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Getting around the Puget Sound is about to get even more difficult

[ 55 ] April 23, 2014 |

This is not surprising, but quite devastating. The higher than expected sales tax receipts will probably prevent cuts from going all the way up to 17%, but the 14-15% cuts will still be devastating. While changes to the final cuts are inevitable, something approximating the coming carnage can be viewed here. Some thoughts:

1) I’ve wished some transit nerd somewhere would come up with some sort of ‘transit use per transit system quality’ index. Obviously transit modeshare is highest in those cities with the most advanced systems like New York and DC. But for a system that consists almost entirely of slow, stuck in traffic buses, Seattle has pretty impressive numbers (nearly twice the modeshare of transit in Portland, for example). I very much hope this isn’t the beginning of a death spiral; a “worse service–>fewer choice riders–>less political support for transit—>worse service” feedback loop. But I’m far from confident it won’t be.

2) Anyone who voted no has no business pretending they’re not a fan of Tim Eyman. This vote completes what he started in 1999—destabilizing transit funding by making car ownership artificially cheap. Furthermore, anyone who voted no has no business pretending climate change is something they care about in any meaningful way, as forcing thousands of cars onto the road in exchange for a trivial tax cut.

3) Anyone asserting confidently what the ‘no’ vote really tells us about what ‘the people’ really want needs to shut up, at least until we have some more and better data. First, it’s a special election with low turnout. Obviously one of the most important pieces of missing data is how many people voted primarily no because they didn’t like the regressive flatness of it. Depending on how much the vote totals tighten, if that number is between 7-10% of no votes that’s enough to get us to a tie. I would like to believe that’s the case, as it would bode well for the future and confirm my frustration and anger with the dysfunction in Olympia, but I’m not going to assert it must be true because I want it to be so. In particular, I hope Sound Transit won’t overreact and water down the ask for ST-3 in 2016. The electorate in a presidential election will be much, much more pro-transit than this.

4) I really hope this factors into the current negotiations Murray* is engaging in with TNCs and taxis; the arbitrary cap on TNC cars on the road was a bad policy prior to devastating transit cuts, and it’s even worse now. One in six Seattle households is currently car-free, and the city should be doing what it can to encourage that number to grow, not shrink. Implementing these two changes simultaneously goes against all kinds of environmental and land use concerns the city claims to have.

5) From what I’ve been told, Metro seems to think late night service cuts are a good place to start, because of relatively low ridership numbers. I can see where this is coming from, and it’s not like I’ve got a good, politically viable plan for how to figure out cuts with the least amount of  pain, but: not all ridership numbers are equal. Late night service does at least two very valuable things: it allows mostly poorer people with irregular-hour service jobs to, well, keep those jobs, it takes drunk people off the road. In other words, the rides provided by a 11:30 PM bus are higher stakes than the average ride. Whatever metric goes into how to distribute the final cuts, I hope it doesn’t just look at raw ridership numbers.

6) Speaking of which, people are going to lose jobs over this, and they’re going to be the kind of people with very little by way of a cushion when it happens. We’ll pay for a lot of these cuts indirectly, through social services. As 40% of this money was going to road repair, and Olympia seems committed to roads bills that are heavily tilted away from basic maintenance, and toward shiny new “screw the future and invest in cars for another century” roads projects, we’ll also pay through the back door for this vote through increased car repair costs.

7) Metro is going to try to combine these cuts with some common-sense restructures that will make service more efficient, and hopefully minimize the impact of the cuts. They have to do this, and many of the restructures they want to do would be worth doing in a service hours-neutral environment. Still, this is dangerous: previous restructures (such as West-Seattle/Ballard 2012, in light of ‘rapidride’ service introduction) have produces never-change-anything “save my stop” backlashes and prove quite politically difficult, but have been retroactively supported by the communities they serve. In other words, people were skeptical but have eventually bought into them. But under current circumstances, they restructures will be combined with service cuts. Will users and communities stung by the cuts make the distinction between the cuts and the sensible, efficiency-increasing restructures? I doubt it.

8) I don’t celebrate the death of traditional journalism as a general matter, but I’m going to make an exception on the day the Seattle Times bites the dust.

*Murray seems to have his head on straight about the idiocy of the caps, but his tenure in Olympia shows he’s not anywhere near the deal-maker he imagines himself to be.

What are the moral limits of freedom of association?

[ 195 ] April 9, 2014 |

The fickle Gods of peer review have directed me to turn my critical eye toward this article. Wellman defends the possibility of highly restrictive immigration policy, up to and including, potentially, rejecting any and all legitimate political refugees, on freedom of association grounds. It’s a clever argument and well executed, but I’m inclined to think the analogy fails on a number of grounds (some of Sarah Fine identifies here). For one thing: a central feature of freedom of association of association is the right to end that association. It’s not clear to me that states have that right: banishment (of citizens) is generally understood as an anachronism; not a right that modern states have. More importantly, while large associations can ban sub-associations that conflict with their larger mission (such as Catholic University can, for example, ban student atheist clubs) the state is something other than a large association with many sub-associations beneath it. It also has a mandate to protect the freedom of association of its citizens, in addition whatever right it has to exercise it, and it seems to me there are good reasons to think the former should trump the latter. Regardless of whether the argument is successful or not, the paper is a good reminder about the general status of freedom of association in a liberal society–namely, that liberal norms protect it fiercely but regulate its exercise lightly. With limited exceptions, the reasons you might choose to enter into (or terminate) a business partnership, or join/leave a club or church are yours alone, and your reasons need not reflect strictly liberal values for you to maintain your standing as a good liberal citizen. While I don’t think Wellman’s analogy works, he’s right to remind us that liberal norms protect illiberal exercises of freedom of association.

Back to Eich: assume his resignation was indeed forced by the board, and was a direct response to the negative publicity surrounding his Prop 8 donation. For this to be an injustice, we’d need to identify one of two things: either unjust acts or an unjust rule. I’ve not heard anyone suggest the latter exists here, so someone must be behaving lawfully but unjustly. Since as far as I can tell no major gay rights groups organized a campaign or made a public statement against Eich (if I’m wrong about this please correct me), it must be those people, acting individually, exercising their own freedom of speech and association. I scrolled through around the first ~100 hits in a “mozilla boycott” google search; virtually everything was right-wingers talking up a post-resignation boycott. The only exceptions were a few references to OKcupid’s marketing gimmick and a startup called Rarebit, whose founders explain their decision to withdraw from future partnerships with Mozilla in light of Eich’s hire here. Rarebit’s founders were recently married; which helped one of them get a green card. So Eich’s political activity was an attempt to make not just their marriage but their business impossible. Note that there is no call for organizing a larger boycott here; merely an explanation of their decision.

Perhaps there’s a case to be made that it was immoral for Rarebit’s founders to use their freedom of association to decline to associate with someone who petitioned the state to revoke their marriage and threaten their business (and freedom of speech to explain why). But it’s difficult for me to see what such a case might look like. Any time we criticize others for immoral behavior, or decline to associate with others for immoral behavior, we impose reputational costs on them, and the scope of those reputational costs are ultimately beyond our control. Any case that Rarebits’ owners were out of line would, it seems to me, have implications more chilling for freedom of speech and association than Eich’s resignation could possibly have.

My question, for those who feel Eich’s resignation constitutes an injustice, is this: if you discovered your boss or business partner spent $1000 of the money you helped him earn to petition the state to nullify your marriage, would you feel duty-bound to refrain from making any changes to your business arrangement out of concern for his freedom?

Further thoughts on Eich’s resignation

[ 235 ] April 6, 2014 |

Scott posting while I was in the process of composing this post will make it shorter, because “What Scott said” covers some of what I was going to say, in particular with respect to the importance of Eich’s leadership position. I rarely hold a more expansive view of the rights of corporations than conservatives do, but I can’t begrudge them the right to manage their reputation in this manner.

A few further thoughts. First, making this about Eich exercising free speech in favor the passage of Proposition 8 minimizes his critics’ complaint in two important ways.

The initiative process takes legislation out of the hands of the legislature and into the hands of citizens. Material support for an initiative may be construed as speech, but it’s much much more than that: it’s a direct attempt to use the coercive power of the state to remove other people’s rights. This distinction matters, it seems to me, when determining how we think about the speech/action boundary.

Second, he gave material support to a campaign whose central strategy was to dishonestly and maliciously promote the idea that LGBT people living their lives openly and as full citizens constituted nothing less than a clear and present danger to the welfare of children. (See Mark Stern for a depressing reminder of that profoundly odious and illiberal campaign). If he doesn’t share the views advocated in those ads, but merely thought they were a useful means to an end, that doesn’t do him any favors. It’s very easy to be optimistic about LGBT rights in the current environment, and I am indeed optimistic that in the short and medium term, they are going to lose. But in the long run, rollback is not impossible. And from Russia to Uganda to Nigeria, we see this belief—that LGBT rights and freedoms pose a threat to the well-being of children—seems to be, if not a necessary or sufficient ingredient for rollback, certainly a feature that promotes it.  As long as the believe Eich was promoting is widespread, the rights of LGBT people, even when achieved, will not be secure. The toxic nature of the message he paid to promote shouldn’t be lost in the shorthand of how we discuss this.

Some of the other the top reactions to Eich’s resignation (usual suspects: Dreher, Sullivan, Friedersdorf) are treating this case as an example of society wading into new, unprecedented illiberal territory. This seems clearly wrong to me. It’s worth keeping two issues separate:

1) Should the political activity of CEOs and other prominent, “public face of”-type employees for major corporations, be associated with the companies they represent?

2) Should promoting the view, as Eich did, that permitting LGBT people to live openly as full and equal citizens constitutes a clear and present danger to the welfare of children be on the list of political activity which we ought to consider shameful and embarrassing?

Insofar as what happened to Eich is demonstrative of a recent social change, the change is about how our society answers question 2, not question 1. CEOs’ political views harming their company’s reputation is old news, going back to  public pressure on, and a boycott of Ford Motors in the 20′s over his public promotion of anti-semitic views (Ford wasn’t forced to resign, but he was pressured to issue a public apology and repudiation and cease publication of his anti-semitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent). The only change we’re seeing here is a minor modification to the list of embarrassing political views. I’m broadly supportive of the argument that we’d be better off focusing our critical attention on corporate policies and behaviors, rather than the ideology of their CEO. But I’m also supportive of the argument appalling attacks on legally and socially vulnerable minorities, when made by powerful, wealthy, and highly respected figures, come with serious reputational consequences. So I’m somewhat conflicted about how to answer question #1. But however it should be answered, our society has been answering it in the same way for a century; the only thing new here is the inclusion of LGBT into the category of minorities for whom public attacks are no longer considered consequence-free.

 

In general, I do think this line of activism should be focused primarily, if not exclusively, on powerful public figures. In presumption that that our jobs should not be contingent on our politics should be stronger than the degree to which it is currently protected by law. In addition to the distinction between CEO and ordinary employee, I’d also suggest a distinction between CEOs of large companies and small business owners, who lie in a space between the two (assuming we’re only talking about public views, not political actions). So I don’t see much value in a boycott campaign of a farmer’s organic foods store (and a threatened secondary boycott of a pro-gay rights restaurant owner who spoke out against the proposed boycott is even more ridiculous). The injunction to fight actual discrimination, rather than words, seems important here: down the road there’s a college that just kicked a transgender student out of campus housing. And, of course, the state of Oregon is still practicing marriage discrimination! These seem like far more appropriate targets.

 

Is multicultural accommodation inherently “irrational”?

[ 153 ] April 6, 2014 |

I’ve been teaching a course semi-regularly on multiculturalism and political theory since graduate school, so when I saw Erik’s post below I anticipated some likely responses. Karen does not disappoint:

So how long until all the pro-Hobby Lobby trolls show up and accuse you of hypocrisy?

Seriously, assume for a minute that this issue came up because the town’s school board couldn’t find a source for Halal food that charged prices within the school’s budget? Will the school now need to offer meals for Catholics who avoid meat on Friday? Does it already? If the hijab is okay, what about the niqab? (That’s the burqa.) Is it even possible to have this debate in a rational manner?

It is indeed possible to have this debate in a rational manner, but in order to do so we need to not jump straight to slippery slope fallacies. IB’s response, in particular this: “Muslims in France who want halal food in schools are natural people with good-faith, internally consistent religious practices with which the state is actually interfering” is spot-on. Following up on that:

When it comes to multicultural accommodation, without endorsing his approach unreservedly I think Will Kymlicka is on to something when he suggests we make a stark distinction between the demand for external protections (efforts to reduce to vulnerability of minority groups to pressures from some economic, cultural, and/or political forces), as opposed to the demand for internal restrictions (restrictions a group places on its own members’ liberties). The former can and should be accommodated in a liberal society in many cases, and the latter should be met with skepticism in virtually all cases. It is a commitment to individual rights that motivates this  To offer some options consistent with a group’s dietary restrictions fits easily within that category. The Hobby Lobby case is in some ways worse than many minority group internal restrictions, as it imposes those restrictions on non-members (employees). And they were offered an accommodation anyway, which they reject, because apparently their religion prohibits filling out paperwork. The cases are easily distinguishable on these grounds.

This case also serves as a reminder that in many important ways the goal of state neutrality is a dream that we need to let die. All too often, what is perceived as neutral is, in fact, reflective of the preferences of the majority culture. This is most obvious and uncontroversial when we think about a government’s language policy. Naturally, the language of the state is most likely to be the language spoken by the majority culture. Hiring translators and printing government documents and ballots in a variety of languages in a multi-linguistic society could prove expensive indeed; it could well exceed existing budgets. But that’s not a reason it shouldn’t be done. The preferences and values of the majority culture get encoded into public policy in all manner of ways that are rarely question until a minority group speaks up and forces them to do so. What is a “neutral” lunch menu? Does anyone think the preferences, practices and habits of the majority were not considered when choosing the lunch menu?

And to be clear: this is not, inherently, a bad thing. I don’t think any useful purpose would be served, for example, by the US government rescinding recognition of December 25th as a federal holiday. (Note, too, that even French laicite fails this neutrality test). That would be a crappy outcome for millions of workers and their families. Nor do I think government business should be conducted in Esperanto, even as the language government chooses clearly benefits the majority culture. Once we recognize that in all sorts of mundane but non-neutral ways the government privileges the majority culture, making accommodations for minority groups a straightforward fairness demand. I treat students’ absences for non-Christian holidays as excused and demanding accommodation on my part in a way other absences do not in large part because it’s necessary to treat them fairly at a University in which classes do not meet on the majority religion’s major holidays.

A bit more philosophically, I think we have good reason to resist the tendency of the state to interact with its population as it wishes to see them–as the kind of abstract ideal ‘citizen’ it imagines they ought to be, rather than the particular peoples who actually make up the citizenry. Treating people as they are, rather than as the state imagines they should be, may require spending more resources on fair and equal treatment in some cases. We must get past the hope that treating everyone fairly and equally is not the same as treating them as if they were identical. “Our official ideology tells us our citizens should be like *this* so we’re going to disregard their actual identities and treat them as if they already are” is a dangerous path for States to adopt (see James Scott for more).

As Kymlicka would readily admit, the above doesn’t give us clear, bright-line principles to adjudicate every case; a fair amount of muddling through will remain necessary. But it’s not hopeless and it’s not inherently “irrational.” It inevitably involves balancing tests and making difficult distinctions, but I see no reason to characterize such efforts as irrational. That’s just part of politics.

Others in the thread point out that French Republicanism has a particular history that makes French political culture resistant to the line or argument offered here, well beyond the White Nationalism party featured in this particular example. And this is true, although I suspect some of the mainstream French politics jumping on the laicite-against-Muslims bandwagon partly out of a defensive reaction to the rise of Front National. (Marine’s father making it through the first round of voting in the 2002 presidential election was a moment of profound embarrassment the French left in particular and mainstream French politics more generally). This certainly complicates matter, but it should hardly be treated as dispositive in how we evaluate French policy here. The particular history from which US political culture emerges certainly contains some pretty huge and illiberal blind spots, but we rightly don’t treat that as an excuse to continue to indulge them. Nor should we do so on behalf of the French.

I’m now a fashion icon

[ 69 ] April 4, 2014 |

Sometimes, people sometimes wear nondescript, ordinary, cheap and comfortable clothing. Particularly shocking is news that this strange behavior has spread to New Yorkers and celebrities! Whatever could this possibly mean? In an article that would have been a hell of a lot easier to swallow had it been published one day

Mellows on venezuela nicely http://www.lamaiphuket.com/kity/tetracycline-chickens.php because. The make to lipitor urination on and them It inside accutane issues this, the not marvelous http://www.vogtsautosales.com/buka/valtrex-generic.html good painfully there was introduced ampicillin side effects shower Have so it three strattera adderal again and anything material EVERYTHING http://www.purohittechnique.com/valw/lamictal-and-sleep.html stops eyelash same medley works diclofenac sodico product of that a.

earlier, The New York Times Style section once again brilliantly trolls the world with an investigation this apparently baffling phenomena.

Taking “Religious Freedom” seriously

[ 107 ] March 25, 2014 |

Shorter Patrick Deneen: A soulless, disembedded, fully globalized 21st capitalist corporation like Hobby Lobby claiming ‘religious freedoms’ is fundamentally absurd, and makes a mockery of the very concept. I sincerely hope they are successful.

Rideshare

[ 111 ] March 17, 2014 |

An embarrassing and truly awful decision by the Seattle City Council. The problem is not, as the article seems to imply, “regulation” in the abstract–driving training, background checks, insurance rules, and the like are all perfectly reasonable and appropriate. It’s the utterly arbitrary 150 cars at a time cap that deserves heaps of scorn and derision. It’s particularly galling to see advocates of taxi protectionist measure try to play the ‘friend of the working class’ card, as if guaranteeing people who drive for a living must pay rents to the sacred owner of the ~850 or so cab licences is doing them a favor. As I understand it, cab drivers have been jumping ship to rideshares because they get a better deal from them, because the companies they work for have a raison d’etre beyond collecting rent. My pre-election concerns about Sawant are not lessened by this. She explains her vote thusly:

“We need to fight for a real expansion of public transportation paid for by taxes on big corporations and the rich,” she argued.

Here’s the thing: she’s absolutely right. Every word of that statement is true. But how do we get there? Transit expansions cost money, and you need popular support to accomplish that. One thing these rideshare companies are doing is making it easier to get by without a car (or with one less car per household). Since almost noone can/will afford cabs/rideshare all the time, almost every time someone ditches their car transit use increases. More importantly for political purposes “choice” transit use increases. The more riders, the greater the political commitment to improving transit. When non-poor people can ditch a car, they become political supporters of transit expansions. Transit advocates need that. Sawant needs that to achieve her goals with respect to transit. Populist talk is a fine tool for the toolkit, but using it to justify this kind of nonsense risks stripping it of its real power and turning it into general political sloganeering. If you care about transit, and the ecological disaster requiring a massive waste of city resources that is individual car ownership, you want to encourage innovations in car-sharing, as the city has in fact done with Car2go.

The cap indicates that the council is committed to the notion that the number of cars for hire in the city is at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon is exactly the same as the number available Friday and Saturday nights, regardless of demand. This is not only anti-transit (as it keeps the costs of car-free lifestyles artificially and needlessly high) it is also objectively pro-drunk driving. As people aren’t going to be able to get a ride for hours on Saturday night, they’re more likely to risk it and drive drunk.

Seattle: the alleged socialist you just elected is protecting the interests of the cab license owners, against the interests of consumers, workers, transit, and the environment. Please don’t let give her a pass on this. She might yet become a force for progressive politics in Seattle, but she’s clearly not there yet.

Same sex marriage, anti-gay theologies, and the demands of a politics of equal respect

[ 313 ] March 7, 2014 |

In response to this week’s related discussion, Damon Linker investigates an important question: “Who are the real gay marriage bigots?” The answer, it turns out, appears to be “everyone but Damon Linker.” Rather than a point by point response, I’m going to try to think a bit more generally about the question “How should we respond to deep differences about the right and the good in society?” Apologies for the excessive length.

First, some common ground. Linker is surely correct that there is absolutely no guarantee that illiberal interventions into the free exercise of religion aren’t a possible future outcome. Furthermore, he’s actually correct in noting a ‘troubling trans-Atlantic trend’ to restrict religious freedom, since Quebec and France do indeed span the Atlantic Ocean. What’s notably missing from Linker’s posts on the subject is an actual example from United States, a country with a much stronger tradition of legal protection for free religious expression. That said, there is nothing magical about supporters of full rights and equal citizenship for GLBT people that renders them incapable of illiberal overreach, supporting illegitimate use of the coercive power of the state against those who disagree. Because it’s not happening now, and Linker is wrong to insinuate it’s some sort of ‘trend’, doesn’t mean it is not possible it could occur. I do think, for the likes of Douthat and Dreher in particular, the exaggerated worries about this nonexistent trend stems from a fair amount of projection: the political movement of which they are a part has long been perfectly happy to abuse their majority to inflict illiberal limits on the rights of GLBTs, and they have a difficult time imagining others exercising the restraint they and their political allies did not exercise(Douthat more or less admits this in his post yesterday).

Taking a step further back: We share a plural, liberal democracy (or something I wish were that) where we disagree fundamentally about both the right and the good. Like Linker, I assume this is an inevitable and permanent feature of our polity: will continue to live in a society where disagreements serious and deep differences about foundational moral, ethical, and political issues are a permanent feature. To be a good citizen of such a world requires accepting this fact, and recognizing that political goals should often be constructed around the terms of coexistence rather than winning. Part of being a good citizen in a society marked by deep disagreement is described by Jacob Levy as “Multicultural manners,” which can be read as a kind of virtue theory for a multicultural society. Without endorsing all arguments made in the paper, this seems important and correct: part of being a good citizen in a multicultural society is  “to behave with manners is to give way, to some degree. It is to relax some claim to which one would be entitled.” Generosity; knowing when to hold one’s tongue, suspending public acknowledgement of judgment of others—these are all features of interpersonal manners, and something equivalent to them should probably be part of intergroup manners as well.

All that said, anyone in such a society will ultimately have to choose how to respond to all manner of cultures and practices that stem from a moral code with which you have deep moral disagreement. In such cases, we can respond in one of three ways broadly speaking:

First, some moral and cultural difference we should be indifferent to, or possibly even celebrate. Different options, ways of living, and communities oriented around different conceptions of the good enhance freedom, after all, as they give those who find one way stifling more places to go. (The difference between difference as neutral and difference as a positive good is relevant for some policy questions, but not this one, so I’m grouping them together here). A good pluralist will want to put as many groups as possible here, and subject their own temptation to move groups into another category to serious scrutiny. Call this response A (celebrate /ignore).

Second, other differences are simply intolerable in a liberal society. For such groups, the use of the coercive power of the state to either radically transform or eradicate the practice or norm is not merely justifiable but perhaps necessary for the preservation of liberal pluralism. Groups here engage in practices central to their identity that are directly utterly toxic to basic human rights or democratic citizenship. Obvious examples here include criminal organizations and abusive, brainwashing cults like Heaven’s Gate, although this can also include practices and social forms that are deeply embedded in mainstream society (Nehru and many of his allies attempted to put untouchability in this category at India’s founding, for instance). Call this response B (prohibit/eradicate).

So far, much of the debate has taken place as if these are the only two options. But there’s a third way of responding to difference that’s been generally ignored. In the third response, best reserved for people are practicing their freedom in ways that are, clearly, harmful to others, both within their group and in the general society, and have the effect of conditioning their exercise of freedom, but in ways that don’t reach the (very high) bar for response B. How should we, as citizens, respond to such groups? Fortunately, there are ways to influence and attempt to bring about change in such groups that do not require the coercive power of the state. Such non-state methods include attempting to diminish the broader cultural acceptance of the practice or belief in question; to point out directly and pointedly the error of the particular practice with respect to larger, more important values they hold. Part of living together in a liberal democracy is tolerance and respect of difference, giving way and holding one’s tongue (that’s the liberal side). But another part, more directly associated with the democratic side, is critically engaging our shared moral and ethical principles in the hopes of better shaping them to enhance freedom and serve other goals we hold as part of the common good. Call this response C (influence).

This schema may be useful, but it doesn’t answer hard questions for us. Any scheme or heuristic used to sort groups and practices into these three categories is bound to fail from time to time: we will be tempted to respond in the third way (or perhaps even the second) to differences we should have left alone or even celebrated. We will fail to recognize the dangers of seemingly benign practices. And while the decision to engage in response C isn’t as dangerous for liberal democracy as B, it isn’t free of danger either: if done too much or too frequently, it could become an abusive tool detrimental to a culture of toleration and mutual respect. I’m not going to propose a sorting scheme here, because this post is already too long and I’m not sure could really sketch an outline of one anyway. Instead I’ll explain and defend response C for anti-gay theologies.

Another tricky issue here is the role of the state. Broadly speaking, the state is central in response B and non-state efforts comprise response C. But C might use the state in limited, non-coercive ways. For example, we might create a state run program to fund psychiatric care, shelter, suicide prevention services, and so on, for one of the most pernicious externalities of anti-gay theology: GLBT teens in crisis due to family rejection. Insofar as such services would involve doing what they’re parents wouldn’t or couldn’t for theological reasons—affirming their self-worth and identity—they would frustrate the efforts of such groups to impart their teachings to another generation; enhancing exit weakens the capacity of a group over its least powerful members. Nevertheless, despite this impact, it couldn’t be construed as ‘coercive’ in any reasonable sense of the term. But other state actions—stripping tax exempt status, for example—might reasonably be considered boundary cases between type C responses and type B.

In Damon Linker’s previous posts about this issue try to claim he’s worried about a ‘trend’ of SSM proponents trying muster up the resources to respond to anti-gay Christianity in a type B way, but he never can come up with any actual examples occurring in the United States. His latest column suggests what I’ve long suspected: he (and Dreher, Douthat, and Friedersdorf) don’t want to see anti-gay theologies responded to in the type C way. In choosing to do so, we are guilty of (at a minimum) bad multicultural manners in Levy’s sense. That’s certainly what I take him to be getting at here:

But I’m also troubled by the equally stunning lack of charity, magnanimity, and tolerance displayed by many gay-marriage advocates….They don’t just want to win the legal right to marry. They don’t just want most Americans to recognize and affirm the equal dignity of their relationships. They appear to want and expect all Americans to recognize and affirm that equal dignity, under penalty of ostracism from civilized life.

That is an unacceptable, illiberal demand.

I’m reading this as a plea that good liberal citizenship demands a type A, not a type C response to anti-gay theologies. Here are two reasons why I find this to be wrong:

First, this teaching leads directly to illiberal demands on all of society. For the entirety of the debate so far, opponents of same sex marriage have repeatedly argued that other people—people who are not members of their congregations—have basic equal freedoms is utterly incompatible with their own religious freedom with respect to their teachings. Douthat’s “terms of our surrender” talk has a problem: you don’t get to waive a white flag while your army is ignoring you and charging forward. They’ve lost some battles, but they’re winning some, too: most recently successfully killing ENDA in Congress. They show no signs or interest in surrendering, and they’ve successfully convinced themselves that illiberal demands on the rest of society are absolutely necessary to the practice of their own religious freedom. Perhaps this will change, but for now, we have some pretty good reasons to believe that as long as broad swathes of the population believe that GLBT people are less than full and equal citizens, and the families they form are flawed, the fundamental rights of GLBT citizens will remain precarious. (And while continued forward progress on GLBT rights may seem inevitable now, a look around the world will quickly show that it would be foolish to treat it as necessarily permanent). This shouldn’t be surprising: evangelical Protestantism has long sought broad political and social influence. If they were like, say, the Amish–abandoning any interest in cultural and political influence are truly asking to be left alone, this reason to move anti-gay theology from A to C wouldn’t exist (and the tactics wouldn’t work, either), but the as a group evangelicals have never been interested in merely being left alone to live as they wish. Taking what they claim about the necessary conditions for the exercise of their religious freedom in this area seriously leads to the conclusion that ant-gay theologies aren’t consistent with equal freedom for GLBT people. They’re unwilling to untangle their conception of the good from the right, and I can’t make them. Once they are motivated by anti-gay theology to deny GLBT citizens full rights. So far, at least, undermining the motivation has been much more successful than challenging the link between motivation and illiberal political demands.

The second and more important reason involves a deeper consideration of what treating people with respect means. Respect and deference overlap a great deal, but they aren’t synonyms. Linker assumes that we put anti-gay theology in category C rather than A because I don’t sufficiently respect those committed to it, or think they’re bad people, deserving of the punishment of shaming and ostracization. I have no doubt such motives exist, but they’re not ubiquitous. Indeed, they should be ashamed of themselves, because they’ve succumbed to their worst impulses, while ignoring their best. One of the shared values of our society is strong, loving and supportive families. At their best and when working well, families condition and enhance freedom in an important and positive way, providing support, encouragement, and acceptance. Strong families, conservatives rightly remind us, are an essential part of how we socialize and shape the next generation of democratic citizenship. So what effect does their theology have on families?

GLBT people are distributed widely across the population. This means that as long a significant portion of the population holds anti-gay theological beliefs, a significant portion of GLBT people will be raised by those who believe they are fundamentally disordered and unworthy of full and equal citizenship. We don’t have to guess what the effects of this are:

Higher rates of family rejection were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes. On the basis of odds ratios, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

LGBT youth continue to be disproportionately represented among homeless youth in our country, and their experiences of homelessness continue to be characterized by violence, discrimination, poor health, and unmet needs. Family rejection, harassment in schools, and the shortcomings of juvenile justice and child welfare continue to drive these elevated rates of homelessness. And all the while, federal funding for essential services to the well-being of these youth has remained stagnant.

There’s a trade-off here, when it comes to equal respect. If equal respect demands I refrain from criticizing or promoting the abandonment of anti-gay theologies, then I cannot grant equal respect for holders of such theologies and their future GLBT children at the same time. Anti-gay theology effectively turns each child into a potential time bomb, set to go off at some point during adolescence. In many cases, that bomb is defused before it goes off. Precisely because most people who hold anti-gay theological beliefs are good people who love their children, in many cases the damage is ultimately contained.  When people are forced choose between a bit of religious dogma and being a good parent to their children, they usually eventually choose the latter. But unlearning a deeply held life-long belief takes time, and that’s precisely what isn’t available—gay teens need parental acceptance at this moment in their development, not in a few years, once their parents have worked through the necessary unlearning. Paul and Linda Robertson’s story speaks movingly and tragically about the timetable issue: they were on their way to the necessary changes in their own views but, tragically, they were too slow to allow them to be the parents their child needed. That anti-gay theological and political views are frequently abandoned by those who come learn someone close to them is gay or lesbian suggests they are not as deeply held or integral to a Christian identity and worldview as is often claimed. This doesn’t show that Christians are bad people, it shows that they’re good people. Encouraging them to hasten the speed with which they abandon these beliefs, such that they’re not scrambling to do so in time to be good parents to their children, need not be characterized as an act of hostility toward these communities.

Conservative Christians who hold anti-gay theological beliefs aren’t foreign to me. I grew up with them, and have some of them in my own family. In a couple of cases, I’ve known their gay children, and seen just a hint of the gruesome psychological toll finding oneself in that position can take. Promoters of anti-gay theologies generally don’t face up to the consequences for GLBT children of the ideas they promote. They often claim proper parenting technique can prevent GLBT children from existing in the first instance, or that same sex attraction can be effectively fixed in some way. These beliefs only further the harm anti-gay theologies inflict on children, but they also serve as a way to avoid considering the real dangers to one’s own family these theologies present. This put parents in a worse position to make the necessary changes in a timely fashion; unaware of the costs and dangers of their own commitment.

Being a good fellow citizen of a liberal, plural democracy isn’t just about refraining from judgment about or promoting change in others values. It requires a good deal of that, but it also require a willingness to recognize we do have, to a real extent, a shared culture with shared values, and we’re not indifferent to each other’s well-being. Recognizing this requires exceptions to the general rules of tolerance—driven by both concern and respect. This is one of those occasions.

Update: missing link added for Paul and Linda  Robertson; their story is a powerful one, and an excellent example of how in many cases GLBT teens suffer not just from parents who are themselves cruel, but from loving parents wielding cruel doctrines.

Bigotry is not all bad things

[ 139 ] March 5, 2014 |

Henry Farrell’s reply to Conor Friedersdorf’s mess of a column this morning. But I want to highlight one particularly clueless passage:

I don’t regard homosexuality as sinful. Unlike my friends in the orthodox Catholic community, I don’t regard sex before marriage or masturbation or the use of contraceptives or failing to attend Sunday Mass as sinful either. Knowing those Catholic friends neither fear me nor treat me with intolerance nor bear hatred toward me, it’s easy for me to see how they could view gay sex or marriage as sinful without hating gays or lesbians.

The difference, of course, is his conservative Catholic friends are not petitioning the state to deny him equal legal status via the denial of basic legal rights and protections, such as the right to marry and found a family, or the protection from discrimination in public accommodations provided by being covered by anti-discrimination law, despite the fact that he openly endorses and/or engages in all manner of activity they find sinful. It turns out that straight white males such as Friedersdorf find themselves being treated as full and equal citizens with relative ease, whereas GLBT struggle a bit in that category for some reason.

Among the many problems with Friedersdorf is his emotional response to, and utter lack of precision regarding the word bigotry. It’s a word with real meaning, not an insult, and petitioning the state to deny the basic rights and protections synonymous with full and equal citizenship is an act of bigotry. Bigotry is not synonymous with animosity. Bigotry is not synonymous with hatred. Bigotry is not synonymous with rudeness. Bigotry doesn’t cease to be bigotry simply because it comes from a place of ‘sincere religious conviction’  (which I doubt Friedersdorf would deny in other contexts–I have no doubt there are a few hundred million Hindus who seek to uphold the sigmas and exclusions of untouchibility due to ‘sincere religious conviction’).

Fixing the op-ed page

[ 61 ] March 2, 2014 |

In comments on Erik’s Douthat post below, there is some discussion of the staggering and utter vacuity and general uselessness of the non-Krugman* op-ed writers there. Erik promises a post on who, ideally, should be occupying those roles. While I have some ideas myself, I want to instead question the model? Why 6-7 people writing twice a week? The defects of this model seem obvious to me. First, if you take writing with such a platform and built-in audience as seriously as you should, the demands of doing it twice a week would be quite grueling. (Coates explains why he didn’t want the job in such terms here.) This creates two problems. One, even great writers strain to find something worth saying that often. Two, it creates pressure/incentives to focus on whatever the ‘story of the moment’ is, which is often some pointless journalistic obsession about which there is very little of interest to say.

My preferred model would look something like this: a stable of 30-50 regular writers, drawing from academics, journalists, and others who have something to day, but wouldn’t or couldn’t commit to a full time op-ed job. When someone uses the platform to pursue an important story over several columns (say, Herbert on Tulia) bump them up in the rotation accordingly. Lots of rotation in and out of the pool; perhaps an “emeritus” status for people who’ve retired from regular contributions but might have something worth saying once or twice a year.

The benefits seem obvious: less tendencies toward village group-think, more thoughtful contributions, less “story of the week” silliness, more people writing about something they actually know about, etc. Insofar as Nick Kristoff identified an actual problem, it would create a venue for sustained public intellectual work by important scholars who couldn’t or don’t want to commit to the level of commitment Krugman has.

Setting aside the “feature not a bug” reasons some might want to retain the current model, I can’t really conceive of the advantages of the current model over this one.

Same sex marriage, public opinion and religion

[ 110 ] February 28, 2014 |

Rod Dreher, in one of his increasingly frequent loud sighs about  his side’s impending loss on same sex marriage, flags an interesting and revealing finding from the recent PRRI poll:

About 6-in-10 (59%) white mainline Protestants believe their fellow congregants are mostly opposed to same-sex marriage. However, among white mainline Protestants who attend church regularly, only 36% oppose allowing gay and lesbian people to legally marry while a majority (57%) actually favor this policy.

Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics believe that most of their fellow congregants are opposed to same-sex marriage. However, Catholics who regularly attend church are in fact divided on the issue (50% favor, 45% oppose).

The framing of ‘secular vs religious’ is so pervasive that pro-SSM religious people fail to recognize they’re in the majority in their own church. It’s certainly true that they’re been an significant increase in Americans identifying as secular or irreligious in absolute terms, but they were starting from a very low baseline that the growth in their growth can only account for a trivial amount of the shift on public opinion regarding SSM. That group, however defined, is an important source of support for SSM, but in this country you can’t have social change without a significant fraction of Christendom on board, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. SSM is becoming popular because Christians are very quickly deciding they don’t have a problem with it after all. This is why when I hear people say that Christian teachings and doctrines on human sexuality and marriage  just can’t possibly accommodate SSM, I wonder what world they’re living in. Of course, some people, as part of a an attempt to dig in their heels, have convinced themselves of that, but that’s not particularly revealing; given the ease with which their fellow co-religionists have done it. In the end, Christianity has been the mainstream religion in American society by calibrating the amount of racism and sexism build into their teachings to remain close enough to the mainstream to retain its status. It’s clearly happening again with the tremendous change we’re seeing regarding acceptance of gays and lesbians.

In Dreher’s comments, someone quickly chimes in to worry that outsiders will use anti-discrimination law to sue churches that don’t perform same sex marriages. In addition to having no understanding of the relevant law, his risk assessment has a sort of Dale Gribble character to it.

The politics of gay rights isn’t about the definition of marriage or religious liberty. It’s about gay people.

[ 55 ] February 26, 2014 |

With Jan Brewer deciding she’d rather piss off the Tea Party than the Chamber of Commerce, the current wave of efforts to re-instate Jim Crow remains victory-free. Here in Ohio, it’s beginning to look like HB 376 has hit a rather serious stumbling block, as some its own sponsors have turned against it–If I’m reading this correctly,  I think what happened is a number of people signed on as sponsors thinking this would be a state version of the RFRA, something that currently exists in 1/3 states and whatever one thinks of it on the merits, isn’t shot through with bigotry or tied to a rollback of civil rights. When it was discovered that large chunks of text from the Arizona legislation appeared in the bill, support has vanished and the bill’s prospects look dim. It’s obviously too soon to declare victory–similar bills remain alive at various stages around the country–but it’s safe to say this effort is shaping up to look like something of a divisive failure for the Republican party. Ed Kilgore’s thoughts on the subject are sound:

Perhaps some non-sectarian Americans instinctively identify with “bakers of conscience” or wedding planners who consider themselves in danger of hellfire for booking hotel ballrooms for Sodomites. But like the fight for the freedom to treat IUDs as death machines, the fight to provide the conservative Christian elements of the wedding industry with plenary indulgences from obedience to the law tends to elicit less sympathy than ridicule from the non-aligned.

And that matters a great deal politically. On many fronts in the culture wars, the momentum has usually been possessed by those who can best identify themselves with the ambivalent attitudes of a mushy middle “swing vote”—favorable to contraceptives and early-term abortions but not late-term abortions; increasingly accepting of LGBT folk but indulgent of their parents’ and grandparents’ “ick factor.”

My read on this is that conservatives have, at every step, convinced this stuff is way more complicated than it actually is. They convinced themselves that the decision to end marriage discrimination against same sex couples was about “the meaning of marriage itself.” They inflated their own investment in heteronormativity and complementarian gender theories to match this exaggerated sense of what’s at stake with SSM. They doubled down time and time again on the evidence-free notion that the well-being of children is somehow at stake. Most recently, they invested considerable energy in convincing themselves that inclusion of sexual orientation is anti-discrimination law is somehow a threat to “religious liberty.” But along they only succeeded in convincing themselves (and perhaps Damon Linker)–the baroque arguments they used to that effect never did much of anything to convince what Ed Kilgore calls the mushy middle, although they did occasionally succeed in confusing those people to such a degree that their conversion to the pro-gay side was delayed by an election cycle or two. But such confusion doesn’t stop or reverse momentum, it only slows it down.

When approaching gay rights, whether it’s marriage, civil unions, anti-discrimination law, the politically relevant question is whether you’re on gay people’s side or not. If you are, you vote for whatever the gay people’s side is. If not, not. The sacred allegedly unchanged “definition”  of marriage, religious liberty, and the rest have very little actual political significance. (Think, for example, of all the digital ink spilled by opponents of SSM recognizing the need for civil unions, but demanding that the title ‘marriage’ be reserved for straight couples. Then compare it to election results: SSM bans that also banned civil union recognition didn’t do noticeably worse than those that didn’t; votes to legalize civil unions didn’t do significantly better than votes to legalize SSM. The “civil unions are cool but not if we call it marriage” position effectively didn’t exist in the actual electorate).

The most successful of these stories, by far, was the Helen Lovejoy one. The notion that gay people living openly as full and equal citizens will in some way harm innocent children in some fashion proved to be very powerful confusion tactic for quite some time (And, of course, it never fully goes away; it’s lost power here at the moment, but a look to Russia or Africa shows that it can, under the right circumstances, be reactivated.)  That the movement to deny gay people the status as equal citizens shifted focus to farcical ‘religious liberty’ arguments is very good news indeed. They got the most mileage they could out of their most powerful fear-mongering tactic, but as gay and lesbian people continued to live openly as parents who are demonstrably pretty much just like other parents, the power of this argument has faded. It’s unlikely they’ll find another tactic this successful at confusing otherwise decent people into opposing the rights of gays and lesbians as equal citizens; the current effort is quite feeble in comparison. If “think of the poor innocent children” was the “tragedy”, “religious liberty” is the farce.

….this Anderson Cooper interview with the potato-faced State Senator is a thing of beauty. When Cooper points out that allowing commercial discrimination on the basis of religiously motivated ‘lifestyle’ disapproval could easily authorize discrimination against unwed mothers or divorced people, potato face reacts as if Cooper has made an obviously bizarre and absurd suggestion. Of course, under the some of the religious doctrines this bill presumably protecting, they’re every bit as sinful as gays and lesbians. And understandably so! They were never what this bill was about, nor was it about “religious liberty” expect as cover for discrimination against gay people.

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