous, enforcing a moral gulf between correct and incorrect acts and beliefs.

LGBT-Protest-2Philo's natural law reworking of Genesis 19 had such appeal precisely because if sexual acts mattered so much that God would destroy entire cities over them, then you really had to listen to the priest and clerics as they led you through the divinely ordered moral universe of correct and incorrect acts and beliefs. To be pharisaical in the sense that Christ denounced is to be a needed source of entitled authority. Which, like other aspects of Judaeo-Christian belief and practice, can be happily secularised.

But the real lesson in rejecting the entitled moral bullying and outcasting of the Christian right is not to practice some "new improved" version for oneself--to take you your own sense of entitlement--but not to practise it at all. Yes, stand up for people's rights, support equal protection of the law, but not as a new litany of "correct" and "incorrect" acts and beliefs, but because you do morally see the person, even when they do not morally see other people; do so even when, in some ways especially when, they are wrong.

To buy into error having no rights is to buy into the social tyranny of whoever has the power to deem what is right. A free society means having the liberty to be wrong. Just because the Christian right persistently refuses to grant that, does not mean the rest of us should not.

Boycotts work through social power. Part of the conservative outrage over the Eich case is the display of pro-queer social power and the evidence of the loss of anti-queer social power. A profound sense of moral entitlement encased in a fading sense of social significance is not a pretty sight.

Even so, social might does not equal moral right. The conservative Christian attempt to deny access to the ordinary amenities of social life was and is not right, and neither is the reverse.

ADDENDA: Some grammatical infelicities have been fixed since the original posting.
[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ad inclusion

Honey Maid put out an ad about wholesome families:

This created some fuss. So, they brought out a response ad:

Here is a family talking about itself:

And here is another:

Providing some good commercial feels.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The solution to the problem of outcasting is not more outcasting

So, the new (since March) CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich made a $1000 private donation in 2008 to the Proposition 8 cause. So, he is--or at least was in 2008--against equal protection of the law for (some) of his fellow citizens. A somewhat problematic proposition; one of a series of such propositions with a long and ugly history.

This private donation has come to light and the witch-hunt was on. Where once being outed as queer would have destroyed one's life and career, now being outed as actively (in a giving-a-donation-sense) anti-queer apparently can result in losing your job, as he has been forced out of his CEO position.

Outed as anti-queer
Brendan Eich: Outed as anti-queer
The hi-tech businesps is very queer-friendly, particularly in Silicon Valley, in the heart of liberal-gentry California. Even so, it is hard to see what Mr Eich's private political views has to do with his competence as a CEO, unless one form of illiberal moral puritanism has just been swapped for another. Apparently so, as having the wrong opinions seems to be a sackable offence.

Indivisible freedom
Time for a little lesson in what being a free and open society means. It means folk will have different views, even different views on whether categories of people are entitled to equal protection of the law. The ability within a media-saturated society to generate hi-tech hate mobs creates a threat to being a free and open society if the common opinion of the best-organised-hatreds win; if they can drive people out of their jobs. Hi-tech outcasting is no better than the traditional low-tech variety.

It also gives aid and comfort to the "can't trust the queers" voice. Yes, much of the outrage over Eich's ouster is deeply hypocritical (though not all): a highly paid straight white guy loses his job and they shriek to the ether their being offended, and the wrongness of it. The simple human consequences of traditional queer outcasting typically utterly pass them by. So, they say such things as:
We will not stand by and allow this kind of persecution to go unaddressed.  Nor should you.
Starting the piece on how outrageous it all is with:
Imagine going to work one day only to be, in effect, fired -- not because of anything you did or didn’t do at your job, but because of something you did in your personal life.
Yep, that was the fear and experience of gay folk for generations. But that is precisely the problem with moral exclusion, it generates an impoverished epistemology (if not an entirely crippled [pdf] one), rendering one (selectively) blind to human experience. Hence the call is made that:
You were terminated for no reason other than your personal religious, moral or political beliefs.  And the evidence is irrefutable.
Sue ‘em.  Sue their brains out.
All the time while the push is on to block queer folk from suing if it contradicts "religious liberty"--defined as the freedom to outcast. The "bigotry for me but not for thee" position.

Catholic defender of liberty
Catholic defender of liberty
For one impoverished epistemology is not better than another. The problem with the US "culture wars" is so much of it is not about stopping moral exclusion, about stopping moral bullies; it is about who gets to be the moral bullies, who gets to do the outcasting. About whose bigotry gets to be on top. Lord Acton's comments on how limited the support for liberty typically is describe the contemporary American political landscape nicely:
At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition, and by kindling dispute over the spoils in the hour of success. No obstacle has been so constant, or so difficult to overcome, as uncertainty and confusion touching the nature of true liberty. If hostile interests have wrought much injury, false ideas have wrought still more; and its advance is recorded in the increase of knowledge, as much as in the improvement of laws.
Yes, this is about liberty, precisely in the sense Lord Acton meant it:
By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion.
And it is about liberty as the friend of diversity, and enforced conformity as liberty's enemy:
The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
That would include minorities of sexuality, gender identity or opinion. For, as Lord Acton also put it:
It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.
Strongest animus wins
So, it is perfectly true that many of those currently squawking in Eich's defence have been more than happy to invoke the minority status of queer folk to pathologise their nature, experience and aspirations and the "right" of the majority to deny them equal protection of the law. To, as Scalia J has put it, to show their "disapproval" of "homosexual conduct":
Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.
Well, now the social realities have shifted, and folk are showing their "disapproval" of "anti-equality conduct". An animus which is most emphatically a moral disapproval. The sexual and gender correctness of the right is not superior to the political correctness of the left; in fact, they use the same mechanisms and meta-logic.

For bigotry is always and everywhere a moral claim--it is a claim about who does, or does not, have what moral standing. The notion that error has no rights is both the fundamental principle of tyranny and a moral claim.

It not that error has rights, but that people (should be) free and freedom is nothing if it does not include the freedom to be wrong. The problem is being able to see the mote in the other eye but not the beam in one's own.

A moveable feast
The most fundamental reason to defend equality before the law and freedom for all is precisely this: that moral exclusion is a moveable feast. That just because you have been the ones successfully doing the moral excluding does not mean you will remain so, that you will not become the morally excluded.

So, no doubt many of those outraged by the ousting of Eich will completely fail to "get" the deeper lesson. But those engaged in the hi-tech witch-hunt, shrieking that error has no rights, have also failed to get the real moral point of the fight for queer folk to have equal protection of the law.

The answer to one lot of moral exclusion and outcasting is not a "new, improved" version of the same. That is just the same errors and entitled hate, re-labelled and re-packaged. The fight to be the moral-bullies-on-top is a fight that should never be fought; and everyone who does, deserves to lose.

ADDENDA: Wondering when the "statute of limitations" will apply to supporting Proposition 8.
A nice piece on the perils of workplace purges.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Friday, April 4, 2014

That honour thing

The last vestige in Anglosphere criminal law of the use of violence in defence of one's honour is the provocation defence. It is only a defence in mitigation, not exculpation, but it harks back to the historical role of honour as a social control mechanism.

The most recent controversy has been in NSW, where Yassir Hassan (54) was found guilty of manslaughter not murder when he stabbed his wife 14 times. In sentencing, Justice Garling said that Hassan:
was provoked into losing his self-control, which explains why he is guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter and not murder.
Since the other version of provocation which has generated controversy recently is the "homosexual panic" defence, it seems that heterosexual manhood is deemed worthy of special sensitivity. 

Protecting status
In both manifestations of the provocation defence, the lower status person (women, gay male) is held to be responsible for the state of mind of the higher status person (heterosexual male), thereby lessening the legal significance of the lower status person's death. Hence the provocation defence is on the way out, as it has become a little too obviously an offence against equality before the law. (Note that this is not an argument for not differentiating between murder and manslaughter, just against building status games into legal practice.) 

The problem with the defence-of-honour status game is indicated by some of Justice Garling's other comments during sentencing:
Mr Hassan was provoked by Ms Yousif immediately before the attack, [but] he was not acting in self-defence. 
I see no evidence of remorse whatsoever... He regards himself the victim of what occurred and not the perpetrator.
Hassan clearly takes his honour as being more important than his late wife's life. In this state of mind, higher status does not grant more responsibility, but less, as the lower status person becomes responsible for the state of mind of the higher status person and so "guilty" of not showing proper respect. It is not people, but hierarchical relations that are being protected. 

Medieval honour
Separating honour from hierarchy can be a tricky thing.

In his Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, Philip Carl Salzman nicely defines honour as:
… a recognition of righteous behaviour, and a designation of high rank, while its absence is a recognition of failure to fulfill one’s duty, and a designation of low rank.
In medieval and similar societies, the implicit or explicit contract between warrior and lord both grants and recognises status. Any explicit oath invokes the honour of both parties. But the simple ability to provide such warrior service carries with its own honour and status.

The loss of honour can be a drastic thing. In Salzman’s words:
In the absence of honour, one is shamed, and one’s reputation in tatters, and one sinks to a low rank. The consequences are serious and can be severe: The willingness of others to work and cooperate with one, and to exchange children in marriage alliances … is based on reputation.
A person’s honour was a buffer against the actions of others, a personalised social space they were entitled to defend. One of the signs that Europe was moving out of the medieval—out of the society of franchised warriors—into a society of centralised states served by (employee) soldiers and police, is the decline in the standing that defence of honour was granted by legal systems. As the state took over coercion more and more completely, it took over the obligation of protection more and more completely. “He insulted my honour, so I killed him” steadily loses legal standing.

Hierarchy and violence
In one of his very informative papers on long-term trends in homicide, historical criminologist Manuel Eisner writes of honour that:
Much empirical research on the topic emphasizes the crucial role of insults in triggering situational conflicts. This is in accordance with a society in which ‘honour’ constitutes highly important social capital of the male person as a representative of his group (...). It requires retributive violence as a potential and culturally accepted means for maintaining one’s honour (...). Such a theoretical framework may help to better understand why the secular decline in homicide rates primarily seems to have been due to a decrease in male-to-male fights.  
In high homicide societies (pdf), over 90% of victims are male and high status individuals are frequently perpetrators of homicide. In low homicide societies, 30% or more of the victims are female and homicide is much more commonly by marginalised individuals.  

Hence the importance of how law and wider social norms regard the "social capital" of honour. In low homicide societies, violence is pushed to the social fringes and the intensely personal. In high homicide societies, violence is part of the protection of social standing. As Eisner discusses in his first above-cited paper, Emile Durkheim's argument that rising individualism helps lead to a decline in violence because people are less motivated by collective connections has considerable empirical support.

honour killing(1)
Which makes the provocation defence--at least to the extent that it gives legal significance to status games--look even more retrograde. Salzman notes that, in the lineage-driven societies of the Middle East, while men can gain honour (specifically, sharaf, fluctuating social standing), women can effectively only lose it (ird, the honour of female chastity and continence). If a women is seen as publicly shaming her lineage, that can lead to dishonour killing; the main targets of which are women and homosexuals. The very groups the legal significance of whose killing can be lowered by the provocation defence when it buys into honour-status games. 

In their different ways, both Norbert Elias, in The Civilizing Process, and Durkheim examine the social and personal aspects of the form of self-control that reduces homicide rates. The problem with the provocation defence--when it buys into status games--is that it gives legal standing to violent protection of personal honour in a way which works against the inculcation of that self-control by allowing defence of honour as a legally mitigating way to lose self-control.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]