Tuesday, February 28, 2006
As I have discussed previously, modern demographic predictions are of eventual under-population, not over-population, and each few years the experts must revise their estimates on population growth downwards. One of the causes of this continual downward adjustment may be quite simple.
Specifically, sonograms. You see, up until the 1970s determination of a child’s gender before birth was difficult, expensive, time-consuming, and oft-inaccurate. With sonograms, however, it became something possible in a few minutes and, eventually, for a few dollars. Nowadays unltrasound machines fit easily in vans, allowing them to drive around and check on the health (and gender) of the unborn anywhere roads can go.
The result has been the purposeful aborting of tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of unborn children simply because they are female.
In India brides are expected to pay a dowry for the privilege of marrying. Indeed, a young bride being murdered by her husband and his family for not bringing in a large-enough dowry is common enough that it is a specific crime in India. This economic pressure, combined with the cultural and religious preferences for male children found in India, have resulted in deeply skewed sex ratios; in urban centers in the Punjab, girls make up as little as 33% of the population, depending on the specific generation.
China is similar, with ratios potentially as skewed (although it is harder to get reliable data from the Chinese interior). Although there is no dowry culture in China, the tyrannical one-child policy has resulted in at least as much pressure of female births there. The ‘official’ country-wide number shows that 44% of Chinese are women. Other estimates are that on the age range of 8-years old to 21 years old there are at least 20 million more men than women.
South Korea faces slightly less ominous numbers, with an estimated 45% girls under the age of 17. Young females are serious under-represented (less than 46% of births) in India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Nepal – as well as other nations.
While the numbers from India and China seem to reflect the effects of both sex-selective abortion and infanticide, the fact remains that some purposeful deaths of girl children may be masked from initial statistical review. In other words – the numbers may very well be worse than they look. Since the cultures that indulge in sex-selective abortion and infanticide place a lower value on the life of girls than of boys, the long-term health and survival statistics on girls are obviously lower, as well. Bluntly, girls don’t get the same access to health care, emergency treatment, and education that boys do. Already fewer by birth, by the time they are of marriageable age, their numbers will have shrunk.
What are the effects? Well, it doesn’t seem to be an increase in choices or freedom for women. In India women are already being ‘purchased’ as brides (or more precisely, as sexual partners/mothers); oddly enough, local brides are still expected to pay a dowry. Since the sex ratio is most imbalanced in wealthier Indian communities, and ‘importing’ a bride is expensive, the contradictory effect is to maintain the demands on local women of providing a dowry while money is sent out of the community for outside brides.
China seems to be a bit more chilling. Human trafficking is on the increase in China with over 42,000 women rescued from kidnappers in a single three-year period; but the problem is much, much larger than that. China’s imbalance of genders seems to have made it the largest market for internal human slavery. While many families, especially in rural areas, simply advertise for a bride for their sons, there is a growing market for kidnapped women who are delivered for a fee. They are then raped and forced into the family.
Similar tales seem to be beginning in other places with an unnaturally high male to female ratio, such as Kyrgyzstan where it has the added ‘respectability’ of being an ancient custom.
Perhaps the strangest of all the effects of the artificial skewing of sex ratios is the response of feminists. Now remember; feminists see abortion as an absolute right; any attempt to limit free access to abortion, or to convince women abortion is wrong or immoral is evil, they claim, and even the motivations for pursuing an abortion are protected as part of the right to privacy and the needs/rights of the mother to have an abortion outweigh any rights of the fetus.
Well, unless you know the fetus is female, that is.
India, China and other nations have laws making it illegal to abort a fetus based on its gender. Actually, the laws are applied in such a way to make it illegal to abort a fetus if you know that it is female. In these nations it is illegal to get an ultrasound that tells you the gender of the child to prevent you from making sex-based abortion decisions – in other words, women are denied access to all of the facts about their pregnancy to limit their abortion options.
Are feminists outraged by this abridgement? Nope, they applaud it and want stronger laws limiting abortions. More to the point, the very few feminists who speak of it are generally supportive of these laws restricting abortion access. But the majority of feminists; including NOW, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL; simply say nothing.
This is an oddly-transparent contradiction in the feminist support of abortion. We are told women must be unhindered by laws restricting abortions; that doctors, even husbands cannot really participate in or understand the decision being made; indeed, the bumper sticker buzz phrase of the pro-abortion movement is “keep your laws off my body” – yet these laws restricting access to the full data needed to make a choice about abortion are met with the deafening silence of the major pro-choice/feminist groups.
There is a simple solution – these groups recognize the inherent contradiction of their pro-abortion stance and the need for laws limiting it. Regardless of your framing, your vocabulary, or your meme choice, the facts on the ground tell us one thing: all over the world, women are using abortion to eliminate their own daughters. From India, China, South Korea, South Africa, and other ‘developing countries’ the ‘right to choose’ is being exercised to choose boy children over girl children. Why aren’t feminists crying out against this?
My theory is they will never utter a phrase that might paint abortion as something other than an absolute right, one that cannot be restricted in any way. They are horrified at the results of sex-selection in India and China, and understand the need for the laws restricting sex-selection there – but remain silent to protect their own overriding interests.
There is some evidence that Western European mothers have a slight preference for girls over boys. I assume that this would never be a topic of concern for feminists, even if it were to become as extreme as the gender imbalance in modern India.
Altogether, though, this may help to explain why demographers needs to adjust their population estimates downward so often. For years the girl deficit was largely hidden, and even now it is largely underestimated. As a result, the Total Fertility Rate estimates are accurate – it just that there are too few women available to have children anyway.
More on this topic at Protein Wisdom. Great minds think alike, I hope.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
There is a lot of hoopla over the Danish cartoons blasting Mohammed. I’ve even written a bit about it myself. But what I find fascinating is the reaction to be had from some in this country. America prides itself on being a bastion of freedom, and few champion free speech like progressives. Yet they seem to have two standards of speech and when it should be “free”.
Some say there is no difference between the Muslim rioters and Christians who protest against anti-Christian cartoons or other works. Some on the Left draw parallels, saying that outrage over Michael Moore speaking at a particular venue and the threats against him are equivalent to (and, by implication, the cause of) rioting, destruction, and actual murder throughout the Muslim world. This moral equivalency is a mask for the essential differences in the two stories. A few individuals in Utah threatened to do something, and were roundly criticized by their own people. A few million individuals all over the Muslim world are burning buildings and committing murder while being encouraged by some of their leaders. These are key, elemental differences.
The depiction of Jesus in horrible, mocking terms is common around the world, as is the terrible defamation of the Virgin Mary, Saints, and Christians in general. Protests against these vicious attacks, however, usually result in the Left claiming the right to freedom of expression, especially if it is offensive and accusing the protestors of hating freedom, or of being fascists. But the response to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed and, more critically, how the Left and various governments have responded, clearly indicate that some people are “more equal” than others, that certain religions are to be protected, others to be mocked.
The U.S. State Department issued a release indicating that the press should self-censor over these images. I am unaware of any similar statement being issued about the plethora of anti-Christian and anti-Judaic images published all over the world. Democratic politicians and pundits have spoken out against the cartoons Muslims find offensive, but take a position of silence or support for anti-Christian works.
There are clear indications that Muslims, at least some of them, want to limit freedom of speech, yet Christians that complain (without the rioting and murder, mind you) are labeled ‘fascists’ by the Left.
The biggest indicator of the difference in levels of respect comes from the media. In Nigeria Muslim rioters slaughtered Christians; when Christians fought back in kind the AP reported on “anti-Muslim riots”, barely mentioning that the violence began as anti-Christian riots by Muslims angry over cartoons in a distant country. Yet when covering the original riots (when Muslims burned churches and killed Christians), the AP did not refer to ‘anti-Christian riots’, but instead called the destruction of churches and murder of Christians a “protest”.
The New York Times refused to print the cartoons that upset Muslims, citing ‘sensitivity to religion’; they also printed articles blasting the cartoons. In the past, however, they compared Christians outraged at anti-Christian imagery (which they printed) to Nazis and recently printed a picture known to be offensive to Christians to make their point about how offensive the Danish cartoons are! If the refusal to show pictures offensive to Muslims is demonstrative of a sensitivity to Islam, is this proof they are insensitive to Christianity? Other media outlets, including CNN (who will routinely show images offensive to Christians), NBC, home to a wide range of anti-Christian shows and news, refused to display the cartoons for fear of offending Muslims.
Some college newspapers have published the cartoons, others have not. Some have said the violence is somewhat justified. None have taken a stand against anti-Christian cartoons/art/articles, nor have they discussed the ramifications in as much depth. Some of the college editors were fired, but I am unaware of any ever fired for an anti-Christian stance.
Throughout the media and the blogosphere, leftists are tying themselves into knots trying to show that the violence is justified or that all religions are equally to blame. NPR ran a piece that called for censorship of images offensive to Muslims.
There are some arguments that the refusal to display the Danish cartoons is out of pure fear, and there is some evidence that this is true. Despite their numbers in the West, Christians tend not to riot and murder, Muslims do. But in reality, it is larger than that. the real failure here is the failure of the Liberal concept of Identity Politics. A variety of writers point to identity politics as a sort of ‘colonial legacy’, a patronizing concept that Islam cannot stand or fall on its own, but needs protection because it is not ‘progressive’ enough. This condescending attitude toward Islamic ideas while Muslims come to the West has ironically formed and fueled the rise of militant Islam.
One of the core ideas of Identity Politics is that the groups identified must be marginal, oppressed, or both. So the self-identified groups are consigned to an eternal adolescence, never quite big enough or powerful enough to choose for themselves or speak on equal footing. The egotistical patronizing is stunning when looked at this way: women can *never* have parity, Muslims will *always* be ‘outside’, minorities will *forever* be oppressed – and, in addition, without the action of enlightened members of the majority, they wouldn’t even have a ‘voice’.
What are we to do? Reject the language of Identity Politics. There are over 1 billion Muslims and a number of nations ruled by Islamic law (Sharia) – they don’t need coddling. Incitement to riot is no excuse to riot – stop apologizing for how others are committing murder. Use legitimate, nn-violent forms of protest if you are offended, and speak out in return.
Pretty simple, really.
Monday, February 20, 2006
One of my longer entries is on birthrates and population. In that article I discussed historical Total Fertility Rates (TFRs), population trending and predictions, and possible impacts of population decline.
Its been almost 18 months since I did the research for that initial work, and I would like to revisit the subject. I am again going to the CIA World Factbook (this time the 2005 edition, not the 2003 edition) for big numbers with some additional information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the UN for population predictions, and some other groups.
Ready for the numbers? The global TFR estimates vary, but were about 2.7 in 2002 (the year that I used for the statistics in my previous article). In 2005 global TFR was at 2.62. The European TFR is an aggregate 1.4, the ‘developed world’ (in other words, Europe plus America, Canada, Japan, and Australia) is 1.6. South America is at a TFR of 2.5, as is Asia as a whole. Central America is at 2.8, the Middle East at 3.6, and Africa is at 5.
TFRs for a number of countries have had minor adjustments, typically reflecting lower TFRs than just 2 years ago. Interest in the so-called ‘birth dearth’ has led to more research in the last 2-5 years giving us more accurate numbers in 2006. China’s TFR dropped from 1.7 to 1.6 between 2002 and 2005, while the American TFR dropped from 2.1 in 2002 t 2.0 in 2004. The South Korean TFR dropped from 1.26 in 2000 to 1.15 in 2005. The Philippines TFR of 3.5 in 2002 has dropped to an estimated 2.7 in 2005. Again, many of these adjustments in TFR rates reflect new research, but there does seem to be an ongoing decrease in TFRs that is more rapid than was previously believed.
The most alarming downward revision may be in Japan. Japan’s TFR in 2002 was 1.32. Researchers revised the 2003 estimate to 1.29 and the new estimate for 2005 is 1.22. This is a rapid drop in TFRs and has led to the question seen in the Japan Times; “When will the last Japanese child be born?”.
Better direct access to the Middle East revised many of those numbers upwards, especially in Afghanistan. There also seems to be an increase in childbearing after American occupation. This largely kept the global TFR flat (or close to it) between 2002 and 2005.
There has been more research on replacement TFR, as well. Due to immigration, the American replacement TFR is now set at 1.8. At the same time, AIDS, war, and other factors have increased the replacement TFR for the developing world to 2.5. Taken together, the ‘flat’ global TFR combined with the increases in replacement TFRs mean that population projections are lower now than they were 16 months ago.
The UN now has the 2004 revision for its population growth estimates, including TFR estimates. There are two interesting things about the UN estimates. First, they are being continually revised down across the board. Second, the UN ‘low’ estimate is usually closest to reality, although it tends to be too high. When I had previously listed the predicted global TFR for 2025 at about 2.3 I was using the 1998 revision of the UN’s data. Looking at the 2004 revision, I will adjust my estimate to a global TFR of 1.9 in 2025.
That is a pretty serious change. It means that the population peak will come sooner and be lower still.
The UN report mentions that they predict that population decline will be relatively small and temporary, resulting in a ‘leveled off’ population of about 9 billion in 2300. Of course, one of these assumptions is that human life expectancy will continue to increase linearly with no limit (i.e., humans in 2300 will have a life expectancy of about 106) and that TFRs will rebound to replacement. They admit that an average (over time) global TFR of 2.4 will result in a year 2300 world population of about 36 billion while an average (over time) global TFR of 1.9 results in a projected year 2300 world population of possibly less than 1.9 billion, even with all other assumptions intact. Any change in death rates up, birth rates down, life expectancies that do not trend up linearly, etc., etc. and the total population is lower.
There are some interesting things coming out of the most recent demographics research. One commonly accepted ‘truth’ is called the ‘demographic transition theory’. This is the ‘elevator pitch’ for demographic transition: rather than a single theory, it is a number of theories based upon the idea that fertility rates (TFR) drop after death rates drop because it is not necessary to have “excess” children to result in the family size you want. Closely related is the idea that as economic opportunities increase there is less need for children to add to family income. Seems pretty simple, really; as fewer children die in their youth and you need fewer hands in the fields, people have fewer kids.
Well, its wrong. More and more research shows that decreases in TFR do not show any real correlation to decreases in infant mortality, the death rate, or economic progress in the developing world. The discrepancies between death rate and TFR are especially strong outside Europe. The demographic transition theories assumed that a higher percentage of children would reach adulthood and that they would live longer, creating ‘positive population pressure’ to offset the decreases in TFRs. In reality, this is certainly not reliable, causing population projections to be consistently too high.
Another accepted truth that ‘the more education a woman has, the fewer children she has’. In my first post on population I mentioned an Israeli study that showed that this was not true for women who self-identified as ‘devout’ who were Jews or Catholics; instead, devout Jewish and Catholic women tended to have more children as their education increased. More and more research is showing that any correlation between education and a decline in fertility is local, not global.
The TFR for ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ Jews in Israel is 7.0 compared to the national 2.44. In the United States the TFR of Catholics after 1965 was largely seen as no different than any other group. Indeed, some reports claimed that White Catholics had the lowest TFR in America in the mid-‘70’s. Now, however, the American Catholic TFR is highest (about 2.4), especially among Hispanic women (perhaps as high as 2.8).
In short, my earlier predictions were a bit too positive. The population maximum will probably be about 7.3 billion, the maximum will probably be reached in about 2030, and the post-peak population decline will be faster – mainly because of the recently increased death rate.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certain Humanity won’t erase itself. But there will be major changes in geopolitics and economics, changes that will be painful.
One thing that I have never understood is the general assumption by demographers that the stunning decreases in TFR were a natural adjustment to overpopulation. This general assumption is that the spike in births after WWII caused a reaction where women all over the world reduced their fertility to adjust back to a ‘better’ world-wide population. In my opinion, this makes no sense. After all, the key indicators tied in to decreasing TFR are improvements in quality of life; more income, more education, better economic factors within the surrounding society, etc. Why is it that all of those factors caused increases in local fertility until about 1960 and then, overnight, they lead to lower fertility – fertility low enough to endanger entire ethnic groups with extinction?
The Deep Thought Analysis Team has a theory that explains the precipitous decline in global TFR. The first component of this theory is the media.
The UN has been predicting a long-term reduction in population since at least 1972 while at the same time adjusting the peak population downward since 1970. The reports on population have been freely and widely available. However, the media’s attention between 1970 and about 2001 was always on the implication of the highest projected population. From the sensationalistic news coverage in the early 1970’s to the mass coverage of the ‘year 6 billion’, the news is generally very committed to warning of overpopulation as an issue.
‘Entertainment’ has also been pounding the overpopulation drum during that time. From Soylent Green to Population movies have been almost as negative as fiction novels, which range from Make Room! Make Room! (the basis for Soylent Green) and Stand on Zanzibar to dozens of others. The number of non-fiction books to speak of overpopulation is immense, beginning with The Population Bomb in 1968. Paul Ehrlich became a celebrity for The Population Bomb, a celebrity that has faded little over time, despite the failure of any of his predictions to come true.
This outpouring of fiction, non-fiction, news, and activism warning the world of overpopulation has convinced a large number of people that the greatest danger to the Earth is too many people. This doomsaying and outreach continued while the UN and demographers were predicting lower and lower peak populations each year. During the intervening four decades there have been fewer deaths from starvation than ever before in history (despite the widely-publicized political starvation of people in Ethiopia and Somalia), the caloric intake of the developing world is up 28%, India (supposedly a nation that would be ‘erased’ by famine) is an exporter of food, and the largest health threat in America may be obesity. Indeed, food is so plentiful that current food commodity prices are less than 50% of their 1970 level (adjusted for inflation); a reduction so sharp, the prices are still lower without adjusting for inflation.
The second component of our theory for plunging TFRs is the unique changes in reproduction in the last 40 years.
Until 1930 the use of artificial contraception was condemned by all Christian denominations and was generally illegal in the West. After the authorized the use of artificial contraception in 1930, however, all major Christian organizations but the Catholic Church followed suit within a few years. However, most forms of contraception remained illegal or difficult to obtain until the repeal of certain state laws began in the late 1950’s, resulting in the broad availability of prophylactics about 1960. The first effective oral contraceptive (‘the Pill’) was also made available in 1960 (although not generally available until about 1965). Finally, throught the 1960’s and 1970’s abortion was being legalized, first in the West, then worldwide.
Thus the 1960’s were the first time in human history that contraceptives were both readily available and actually effective. Their introduction at the same time as the media and cultural belief in and promotion of the idea of apocalyptic overpopulation resulted in a massive push to promote radical population control in the form of dispensing birth control world-wide, especially to the developing world. Planned Parenthood, the UN, and dozens of organizations and governments have spent up to tens of billions of dollars per year providing contraceptives and abortion services throughout the globe. Massive education campaigns are conducted advocating the use of contraceptives and fighting for access to and the subsidizing of abortion. Indeed, the promotion of birth control and abortion is so forceful that have been cases where ‘family planning’ equipment bumps medicines and even food off of relief supply trips; the birth control is seen as more ‘essential’.
The third component of the theory has to do with attitudes.
In the 1860’s Sir Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) came to the conclusion that civilization was thwarting natural selection in humans. In 1865 he wrote ‘Hereditary Talent and Character’, a key element in the creation of Social Darwinism, or the belief that the poor, ignorant, unsuccessful, less intelligent, etc. were genetically undesirable. Galton, however, also went on in later works to advocate the artificial selection of humans for genius. Along with a number of other writers and thinkers, this developed into the concepts of eugenics.
By the beginnings of the 20th Century eugenics was considered a social science and major universities around the world (except in Catholic nations) taught courses on eugenics as a mainstream science. Largely seen as a ‘progressive’ science, it was focused on bettering mankind. Proponents of Eugenics included Alexander Graham Bell, W.E.B. DuBois, and William Shockley.
Another prominent eugenicist was Margaret Sanger (who was the primary source of funds for the development of the Pill). Margaret Sanger worked with Harry Laughlin (a prominent eugenicist inspired Nazi sterilization laws) and actively promoted birth control chiefly as a method of ensuring “more children from the fit, less from the unfit”. Sanger also campaigned hard for both compulsory sterilization laws (she was largely successful in this) and a requirement that a married couple demonstrate ‘fitness’ before being licensed to have a child (something she failed at). This attitude, that the right to have children should be restricted by the government, was echoed in The Tragedy of the Commons, a book released at the same time as The Population Bomb.
The eugenics concept popularized the idea of children as a commodity; ‘fit’ children were seen as a positive, ‘unfit’ children as a negative. Combined with the economic arguments of Planned Parenthood, society came to see children as a burden that must be justified. When added to the overpopulation hysteria, the result is the conclusion by many that having children is inherently evil.
The fourth component of the theory is more subtle than many of the others and a bit harder to quantify.
As mentioned above, the conventional wisdom about fertility has been that; well informed women have fewer children; Highly-educated women also have fewer children; wealthy women have fewer children than poor women; women with a successful career have fewer children, too. Whether these statements are true or false, they are repeated in the media, the classroom, and by advocates of birth control.
The result is not that women with few or no children are lauded, but that women with ‘too many’ children are seen as ignorant, poorly educated, poor, and as failures. This may be especially true in the developing world where women are trying to emulate their ideal of success, or what they are told will result in wealth and freedom.
The entire theory posits that the prevalence and acceptance of birth control and abortion combined with the concepts that children are a burden that must be justified, that overpopulation is a dire and imminent threat, and the social pressures that stigmatize mothers of large families, are acting to drive down fertility rates around the world.
The implications of this are pretty serious; if true, there is no inherent counter to the trend. As long as the various pressures to lower TFRs exist, they should continue to go down. At some point we must assume that the general population will recognize that overpopulation is not an issue, let alone a threat, and TFRs will begin rebounding. Unfortunately, this may not happen until after the die-off of entire cultures, even entire races.
In the absence of such a realization, we must depend upon the actions of religion. Certain religions, primarily Judeo-Christian religions, advocate an expanding population as inherently positive. At current rates, this means that Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics will increase as a percentage of the global population, and this increase will only accelerate over the next 100 years.
I dislike making predictions about something as variable as population growth, but it is conceivable that the Earth of 2300 will have a population of 5 billion people; 1 billion Jews, 3 billion Catholics, and 1 billion ‘everyone else’.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I seem to have failed in my attempt to be clear in my last post, so please let me clarify.
I will now try to be painfully obvious; my post was primarily a critique of the political conclusions drawn by Lakoff . I do have reservations about framing as it is described by Lakoff, and some of these reservations were addressed in my post. My primary goal, though, was to show that the Strict Father/Nurturant Parent paradigm espoused by Lakoff (and taken up by many Liberals) is no more than a litany of stereotypes and misconceptions propped up as scientific theory, resulting on more confusions and misunderstanding, not less.
For a few more examples of the issues I have with the Strict Father/Nurturant Parent paradigm, a quick search around the internet will find that it is used to claim that Conservatives are oppressors of women, incapable of rational thought, racists, want to own slaves, believe that poverty is caused by moral failure while success is a barometer of moral strength, etc. Yet the Nurturant Parent model paints Liberals as empathetic, fair, honest, open, and trustworthy. In short, the Strict/Nurturant dichotomy paints Conservatives as evil and Liberals as good – inherently.
Even the largely cursory critique I made of this in my last post shows that Lakoff’s Strict Father/Nurturant Parent model is totally inadequate; in addition to completely ignoring the depth and complexity of thought and ideology on the Right, it does the same for the Left. Even many progressives are disappointed at the errors this now-popular model seems to introduce. I hesitate to draw the comparison, but I will admit that I find the parallels between the progressive rhetoric justified by Lakoff’s model and the progressive rhetoric justified by eugenics chilling.
I believe this stereotypical framework was developed primarily because of the Liberal conceit common in some progressive circles that if everyone has all the facts, they must be a Liberal. This unbelievably egotistical idea is more common than you might think, and Lakoff’s analogy is used widely by many in this crowd to explain why people who obviously do have access to the facts dare to disagree with them.
There are some very interesting locations out there with fascinating discussions of ‘framing’ in general and especially with references to Lakoff’s particular work. I recommend this as a decent place to start, and the author has a great deal of related writing. The author of this blog (BTW, it is Chris of Mixing Memory) has criticized me for my last post. Since he seems to agree with me that Lakoff does a lousy job of explaining framing and that the Strict/Nurturant model is inadequate, I believe that he is upset because I called Lakoff ‘postmodern’; Bora at Science and Politics has voiced the same complaint.
While a consistent definition of ‘Postmodern’ is a bit hard to nail down, when speaking of philosophy I mean it as ‘the belief or position that reality is not objective, but is rather a subjective human construct, typically an outgrowth of language and social systems’. So, as the term ‘postmodern’ is generally applied in philosophy, and as I apply it, Lakoff and his Embodied Mind Theory is indeed postmodern. I do not seem to be alone in this. You are free to disagree, of course.
Lastly, I suggest that anyone interested in the numbers of scientists that are interested in Lonergan’s General Empirical Method and its use by and among scientists contact the closest Lonergan Institute or their closest Jesuit university; either will gladly introduce you to scientists willing to talk to you or direct you to academic papers and other resources.
Friday, February 10, 2006
How People Think, Why They Think, and If There is Anything to Think About
As I discussed waaaay back at one of my very first posts, I am fascinated with theories of how people think. Personally, I am a huge fan of Lonergan and his theories on consciousness, value choices, etc. called the General Empirical Method or GEM. Fr. Lonergan’s theories are well developed, have a very interesting goal, and developments in the GEM theory are widely followed by philosophers, theologians, and scientists.
Therefore, my construction of the universe is inherently objective; reality does indeed exist separately from a viewer; that reality can be known through the senses and the use of reason; value judgments can be made based upon reality; therefore, truth is an objective reality, as are such things as morals and ethics. Where I begin to differ from Objectivists is that I am teleological; I believe there is a source of this objective reality and its moral and ethical framework. While it may be shocking, shocking!, to discover that a devout Catholic with a degree in Theology is a Thomist, please remember that I became a Catholic after agreeing with St. Thomas, not the other way around.
As you may imagine, I have issues with a great deal of Postmodern theory. I recently encountered some of the effects of some specific PoMo work, though. While cruising around that internet thingy you’ve obviously heard about, I ran into the blog Science and Politics. In particular, I ran into this post on Creationism. Now, I am no creationist and have often taken the ‘side’ of evolution in debates, so that didn’t hold a lot of interest to me. No, what caught my eye was the blog author’s contention that conservatives must think the way they do because environmental factors that have left them unable to think clearly.
The author arrives at the conclusions he does seemingly based upon the theories of a linguist name Lakoff. While Lakoff may be decent in linguistics (although as a theologian and former professional linguist I have little respect for many current professionals in linguistics) he is most famous for his theories in philosophy and cognition. His Embodied Mind Thesis is a typical Postmodern conceptualization; it rejects logic as a keystone (or even serious element) of thought and rejects the very concept of objective reality. Instead, Lakoff’s theory proposes that thought is made up of metaphorical interplay, leading to him concluding that mathematics is based upon cognitive bias (i.e., mathematics is not objective, but inherently biased) and rejecting falsifiability as a possibility, among other things.
In his book Moral Politics Lakoff purports to explain not just that Liberals and Conservatives think differently, but to explain how and why they think differently. His basic argument (and I am being brief) is that there are two main ‘frames of thought’; the Stern Father and the Nurturing Parent. Conservatives, he argues, hold the metaphor of the Stern Father, while Liberals hold the metaphor of the Nurturing Parent. The Stern Father outlook is, he argues, bad while the Nurturing Parent is good.
I assume no one is shocked to learn that Prof. Lakoff, a
The biggest issue I have with the books Moral Politics and his other political work Don’t Think of an Elephant! is that they describe stereotypes and misconceptions of ‘generic’ Conservative thought as a monolithic whole, and then mischaracterizes the impetus behind even that broad stroke image! Let me explain.
In an interview, Lakoff associates fear with the Stern Father/Conservatives, who wish to keep the nation in fear, and joy with the Nurturing Parent/Liberals, who want to stress the positive aspects of
Lakoff also contends in the interview that the Strict Father/Conservative believes the world to be a dangerous place while the Nurturant Parent/Liberal believes that the world is able to be made better (he did not state what Liberals think the world to currently be in this part of the interview). Yet he admits that a primary goal of Liberals is to protect people from the ‘evils’ of the world; a bad environment, smoking, unscrupulous businessmen, etc. This contrasts with his contention that Conservatives see people as inherently bad who must be made good while Liberals think they are inherently good. Good people don’t need mandatory safety laws, do they? So why do Liberals promote them and Conservatives oppose them?
Here’s where the disconnect comes in; the core defining element of Conservative politics in the last 30 or so years has been a desire for less governmental intervention, i.e. fewer laws and regulations. There are differences in ideology, religion, etc., but Conservative political parties agree that they want the people to be trusted with decisions. Liberals, on the other hand, have called for more and more regulation; smoking bans, seat belt regulations, helmet laws, environmental laws affecting land use, etc. In short, by actions Conservatives demonstrate that they trust individuals to act in a positive/moral manner while Liberals demonstrate that they believe that individuals will act in a negative/immoral manner. Conservatives want (in broad terms) to remove strictures on behaviors while Liberals want to (again, broadly) coerce positive behavior from recalcitrant individuals who cannot be trusted.
Who seems to view people as ‘good” and who seems to view people as “bad”? Again, experience and the statements of people show Lakoff to be wrong.
Another error of Lakoff is his belief that Conservatives have a no meddling concept; that ‘grown children are to be exempt from their fathers’. He argues that the American antipathy towards governmental interference is part and parcel of this. I would argue that the American antipathy toward governmental interference is because Conservatives resent the government attempting to replace the influence of the father, even with grown children.
In a similar vein, Lakoff argues that Conservatives oppose Feminists because the Strict Father must subordinate women. This leaves him unable to explain, however, Conservative Feminists (as he admits, tacitly) and betrays a lack of comprehension of the nuances of Conservative thought.
Stunningly, he concludes that this same subordination of women is the source of Conservative opposition to abortion! Either he is unaware of the broad range of Pro-life thought or he dismisses it out of hand. Regardless, it places him in the position of being unable to explain Liberal opposition to abortion.
Implied but unacknowledged in Lakoff’s description of the difference between Conservative thought and Liberal thought is the undercurrent of independence; Conservatives, he claims, raise their children to be independent and to leave to form their own families. While I disagree with his assessment that the “Father” then has nothing to do with them, his conceptualization of the “Nurturant Parent” is interesting in one very important aspect; he explicitly admits that a) children need protection from the evils of the world, b) family is seen as community, and vice-versa, c) Moral Agents are ‘Nurturing Parents’, d) people who need help are ‘children’, e) moral ‘growth’ never ends. In short, he is arguing that, in the Liberal worldview, people who need help never grow up – and everyone needs help. Like Peter Pan, people remain co-dependent children forever in need of protection from the evils of the world. But who is to care for them? Why, the more ‘moral’, who act as parents. No one is independent, all are children.
I find this a terrifying model, especially in light of his statement that in a Liberal worldview obedience to ‘moral agents’ comes from “love and respect, not fear of punishment”. The implications are that disobedience to Liberal thought is due to a failure of love, a failure of respect, not independent thought or disagreement with the moral agent. It carries a whiff of the re-education camps of Soviet Russian and
Another serious issue with Lakoff’s theory is that while he purports that the Strict Father/Nurturant Parent concepts are just that – concepts, he then makes broad generalizations and tries to use research in child development and use them as illustrations of why Conservatives are pathological. In one instance linked here, he argues that since some real-world fathers are too strict and their abused children grow up to be psychologically damaged, that means Conservatives are also psychologically damaged. This is akin to calling Conservatives ‘dinosaurs’ and then using paleontology to show that they are doomed to extinction!
As offensive as that may be, there is one thing that keeps refuting Lakoff; that pesky objective reality I mentioned earlier. His core conceit is that Liberals are failing politically because they are using the wrong words. If they could just get people to hear their real message, he argues, Liberalism would be triumphant. One of his key arguments to illustrate this is that Conservatives refer to “tax relief”. Lakoff argues at length that this is merely a framing device, a tool that makes people see taxes negatively. If Liberals use a positive framing device, he argues, people wouldn’t support reductions in taxes.
Unfortunately for him and the Liberal politicians he advises, he’s wrong. People don’t like taxes, regardless of the wording. A number of polls indicate that people do, indeed, understand the Liberal political message – they just don’t like it. More critically, intelligent people realize that underneath the fancy rhetoric this is that same old Liberal argument; “If you really understood the issues, you’d think just like me”, with the implication that disagreement with Liberal ideas is based in ignorance or stupidity, or mere churlishness.
Lakoff’s Strict Father model indicates that Conservative thought equates worldly success with moral strength/authority. Yet this is a total contradiction to the theological anthropology of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a hierarchcal religious institution led by men that focuses on moral authority, self-denial, etc. In short, it is almost certainly what Lakoff was thinking of during many of his formulations of Embodied Mind Theory. And I doubt anyone would argue against the idea that the Catholic Church is both Conservative and ideologically influential.
Yet Catholic Theology explicitly rejects the concept of material success having any correlation to moral authority. Also, Lakoff argues that Conservatives reject the unsuccessful as ‘unworthy’; this does not explain the fact that 4 of the 5 largest charities in the
One thing I find fascinating in the internal inconsistency of many of Lakoff’s supporters. For example, this writer, a staunch supporter of Lakoff, argues in the linked article that Conservatives need tightly-knit communities in order to be/remain conservatives. Yet Lakoff argues that communities of such a nature are a natural outgrowth of Liberal/Nurturant Parent conceptualization. So which is it? Do Liberals live in tight-knit communities of mutual support, or do Conservatives?
In the same piece, Bora argues that as time goes on more and more people will attend college and avoid fear-induced clinging to ‘cults’, resulting in a rational, sane world. In addition to the insulting narcissism he displays (the implication that Conservatives are uneducated or, if educated, in the grips of a ‘cult’), Bora seems to forget that Lakoff argues that no one is rational; Bora himself is, in Embodied Mind Theory, incapable of being objectively rational because Lakoff contends there is no such thing; we are all within our ‘frames’ and unable to move beyond them. Either Bora does not understand Lakoff, or he has neglected that part in favor of his own opinions.
Which begs the question; if everyone is trapped within their own frame, how did Lakoff realize that and write a book? And what good will the book and his many lectures, etc. accomplish if we are, indeed, bound about by our particular frame? More to the point, in the absence of objective reality, how can he demonstrate he is correct? If he can, does that prove him wrong? If he can’t, should we care? Lakoff’s arguments are the same tired old saw – ‘Liberals are right, Conservatives are wrong. But those poor, benighted Conservatives are sooooooo [ignorant/stupid/selfish/trapped/evil] to realize how barbaric they are’.
Similarly, Lakoff argues that Conservatives don’t present facts or arguments, they sow fear and confusion; this induces people into the Strict Father paradigm (how? Beats me!) and causes them to become unthinking Conservatives. I wonder what all of those Conservative think tanks and policy wonks and all those position papers and economic analyses are for, then? Yet Liberals think Conservatives are condescending?
G. K Chesterton once wrote of Aristotlean/Thomistic philosophy that he liked it because in it “…an egg is an egg…”, meaning that there was no need for an elaborate mental framework to describe simple reality. What Lakoff has done is take the fact that people look at the world and come to different conclusions and decided that this means there is no objective world and no rational thought. Instead, he posits an elaborate mental framework that forces us into specific thought patterns and prevents us from using or understanding language in ways foreign to that framework.
Likewise, the reason that Liberals are losing elections is probably not that most people don’t understand Liberal positions, it’s that most people don’t agree with Liberal positions. Or, in many cases, they do agree with many Liberal positions and many Conservative ones, but vote and act based upon positions they see as key to their own lives.
Liberals continue to cling to the belief that they alone are logical, that they alone are rational, and if the rest of us were to just ‘get it’, everyone would agree with them. They do not see this as patronizing, or insulting, or even horribly egotistical. They just keep wondering why they have less and less influence on public discourse.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
What a crazy week for the world, all because of some cartoons. Don’t get me wrong; I am aware that cartoons are for grownups, too. But it seems that the publication of a series of cartoons of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, has created a bit of a stir in the world and the blogosphere.
Let me be clear; many of the links I will put in this piece go on to link to the cartoons in question. I will not try to link to them directly because I think they are offensive. I don’t directly link to cartoons mocking Jesus, Moses, Buddha, the Blessed Virgin, etc. so I won’t link to something like this, either. However, I am not responsible for outside content and some pages may, indeed, have the cartoons.
I also support the rights of Muslims around the world to boycott Danish products, rename ‘Danish’ pastries as ‘Mohammed’s’ pastries, burn the flags of other nations, march in protest, write angry letters, etc. I think that the attacks on various Muslim groups on Danish and other embassies is obviously illegal and needs to be stopped immediately. But the rest is no different than what any aggrieved group does when offended. Such acts are a key ingredient in an open, free, civil society.
Muslims do have a right to be upset. Even if there were no general ban on or dislike of depictions of Allah and Mohammed, the cartoons are simply offensive. The artist who drew them must have known that they would be seen as offensive and any reasonable person would have suspected that a violent response was possible. This also goes for the editors of the newspaper that printed them and all who reprinted them. Anyone who states that they didn’t expect trouble as a result of the cartoons is being dishonest.
Yes, it took time for the cartoons to stir things up. Yes, other inflammatory items unrelated to the cartoons were included in the evidence used to stir a response. All true. But it took time for the outraged response to the ‘artwork’ that was seen as hurtful and/or blasphemous by Christians, as well as Jews, in a number of instances shows that it simply takes time for people to learn about these incidents.
Despite my belief that Muslims have a right to be upset, they do not have a right to attack embassies and missions or attack people! As Robert Heinlein once said, incitement to riot is no excuse for a riot. Like it or not, however, Muslims do seem to have a history of reacting violently to a wide range of comments about Islam and Mohammed.
So, to sum up: a group of Danish editors and artists create cartoons that would abviously offend Muslims. Muslims do, indeed, get offended and react with boycotts, flag burnings, and violence.
However, all of this is just the background to what I want to look at. And what I want to look at is the hypocrisy of identity politics.
Identity politics is, shortly, the concept that politics is based upon groups and that groups are defined by some inherent ‘identity’ (for lots of details, follow the link). Group identities are usually based upon concepts like skin color/race, gender/sexual orientation, disability, etc., and are also usually defined as disadvantaged, or having a lower social, political, or other position within the general society. While not unique to the Left, identity politics is often integral to Liberals’ political theories and activities in America. One outgrowth is multiculturalism, or the concept that individual groups should remain as they are and be allowed to practice as they wish, and it has led to tolerance being held as one of the highest virtues of a free society.
But that is a problem, because tolerance and identity politics inevitably clash in the realm of multiculturalism. As an example that will be stark to my devout Christian readers, any opposition to homosexuality, its depiction, public demonstration of homosexuality, etc. are immediately branded as homophobia; a bigot, a small minded person, a hater, etc. As a result of the argument that being opposed to homosexuality, its practice, laws normalizing it, etc., being called bigoted, there are now laws on the books that make opposing homosexual a crime; hate speech laws make speaking out against homosexuality. Even in the US speech codes at schools are designed to punish people who speak out against ‘protected groups’, such as gays.
While the gay rights movement is openly political with their attempts to change moral and social attitudes through propaganda and legislation, their opponents risk breaking the law for opposing them. Thus, one side of the debate is free to speak, the other is not. While gay activists label their opponents as bigots and Nazis, while the other side of what should be a debate cannot express itself in any terms without being attacked in some manner. Free speech for one side and not the other, it seems.
But now the diversity crowd is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The same impulse that led MSM outlets to refer to the Muslim rioters in France as merely ‘youths’ to avoid offending Muslims now means that they must struggle to come up with ‘root causes’ for the violence sparked by cartoons. While their advocacy of ‘free speech’ (as they define it) prompts them to call all those who would bar ‘art’ demeaning to Christians as fascist they then decide to not publish the cartoons because they are ‘offensive’. Thus, it is acceptable, even noble, to denigrate and attack one religion, but not another.
I do not think this is a situation where Muslims are violent and Christians aren’t, so the press fears Muslims. No, I think this is much deeper and more dangerous. I truly think that they do think it is noble to attack Christians (the majority of people they hate are Christians) and not OK to attack Muslims (Muslims are poor, oppressed people). But they oppose violence. The result? They have no answer.
Here is the key to the inevitable doom of Liberalism; its contradictions will destroy it. All groups may speak freely except for the ones that are largely Judeo-Christian. Groups that oppose Judeo-Christian values must be allowed to speak. The rights and freedoms enjoyed by Liberals derive from Judeo-Christian civilization. The end result is that modern Liberalism is a suicide pact; they hate the source of their own rights and freedoms as they support those who would take away their rights and freedoms. If they ‘lose’ to conservatives, they will slowly fade away. If they succeed, they will slowly be enslaved. Either way, they do not matter in the long run.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Over the weekend feminist Betty Friedan passed away. Hailed in both life and death as an icon of Feminism, I have a vague, half-hearted connection to her: she went to Smith College, my wife’s alma mater. Her iconic status comes from authoring the book The Feminine Mystique and co-founding NOW. I would like to take a look at this woman who many consider to have essentially helped found Second Wave Feminism.
Bettye Goldstein was born in the Midwest in 1921 to a jewelry store owner father and a newspaper editor mother. Although as a Jew she felt discriminated against during her high school years in Peoria, she lived a life of privilege and eventually attended Smith College (which, I must add, is as academically tough as they come in addition to being a not-inexpensive ivy league school). She went on to grad school in Berkeley (studying psychology) and turned down a fellowship for PhD work in psychology in about 1942.
Drawn to journalism in imitation of her mother, after leaving school Betty went to Greenwich Village and became a journalist. She married Carl Friedan, a budding theatre director, in 1947, eventually having three children. At the birth of her third child, Betty and her family moved from the garden apartment community of Parkway Village in Queens to Rockland County. During this time she continued to work as a journalist, primarily as part of the labor movement of the period.
According to ‘the story’ Betty conducted a survey of her fellow Smith alumnae in 1957 and discovered that most were unhappy; this, it is said, was the spark that led to The Feminine Mystique. The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963 and was pretty much an instant hit.
The core argument of The Feminine Mystique is that the concept that women find happiness in the family is a false consciousness; that men returning from WWII wanted mothering from their wives, causing an environment where women lost their identities by being subsumed into their families. The truth, she argued, was that women were to find fulfillment in work outside the home, in a professional career. She also argued that children were made weak-willed and listless by being too much in the company of their mother and that removing them from the family earlier would be better for them.
In 1966 Betty co-founded the National Organization of Women and served as its first president, from ’66 to ’70. In 1969 she also co-founded NARAL. Also in 1969 was her divorce from Carl, whom she accused of beating her; he strongly denied those claims and Betty later retracted them. She continued as an activist, writer, and speaker until her death this last weekend.
From biography to obituary, most writings of Betty’s life seem oddly similar and oddly bland. Her life after the presidency of NOW and her divorce is largely absent from most biographies, even while listing her bibliography. It can be difficult for people to learn what her husband Carl’s profession was, or even the names of her children and where she worked as a young woman. For all of her impact and the fact that she is largely the link connecting groups like NOW and NARAL to each other as well as founding them, we know far, far less about her personal life than we do about, say, Gloria Steinem’s own life. There is some speculation that if her supporters believe details of her life would undermine her message. Let’s look at it, shall we?
Her various biographies agree that Betty was born into a family that can be described as ‘upper middle class’. Although she often described herself as a ‘typical suburban housewife’, in interviews she admits that she hated the suburbs and never lived there, instead moving from privileged urban life to an exclusive exurban area to raise her children. While in interviews and articles she repeatedly claims that after she was fired during her second pregnancy she became ‘essentially a housewife’, in reality she maintained a full-time job outside the home as a freelance journalist and employed a full-time maid. Indeed, her husband complained at the time that she was so busy with her career he felt that she was neglecting her role as a wife and mother. While this may not be a damning statement to a modern feminist, it sorely undercuts her claims that she was ‘trapped’ at home, unfulfilled.
In actuality, Betty Friedan was a highly-active communist activist and agitator. A staunch Stalinist, some argue that Betty’s opposition to the ‘nuclear family’ had a lot more to do with the communist theory than with ‘liberating’ women. So her contention that the ‘woman problem’ only interested her after her Alumnae meeting is almost certainly false. Her long devotion to communism is well described in many of the links here, as well as in Daniel Horowitz’s book Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminist Mystique. When Betty learned that Prof. Horowitz planned to tell the truth about her work at the time of the writing of The Feminine Mystique she accused him of ‘red baiting’ and refused to cooperate.
Indeed, the influence of communism on modern feminism is so great that it is impossible to deny that Second Wave Feminism is no more than an outgrowth of communism. Communist theory held that only by eradicating the morals and customs of the past could the utopic communist world be made. Thus much of the language of Feminism is borrowed from communist writings, ranging from the support and promotion of abortion to idea of the exploitation of women by men being a part of existing political and economic structures. Some scholars have noted that feminism has weakened or died in post-communist Europe.
Another complaint about The Feminine Mystique and Second Wave Feminism is that both focused on, essentially upper-middle class White women. The author bell hooks points out that the call for women to leave the home and find a fulfilling career ignores poor women for whom a lifetime of work was the norm and who considered domestic life a luxury to be desired. Further, hooks points out that Friedan and the other leading feminists of the time (mostly upper-middle class Whites, as well) failed to discuss, perhaps even realize, who would be called in to replace the educated, upper middle class Whites who were leaving the home.
My conclusions? Betty Friedan was an effective writer and justly an icon for the feminist movement. She was also a Stalinist, lied about her background to be more appealing, and effective, and was almost solely interested in people she was most familiar with, people like herself: wealthy, educated, professional women with no need to work, but instead a surplus of time and money based upon their social and economic situation.
Since the publication of The Feminine Mystique the divorce rate has exploded, the number of children without fathers has gone from almost-none to the majority of all children, and the average woman has become less likely to marry or have children. Yet single women are poorer than married women, especially if they are single mothers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, study after study finds that married women are better off than single women. As time goes on, young men are less likely to marry because they can gain many of the advantages of marriage (companionship, sex, social connections, etc.) without the legal and ethical obligations of marriage. In short, more women are educated and have careers. But more women are single, poor, unwed mothers.
Millions of American women embraced Second Wave Feminism. The results have been, at best, mixed. While women seem to have more choices in education and careers, they are more limited in family and home life. They have given up the prospect of stable homes for fickle careers and fewer marriage prospects. My big questions, though, is this: if Betty had told the truth about her background, would as many women have followed her?
Friday, February 03, 2006
Here is a little game you can play from home. Just read along, record your answers, then check the key at the bottom. Just like Cosmo!
1) The following quote:
“It must be thoroughly understood that [our] lost land will never be won back by solemn appeals to God, nor by hopes in [international bodies], but only by the force of arms.”
was made by;
A) Ahmed Yassin, Hamas leader
B) Adolf Hitler, Nazi
2) This quote:
“[They] have killed only when they could not achieve their aim in other ways ...’
A) By Noam Chomsky about Islamic terrorists
B) By Hitler about his storm troopers
3) This quote:
“[We] are not a warlike nation. …[our nation] does not want a war, but does not fear it. It loves peace but also loves its honor and freedom”
A) Is about Nazi Germany
B) Is about Palestine
4) This quote:
“It has always seemed to me that in dealing with foreign countries we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality, which is not always the same as our own… ”
Was said by,
A) George Clooney about terrorists
B) Neville Chamberlain about the invasion of Sudentenland by the Nazis
5) This quote:
“We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this county … ”
Was made by;
A) Neville Chamberlain in the prelude to the invasion of Poland
B) Ted Kennedy in the aftermath of 9/11
“We take any and every territory that we can... and establish sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes... we can [strike] the final blow against [Jews]”
Was said by;
“If the people… have expressed their will by voting for [that party], we should respect it and give [them] a chance to prove itself while in government”
Was said about;
"[The Party] will educate our children," she said… a day after [the Party’s]' sweeping victory…. They will feed the poor."
Is a statement made by;
A) A Bavarian woman in 1936
B) A Palestinian woman this week
“Unemployment rose drastically, and… many… were drawn to [the Party], which offered… solutions to their problems…. Consequently, [voters] believed it could establish a government that would be more effective than the [existing party]. In elections … [the Party] received more votes than any other…”
Answer Key: 1) B, 2) B, 3) A, 4) B, 5) A, 6) A, 7) A, 8) B, 9) B
I love to tell myself that I have a dynamic, complex outlook on politics, economics, and philosophy; it makes me feel good to self-congratulate that way. I suspect, though, that everyone that disagrees with me thinks the same of their own viewpoints.
One person out there that I sometimes disagree with but enjoy reading is Shakespeare’s Sister. I’ll admit it – I first found her page when looking up some stuff on Ms. Woolf. I will also admit to being an infrequent reader.
Anywhoo, I dipped in today and found this article, Food for Thought, which got me to thinking about two of my personal peeves. First, the discussion of ‘class’ in America and the unspoken assumption that ‘poor’ equals ‘urban Blacks’. Second, the contention that the government should solve, well, whatever.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the article first. Shakes (as she is referred to) writes:
“Health is a class issue. We’re all very understanding about the disparity in healthcare between the upper/middle and lower classes, but we seem not to be quite so keyed in to some fundamental challenges facing low income families when it comes to a disparity in nutrition and the availability of healthy foods.”
Sociologist use economics as a guide to ‘class’, but I personally feel the term is too loaded to be used in other contexts. While it can mean just ‘arbitrary divisions based on income’ (like ‘middle class’) it usually connotes concepts of inequality in social status and political power. My biggest issue, though, it that it usually used in a manner that contends that people with similar economic situations do/should/must share political affiliation. I find this very troubling, as if there is a poor person’s party and a rich person’s party, etc. I’ll discuss this more below.
Shakes goes on:
“We’ve likely all heard the term “white flight” that is associated with whites moving out of cities and into the suburbs, and during that time, most cities experienced a “supermarket flight,” too—a phenomenon that has been studied and/pr noted by sociologists, urban planners, politicians, and community leaders concerned about the lack of access to affordable, high-quality and healthy food for inner city residents”
Ba-ding – we have smoothly segued from speaking of ‘class’ to ‘low income families’ to ‘inner city residents’ who are by implication Blacks. In two paragraphs it is clearly spoken and implied that one class is middle/upper income suburban Whites, another is lower income urban Blacks. These stereotypes are pervasive and pernicious.
When you see media depictions of poverty in America in the media it is all too easy for the faces of urban minorities to be shown. The reasons are simple; they live near the media outlets, they are also close to universities (meaning they are more studied as ‘the poor’ – see the two studies cited by Shakes), and underlying stereotypes held by the media.
Yes, stereotypes. You see, most poor people aren’t minorities and aren’t urban.
About 37 million Americans live below the poverty line. Of these, 25 million, or 67.5%, are White non-Hispanics. And of all those in poverty, about 25 million live in rural areas. Rural poor have less access to housing and healthcare than urban poor. The rural poor also have less access to social services, education and educational assistance, and virtually no access to public transportation.
Food insecurity is about equal between rural and urban poor. The rural poor have about as much difficulty locating healthy food as the urban poor and rates of obesity are similar. Add in that the rural poor are more likely to be working parents, and there is some concern that poor children in rural areas eat less well than urban poor children.
OK, so I think I’ve made my first point; poverty is not a racial issue. While the percentages of poverty vary by race, absolute numbers are pretty egalitarian. Since more poor live in rural areas, poverty is also not an urban issue. The definitions of blue collar work and white collar work are breaking down (if they were ever valid in the first place) so poverty is not associated with a particular type of work. Lastly, economic mobility in America is alive, well, and common, meaning that people can and do leave poverty, preventing poverty from being a clan or family issue.
So. While access to healthy food may be an issue associated with poverty, the poor (not being united by race, occupation, urban/rural living, economic or social rigidity, or blood) are not a ‘class’ of people.
While this may seem trivial, I think that the use of ‘classist’ language is dangerous. Not just for the usual “no class warfare” reasons, but because I fear that the result is stereotyping; if I am ‘poor’ I can become wealthy, but if I am ‘of that class’ is that something I can ever change? In my experience the word ‘class’ carries implications of hierarchy, and I do not think anyone is ‘above’ or ‘below’ anyone else. Thus, I resent the use of the term.
My other issue with the piece is the assumption that ‘the government’ should fix… well, whatever it is that is going on. From the comments, the Disgruntled Chemist wrote:
“The government is, quite simply, failing that woman who only has access to city bus service once a week, who can't afford to go grocery shopping and can't afford decent groceries when she gets there.”
To which Shakes replied:
“Absolutely. This is an issue with which I've been familiar for some time for various reasons, but in reading through many of the studies done again today and so many stories like Mrs. Morris', I was left in tears. We're failing so many people, so completely, on the most basic level - a lack of healthy food and water, and then, when the inevitable health problems occur, a lack of decent healthcare. And meanwhile, Congress just cut the budget for necessary services in exactly that vein today.”
Excuse me? Since when is it the government’s responsibility to give you a ride? I like public transportation, I’ve routinely used public transportation. Public transportation is a local government issue decided by local politicians. I have no idea what Congress has to do with that. Routes are based on usage and cost, normally. While I am sure that the city would love to run buses everywhere at all times, I suspect that such profligacy would cost so much it would eat into those “necessary services” she mentions.
I am also appalled by the linked article about government opening supermarkets for the poor. If they are as well-managed as the Corps of Engineers, look out! Especially since the end result would probably be the government telling recipients of public assistance where to shop, and then controlling what is available, with the result that the government controls what you can and can’t eat ‘for your own good’.
You really want to make healthy food cheaper? Get the government out of the food business! Federal farm subsidies raise food prices about $25 billion a year. The most direct of these are programs that restrict imports, limit production, and even have the government buying food and then letting it rot , all to purposefully drive food prices up. In the late 1960’s American farmers were losing market share and the Department of Agriculture (among others) was tasked with a way of using more farm waste. The result was high fructose corn syrup, which is heavily subsidized by the government. Thus, it is used in darn near every processed food out there. Since HFCS seems to be a trigger for obesity, the result is that processed food is cheaper and less healthy – all because someone demanded the government “step in and do something!”.
In other words, if you want to make food cheaper, get rid of the government programs that increase the prices of most produce. And if you want to make inexpensive food healthier, end the government subsidies that make fats and sweeteners plentiful and cheap. Since the majority of government subsidies go to large agribusiness, this would also allow more local farm coops and independent farmers sell directly to local stores, actually reducing distribution costs so that those small stores can afford a wider variety or products without the huge pre-orders the chains use to get such concessions.