Thursday, August 30, 2007

Can men be feminists?

Every once in a while I will see men on campus wearing the T-Shirt "This is what a feminist looks like." Its inspiring to see men who are interested in being allies to the feminist struggle.

My colleague Dr. Lani Roberts, who's been interviewed here on issues of diversity, has a fairly stringent criterion in deciding whether a man can be considered a feminist. I think it bears some thought: a man can be considered a feminist if he's broken the male bond in defense of women.

The "male bond" is the relationship of implicit trust and support that men have for one another in a patriarchal society that maintains their power and privilege. The example that Dr. Roberts usually gives of breaking it is something like this: when in a group of (mostly heterosexual) men who are telling sexist or homophobic jokes, a man stands apart and tells them all that their behavior is inappropriate and they should all stop it. Instead of reinforcing the group's masculinity, the feminist man raises the question about the group's consideration of women or gays and lesbians.

This bond was recently demonstrated to me in very stark terms when I watched the clip of Tucker Carlson's appearance on the MSNBC news program, hosted by Dan Abrams and Joe Scarborough, discussing the legal problems of Idaho Senator Craig. The senator was arrested this summer for lewd conduct in a public restroom.

The discussion in this clip is about gay cruising and Carlson recounts how he was "bothered" once by someone in a bathroom. He is asked what he did and he responds that he left, came back with someone he knew, grabbed the man who bothered him, and then "hit" the man's head against the wall while they waited for police (who then arrested the man, presumably for cruising).

The male bond is evident when Abrams and Scarborough laugh heartily at Carlson's story. One could imagine someone reacting with concern, saying "That's awful, Tucker, I'm sorry you had to experience that." Instead, the laughter is a sign of derision at the expense of the allegedly gay man who had the audacity to do something so despicable as want to have sex in a bathroom. Andrew Sullivan discusses this on his blog and it contains Carlson's most recent press release about this appearance.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Ugly of Philosophers

For all those students coming to Fall term interested in becoming philosophy majors: check out the podcast by Prof. Tony Lynch from the University of New England (Australia) on Ten Reasons Not to Do Philosophy.

Check out the excellent library that the Australian National University has for films with philosophcial themes.

(And if you're wondering about the title: cows have herds, dogs travel in packs; according to Lynch, a bunch of philosophers is an ugly)


Monday, August 20, 2007

"All the world needs is xenophilia, sweet xenophilia"

Many of us are aware that the United States is perhaps the stingiest of industrialized nations in terms of providing nonmilitary foreign aid. As Peter Singer aruges in his book, "One World", the fact that we spend several billion dollars on soda pop and movie tickets each year, and less than $20 billion dollars on helping to provide drinking water and medicine to the world, is a moral failing of our society.

But what about the Danish? They are among the most generous of the industrialized nations. And yet, they have the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe. This has lead to a phenomenon that some are calling the "Copenhagen syndrome"--the Danish want to help the poor of the world, as long as they stay in their own neighborhoods and don't come to Denmark. Helping a neighbor is important, as long as they don't come over for dinner.

The Copenhagen syndrome raises an interesting question about our global village: is it moral to help developing nations in a globalized world but, at the same time, prevent the free flow of immigrants into our society? The United States, of course, is not committed to either the aid or the free flow. Should it be?

Christopher Phillips, in this interview from Philosophy Now, talks about his new book, "Socrates in Love". Phillips says that the most important variety of love he studied in preparing the book is xenia, the love for strangers. He describes how this does not mean that we must actually care for each single person we encounter, but that having xenia means being open to the new experience that the stranger offers, including the possibility of wisdom.

We might say that the Danish fail by this standard. They are generous, but they are not virtuous, in terms of xenia, if they are not open to having strangers come to live in their midst.

How important, then, is the stranger to our moral development in a global village?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

America--Love it or...Change it

Right on the heels of Congress authorizing the extension of electronic wiretapping and eavesdropping, a coalition of groups that includes Human Right Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights has created a grassroots effort called the American Freedom Campaign. The idea of the effort is to get citizens to sign onto a pledge which affirms that the United States is a nation that respects the rule of law and no public official ought to be able to work outside of that framework to engage in torture, detention, "disappearance", or the use of secret or extra-judicial bodies. The idea is that these kinds of practices are "un-American" and any administration that tries to justify them is acting against the traditions and history of the United States. You can go to the pledge here.

In another effort to revitalize democracy, a group, The Democracy Foundation, is proposing the idea of a “people’s legislature” or a “fourth branch of government.” The argument here is that the legislative branch of government is not representative of the public’s interest any longer and there needs to be another way that the people can have their input into lawmaking. The suggestion is that there needs to be a kind of national initiative process, by which ordinary citizens can propose laws (as they do in numerous states, including Oregon).

Its not clear how this fourth branch would operate in the traditional checks and balances system of our government. The big worry is that this kind of an institution would get hijacked by big money interests and initiatives would be sponsored not by grassroots groups that represent the public, but by special interests groups or individuals with deep pockets (though there are some policy experts that say we need not worry too much about this). After all, spending money is considered free speech in the United States (because of case of Buckley v Vallejo), so that the more money you have, the more effective voice you have in the system. This kind of influence involves not just getting initiatives on the ballot, but also influencing the media to report on the information citizens might need to make informed judgments about referendums. Its not clear that a fourth branch of government would do anything to make the United States more democratic or provide any kind of bulwark against forces that would make us go against the deepest traditions of law and ethics.

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