Politics: September 2008 Archives

Tests for Sexism

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With all the claims (some probably true and some probably not) of sexism in people's responses to Sarah Palin, I've been thinking about a common sort-of-intuitive quick test for sexism that I've been seeing a lot lately.

One kind of evidence for a claim that sexism is taking place involves asking whether the same question or comment would be said if it were a man. The idea is that it's sexism if no one would say the same thing of a man in the same position, which means the treatment is purely based on her being a woman. There's one obvious problem with this kind of test. I would be very unlikely to say that my friend John is in the women's room when he goes into a public restroom, but I might easily say it of my wife. That's clearly not sexism, though. So the proper test needs to distinguish between things that would be appropriate to say of a woman that you wouldn't say of a man. The issue then becomes which ways are appropriate to treat women differently from how you treat men. That, of course, is a matter of disagreement between various people, and thus this test is hardly independent of moral views. So measuring sexism this way depends on what your larger moral picture is.

For example, there are those who thinks mothers and fathers generally bring different things to parenting, and thus (other things being equal) they would prefer that if one parent stays home with the kids that it be the mom. Some takes this to the more extreme view that the mom just ought to stay home without the "other things being equal" qualifier. Then there are those who think there's no moral reason to prefer either parent (and I've never met anyone claiming that we should prefer it be men, but that view is logically possible and might well be held by some feminists who seek to equalize men and women in every way).

These views would say very different things about a claim that a woman ought to do what she can to be the stay-home parent. Some will find it sexist, based on their background moral picture. Others will not. I think this is why some people have a hard time recognizing sexism that others see. It's very difficult to find a morally inappropriate expectation when your own moral view actually requires that expectation or at least sees it as worth trying for if other things are equal. (I should say, though, that it's hard to see a typical liberal using this response appropriately against typical conservatives, because typical liberals have a much larger set of things that they consider sexist than the typical conservative does, not the smaller set that this response assumes.)

I know this is one of my pet peeves, but it's a good pet peeve to have, since far too many people misrepresent the abortion debate as being about when life begins. When life begins is a scientific matter, and anyone who recognizes that should have a hard time seeing the plain meaning of Joe Biden's statement as follows as outright endorsement of relativism about science:

MR. BROKAW: If Senator Obama comes to you and says, "When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe," as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him

SEN. BIDEN: I'd say, "Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, "Well, what about fascism?" Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism's all right? Fascism isn't a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea.

I'm very sure that Biden didn't mean what he said. He surely doesn't think scientific truth is all a matter of what you happen to believe any more than Nancy Pelosi thinks life doesn't really begin at conception when she quotes church fathers against the current Roman Catholic view (thus in effect quoting religion against science, ironic as that is from the highest-ranked (in one measure, anyway) Democrat in the United States. Both of them mean to be talking about moral status and perhaps personhood. But it's not at all clear what exactly he intended to say about it. He obviously couldn't have meant some kind of thoroughgoing moral relativism because of his last statement. What generates the relativist-sounding move is not that it's about moral views, where a moral relativism of some sort then kicks in once you enter moral territory. He both has some notion of what a decent religious person is (which sounds objective, even though it uses a value-laden term 'decent') and some notion that a view has to be held by a decent religious person to count as appropriate in a pluralistic society, which he takes to rule out Hitler's fascism.

What I'm least sure of is what he really thinks about all those religiously held beliefs. When he says he knows when it begins for him, does he want to say that any deeply-held religious belief is true for the person who holds it, in which case there's really no religious truth, just religious feelings? Or does "I know when it begins for me" function as an equivalent expression to "I know when I think it begins". It's a bit awkward to take it that way, but it would be something like "As for me, I know when it begins, but I'm not going to expect others to understand that because it involves faith, and I respect their conflicting religious traditions.

Is that overly charitable? Keep in mind that this is Joe Biden.

I don't know how many times I've heard from mainstream media reporters, bloggers, and even FactCheck.org that McCain's ad about Obama's support for sex ed for kindergarteners is an outright lie. According to the Obama campaign, the bill was intended to give information on how to avoid sexual predators and how to recognize inappropriate touching. The Obama line is that McCain is lying by making it out to be comprehensive sex ed. I sat and listened to a colleague Friday night launching into a diatribe about how evil McCain is for lying about this. I'd been hearing this, but I hadn't actually looked at it very carefully myself.

The bill is not mainly about sexual predators, which don't even come up until over halfway through the bill. It is about contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. It mandates discussion of abstinence. How do you talk about contraception, methods of preventing STDs, and abstaining from sex without talking about sex in a way that's much more significant than simply coaching kids to recognize inappropriate touching?

Now the McCain ad does wrongly say that this is Obama's only legislative accomplishment. He wasn't a sponsor of this, and there are a couple bills that he does have his name on as a sponsor. The bill also does say, as Obama has been pointing out, that parents could opt their kids out and that it would be age-appropriate sex ed. However, it's clear from the bill that what's mandated will be a pretty comprehensive curriculum, and it's hard for me to see how that would be age-appropriate for kindergarteners by my standards of what's age-appropriate, which makes such a condition pretty inadequate. Simply specifying that it be age-appropriate accomplishes little more than allowing people who think the bill's mandate is age-appropriate to do what the bill mandates. It doesn't seem to me that it's at all inaccurate to call it comprehensive sex ed for kindergarteners, certainly not to the level of the outright lie that so many people, including the supposedly-neutral mainstream media and the supposedly non-partisan FactCheck.org, are talking about. What they keep saying is that the bill doesn't require the very thing that its language seems to me to plainly require.

Byron York has an excellent piece that summarizes a lot of this but also includes statements by the sponsors of the bill at the time and one statement by the only sponsor of the bill who would even talk with him. From what he can gather, it does seem that inappropriate touching, while one concern, was not one of the major reasons for the bill. It's possible that Obama was voting for the bill because he thought one tiny element of it was a good idea and that he disagreed with the rest of it. If you accept his story and his claim that he doesn't support what the bill turns out to mandate, then that would have to be what he was doing. So why would he vote for the bill, then, if it turns out to be mainly intended to do something he disagrees with? I was accepting the Obama line on this simply because so many people were repeating it, including FactCheck.org. But it turns out, on closer examination, that the major claim made in the ad is pretty much true, and it's Obama's story about it that seems to be false.

Cobb posted a pretty weird Sarah Palin cartoon last week. One of the characters assumes that if McCain were to die as president and Palin were to take his place, everyone below her in the line of succession would move up a spot. The character then suggests that perhaps it wouldn't be too bad for Nancy Pelosi to be VP.

It's interesting to think about what would happen if it really worked that way. If President Bush died now, Robert Byrd would have to be demoted to the House of Representatives, although I guess he'd at least be Speaker. But he'd be representing a district in California. Condi Rice would represent WV in the Senate, and the balance of power would flip back to Republican control. Henry Paulsen would be Secretary of State, and Robert Gates would be Secretary of the Treasury. Mukasey would become Defense. Perhaps even more ludicrously, Margaret Spellings would take over Energy, and Chertoff would be demoted to Veteran's Affairs. President Cheney would then be able to select a new Secretary of Homeland Security, I suppose, but if he could do that why couldn't he just fill the VP slot the way past presidents have done when they succeed to the presidency and avoid the whole shift?

Palin and Book-Banning

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David Bernstein asks a very interesting question:

But let's say a library stocked a children's book called "Adam and Eve." The book, which has sold 50,000 copies nationwide, explains that The Lord intended men and women to be couples, and that people who have same-sex relationships are violating the laws of God and nature, and are risking eternal damnation. The librarian had received several requests for this book, and finds it an age-appropriate way of explaining the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic position on sexuality to children.

A progressive parent complains that her child read this book in the library, and now is convinced that gay people are bad. She asks that the library remove the book from the shelf. Is she a "bookbanner?" If the librarian had refused to stock the book to begin with, despite its strong sales, the requests, and a finding of educational value and age-appropriateness, is he a "bookbanner"?

There's certainly a potential consistency problem here, although I'd refrain from charging anyone with that unless they show clearly that they apply inconsistent standards to the different cases. I'm suspicious that many of the criticisms of Sarah Palin involve something like that with at least a noticeable number of people who are making them, although some of the defenses have the same feature.

There are several questions with this that I don't have a firm view on. Is it ok for a mayor to gauge how a head librarian will respond to parental challenges to books in a library? Sure. Is it ok for a mayor to request that certain books be removed from the libary? I'm less sure of that, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to think Palin did any such thing. Is it ok for librarians to exclude books on ideological grounds? They certainly do, and they do it all the time. You're not going to find children's books advocating for slavery or sex between adults and children, and the only reason is ideology against such things, a view that happens to be pretty universal. It's on controversial issues where you see difficulties arising. How you respond to the above case and how you respond to the parallel case of Heather Has Two Mommies might reveal your ideology, or it might show a consistent position that you hold regardless of ideology (depending on your meta-ideology, someting the latter possibility then reveals about you).

One quibble I've had with a lot of the discussion of this issue is that it's strange to call this banning at all. Banning a book seems to me to be a much broader act than just not having it on the shelf of a local library. Book-banning prevents stores from selling it or doesn't allow anyone to possess copies of it. I even worry about calling it censorship, which is government prevention of private citizens saying something. If the FCC tells TV networks they can't show certain kinds of content, that's censorship of a limited sort. It's TV censorship. If it prevents book publishers from publishing certain kinds of content, that's censorship. If it doesn't allow certain books to be present on a library shelf, that's not stopping anyone from saying what's in the book. It's stopping that book from being in a certain location. Is that censorship? It's not as clearly so, at least.

Gravel on Palin

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Former Senator Mike Gravel (D, AK) seemed to me to be the worst of the Democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination. It amazed me that anyone could make Dennis Kucinich look anywhere near mainstream, but Gravel did exactly that. He said the most extreme things in the most extreme ways against both Bush and all the Republican candidates (except perhaps Ron Paul), but he also said them about the leading Democratic contenders. It therefore surprises me that he doesn't extend that to his governor, Sarah Palin.

He doesn't agree with what he calls her theological views. He probably wouldn't ever vote for her. But he says McCain made a good choice. He says Troopergate's going to come out in her favor. The guy should have been fired. He says she's got more executive experience than Obama, McCain, and Biden combined. She doesn't satisfy his ideology, but Gravel notes that McCain's entitled to someone whose ideology doesn't reflect Gravel's ideology. He says she has the courage to stand up to Republican corruption, and he has the objective recognition of that at face value rather than running around talking about Troopergate or children's misconduct.

The interviewers couldn't handle this. They suggested his statements were because of an animus against Obama because Obama beat him for the nomination, as if Gravel ever thought he'd get the nomination. Once he starts talking about Democratic support for American imperialism, the interviewers decide to cut off the conversation. Perhaps their time had run out, but I wouldn't be surprised if they just didn't know what they were going to be in for. They do start the interview asking him to give them the dirt on Palin by talking about things we don't know about her, so it's not surprising that they were upset that he didn't deliver.

But think about his message. Gravel is almost libertarian in some ways. Palin has a libertarian streak that she doesn't apply consistently, because she's got other competing moral principles that sometimes win out. He's a contrarian who doesn't like what either party is up to. Palin took on her own party in several ways and won. He appreciates that. While he certainly doesn't agree with a lot of her views, many of which I share with her, I can see exactly what he appreciates about her and why he respects McCain's choice as more than just pragmatically useful for McCain and the GOP. He actually thinks McCain picked one of the best candidates among the choices he had within the GOP. When you keep in mind what really drives him, that shouldn't be as surprising as it at first sounds.

Palin and God's Will

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One of the smear memes about Sarah Palin has been that she claimed the invasion of Iraq was God's will. She did no such thing. She prayed that our leaders would do whatever God's will would be:

Pray for our military. He's [Palin's son Trask] going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do also what is right for this country - that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan.

Charles Gibson got this wrong in his interview with Palin:

GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's words when he said -- first, he suggested never presume to know what God's will is, and I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God's words.

But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that's a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side.

That's what that comment was all about, Charlie. And I do believe, though, that this war against extreme Islamic terrorists is the right thing. It's an unfortunate thing, because war is hell and I hate war, and, Charlie, today is the day that I send my first born, my son, my teenage son overseas with his Stryker brigade, 4,000 other wonderful American men and women, to fight for our country, for democracy, for our freedoms.

Charlie, those are freedoms that too many of us just take for granted. I hate war and I want to see war ended. We end war when we see victory, and we do see victory in sight in Iraq.

GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln's words, but you went on and said, "There is a plan and it is God's plan."

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand -- the grand plan.

GIBSON: But then are you sending your son on a task that is from God?

PALIN: I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer.

Molly Hemingway notes (at the end of the post) that ABC edited the clips down to his misrepresentation and her response, without any indication that he'd misquoted her, which makes it look as if she's changing her tune. Nice. Take awful journalism and cover it up by making it look as if the interviewer caught her in a gotcha moment of historical revisionism.

Steve Waldman of Beliefnet gets it right:

Palin asked members of the church to pray "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan." That's very different. She's asking them to help insure that the war is part of God's plan, not declaring that it was.

Unfortunately, Waldman goes on to make exactly the same mistake immediately afterward, saying Gibson "should have asked her about her comment that it's "God's will" that Alaska have a great big natural gas pipeline."

The Associate Press published a piece today that it's hard for me to see as anything but a hit piece. It misrepresents Focus on the Family and ties them and Sarah Palin to views more extreme than they actually hold. This has become standard fare in the media over the last couple weeks, but I'm not going to accept it as perfectly ok just because they keep doing it.

Apparently Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference called Love Won Out, sponsored by Focus on the Family. This is actually the first time I've heard of this, so everything I'm about to say is readily available on the web. The AP piece, written by Rachel D'Oro, describes the conference in their headline as promoting the conversion of gays. The first sentence reads, "Gov. Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer."

Now I looked at Love Won Out's website, and here is what they say about converting gays into heterosexuals:

Are you here to "cure" gays? Absolutely not. The only time you'll ever hear the word "cure" used in relation to our event is by those who oppose Love Won Out. They also like to claim we want to "fix" or "convert" gays and lesbians and that we believe people can "pray away the gay." Such glib characterizations ignore the complex series of factors that can lead to same-sex attractions; they also mischaracterize our mission. We exist to help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome. It is not easy, but it is possible, as evidenced by the thousands of men and women who have walked this difficult road successfully.

But your goal is still to make gays straight, right?
That is a gross and narrow oversimplification. We aren't here to "make" anybody do or become anything; we are here to offer a biblical and experiential perspective on the issue of homosexuality that is, sadly, underreported in the mainstream media. Our goals include aiding parents who want to learn how to better love their sons or daughters without compromising their faith; helping people who want to better understand the many factors that can lead to someone adopting a homosexual identity; and assisting those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions and want to discover how they might also start upon the path ― a difficult path, as noted above ― to overcoming those desires.

Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
We do not believe anyone chooses his or her same-sex attractions. We concur with the American Psychological Association's position that homosexuality is likely developmental in nature and caused by a "complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors" (www.apa.org). We would also agree with the American Psychiatric Association when it states "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime." If you ever hear us use the word "choice," it is in relation to men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions choosing to steward their impulses in a way that aligns with their faith convictions.

So the organization insists that they do not seek to convert gays to straights. They seek to help gay Christians who believe a lifestyle of being gay is wrong. They seek to help them live in a way that resists their same-sex attraction and keep their desires in check, the same way that Christians seek to help single heterosexuals to live a celibate life. It's clear that their language about overcoming their desires is not conversion to heterosexuality, since it's held up in contrast to exactly that.

Yet D'Oro's AP piece defines the group most fundamentally as promising to do the very thing they insist they do not seek to do.

Palin Derangement Syndrome

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I think the only way to describe what's going on with Sarah Palin is that Bush Derangement Syndrome has now been transferred to Palin. There's no other way to explain how such blatant misrepresentation and distortion could so consistently and comprehensively turn so many of her views and actions into something completely different (even leaving aside the deeply insulting personal remarks, rumor-mongering, and sexist double-standards).

I'm glad someone has put together a numbered list of these myths, because so many of them have been perpetuated by major news organizations that I find myself repeating myself over and over. Directing someone to this site and a number in the list will be much easier. Here are a few highlights:

1. Yes, she is Governor of Alaska. No, she's not the Lieutenant Governor. No, she's not currently Mayor of Wasilla. Yes, she was Mayor of Wasilla, some years ago. [I add: Yes, that last link does go to a direct quote from Obama himself (and not just the campaign or supporters) belittling her experience by treating her as if she's still no more than the mayor of a small town.]

23. No, she's doesn't believe that the Iraq War was directed by God. Yes, she did pray that proceeding with the war was God's will: "they should pray 'that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan.'" (Ever hear the phrase "Not my will, but Thine, be done"?) Yes, this apparently freaks some people right out.

37. No, she didn't cut funding for unwed mothers; yes, she did increase it by "only" 354 percent instead of 454 percent, as part of a multi-year capital expenditures program. No, the Washington Post doesn't appear to have corrected their story. Even after this was pointed out in the comments on the story.

38. No, she didn't cut special needs student funding; yes, she did raise it by "only" 175 percent.

50. No, she doesn't believe in "abstinence only" education. Yes, she thinks abstinence is an effective way of preventing pregnancy. Duh. Yes, she believes kids should learn about condom use in schools.

66. No, she's not a "global warming denier", and when the crush dies down remind me to explain why the very phrasing "global warming denier" is anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and a clear sign of a desire to impose your beliefs by coercion. But in the mean time, while I do believe that she has expressed some skepticism that warming is wholly human-caused, the existence of the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet and the Alaska Climate Change Strategy work demonstrate that she's considering the problem and has brought together people more expert than she to advise her.

But you've got to read it yourself to see some of the crazy rumors, especially 8 and 10. I'm not sure what 22 is doing on the list, but I had a similar response to 21.

Uppity

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Rep. Lynn Westmoreland represents a Georgia district in the U.S. House. He's recently come under fire for a very puzzling comment:

Just from what little I've seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity

As might be expected, he's been criticized for using the word 'uppity' when he was talking about a successful black couple. But then there's his defense:

I've never heard that term used in a racially derogatory sense. It is important to note that the dictionary definition of 'uppity' is 'affecting an air of inflated self-esteem -- snobbish.'

I've certainly heard it used in that sense, although it's never been from the mouth of someone who meant it. It's always been someone describing someone else's negative attitude toward "uppity Negroes". I'm not sure it's in common use anymore among genuine racists, but I wouldn't know, since I don't run in those circles. But I can imagine someone who doesn't travel in racist circles who also doesn't travel in very racially aware circles, where people might put it in the mouths of racists they're discussing. Such a person may have never heard the expression "uppity Negro". Sure, it's possible.

But there are two problems even if he really hasn't heard of that expression. The first is his claim that 'uppity' and 'elitist' are synonymous. I don't think that's true. To be uppity is to extend yourself above your place, which assumes there's a proper place you're supposed to remain in. To be elitist is to think oneself higher than others, which assumes you think you're better than others. The former is an attitude toward a place that someone else has judged fit for you. The latter is an attitude toward people you yourself have judged lower than you. So the elitist charge reflects badly on the views of the elitist. Saying someone is uppity reflects badly on the views of the person saying it. That's an important difference. Westmoreland may well not know that difference, but that would just show that he doesn't understand how the words are used.

If he's going to give this defense, he has to say not just that he was ignorant of a way of putting Negroes in their place that was very common in the place he represents in Congress, certainly during his own lifetime (he was born in 1950). He also has to admit to being pretty ignorant about the word's basic meaning even in a non-racial context.

But there's something even more puzzling about his statement. Read it carefully. He doesn't say that the Obamas are uppity, as a racist would. He says they think they're uppity. That means (if he understands the word, anyway) that he thinks they think they're rising above a place that they themselves would describe as their proper place, something they shouldn't rise above. Does he really think the Obamas think that's true of themelves? I doubt it. And that means there's yet another aspect of how the word 'uppity' is used that he doesn't understand. I'm beginning to think he just doesn't know much about the word at all. Perhaps he's heard it once or twice and somehow formed some false beliefs about how the word functions. I know I've found out real meanings of words that I had thought meant something else, usually inferred from a few occurrences in books I've read when I've used context clues to figure out the term but never bothered to look it up. It's possible that's what's happened here.

If that's right, he probably isn't lying when he says he's never heard it in a racial context. Someone familiar with that context isn't likely to misuse it in both of the ways that he does. But it's hard to say that it's not an ignorant statement. It's (at the very least) ignorant about what the word itself means and how it functions syntactically. I've only seen two news stories, a blog post, and a very long comment thread on this, but it's a little disturbing that I didn't see anyone making either of these points. Is the American public at large that ignorant of how this word is used? Maybe it's just left our national vocabulary except when referring to how racists talk, and that isn't enough to clue people in to how the word functions. Can that really be?

Palin and Evolution

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In the media feeding frenzy on Sarah Palin in the last six days, some completely inappropriate and ridiculous questions have dominated the coverage I've paid attention to (which has consisted mostly of NPR, as it happens). Many of the questions getting major play would never be asked of a man, and some are actually illegal to ask at job interviews. But there have been a few genuine issues in the mix. I want to look at one that almost everyone reporting on it has gotten wrong, both in the mainstream media and on blogs (and it's taken me a lot of work to keep inaccuracies and misrepresentations out of her Wikipedia article).

It stems from a brief answer in a political debate when she was running for governor, which she was able to follow up on in an interview the next day. I have found exactly one source that details her response, although it doesn't actually include the exact wording of the question, exact wording that might actually be very important. Here is the exchange during the gubernatorial debate:

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms. Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

I'd love to know what the question was, because I don't know what her answer means otherwise. Debate between both is a good thing. Both of what? The author of the article says creation science and evolution, but I don't trust a newspaper writer to be careful with important distinctions. Some people call intelligent design arguments creation science, despite there being a world of difference between the two categories. One is science done very badly. The other is a long-standing philosophical argument form that goes back to Plato and Xenophon whose current versions include a premise based on scientific fact but whose conclusion might be questioned, because it's an inference to the best explanation, and that sort of argument is by its very nature only probabilistic, and these particular arguments (depending on the version) can admit of alternative explanations that others will argue are the actual best explanation. So I'd like to know what they were discussing before I can interpret even her first sentence.

There's also an issue of what she means by teaching it. Does she mean (a) requiring it in the curriculum, (b) allowing teachers to include it in the curriculum, or (c) allowing teachers to discuss it if students happen to bring up the issue in class? The same article, which as I said is the only one a serious search could turn up from the time, goes on to describe her interview the next day, giving some much-needed clarification on the second issue. In short, she holds (c). (Unfortunately, it doesn't help very much on the first issue.)

In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms: "I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum." She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum. Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. "I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said. Palin has occasionally discussed her lifelong Christian faith during the governor's race but said teaching creationism is nothing she has campaigned about or even given much thought to.

Eugene Volokh uses scare quotes to refer to The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and The Jewish Conspiracy, both of which he then goes on to admit to being a member of (along with most of the contributors to his blog). Scare quotes usually indicate that you believe there's no such thing, and I'm sure that's actually his view. But then he says he's a member of both. This is an interesting set of views.

He must think these terms refer to the groups that Hillary Clinton and anti-semitists (respectively) call by those names, and those groups really exist (because a group is just a group of people), but the groups don't have the features believed to be true of them (among other things, being a conspiracy). If that's right, then he's taking the names as proper names (and not definite descriptions, which wouldn't refer to anything) and taking them refer to exactly the groups the people whose false beliefs generated the existence of those groups (or at least generated their social relevance if the group exists simply because the members exist).

It struck me that this is almost exactly what the majority view in philosophy of race says about races. Races are social kinds whose existence (or at least social relevance if the group exists merely because its members exist) was caused by false beliefs by those doing the classifying. But the difference is that everyone uses race-terms, even those who pretend there aren't any races. Most people, on the other hand, don't believe in either of these so-called conspiracies. That's why his speaking this way sounded funny to me in this case, almost as if it requires saying it tongue-in-cheek.

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