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“Sex Demons”

[ 144 ] July 16, 2014 |

If you  enjoy bad things happening to bad people as much as I do, you should be following the implosion of the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, which began a couple of years ago but has really picked up steam in 2014. More and more former members are going public about their bizarre and abusive treatment at the hands of Driscoll and co. The bad publicity from the twin plagiarism and use of church money to pay for NYT best seller list manipulation didn’t help, but the creepy and abusive treatment of followers seems to be the main mover here as the money is drying up and layoffs are taking place, and Driscoll is ordering his followers to stay off the internet.

For many years I lived a few blocks away from his flagship location, during the Church’s baffling, depressing growth. Once, on a drunken bar boast, I went to see one of his sermons, and was completely unprepared for the depths of misogyny he packed into his rambling 75 minute sermon. At any rate, the purpose of this post is to recommend Stacey Solie’s longform piece in Crosscut, from which I learn “Sex Demons” is more than just a deep album cut from the third Spinal Tap record:

Blogger Matthew Paul Turner has posted another disturbing account by another exile of Mars Hill, a woman who under the psuedonym “Amy” describes what it was like to get marital advice from Driscoll.

“Once, when I shared with Mark that I felt neglected in my marriage, he told [me] that I was being a nagging wife and that I needed to suck it up. That was something Mark preached about a lot — the nagging wife.”

Later, Driscoll told her and her husband that she was beset by sex demons.

“Mark stared hard at Amy and began yelling questions at her ‘sex demons’. His fierce glare seemed to look past her as he screamed his questions at her face. He asked the demons what their names were. He asked them about sex. He asked them about Amy’s past sexual sins. He asked them about Amy’s current lustful thoughts. He asked them if they were planning to destroy marriages in his church. And then he asked whose marriages were they planning to destroy and how.

 

Advocate of murdering cyclists also hypocrite

[ 410 ] July 10, 2014 |

Nice catch by Atrios. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy evidently believes that the appropriate punishment for violating the rules of the road on two wheels is immediate execution by the nearest willing and able automobile-wielding citizen, but attempting to punish violators the rules of the road with four wheels by requiring violators pay a small fine is an appalling act of government overreach.

A couple of other points. While Milloy’s open endorsement of murder is thankfully relatively unusual, some other elements of this column are familiar but misleading and deserve attention. This sort of anti-bicycle crap is usually trotted out in the context of providing grounds for opposition to public investment in infrastructure for cycling. This debate often takes place in cities with a sufficiently liberal population such that sneering at the poors who ride bikes is not likely to work, so it is implied or stated that the cyclist is the dread “hipster” with too much time and disposable income, imposing his hobby on work-a-day motorists. (Milloy attempts to tie his opposition to biking infrastructure to his worries about the effects of gentrification.) But, of course, it’s nonsense: poor people are considerably more likely to use bikes as a form of transportation than rich people. This is should be entirely unsurprising, when you consider the relative costs of the two forms of transportation.

Second, this column uses the tactic trotted out in comment sections everywhere (including here): anecdotal accounts of bad and dangerous behavior by cyclists is used as reasons to not support cycling infrastructure investment. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (I generally oppose most road expansion, and I think drivers who speed and otherwise violate laws that make driving safer are a menace, but I’ve never attempted to use the latter as a reason for the former), and it’s not clear it presents an accurate empirical picture of the situation (bike-car collisions that result in a fatality are far more likely to be the fault of the motorist than the cyclist). Be even if we take this at face value, and stipulate that dangerous bike behavior is presently a scourge on the city, it’s actually a better argument for the building more bike infrastructure. The reason cyclists seem reckless in cities with terrible bicycle infrastructure is that those who would be safer and saner cyclists simply don’t ride. You’re left with only the desperate and the daredevils. But as better cycling infrastructure brings out less reckless cyclists, we begin to see a ‘calming’ effect on the larger cycling community. Measured by intersection or by city, the more cyclists on the road, the fewer accidents and deaths per mile traveled.

Today’s prosecutorial abuse of power

[ 227 ] July 10, 2014 |

I rarely endorse a “flying monkeys of the internet—attack!” plea, but I do believe Dan Savage is correct in calling for the good and decent people of the internet to do whatever lawful things they can to make Claiborne Richardson’s life as difficult as possible for the foreseeable future, at least until he ceases and desists in pursuing this unconscionable prosecution. American adults have, as a group, always had a rather unhealthy obsession with the sex lives of teenagers, but this is a particularly absurd and appalling overreach. Ideally our child pornography laws need to be clarified to prevent creeps like Richardson from pursuing such prosecutions. But in the meantime, we should do the only thing we have the power to do, which is to shine the brightest light we can on this abuse of power.

Update: Thanks to Skidrow Wilson in comments for providing some background on Paul Ebert, Claiborne Richardson’s boss, who apparently doesn’t let pesky matters like “exculpatory evidence” slow down his career:

This Paul Ebert’s third nomination. Ebert, you may remember, made the list several years ago for refusing to investigate the massive corruption among public officials in Manassas Park, Virginia in their efforts to shut down David Ruttenberg’s Rack & Roll pool hall. In 2008 and 2009, Ebert was the special prosecutor in the Ryan Frederick case. Frederick shot and killed Chesapeake, Virginia Det. Jarrod Shivers during a drug raid on Frederick’s home. Frederick had no prior criminal record, and says he thought he was being robbed. Which is credible, given that police informants had broken into Frederick’s home days earlier to obtain probable cause for the raid, part of a possible pattern of illegality among police informants Ebert found unimportant.

Ebert tried Frederick for capital murder. He attempted to change the venue, arguing that bloggers and Internet writers had made it difficult for the state to get a fair trial. He told jurors Frederick was a pot-crazed killer, then sought to exclude video of Frederick’s post-raid interviews at the police station, where a clearly despondent Frederick bursts into tears and vomits upon being told that he had killed a cop. Best of all, Ebert put on the stand a perfectly-named jailhouse snitch named Jamal Skeeter who claimed that during their one hour per day of rec time at the jail, Frederick repeatedly boasted about killing Shivers and mocked Shivers’ widow. Skeeter was so utterly devoid of credibility, fellow Virginia State’s Attorney Earle Mobley made the admirable and rare move of speaking up in  mid-trial to say that he and other area prosecutors had determined Skeeter was a professional liar, and had stopped using him years ago.

APSA

[ 28 ] June 19, 2014 |

The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, APSA, takes place every Labor Day weekend, beginning on Thursday and going through Sunday. When I lived in Seattle, I this annoyed me primarily because of the conflict with Bumbershoot, an excellent music festival that took place over that holiday weekend. I’ve occasionally heard people grumble about the timing of the conference, for a variety of reasons–it created more conflicts than necessary, the cost of flights, trains and hotel rooms are generally a bit higher, and the timing of the conference often meant having to cancel a class during the first week of the term for many people on the Semester calendar. I’m inclined to agree with all three of these arguments, and as such view the scheduling of APSA as suboptimal. So when I saw this petition circulating on facebook, I figured why not and clicked through with the intent to add my name. After reading it, however, I decided not to do so. Reasons #1 and #3 are sound, but #2 is not:

2)  The Academic Job Market.  Due to its timing, the APSA Annual Meeting does not play as useful a role in the academic job market as it might.  Whereas other disciplines have systematically incorporated initial interviews into their annual meetings, the APSA Annual Meeting falls awkwardly before most application deadlines, which makes it difficult for most departments effectively to screen applicants at the Annual Meeting.  Enhancing APSA’s role in the job market would be beneficial to both applicants and hiring departments.

A number of disciplines, including economics, english, history, and philosophy, have followed this model, where initial interviews for tenure track jobs took place at the annual meeting. This is, as I understand it, typically a “long short list” of candidates, maybe 7-12 people. After these short interviews, 2-4 top candidates go for a much longer and more involved second round interview in the form of a campus visit. My understanding is that both philosophy and history are seeing a move away from this model, using skype/phone interviews for the first round. Most political science departments go straight to the campus interview, or do a round of phone interviews first. I’m quite skeptical of the assertion of the superiority of this model; no evidence is given that a 30 minute interview in a hotel room in the middle of a conference provides particularly useful information above and beyond what is already in the application packet and could be ascertained through a phone interview. But beyond that this strikes me as a terrible idea for two reasons. First, it degrades the experience of the conference itself; making inherently miserable and stressful for all graduate students attending. Second, and more importantly, it imposes a significant cost on the many broke graduate students (to say nothing of adjuncts and the unemployed) who may be applying for jobs. Even with judicious cost-cutting measures, the costs of attendance can easily exceed a thousand dollars. Many–perhaps most–graduate students do not have notable conference travel support from their departments or universities. (At UW, the policy for PhD Students was that we could be reimbursed for airfare only for up to three conferences during our time in the PhD program. I know plenty of people who would have been happy to have that level of support). Their educational debt is likely sufficiently crippling without imposing a $1,000 cost for being seriously considered for a job. This is a particularly acute concern when the search for a tenure track job often takes several years, with the first few years out of graduate school spent in visiting or temporary faculty positions with little conference travel support (and, of course, many job seekers will never actually find a tenure track position). Third, a good part of actual value of conferences for graduate students is an opportunity to present and get some feedback on your work, but APSA is often off the table because it’s the most competitive conference in American political science, with acceptance rates in some sections as low as 10%. Graduate students would be more likely to get this benefit at a smaller regional conference where they’re more likely to get on the program (and smaller conferences are often quite a bit cheaper to attend).

I’d be happy to see APSA moved back a few weeks, but moving toward this job market model strikes me as a plan for which the costs significantly outweigh any possible benefits. I won’t be signing this petition.

“Traditional” masculinity: incoherent and odious

[ 250 ] June 4, 2014 |

In the case of Douthat vs. DeBoer, we find for DeBoer and reject Jonathan Chait’s strange finding that Douthat’s rejoinder to him is “persuasive and highly interesting.”*

DeBoer (writing in the immediate aftermath of the Santa Barbara shootings):

There’s an even deeper problem, though, for men who explicitly embrace traditional masculinity: there’s nothing traditional about knowing you’re embracing tradition. Whatever their virtues or vices, the manly men from long ago that these bros imagine they are emulating didn’t spend all their time thinking about what it meant to be manly men. Indeed: it’s precisely the unthinking acceptance of the gender hierarchy that gave these men the “confidence” (read: entitlement) that neo-masculinists want to emulate. But you can’t think your way to an unthinking prejudice. If you have to read a website to tell you to be traditionally masculine, you will never, ever be traditionally masculine. You can’t choose an unchosen attitude. John Wayne did not have a blog. And I truly believe that it’s the combination of this association between masculinity and the capacity for violence on one hand, and the ambient postmodernism we live in on the other, that creates these monsters.

The last two sentences strike me as a non-sequitur and a dubious overstatement, respectively; as Douthat rightly points out, Wayne’s masculinity is just as self-conscious and performative as the contemporary manifestations of toxic masculinity. But the larger point here is one I concur with quite strongly, and wrote about here: contemporary conceptions of masculinity are fundamentally toxic to both self and society, and anyone concerned with human freedom and flourishing should celebrate the relegation of the celebration of a meaningful, normative thing called “masculinity” to the historical dustbin.

Douthat’s response has half a point: Deboer’s discussion seems to conflate different versions of masculinity:

I mean, I understand his point insofar as ”the celebration of violence, sexual entitlement, throbbing misogyny, and a fake self-confidence” are problems that have always particularly infected the male half of humanity, and the sexism inherent in traditional gender hierarchies has allowed men to get away with violent, entitled, hateful behavior on an often-epic scale. But he’s making an argument about “traditional masculinity” as something distinct from “sexism,” as a cultural problem unto itself — an unworkable model for male aspiration, a life-ruining ideal, that straitjackets today’s young men with its toxic, sex-and-violence-saturated demands.

And I just don’t quite know what he’s talking about, because in our culture — Western, English-speaking, American — the traditional iconography of masculine heroism doesn’t really resemble this “Grand Theft Auto”/”Scarface” description at all. I mean, yes, if the “tradition” you have in mind is Pashtun honor killings, then I agree, traditional masculinity would be better off extinct. But where American society is concerned, when I look at the sewers of misogyny or the back alleys of “bro” culture, I mostly see men in revolt against both feminism and our culture’s older images of masculine strength and self-possession, not men struggling to inhabit the latter tradition, or live up to its impossible/immoral demands.

Take the one icon De Boer tosses off as example: The Western-movie hero, the John Wayne figure, the unselfconscious manly man. (Wayne himself, of course, was just as self-consciously performative in his way as any contemporary pick-up artist guru: He didn’t have a blog, but he was an actor with a stage name …) From De Boer’s description of what “traditional masculinity” entails, you would think that the archetypal movies of Wayne’s genre celebrated mass murder and sexual entitlement, or throbbed with palpable misogyny, or made true manliness look like a matter of imposing your will at gunpoint and then reaping your reward in bedpost notches. But watch some famous Westerns from the pre-Peckinpah era: Do you regularly see characters bedding a steady stream of willing women while shooting their way to fame and fortune? Surely not as often as you see men, in the style of the lead characters in “High Noon” and “Shane,” reluctantly shouldering a burden of violence and paying a heavy moral price; not as often as you see men (including Wayne in several of his most iconic roles) who don’t get the girl, don’t get sexual fulfillment (not a major theme of the genre, to put it mildly) or the life of domesticity they want, precisely because of their identity as gunslingers and the obligations and/or sins that accompany that way of life.

Now one can critique the “lonely gunslinger” trope on all sorts of ideological levels, but it’s very hard to see the kind of masculine ideal embodied by Shane and Will Kane as looming large, in any meaningful way, in the fantasy lives of contemporary misogynists. Whereas what clearly does loom large is a much more contemporary fixation: The male hero as lothario/ruthlessly effective killer predates the 1960s (every eras has had its outlaws, its fascinating anti-heroes, its Casanovas), but it comes in much more strongly in American culture with James Bond and Hugh Hefner and Howard Roark, and then with the ‘roidal action heroes and Bruckheimer fantasias of the 1980s. If you’re seeking a full-throttle of “celebration of violence,” the place to turn is “Bonnie and Clyde” or “The Wild Bunch,” not the work of Marion Mitchell Morrison. If you want “sexual entitlement, throbbing misogyny, and … fake self-confidence” layered on top, I recommend “Top Gun,” not the filmography of John Ford.

And the same point obtains if you widen your cultural lens beyond the Western and action genres, and look at “traditional” images of masculinity elsewhere in the imaginative landscape of the pre-sexual revolution past. De Boer says he wants a 21st century model of masculine heroism that isn’t ”anti-strength … anti-confidence or anti-leadership or anti-toughness,” that isn’t “anti-sex,” that avoids a simple “association between male strength and the capacity for violence,” and that doesn’t reductively associate “a man’s value with the number of women he has sex with.” I’d like that too! But I don’t see what’s particularly anti-traditional about that vision, since an image of masculinity that fulfills all of those conditions was not only present but ubiquitous all across the popular entertainments of the 19th and early 20th century.

Douthat wants to separate cultural conceptions of masculinity into two distinct and discrete models, pre- and post-sexual revolution, in order to rehabilitate the former and rescue it from the irredeemable taint of the latter. (Set aside here that he obviously overstates the non-sexual nature of the traditional image of masculinity.) Here’s why this can’t work: contemporary conceptions of masculinity draw haphazardly and inconsistently from both. It’s not, and has never been, a coherent ideology, so it can draw from both in entirely contradictory ways (consider our horrifying visit from “That Incel blogger,” a blogger in a movement enraged by the failures of pick-up artist techniques: he decries the evil of women not having sex with him on demand, while at the same time laments.…”a lack of female premarital chastity”). It’s less a narrative and more a pastische. Since both versions of masculinity are built on unearned and underdefended privileges and entitlements based on gender, they never made much sense to begin with. Both the modern and more traditional versions of masculinity are fodder for the confused, disconnected, and insecure to attempt to piece together a sense of self based on one’s genitalia and what it’s supposed to mean; expecting that to make sense or maintain internal consistency isn’t plausible or realistic.

 

Adventures in Republican public opinion

[ 86 ] June 4, 2014 |

58% of Republicans believe that global warming is a hoax.

63% of Republicans believe that we should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants in an effort to reduce global warming.

Writing for an audience

[ 30 ] May 31, 2014 |

I want to begin by thanking Rob and Scott for the idea here, and for including me. It’s nice to not only have a ‘home’ on the internet, but to have one populated by the many  thoughtful and challenging people who live here. That we’re still going after 10 years is remarkable, especially given the typical lifespan of a blog.

The truly long time readers of LGM may remember that in the early days–the first couple of years, roughly, if memory serves me correctly–Rob, Scott and I posted roughly similar quantities of material. For a couple of years, I was a daily (or, at least, several substantive posts weekly) blogger. It didn’t seem hard to do. Then, one day, it did seem hard. I didn’t really understand why–I didn’t feel ‘burnt out’ particularly, or bored with or tired of blogging or the blog, or anything like that. While perhaps part of the story is that I was getting busier elsewhere in my life (I was just entering my “full time adjunct” stage while also trying to get more serious about writing the damn dissertation), I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, that I found my greater awareness of a ‘real’ audience intimidating, if not paralyzing. Prior to this blog I’d never really attempted to write for any sort of public, beyond the narrow academic community I was hoped my scholarly work would eventually be read by. When I started blogging, I didn’t really write for a public either, at least not self-consciously. I didn’t really internalize the possibility that other people–beyond my co-bloggers and a handful of friends from graduate school who I knew read the blog–were really there. I gave little thought to audience, and wrote about whatever I liked, in whatever way struck me at the moment.

Awareness of audience was great in one way–my posts could become not just a record of whatever was on my mind at the moment, but the start of a conversation. But as our readership grew from double to triple to (unfathomably) quadruple digits and beyond, I became a much more self-conscious writer. Am I sure I’m right about this? Do I actually know enough about this to hit publish? Is this actually an interesting insight or repackaged banality? Is the idea I think I’m expressing too half-baked for public consumption? Does anyone reading this actually care about this topic? As Rob has pointed out to me on multiple occasions, these are strange questions to obsess over in light of the fact that we built this blog and its audience by writing about whatever the hell we felt like writing about. But these questions are hard to shake; and many an idea for a blog post has been scuttled because of them. It’s led me to conclude that part of being a writer–a real and successful one, who writes significant for large audiences regularly–must surely be an ability to manage one’s awareness of audience. To be able to turn it on and off as necessary to guide one’s writing without impeding it is a skill I wish I had. I think I’ve made a some progress in that area, but I still find it a real challenge. At any rate, it’s a small price to pay for having an not just any audience but a responsive and impressive one we’ve got.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it

[ 73 ] May 31, 2014 |

Since Lord Saletan, the most overplaced troll in all the internets, has linked my last post in his latest exercise in indignant outrage on behalf of the extremely powerful and privileged, I’ll clarify and expand on my original remarks.

The substance of Saletan’s post is that there appear to be grounds on which we might judge Sterling as a far worse, and more worthy, target of our ire than Eich. Some commenters on my previous post made a similar observation. I don’t contest this–based on what we know, the evidence available seems to suggest that Sterling may well be a far worse person than Eich. My original post, for what it’s worth, was not premised on moral and ethical equivalence broadly construed. Rather it was focused on a particular argument used on Eich’s behalf and how Sterling might fare under it. That there might not be other arguments, or other facts not assumed in that scenario that didn’t create some potential daylight between the two cases, was not something I intended or attempted to argue.

With that said, allow me to comment on the analytic poverty of Saletan’s approach to the question at hand. He poses the dilemma thusly:

If Sterling deserves to lose his team for being a racist—as the NBA has just affirmed—did Eich deserve to lose his job for opposing gay marriage?

Perhaps some people were committed to the proposition that Eich “deserved” to be forced out of his position at Mozilla (assuming he was). Many other people, including myself, dissented from Saletan’s histrionics on other grounds. My position was that Eich’s resignation was (merely) a non-injustice. I take no particular position on the question of what he deserves. That’s a far more difficult question; a great deal of the good and bad things that happen to us have little to do with what any of us deserve. A friend of mine was recently dumped by his girlfriend: he was a good guy who treated her well, but she didn’t want to be with him. Did he “deserve” that? No. Was it an injustice? Of course not. In our associational lives, including careers and relationships, the stuff that happens to us often has a great deal more to do with luck and chance than desert. In some ways, it’s almost certain that someone who’s had as much right-time right-place luck as Eich has had more success than he deserves, strictly speaking, if we were to try to construct a theory in which career success and desert are tightly linked.

Is this just nomenclature? John Rawls, a more thorough-going desert/justice relationship skeptic than I, replaces what many of us would would call desert with ‘legitimate expectations.’ If I win the lottery, for example, it’s silly to say I ‘deserve’ a million dollars. But I now have a legitimate expectation to get paid.

(Note–I wrote this a while ago but never finished it and didn’t intend to publish it–it may have been inadvertantly published in the 10th anniversary flurry of posts. In fact, my failure to finish and post it in real time is a good example of the anxieties I discuss in my anniversary post. Since it’s been up for a bit, I’ll leave it up, with a brief conclusion here:)

I’ve long felt that desert is overdone. It moralizes issues that shouldn’t necessarily be moralized, and suggest a greater precision than we can reasonably expect. Justice tolerates multiple possible outcomes for someone like Eich, where as desert implies getting the precisely correct one. Whatever contribution desert makes to a theory of justice it is sorely misapplied in this situation. Shifting to legitimate expectations, Eich losing his job over a political controversy seems well within the range of outcomes anyone taking a CEO job should reasonably expect.

Randall Balmer on the origins of the contemporary religious right

[ 45 ] May 29, 2014 |

If you believe the evangelical conservative movement as a political force was about abortion (and/or gay rights), you’ll never really properly understand American politics. Balmer:

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.

The whole thing is well worth reading. One question persists: how did something like this end up in “Tiger Beat on the Potomac?”

The Ethics of Immigration

[ 137 ] May 26, 2014 |

is the name of an important new book on a topic the author, Joe Carens, played a major role in bringing to prominence in political theory. His 1987 article begins thusly:

Borders have guards and the guards have guns. This is an obvious fact of political life but one that is easily hidden from view-at least from the view of those of us who are citizens of affluent Western democracies. To Haitians in small, leaky boats confronted by armed Coast Guard cutters, to Salvadorans dying from heat and lack of air after being smuggled into the Arizona desert, to Guatemalans crawling through rat-infested sewer pipes from Mexico to California-to these people the borders, guards and guns are all too apparent. What justifies the use of force against such people? Perhaps borders and guards can be justified as a way of keeping out criminals, subversives, or armed invaders. But most of those trying to get in are not like that. They are ordinary, peaceful people, seeking only the opportunity to build decent, secure lives for themselves and their families. On what moral grounds can these sorts of people be kept out? What gives anyone the right to point guns at them?

That article goes on to attempt to demonstrate that anyone committed to a recognizable version of liberalism should find sufficient reasons to support open borders as a matter of justice already existing within their pre-existing commitments. Since then, he’s written dozens of chapters and articles exploring various dimensions of the ethics of immigration, the majority of which have been far more modest in aim and scope, often assuming for the sake of argument the discretionary right of states to attempt to control migration flows. My own writing on the subject (one slice of which I discuss here) has followed a similar strategy. But my worry, when I heard that his long-awaited (by the few hundred people with a scholarly interest in the ethics of immigration) book actually had a release date and would finally appear, was that it would a classic compilation of previously published material. Part of my fear was that I’d read most of them already, and I was looking forward to something new for my $35 dollars. But I was also unclear on his current relationship to the arguments he published almost three decades ago. I was delighted and relieved it was not. His commitment to the view that any defensible moral view demands open borders remains, and chapters 11 and 12 essentially supercede and substantially advance the arguments made in the 1987 piece. The first 10 chapters (which I have not yet read carefully, although I’ve dipped in here and there) discuss a variety of ethical issues that revolve around immigration even if we grant state discretion over admittance and membership.

Throughout, he uses a similar tactic as his article, not so much for liberalism but for basic democratic commitments he assumes to be widespread. On the one hand, I appreciate this: I think he’s basically right, and I think his democratic commitments have appeal beyond those who would identify as liberals in the philosophical sense. On the other hand, I think Chris Bertram is correct here:

Carens’s method of argument explicitly draws on Rawls’s idea of the “overlapping consensus”: the idea that reasonable people agree on a number of substantive propositions about the way in which a legitimate state should be organized, even if they disagree on their underlying moral and political justification. Areas of agreement include ideas such as that citizens should be equal before the law, that freedoms of religion, speech and assembly should be protected, that every adult citizen of sound mind should have a right to political participation, and so forth. Carens want to show his fellow citizens that the reasonable policies he favours on citizenship and integration are implied by principles they already accept. This is a rather different use of overlapping consensus from Rawls’s one. Whereas Rawls wanted to demonstrate the possibility of a legitimate liberal political order coexisting with the fact of disagreement, Carens’s argument is more pragmatic and his aim is more political. He wants to get people from principles they already accept to conclusions he wants to persuade them of. He leaves us in no doubt that he is making a set of empirical claims about what citizens of democratic states believe. For example, “on a wide range of topics there is no serious disagreement among those who think of themselves as democrats” (2-3) and “that conventional framework is one that most people in democratic states accept” (185). On the morning after the European Parliament elections it is hard to share his confidence in democratic consensus: the existence of “unreasonable people”, a theoretical problem for Rawls, is an immediately practical one for Carens.

The worry, then, is that the empirical claim about widely shared beliefs may be false. Carens may be conflating what electors in liberal democratic states actually believe and the story that liberal democratic societies officially tell about themselves: the civics lesson is substituting for political sociology.

The main point of this post is to direct any interested readers to Crooked Timber for the symposium on the book. Like Chris, I find little to disagree with; I don’t know who they’ve got lined up to comment on it but I expect there will be some sharp and challenging critics to help me see the book through a more critical lens.

What does a “culture of free speech” look like?

[ 165 ] May 22, 2014 |

(Was working on a longer post, but Scott’s post below covers most of it, so I’ll keep this short)

What the Rutgers situation represents is this: The leaders of a large, internally complex institution, who are unaccountable in any formal way to the vast majority of the members of that institution, make a decision on their behalf to bestow a high honor (and a sum of money most students from that institution would be lucky to earn in a year) upon one of the primary architects of the greatest political failure of the last generation; one that was immorally pursued and incompetently prosecuted and one that will adversely shape the futures of these people in whose name she is being honored. Her fellow elites have not only failed to sanction her egregious failure in any way, they’ve used the considerable tools at their disposal to shower her with honors and sizable checks.

In the first scenario, some of the largely powerless people near the bottom of this institution’s hierarchy use what little power they do have–the informal power of voice to criticize this gross error in judgment. They are unafraid to publicly disagree with the institutions’ elites, and not cowed into silence out fear of creating discomfort or “controversy.”

In the second scenario, these largely powerless people virtually all self-censor and remain silent about this error in judgment out of fear that the powers that be might find their vocal dissent in some way embarrassing or uncomfortable.

There seem to be a good number of people who think the second scenario is a better indication of a healthy “free speech culture” than the first one. That seems so obviously and completely wrong I can hardly figure out how to rebut it.

“Out of Scale”

[ 70 ] May 21, 2014 |

Another small blow to affordable housing in Seattle:

“A majority of Seattle City Council members Monday sided with neighborhood activists and agreed to set lower height limits for homes built on small lots in single-family zones,” reports Lynn Thompson. The city had a moratorium on small-lot development in place since September 2012, “after an outcry from neighbors over 30-foot-tall, modern houses on lots as small as 1,050 square feet that were permitted using obscure tax and mortgage records discovered by developers on historic, archived city maps.”

“Councilmember Mike O’Brien, chair of the Land Use and Planning Committee, said that the new regulations eliminated the most extreme small-lot development and give neighbors and developers more predictability about what can be built.”

“Under the new rules, no development will be permitted on lots smaller than 2,500 square feet. Many historic records can no longer be used to qualify a small lot as buildable. And neighbors will be provided notice and the right to appeal to a city hearing examiner any construction requests on lots smaller than 3,200 square feet.”

The arguments offered for pushing down height limits on small lot development below the level of normal sized lot development (with is 30 feet +5 for a sloped roof), as far as I can tell, come in two forms.

1) They reduce the sunlight and or views of existing property owners.

2) They are “out of scale” and “don’t fit in” with the existing neighborhood.

(A third possible reason, “they reduce the scarcity, and therefore the rate of appreciation, of my own investment” never seems to get vocalized for some reason.)

Setting aside the too easy jokes about sunlight in Seattle, the first reason simply asserts an easement right where none exists. (View easements do exist, of course, but these people obviously don’t have them). Obviously if we took this category of complaints seriously in all cases, cities would never have been able to come into existence in the first place.

The second one goes unchallenged much of the time. This seems utterly nonsensical to me. Of course some developments are ugly; that’s a problem everywhere with any human endeavor. Size restrictions don’t fix this. But the notion that having houses of different sizes and shapes, and lots of different sizes and shapes, is significantly detrimental to the quality of life in that neighborhood, doesn’t make any sense. One of the reasons my bike commute is so (weather permitting) pleasant is because it takes me through the charming neighborhood of South Park in Dayton, which is generally considered to be one of the 2-3 best neighborhoods in the city. The neighborhood features an eclectic mix of small apartment buildings, 3500 SF+ mansions, 1500 SF skinny two stories, and tiny 700 SF cottages, all on varying lot sizes (including some tiny ones for some of the cottages). This variation is always identified as a charming feature of the neighborhood, not a detriment. It’s an argument you find in suburban settings the people who live in these Seattle neighborhoods might otherwise sneer at.

As a policy matter, the restriction on any development on >2500 SF lots, especially given the height restrictions put in place, is particularly indefensible. If such building were allowed to go forward they would be tiny, and would as such be more affordable than most of the neighborhood. Making them unavailable will most likely push that cottage’s dweller into a larger unit with a longer commute, creating adverse environmental impact in two ways.

For better or worse, the vast majority of Seattle’s growth over the next few decades is not going to occur in the ~90% of the city zoned for single family. But most zoning decisions are working at the margins, and this creates wasted opportunities for infill development, and moves the overall environmental impact and affordability in the wrong directions. If you like having a nice big lawn, you ought to be able to buy a house with one. That shouldn’t entitle you to force everyone on the block to have the same, whether they want/need it or not.

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