Friday, August 30, 2013

States are not people

It seems that we cannot go a day without someone, somewhere, talking about sending a message or punishment to some country. They talk about it as if the country is a person. Even if you pretend that punishment is an effective way to guide the behavior of individuals, does that translate to punishment affecting states?

In the case of a representative government it is conceivable that a punishment actually hits the wrongdoers. If the majority voted fora  particular policy or representative, then the punishment, usually in the form of bombing, would then seem to be hitting those responsible: the people themselves. In other words, a representative state may not truly have civilians, because the civilians are the ones who decide to commit the crimes.

This is obviously ridiculous. Even in a perfectly ideal representative system there will be dissenters, yet bombs do not distinguish. Therefore the punishment is harming the innocent.

If the system is imperfectly representative, perhaps with some members holding more power than others, then the problem of innocents being harmed is increased further. Then there is the issue of the unknowable. While representatives can be elected or voted out, they have a great deal of freedom of action. Some actions may not be noticed, or even actively covered up (such as the time-capsuled tax recommendations). Representatives may act in ways that we not expected. For example, even those who opposed the selection of President Bush wouldn't have known that the US would be attacked on such a larger scale that a large war became inevitable. No one voted for his war or human rights record, yet as a representative of the people, he was allowed to do so.

Moving along this continuum of representation, we eventually get to the dictator. He dictates, as the name implies. While he may have some support, it would be absurd to suggest that his actions are sanctioned by even a plurality of citizens. In this context, punishment that does not directly target the dictator, or rogue elements (as I suspect are part of the cause of the brutality in the Syrian crisis), will be targeted.

There is no state to punish. There are instead individuals. Yet we somehow never manage to go after them. We instead cling to the notion that leaders are to be revered, held above the masses, even as those masses are slaughtered in their name. This isn't to suggest that something like the Syrian crisis could be resolved by killing Assad & Co. There are wider forces at play and a few deaths won't fix that. Yet killing even more people, civilians or military, won't fix it either.

It often feels as if we're living in some sort of awful Bond parody, where the villain is displeased with a subordinate and expresses it by glaring at him until he quakes in fear, and then kills someone else. Terrifying...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Men apparently like being told what to do

Lately I've been trying to try inverted perspectives. "What if the person asking for directions were white rather than black?" The idea is to directly confront the possibility of a bias. If detected, it will also dictate how I'd act without the bias.

So there I am, reading a bit of Slate when I get to this. Note that I tend to skip over writer names when I start an article and only check back if something seems particularly odd. So no bias checking to do on that bit. But on the article itself, I tried some flipping. Here's a bit from the original:
My husband even says, “Men like it when women tell them what to wear, because we don’t know.” Telling your man to shave, in other words, is not so far off from telling him that dishes left by the side of the sink eventually have to make their way under the water, etc. Listen to the outtake from the commercial, where Kate, Hannah and Genesis discuss what they were up to. “We have to help guide you along,” Kate says. Not much threat there.
Nothing bad there, right? I was a little bit annoyed though. Here's the re-write that I'm picturing:
My wife even says, “Women like it when men tell them what to wear, because we don’t know.” Telling your wife to shave, in other words, is not so far off from telling her that dishes left by the side of the sink eventually have to make their way under the water, etc. Listen to the outtake from the commercial, where Kyle, Harry, and Joseph discuss what they were up to. “We have to help guide you along,” Kyle says. Not much threat there.
Stupid women! Don't you know how to shave? You're gross! Just look at all that... woman hair! In places! Here honey, let me help you out there: The dishes go in the sink, not to the side. Ha, you women aren't so great at this housework thing, are you? Dumb bitch.

Of course it won't be perfectly mirrored, so the inverted perspective will yield odd results. Men don't have a history of being chained to housework or being treated like barely-sentient dopes who need to be told how to carry out basic functions. Women, as well as many racial and ethnic minorities, have had that history, and so recently that it is only forgotten to the extent that we forget all sorts of stuff, individually.

Nevertheless, I don't particularly like her claim earlier that: "These Gillette ads feel harmless and funny. No one really thinks that Kate and Hannah and Genesis are doing these men any damage." To that I say, fuck you! That's precisely the problem with this sort of damage: no one thinks they're doing any damage; it's all so very harmless. Except of course when it adds up and feeds into a larger trend. Thankfully, we're not yet at the point where it has all added up into harm, but why start?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fraud is not a first amendment right

Lance Armstrong lied in his memoirs about his use of performance-enhancing drug. Some buyers in California are suing for fraud, claiming that they'd not have purchased the book had they known it was fictional (or not purely non-fiction / not clearly indicating what was and what not true). Somewhat predictably, the publishers are pretending that this is a first amendment issue.

They are, of course, full of it. The right to make a false claim is not in dispute. Fiction is constitutionally protected. So is non-fiction. Fraud, however, is not. If I offer to sell you X and deliver Y, then I am committing fraud; that is illegal. I do get to claim that my lie was protected speech, and in fact it is protected speech in the sense that I get to say it, but that does not mean that I am magically immune to the consequences of committing fraud.

Lance Armstrong has every right to lie about what he has done. He does not, however, have the right to sell those stories with the claim that they are true, no more than you can market a product as containing a particular ingredient when it in fact does not. The Bill of Rights is not a license to throw integrity out the window.