Posts Tagged ‘ awesome people

Badass Doctor Single-Handedly Doubles Access to Abortion in Mississippi

This is a small part of a much bigger thought, but I can’t think of a better place to start. Mississippi is down to its last abortion clinic. Tennessee has lost half its providers in the last decade; for some residents, the nearest clinic is upwards of 240 miles away. As we zip through the end of another election cycle, we’ll no doubt hear–well those of us who are in the half-dozen or so swing states will no doubt hear–about how great the incumbent ruler has been on reproductive issues.

For women in rural areas, however, the last 4 years have seen the barriers to abortion raise with alarming quickness. Nevertheless, progressives are marching on with the mantra of “four more years.” The only action that can prevent the outright banning of abortion is the one that is currently leading to the de facto banning of abortion. “Bullshit,” says this guy [1]

We know world-wide that when abortion is legal and accessible, women remain healthy, and when it is not they die, often in populations with profiles similar to what I describe for Mississippi. Cognizant of this, I recently obtained a medical license and began travel to this great state.

– Dr. Willie Parker, MD, MPH, MSc

Holy shit.

You really should go read the rest of the article which is pretty much the good doctor holding forth like a medical Braveheart:

. . .to the question of why I go to Mississippi, the answer is, I want for women there what I want for myself: a life of dignity, health, self-determination, and the opportunity to excel and contribute. We know that when women have access to abortion, contraception, and medically accurate sex education, they thrive. It should be no different for the women of Mississippi.

I only wish this guy was an anarchist, or that I was a medical doctor (*and* that I didn’t have to cover my eyes anytime there’s a surgery scene on teevee). This is the real answer to the question of how abortion remains available and accessible to women. Imagine if, as our rulers cynically dangle Roe v. Wade over the ballot box compelling women to participate in the illusion of protecting their right to bodily autonomy, a legion of grey market agorist clinicians appeared across the country providing a desperately needed service regardless of changes to the law.

Then we could also build roads.

In any case Dr. Parker is doing his part. I really can’t stop marvelling at his bad-assedness. I hope he has a “donate” button somewhere.

  1. [1] At least that’s what I pretend he might say

The Bikecast Episode #38: Sam Harris and The Moral Landscape

This episode of the bikecast is a reaction to a couple of interviews and and articles I’ve read about Dr. Sam Harris. Dr. Harris is a radical figure in a number of ways, he is a strong atheist in the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins vein[1]. Additionally, in what turns out to be an upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, he makes the claim that objective moral rules are “knowable” and can be derived using the tools of science–reason and evidence. For a public figure to hold this position is remarkable and I believe that Dr. Harris will be increasingly important and visible as society moves away from arbitrary and violent “moral” codes and toward civilization.

[Update below]

Download this episode of the bikecast

After hearing about The Moral Landscape in this inteview and then hunting down a number of other media appearances (it was awhile ago, but Sam Harris’ website has a nice listing of them–the TED talk is great), I looked the book up in the University’s library. It wasn’t there, so I sent out a request for an inter-library loan.

Turns out the book doesn’t come out until October. Thanks for not making fun of me, inter-library loan librarian. I think I’ll read and maybe review it upon its publication.

I have some issues with a couple of my first impressions of Dr. Harris’ approach. I’ll leave them for the podcast to elucidate for now, but if you read the interview liked above, you might be able to guess. In the podcast, I also make reference to other examples of secular ethics. Coincidentally, I bumped into this quote earlier today:

In the controversy over man’s nature, and over the broader and more controversial concept of “natural law,” both sides have repeatedly proclaimed that natural law and theology are inextricably intertwined. As a result, many champions of natural law, in scientific or philosophic circles, have gravely weakened their case by implying that rational, philosophical methods alone cannot establish such law: that theological faith is necessary to maintain the concept. On the other hand, the opponents of natural law have gleefully agreed; since faith in the supernatural is deemed necessary to belief in natural law, the latter concept must be tossed out of scientific, secular discourse, and be consigned to the arcane sphere of the divine studies. In consequence, the idea of a natural law founded on reason and rational inquiry has been virtually lost.
The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door.

This is from The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard, which is a secular approach to ethics. The other major work that I am aware of which approaches the question of ethics directly is Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics by Stephan Molyneux.

As I may get around to covering later, philosophy in general and ethics in particular has historically been a tool to distract humanity from obvious biological inclinations to trust in the orderliness of reality and in the value of cooperation. Most people function, day to day, based on a belief in sensed reality and in the value of not aggressing against strangers. It’s heartening to see that some philosophers and scientists are taking the time to repair the broken framework of ethics, to ground ethical principles in fundamentally sound reason and observation, and return the philosophical endeavor of ethical reasoning to the service of truth and the lovely side-effect of human flourishing.

Update: A friend and longtime fan of Sam Harris pointed out to me that he (Sam Harris) is one of the “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism. I’m all for assertive atheism, but my primary interest in Sam Harris is his promotion of a rationally grounded morality.

  1. [1] Apparently, there’s a good reason Sam Harris reminds me of Hitch and Dawkins–see the update.

The Bikecast Episode #36: Spiderwebs for the Rich, Chains for the Poor

Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of the government.
–Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Confessions of a Revolutionary

Expanding on the previous podcast, this episode focuses on the most conspicuous victims of the law, the poor. No matter how well intentioned a law appears to be, the people imprisoned for its violation are inevitably those that 1. can’t afford legal representation 2. can’t afford to pay the levied fines 3. can’t relocate to avoid being charged or avoid punishment 4. can’t afford to come into compliance and 5. can’t afford to stop breaking the law. In other words, the poor and most vulnerable in society will be the jailed victims of any law.

Download this episode of the bikecast

The advocate of a law, then, is not only advocating violence against strangers in order to enforce their preferences, the targets of the violence they advocate will invariably be poor and politically powerless.

This contention is most easy to see in my punching-bag laws: those regarding drugs and immigration. It is more challenging with regard to laws that “make sense,” in that they criminalize what is widely held to be reckless behavior, such as the seat-belt law I mention in this and the previous podcast.

Yet more challenging are laws that have as stated intention the protection of animals. A good example can be found in this San Francisco law that is supposed to stop the practice of puppy-milling by making pet sells illegal[1].

Always, though, these laws require the crime of threatening limitless violence against human beings. Aside from this basic and irrefutable moral objection, in practice the goal of coercing seat-belt use or closing down puppy mills translates inevitably into incarcerating the poor, and only the poor.

Via POSIWID (defining the purpose of the system as that which the system does), we can say that the purpose of the law in the modern nation state, despite the intentions of individual legislators, police, or court officials, is the incarceration of millions of disempowered people.

Institutions founded on violence, even those related to societal necessities such as social rules, inevitably result in grotesque perversions of their initial intention. Certainly the intention of protecting citizens equally from harm at the hands of other citizens has reached its polar opposite in the case of American “justice.” We see a state of affairs wherein millions of people, who haven’t committed a crime against anybody, have been forced at gunpoint by their fellow citizens into cages where they are kept in isolation for years at at time. Surely this is the opposite of any reasonable definition of justice.

This clear-eyed view of the American legal system–that all laws are violence against humans; and the people, usually strangers, who will be targeted by the law will be uniformly the poor and powerless–can help shield the mind from the ceaseless deluge of state-proposed, violence-backed solutions coming from all manner of media and casual social interactions.

  1. [1] This law is, apparently, still being debated.

The Bikecast Episode #33: Ivan Illich, Sustainability, and the War on Subsistence

Any realistic analysis of our economic, environmental, financial or resource situation[1] must conclude that our current social trajectory cannot be sustained. Our way of life in the united states is premised on uninterrupted economic growth, increased resource consumption, ever increasing productivity, non-stop population growth, and other parallel preconditions that are obviously physically impossible. What cannot continue, will not continue and thus this system must be altered one way or another–yet there is no recognition of this in public policy (nor should we expect there to be). The continuance of the wealth and privilege of the ruling class requires a continuance of the socio-economic system as it is today, and thus we can expect the system to right itself only after it’s been driven off a cliff.


Download this episode of the bikecast.

Our unsustainable track makes simpler modes of living more difficult, what Ivan Illich terms a “war on subsistence.” City design is premised on automobile ownership. This, despite the strong possibility that the petroleum economy is unsustainable. With centers of residence, recreation, and commerce miles away from one another, individuals must withdraw resources from food, medical care and recreation–things that make life comfortable–and allocate them to an automobile (and insurance, and gas, and licensing and registration fees, etc.). Thus is a simpler, car free life rendered impossible even as it seems somewhat likely that a car-having existence will, in the future, be impossible.

Ivan Illich proposes the case of “official” language as another attack on subsistence. In 1492, while Columbus is sailing west, a scholar named Elio Antonio de Nebrija is proposing to compile the “queen’s tongue,” her language, into a book of grammer and a dictionary.

Prior to this time, on the Iberian peninsula, countless languages and dialects are spoken. Business can be conducted any time and place where two people can make themselves understood to one another. There was, for most people, no need to learn a language other than those one grew up speaking.

After the empire had compiled and desiminated an official language, however, this changed. Now, in order to conduct business with the state, one must leave the vernacular, native dialects behind and study the official dialect. To become proficient, it was likely necessary to hire a tutor or attend a center of learning. Over time this radiated from the bureaucracy to businesses close to the state and then to businesses removed from the state.

As this process continued, relying on the communication that one “learned for free” disallowed access to many avenues of social life. Comfortably subsisting became that much more difficult as resources had to be stripped away from other uses and put into teaching the state language to one’s children. Without making this sacrifice, one’s family was relegated to the fringes of business and society.

Kevin Carson had a great article a couple months back in which he references Ivan Illich’s notion of a war on subsistence. He’s talking about medicine, but the pattern is the same.

By protecting the patents on easily replicated technology, easily replicated chemical combinations and processes, and monopoly privileges for license holding medical doctors[2], the state has made rudimentary, routine medical services astronomically more expensive. This makes medical care a huge burden that requires massive sacrifice or a job with medical benefits (or both). A commodity that should be within everyone’s price range in a society as affluent as ours is, instead, outside anyone’s ability to pay without assistance from the state insurance racket.

Additionally, medical tasks that could be performed by a trained technician are scoped for licensed, college educated medical professionals. This places a whole set of career tracks further from attainability for a large swath of capable people.

In medicine, transportation, and a whole host of other aspects of society, the ruling class has engineered systems that serve the wealthy very well, the well-off adequately, and the poor not at all. Going forward, as the unsustainable nature of the systems become manifest, an increasingly number of people will become increasingly incumbered by the systemic requirements of subsistence.

In summary, not only are the managers of the state not moving us toward sustainability, they are in fact making sustainability less possible and more painful and fraught with peril.

  1. [1] Understanding that these overlap in complex and significant ways
  2. [2] If you have programmed responses about the cost of R & D or the danger of deregulating medical scopes of practice, I highly recommend (again) the Kevin Carson article.

The Bikecast Episode #32: The Common Denominator Betwixt God and State

Underpinning all arguments for both theism and statism is fear. Most people spend their lives, consciously or unconsciously, afraid of their fellow humans. At the end of the intellectual exercise of dispelling the illusion of deities and of a just and noble state, many people retreat to the unsubstantiated position that a free and clear-eyed humanity is simply too dangerous to be contemplated.

Non-believers tire of the absurd idea that, without the fear of a judgemental god and his/her/their divine and eternal retribution for earthly “sins,” people would kill, rape, and steal with reckless abandon. Similarly, anarchists constantly encounter concerns about how humanity would be “controlled” if it weren’t for the police and prison system forcing people not to fall on each other in endless bloody conflict.

Download this episode of the bikecast

A couple friends and I were discussing statelessness. One admitted that the argument that came to his mind to dispute the possibility of an anarchist society is the same argument that he hates to get when talking about the “danger” of widespread atheism. The argument is that people cannot be trusted unless they are constrained by the state (with the atheist corollary: unless constrained by a belief in god).

The pattern that he noticed is striking and matches what we’ve encountered in a couple of bikecasts thus far. Arguments based on instilling fear are rarely supported by evidence. More specifically, arguments based on fear of humans rely on the fear of some bloodthirsty other that will materialize when a particular criteria is met (lowering “our” national defense [sic], disbelief in god, abolition of slavery, abolition of the state, etc.)

As I’ve noted a number of times, atheism is “running ahead” of anarchism in acceptance by increasingly sane, disillusioned people. Most competent adults[1] understand that god isn’t stopping criminal behavior–not even professed belief in god seems to deter criminal behavior.

In a parallel way, the understanding is slowly growing that the state doesn’t curb crime and in a number of ways, state institutions increase the amount and severity of crime (besides criminalizing victimless activities, making criminals of peaceful people).

If the state security apparatus were all that stood between robbers and possessions, we would quickly be stripped bare. Luckily, most people don’t want to steal or harm people, with or without the existence of god and state.

It makes sense, in fact, that a society premised on the use of force to determine right and wrong would be more prone to acts of violence. It’s also reasonable that in a world in which god’s will trumps human morality, one person could be convinced that god is compelling them to harm or rob another. When the use of violence can be “good” under certain conditions, it opens the door to individual judgements about what violence is appropriate and what remains off limits.

As we’ve talked about before, human beings are naturally disinclined to violence. It requires the will of a god or a state to push most people into immoral courses of action (they often helped early on by brutalizing parents that kill the natural empathy of the child).

Speaking of children, another common feature of theism, statism, and fear of others is that they need to be introduced early in life. Bible stories (or Koran stories, or whatever) don’t make any sense–they’re obviously artifacts of primitive, albeit inventive, cultures filled with great hallucinogens and scribes with plenty of time on their hands.

The great national stories of the world are equally obviously fictitious and collapse under a moments scrutiny. For this reason, both kinds of stories must be introduced and repeated endlessly during the victims’ childhood.

As the child ages into adulthood and begins to question (for those that retain the capacity to question), the stories become more nuanced and less defined where challenged. Should a hypothetical adult, fully formed, be told of either Adam and Eve or of a slave-holding nation “of the people,” he/she would understand it to be pure fiction.

In the end, it’s the fear that keeps the whole bloody hierarchy in place . . . and the police and armies, of course[2]. So strong is the fear of one’s fellow humans and so strong is the lifetime of indoctrination and so ubiquitous is the suspicion and distrust among us that we cling to illusion and violence rather than face the challenge of a humanity free from illusion, coercion and authority.

In the bikecast, I make reference to claims that atheists are no less “moral” than theists:
The Secular Web
has the most comprehensive index of related research and thought that I’ve ever encountered.
http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismmyths/p/AtheistsMorals.htm
The Atheist “about” pages are pretty strong too.

  1. [1] I show my euro-centrist racism on the bikecast by attaching the leading edge of disillusionment to “educated westerners”. It turns out that Japan is the most thoroughly atheist country by many metrics. My bad.
  2. [2] We can see that religion still maintains it’s deathgrip even when it’s not officially allowed to kill disbelievers anymore.

All are Sustained by the Sword

What is called human government is usurpation, imposture, demagoguism, peculation, swindling, and tyranny . . . Unquestionably, every existing government on earth is to be overthrown by the growth of mind and moral regeneration of the masses. Absolutism, limited monarchy, democracy — all are sustained by the sword; all are based upon the doctrine, that ‘Might makes right’; all are intrinsically inhuman, selfish, clannish, and opposed to a recognition of the brotherhood of man.
– William Lloyd Garrison

(source: Patriotic gore @ google books.) H/t Jesse Walker @ Reason

The Bikecast Episode #28: RoBATs, Privilege, and Discernment

Shortly after recording the material in the last podcast[1], I had a conversation with a very wise friend about the Roaming Bands of Armed Thugs (RoBATs) argument. Her response blew my mind and highlighted, as if it needed highlighting, the invaluable nature of collaboration in thinking about these topics.

Most of the time, I’m equally happy with the recorded material in the bikecast and the post, but this time I would recommend listening to the podcast instead of/as well as reading the post. But hey, I’m not the boss of you.


Download this episode of the bikecast

My friend pointed out that the fear of being violently overwhelmed by a superior force is something most non-white/non-male people face on a regular, often continuous, basis. The vast majority of the population live day to day with zero protection from arbitrary violence. Almost half the population[2] operates under the constant threat of harassment, kidnapping or other violence from the forces that are supposedly constituted for their protection.

For people who have not experienced this, i.e. for people who have always had a superior position in social relationships, the idea of navigating a social setting in which everyone is a peer can be terrifying.

A trope from the leftist-authoritarians is that the disintegration of the state will result in a crystallizing of the stratified socio-economic classes with female, ethnic and poor on the bottom and rich white males on top.

In reality, removing the police and military power from the hands of a small cadre of white males will compel this ruling class to interact with the rest of society as peers instead of rulers. The rest of us white males, who may not be ruling, per se, will have to navigate a society where everyone is equally privileged as we. By most (sane) accounts , such a situation will be wildly beneficial for everybody who doesn’t suck. Why then is the prospect daunting for rank-and-file white guys?

My very wise friend made a second, brilliant follow-on observation addressing this question: having lived a life of privilege, free from the consistent threat of arbitrary violence inherent to the lives of women, non-whites and the poor, privileged white males are not experienced in discerning threatening situations from non-threatening. Without this discernment, it’s understandable that a world populated by peers is frightening and something like the possibility of RoBATs seems sufficiently likely to cling to the police state.

As I wrap up the second RoBAT podcast, I feel that I’ve got a good grasp on the origins and nature of this argument. Thanks to my friends for being both the source and the solution of this pseudo-problem. On to the next.

  1. [1] Apologies for the repetition of some of the arguments from the last podcast. There was actually a week or two between the recording of the two podcasts and I was mostly resetting the conversation for my benefit.
  2. [2] Of the united states.

The Bikecast Episode #11: Fundamental State Failures; Defense

I think my silence truncation function is clipping short some words. I notice it because I’m constantly listening to myself talk and I detect the difference. I hope it’s not too distracting. Let me know


Download this episode of the bikecast
In this podcast, I talk about the second oft cited function of the state, collective defense. This one is too easy. Seriously, in the information age, nobody outside of the willfully ignorant (hereafter referred to as fucking morons) can hold the position that the united states is doing anything besides compelling millions of people to do anything they can to harm Americans. The tools of compulsion, in this case, are the slaughter, imprisonment, torture, rape, and dispossession of countrymen, families, and co-religionists.

Anybody performing the most cursory examination of the facts understands that the “War on Terr’r” is a sad, sick crime against humanity. The sometimes mildly shocking news is that it has always been such. The citizens of the united states have never been threatened by a foreign power, yet it has been in almost constant conflict and frequently even a declared conflagration. I’ve spent 5 minutes to gather some resources in case you have a favorite war that you think the US gov’t. really had to fight.

Vietnam

Most potential reader/listeners probably hold the opinion that this was an unjust, ill-founded war. Indeed it was a war-of-choice, as all wars fought by the US have been. Here’s a recent article on the gulf of Tonkin incident.

World War II

The war that saved communism and allowed Stalin to continue his reign of terror until his death in 1953. Roosevelt bent over backwards to engage the united states in this war moving the Pacific fleet 2500 miles from the coast it was supposedly protecting, cutting off oil from Japan, moving fleets of bombers to the Phillipines and running destroyers in and out of Japanese waters. Robert Stinnett is a must read.
Here’s a shorter summary.

Spanish-American War

The first war that struck me as imperialistic during my youthful statist idealism. This one is a slam dunk, all started on the pretext of a boat exploding near a Spanish colony.

Mexican American War

I included this one because it seems to be from an actual government website: “The Mexican-American War (1846-48) was fought primarily to enable the united states to expand at the expense of Mexico.” I guess they’ve given up arguing for this one

Others

These links cover multiple wars. These two (<-- two links there) both relate to a book called "A Century of War" and includes revisionist histories of the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.

This shockingly colored page covers the same terrain, but includes the cold war.

Wouldn’t You?

Yes, it turns out most of our “implacable” foes were surrounded, embargoed, and starved, by the military of the united states before they twitched enough that the president could do his somber duty and bomb, burn and invade them. In modern times, we don’t even have to worry about sad little naval fleets showing up and dropping bombs on a colony 2000 miles distant. Now it’s all suicide bombers and martyrs, but still from the countries occupied by the military of the united states. The war on terror (and it’s undeclared predecessors) is the cause of terrorism.

IOZ, one of my all-time favorite reads, wonders why it is, when somebody tries to blow somebody or something up in the united states, he’s assigned a storyline in which he simply cannot cope with ordinary life. Never is it suggested that it is, perhaps, entirely normal to be horrified by the atrocities committed by the murderous empire of the united states and to imagine that violence can be used to fight violence.

Chris Floyd, another must subscribe, goes further, imagining what it would be like to return home and find your home destroyed and your loved ones murdered. Who could resist the offer to provide the means to retaliate?

The Cost

The cost of this wholesale slaughter of foreign peasantry is incalculable, which is pretty impressive since one purpose of currency is to render economic calculation possible. Nevertheless, the Byzantine movement of money in and out of budgets, coffers, trusts, and accounts, the financing through debt, internal borrowing, and a whole shit-ton of currency creation has made it impossible to discover the cost of this most counter-productive of government services.

For those of you keeping score, on the two most basic and straight-forward of government services, the united states is 0-2.

Tipping Sacred Cows: Marriage

I haven’t been posting much lately.  This is largely due to my desire to create posts for punkassblog crossed with the difficulty of packaging my opinions in a manner that will not be immediately dismissed by the readers there.  Another important factor is the amazing tear that Amanda Marcotte of pandagon.net is on with respect to . . . well, pretty much everything.  Her positions are fresh, well reasoned, and run exactly counter to the “common sense” (a.k.a. flawed and indefensible) positions of everyone else*.  Lately, most thoughts rattling around in my head are “amens” to her posts and positions.

In my last post, lo these many weeks ago, I noted Amanda’s mind-blowing insight regarding the creation government statutes which force women to deliver babies.

Much of the popular focus was on the political machinations required to generate sufficient populist sentiment against female self-control of reproduction.  To create an issue that mobilizes voters, everyone on the “other side” of the “debate” must be painted as the worst type of moral transgressors.  The supporters of individualized reproductive control must be placed outside the category of people-who-can-be-reasoned with and into the category of people-who-must-be-controlled-by-force.  Once this meme spreads, it will influence political outcomes but will also result in harassment, bombings, and murder–as we have seen again and again.

“Fair enough”, says mainstream pro-life america, “we will disavow the violent and focus on finding political solutions to our disagreement.  We may even find ourselves on the same side of a political issue–access to contraception for example–and we can put our differences aside and work on these issues.”

And here is what I found striking: rather than take the bloody hand offered, Amanda takes the position that the pro-state mandated childbirth movement** is acting violently against women by petitioning a coercive institution to turn its instruments of force against women.

The next bit of well-reasoned opposition to an institution we take for granted came in a series of posts about marriage.  It started with a review of Against Love by Laura Kipnis.  I’ve not read the book, but the recommendation that prompted Amanda to read the book and her reviews as well, indicate that it is a no-holds-barred review of romantic love and the institution that enshrines it: marriage.

Vigorous commenting on the first post lead to a second, and then a late(r)-breaking follow up.  I recommend these posts highly.

Its nonsensical to think that an institution as old as patriarchy and slavery should be shielded from anything less than the most rigorous and all-encompassing scrutiny.  Since the dawn of recorded history, marriage has been a transaction among men.  It was a deal struck between property owners to transfer the package of benefits and liabilities that a dehumanized female, most frequently a young child, represented between contracting men.

After the period from ~10 trillion BC to around 1900 AD, in small pockets around the globe, women gained the first few shreds of status beyond that of a possession.  They weren’t immediately branded or set fire to for owning and managing property, entering and leaving contractual relationships, seeking education or otherwise competing with the primary benefactor of state-violence: european men.

With the state recognition of a subset of the personhood of some women being only one to two hundred years old, that marriage is still a fine and dandy institution seems remarkably unlikely.

Social norms have a tremendous amount to play in protecting marriage from reasoned examination.  For most individuals on earth, and especially for the overwhelming majority of women, familial violence or other coercion practically eliminates alternatives to traditionally marriage.  But even in situations in which a “free choice” is presumably being made, the social remnants of our tribal past along with the tenacity of organized religion provide blinders that many feel compelled to wear.

That being said, the state, in my opinion, is the primary engine keeping marriage alive.  Primarily, it provides legal sanction for the patriarchal use of violence against women and children.  In the west it relies on a basic economic axiom: behaviors that are incentivized will increase and behaviors that are disincentivized will decrease.  Entering marriage comes with tremendous economic benefits: a friendlier tax structure, employment benefits, estate planning, even (apparently) housing benefits based on “family zoning.”  In addition, state sanction for child raising is granted to married couples and denied to other social relationships.

Exiting marriage gives both partners massive legal bludgeons which ensure lasting acrimony among all but the most amicable divorces.  Future relationships are made difficult by the social stigma of divorce as well as the legal strictures around income, children, division of property, etc.  In some sense, the two aspects are indivisible–the state regards the marriage as failed and wishes to make it as unpleasant as possible and this is reflected in societal norms***.

The ultimate question, and the most revolutionary, is why a third party is necessary at all to validate, certify, legitimize or officially approve of a relationship between 2 or more consenting adults?  It is indefensible, dehumanizing, divisive, and demonstrates a lack of respect for persons that is the hallmark of the busy body, the social engineer, the theocrat, and the politician.

This meme that no social institution is sacred is now “out there” in a variety of forms (thanks again, Amanda).  This is the first step to improving the experience of being human.

* I am only being slightly hyperbolic.
** Big thanks to whoever coined this term
*** This may seem like a chicken-and-egg situation since societal norms are likely to be expressed legally in a “democratic” society, but legal marriage is a modern repackaging of aristocratic property arrangements of years past–hard to say.

Education, Schooling, and John Gatto

“We want one class to have a liberal education.  We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” — Woodrow Wilson

Education and school have been the subject, direct or tangential, of a number of posts lately.  Most notably this fantastic, honest piece about Antigone’s school experience.  Government schooling is an emotionally charged subject since most of us attended school every non-summer weekday for 12+ years.  Many of us are sending or planning to send our children to this institution for the same duration.

The “public education” narrative is that the fabric of our civic society is founded on universal, compulsory education.  According to this narrative, the difficult and time consuming job of distilling curricula and applying it to individuals and groups of children in a scientifically validated manner should be left to state-certified professionals, freeing the parents for work more suited to their specific talents.  Deviating from this model will result in a society in which only the sufficiently wealthy and privileged will receive the education to succeed in life while the poor will not have access to the tools to remove themselves from poverty.  Additionally, many adults will not be capable of critical thought, but will instead learn about gods, ghosts, creationism, and a worldview supporting racism, nationalism, sexism and homophobia.  As with most state-centered narratives, the consequences it claims will inevitably occur are already manifest all around us.  State education has been, if not wholly responsible, at least a large component in creating the reality that we’re told we should fear.

The purpose of this post is to introduce and wildly recommend the works of John Taylor Gatto.  He was a teacher for 30 years, was awarded New York City teacher of the year 3 times and retired after winning New York State teacher of the year in 1991.  He’s got a handful of books–an online version of one is available via the prior link–plus he and his former students have been covered fairly regularly in mainstream’ish media.

My prescient partner Alisa got me a collection of his essays, A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling, during my brief stint as a high-school math teacher.  I expected it to be a motivational, Lean on Me style book.  Instead it was The People’s History of the United States, shredding everything I had previously been taught and understood about the role of state education in society.  Anyone who wants to speak authoritatively about education reform and definitely anyone who is considering how their own children are or will be educated would benefit tremendously from Gatto’s experience and research.

Well, that’s kindof it for the post–more of a slightly-too-large-for-a-comment-comment.  I am comforted by the fact that, should you read a few dozen pages of his work, your mind will be sufficiently blown to justify this recommendation.

I will leave you with  a couple sample passages with links to the relevant resources to tempt your palette:

There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era – marketing. — Harper’s Magazine (easier to read in this reprint)

Something in the structure of schooling calls forth violence. While latter-day schools don’t allow energetic physical discipline, certainly they are state-of-the-art laboratories in humiliation, as your own experience should remind you. In my first years of teaching I was told over and over that humiliation was my best friend, more effective than whipping. I witnessed this theory in practice through my time as a teacher. If you were to ask me now whether physical or psychological violence does more damage, I would reply that slurs, aspersion, formal ranking, insult, and inference are far and away the more deadly. Nor does law protect the tongue-lashed. — The Underground History of American Education (the entire book is available online)

I will tell you this – a kid who learns to read at five, and a kid who learns to read
at 9, will be indistinguishable to each other at the age of fourteen, assuming
they both like what they’re doing. On the other hand, we can say its too
inconvenient, or too expensive, to allow that and impose a learning curve in
first grade that produces this wonderful bell, we can then assign the people on
the fringes of the bell to special ed and the people in the middle of the bells
- the walls of the curve – to the dull classes and so on. And we will create a
class system by simply doing that. Inside of a year or two, the kids will impose
that kind of class system on themselves! It’s a phenomenally intricate, but
rather easy to unravel puzzle there – reading is pathetically easy to teach, you
assume that once you assemble 30 people in a room, and do it in the same
routines, that you’ll fail to teach it to some of them, that this bell will
appear, and the atmosphere in the classroom is that the humiliation of being a
dull reader or bad reader will never wear off. You can predict the rise of a
giant remediation industry.  — Interview with Jerry Brown