A Political Cost of Social Unorganization

Last week, I went to a meeting to recruit volunteers for a legislative campaign (specifically, the campaign to pass SB 562 in the California legislature, but this post is not about SB 562). Whereas an election campaign is about persuading voters among the general public to vote in a particular way, a legislative campaign is about getting legislators to vote in a particular way, so the strategies and tactics are different. One of the things which struck me when the presenters said that, for a legislative campaign, getting individuals to send letters/emails/phone calls in support of legislation is not an effective tactic.

Now, I do not think that they meant that letters/emails/phone calls to legislators never has an effect. One could point to the campaign against SOPA in the U.S. Congress, for example. However, I think it’s pretty obvious that the campaign against SOPA was an outlier, not a typical legislative campaign.

The way the presenters put it, the legislators do not care about individuals, unless they happen to be particularly influential individuals. For example, if Haim Saban, as an individual, sent a letter to California legislators expressing an opinion on a legislative bill, the California Legislature would definitely pay attention. Most Californians, however, are nowhere close to being billionaire media moguls.

Do legislators pay attention to anyone other than the most influential individuals? Fortunately, the answer is yes. They pay attention to organized groups. Thus, one of the key tactics of a legislative campaign is to get as many groups as possible – and to get the most diverse set of groups possible – to send letters endorsing the legislation one wants. It’s not the only tactic, but the only tactic which the presenters recommended which could be carried out by an individual was speaking up at legislators’ town hall meetings. All of the other tactics they recommended require organized groups.

What kinds of organizations can send letters of endorsement (and thus might be worth contacting to try to persuade them to endorse)? Answer: lots of kinds of organizations. Labor unions, faith groups, business associations, neighborhood associations, disease-specific organizations (such as the California chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society), newspapers, local governments (school boards, county board of supervisors, etc.), local political party clubs, crisis hotlines, professional organizations (such as bar associations) … and more. Heck, I’m think even Asexuality SF and Ace Los Angeles might be able to endorse legislation in the California legislature (not sure about AVEN because it is not a specifically Californian organization and nor has a specifically Californian subgroup).

Obviously, the legislators are going to pay more attention to endorsements from organizations with more members than organizations with fewer members. But they also pay attention to diversity. For example, an endorsement from a labor union representing 50,000 Californias + an endorsement from a faith group representing 50,000 Californians is more influential than a labor union representing 100,000 Californians OR a faith group representing 100,000 Californians. In other words, legislatures pay more attention when both labor unions and faith groups want the same thing than when it’s something only labor unions want or it’s something only faith groups want, even if the sum of membership numbers is the same. Thus, while small organizations cannot bring in much pressure from membership size, they can bring in a significant amount of pressure via organization diversity.

It makes sense. If I were a California state senator, would I be particularly concerned if, say, 30 isolated constituents were unhappy with what I was doing? Unless they were particularly influential constituents, then nope, it would not reach my concern radar. On the other hand, an organization with 30 members being unhappy with what I was doing probably would not be enough to reach my concern radar either – but it would get get closer to the concern radar, because 30 organized people are in a much better position to influence elections than 30 isolated individuals. And paying attention to organization diversity also makes sense, because a more diverse coalition of organizations can reach out to a wider range of voters than a less diverse coalition of organizations, and thus the more diverse coalition of organizations ultimately can do more to support (or hinder) a politician.

There is another reason why getting broad support from organizations is sometimes very important for legislative campaigns in California (but not in the U.S. Congress, and I’m not sure about other state legislatures), but that is something more specific to the way the political system in California works, and not so much a general comment on the political costs of social unorganization.

So, given that organizations have a lot more political power than unorganized individuals … what does that say about the trend in USA society to become more atomized – in which people cooperate less and less at a social level higher than a household. Labor union membership has been declining for fifty years. One of the neighborhood associations I am eligible to join (and I am seriously considering it) used to be one of the most powerful civic groups in San Francisco – it changed San Francisco history in the 1960s – and now it’s just a shadow of its former self. While, as an atheist, I do not disapprove of people leaving faith groups, I do recognize that when people leave faith groups without joining other organized social groups, this is detrimental to civil society. I think that the decline of social organization in the United States means, among other things, that political power gets more skewed in favor of the most influential individuals, and the vast majority of citizens lose political power.

Does that mean never write letters/emails to legislatures again? Not at all. At the very least, such letters/emails do not hurt one’s cause, and probably do at least slightly more good than doing nothing at all. However, that meeting made it clearer to me that, if I am serious about having even a little influence in politics, it would be a good idea to increase my participation in organized social groups. After that meeting, I decided to become a member of the organization which put on the meeting, and I paid the membership dues.

In which I critique a magazine article about transgender people’s bathroom access

The article I am critiquing is “Stall Wars” by Gene Callahan. I am going to go through it paragraph by paragraph (instead of quoting the full thing, I’ll quote the parts I am responding to on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. One may refer to the full article for context).

The Trump administration has made headlines, as it seems to do about once every 15 minutes (if my feed from CNN is accurate), by rescinding the Obama administration’s executive order on school bathroom policies … So a policy that was never put in place was “protecting” transgender students, and revoking that policy will leave them defenseless, as apparently merely suggesting the policy was some sort of super-shield against “hate.”

This is obviously merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.

Yes, I do understand that the executive order never took effect because the judge blocked it. However, even though rescinding this specific executive order has little direct effect, it is a signal of how the president intends to handle trans* policy. And that is why I do not think this is “merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.”

… Solutions to social problems should start with the individual and the local community, and should rise to higher levels of organization only when there is strong evidence of malfeasance at the lower level.

Let’s see where the writer is going with this. (Spoiler: the writer contradicts this point later in the article).

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims…

Errr, what is a ‘biological male’? Is it someone with XY chromosomes? It is someone who has a penis? Is it someone whose testosterone levels fall within the 225–900 ng/dL range? The subsets “has XY chromosomes” “has penis” and “has testosterone in the 225–900 ng/dL range” do not entirely overlap, and I honestly do not know which subset the writer is referring to.

Also, I think “biological males who really do self-identify as women” is really wordy. Why not just say “transwomen”? Especially since the writer is trying to present himself as not being bigoted towards trans* people.

The reason to start at the local level is that it’s here where people meet face-to-face … one is too likely to confront [an opponent’s] humanity on a daily basis to easily turn him into a devil.

I don’t disagree, but … what about when the local level is the problem? For example, what about when a critical mass of a trans* person’s face-to-face acquaintances think that being trans* is sinful, and that they believe they need to shun the trans* person to keep in God’s good graces, or something like that?

Also, trans* people have already started at the local level, and they continue to do a lot at the local level. If merely working at the local level had been enough to solve major problems for trans* people such as, say, stop the trans* unemployment rate from being double the overall unemployment rate, I doubt trans* people would have bothered taking it beyond the local level.

…If a biological man wants to dress up like a woman, or a woman wants to dress up like a man, it really does not concern most people. And if someone who “presents” as a woman, despite having a penis, goes quietly into a stall in the women’s bathroom, goes about his/her business, and leaves, most people will be happy to leave that person alone. When there are special situations, like an inter-sexed child who has trouble fitting in with their assigned locker room, the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the child comfortable. And this is especially true, again, at the local level, where the child is a real human being, rather than a symbol in a political struggle…

Again, with the “biological man [who] wants to dress up like a woman” thing, and now “woman [who] wants to dress up like a man”. This makes it clear that the writer believes that transwomen are men pretending to be women, and that transmen are men pretending to be women. I think this is the real reason why this writer chooses lengthy phrases instead of words such as ‘transwoman’ and ‘transman’. Also, I would not claim that “the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the [intersex] child comfortable” without doing research on the real lives of intersex people. Furthermore, I am going to quote this comment:

Have you met us? Few people are “average”. Roughly half are above average and half are below average. So half the time, you’re going to encounter someone who is below average. About 1/6th the time, you’ll encounter someone at least one-sigma below average and 1/40th of the time a 2-sigma ‘low-ender’. There are quite a number of public institutions with bathrooms and quite a number of people in charge of them.

I can see the logic of winning people over to an idea at the grass roots to build consensus but if you believe that the average person would reach a good accommodation for inter-sexed children and if you agree that the choice has great impact on the welfare of those children, then why would you cast their fates to the whims of chance?

Anyway, continuing with the main article.

But it was transgender activists who disrupted the possibility of achieving these local accommodations by bringing down the heavy hand of legislation and executive orders. In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that “Access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities is a fundamental human right that should not be restricted or denied to anyone.” Which is a fairly obvious self-contradiction, since if no one is denied access to a bathroom or changing area, surely it is no longer “single-sex”!

Actually, that’s not obvious. The vast majority of places which have single-sex facilities have two sets, and a plausible interpretation of that de Blasio quote is that he means that nobody can be denied entry to both sets.

The article then goes on to quote de Blasio’s order:

Executive Order 16 requires all New York City agencies to ensure that City employees and members of the public have access to single-sex facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms in City buildings and areas, consistent with their gender identity or expression without being required to show identification, medical documentation, or any other form of proof or verification of gender.

I appreciate that the article did quote de Blasio’s executive order directly. Let’s see what the article has to say about it.

In other words, it is now illegal to prevent anyone at all from using any public “single-sex” facility, just so long as they declare their “gender identity” is the same as the sex designated on the door.

The executive order does nothing to make it illegal to prevent someone who, for example, is wielding a knife in a threatening manner, from entering a public bathroom.

…Contrary to the repeated refrain of those advocating these laws, that “they have never created any problems,” they already have, and we can be certain that as the population of voyeurs, molesters, and rapists figures out the import of these new dictates, we will see more such cases.

Okay, I’m going to look at that link, and report back.

[goes off to look at link]

[comes back]

Here’s my report of that link. The headline is “5 Times ‘Transgender’ Men Abused Women And Children In Bathrooms”. Now, I originally thought that headline meant transmen, and that it would be stories about transmen who went into women’s bathrooms and abused women. Which confused me, because if transmen were abusing women in women’s bathrooms, why would the writer oppose allowing transmen to use men’s bathrooms instead of women’s bathrooms?

Anyway, the first example is the incident in which a (cis) man entered the women’s locker room at Evans Pool in Seattle. Since the man never even claimed he was trans*, I do not know why this is on a list of examples of ‘transgender’ men abusing women and children in bathrooms. I agree with this analysis.

Anyway, example #2 is sexual assault, and examples #3-#5 are people peeping on/filming women and/or children in bathrooms. Hey, that’s all illegal! It was illegal before any ordinance/executive order/law regarding trans* bathroom access was put in place, and it still illegal afterwards. If these people are already willing to break the laws against sexual assault and filming people in bathrooms/showers without consent, then how would a law about who is allowed to use which bathroom stop them? What’s to stop them from saying “My religion requires me to enter women’s bathrooms, and keeping me out of the women’s bathroom is violating my religious freedom” or something like that?

And one person in the comments section says:

This whole controversy strikes me as wildly overblown. There are already plenty of laws against harassment and assault. These should be sufficient for dealing with creepers.

Back to the article itself…

What’s more, these activists never rise to their own challenge and provide evidence of any widespread problem that these laws are addressing.

Okay, this is wrong. Flat-out wrong. Trans activists have been providing evidence of a widespread problem for years. For example, there is this article:

Relieving yourself outside the comfort of your own bathroom will give even the overly confident some understandable anxiety. But for transgender people, it’s more than just nerve-racking, it’s dangerous, according to a survey released this week.

The survey, published in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, found that 70 percent of responders have been denied entrance, were harassed or assaulted when attempting to use a public restroom of their identifying gender.

And it’s no surprise that these traumatic experiences affect the daily life of transgender people, the survey points out. More than half of respondents reported having physical problems, including dehydration or kidney infections, because they “held it” to avoid using public bathrooms.

More than half also said they have skipped leaving the house because they didn’t feel safe in public, the study says.

That sure seems to me like an existing problem of serious magnitude.

Additionally, I am going to make a linkspam, and exclude anything from after December 31, 2010, just to make it clear that trans* advocates have been documenting the bathroom access problem for years.

Special Linkspam of Trans* Advocates Providing Evidence of Bathroom Access Problems

Re: “Bathrooms for the transgendered” (December 24, 2007)
Maine Human Rights Commission Rules In Favor Of Transwoman (May 21, 2009)
“Some Transgender Bathroom Background” & “More Transgender Bathroom Background” (October 25, 2006)
There is this old blog which collects stories of trans* people who have been harassed in bathrooms.
“Bathrooms in Arizona, Letter to the Advocate (August 3, 2007)
“Alternative Places to Piss” (October 7, 2007)

I put this linkspam together really fast, so yes, I am sure it could be much improved, but the point is not to make the best linkspam ever, but to point in the general direction of just how much documentation of problems with trans* people having access to bathrooms there is out there.

Note that I was able to put that linkspam together even though I am a cis person with no expertise in trans* issues. In other words, since *I* was able to throw this linkspam together in a short period of time, that means that this is all information which is readily available to anybody who can read English and has an internet connection. And I cannot help but notice that the evidence presented in all of these links “of [a] widespread problem that these laws are addressing” is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE EVIDENCE THIS WRITER PRESENTS to support the claim that anti-trans-discrimination statues enable sexual harassment/assault in bathrooms that it makes the evidence the writer presents seem pathetic.

Looking at this, it seems that the trans* advocates are indeed trying to solve a existing practical problem of serious magnitude, and that the article writer is the one who is trying to defend some particular notion of how gender is and that his ideas about gender are the “essential nature of humankind”.

And it was in response to a similar law, passed in Charlotte, that the North Carolina “bathroom bill” was passed. (By the way, the North Carolina policy permits people to “re-sex” themselves on their birth certificate so they can quietly go about their business in the restroom they wish to use.)…

Well, I did a quick check, and found that North Carolina will only change the sex on a birth certificate if there is a notarized statement from a physician who has done sex-reassignment surgery on the person, or of a physician who has examined a person’s gentalia and confirmed that sex-reassignment surgery was performed. Some trans* people do not do such surgery, so they would not be able to change the sex on their birth certificates. Also, some trans* people who live in North Carolina were not born in North Carolina. Some were born in states where changing the sex in the birth certificate is even more difficult than in North Carolina, or in the case of a few states (such as Ohio) currently impossible. And then there are the trans* people who were born outside of the United States…

Oh, and here is part of another comment from the article, by LisaMullin

The other points made are almost too ridiculous to comment on, but since misconceptions seem rife:
(1) North Carolina makes it nearly impossible for transgender people to change their birth certificates. It requires full gender confirming surgery, which excludes all trans adolescents since the minimum age for this is at least 18.
(2) Some states are framing legislation based on the original birth certificate, therefore changing it will have no affect.

We see the absurdity of this position with the young trans male being forced to wrestle with girls, because they are classified as one and they cannot change that designation.

Anyway, back to the original article…

So it was the transgender activists who disrupted the status quo, blocking the ability of communities to work out reasonable solutions to these matters on their own. The bills so far passed in North Carolina and contemplated in Texas may be heavy-handed, but have no doubt, it is the activists who are forcing the situation here … In response to this attempt to protect their daughters, [the supporters of HB2] are being told they are “bigots,” and that their state will be economically crushed by “caring” organizations like the NFL and NBA if they persist in trying to protect those girls.

So … the writer who advocates solving these issues at the local level supports a state law which prevents local communities with coming up with their own solutions. The comments section definitely notices this. Here are some quotes…

From Oakinhou:

It’s surprising that, for all the recommendations on subsidiarity as the only way forward, Mr. Callahan is glossing over the fact that North Carolina HB2 started as a way to take away from local communities, like Charlotte, the ability to decide locally on these matters.

If Mr Callahan truly favors subsidiarity, he would reject NC HB2. Let’s see if he follows through on what he preaches.

From peanut:

“Leave it to the localities” is such a tired cliche. The most current clash on bathroom rights started in North Carolina, where the city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and the state legislature passed a bill that nullified it. So- at what “local” level should decisions be made? Should states stay out?

From chipcassin:

This whole kerfluffle probably would not have happened as it did had the state legislators in North Carolina not themselves obviated local municiple [sic] control with state mandates. To now claim subsidiarity at this point borders on fart level comedy.

Also, Charlotte is not the first place ever to have an anti-trans-discrimination ordinance. Quite a few states, and hundreds of cities, have also passed ordinances/laws/statues/orders that trans* people be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender, and this writer completely failed to mention all of the drastic increases in sexual predation happening in bathrooms as a result of those ordinances/laws/statues/orders … oh wait a minute, that might be because there was no increase. Given that it has been demonstrated by literally hundreds of real-life experiments that ordinances such as the one Charlotte passed do not increase sexual predation of girls in bathrooms, no, these parents are doing nothing to protect their daughters by supporting bills like HB2 (in fact, they are probably harming their trans* daughters – see all of the links above about how bathroom discrimination hurts trans* people).

(I hope my focus on biological men’s interest in women’s private areas is not deemed “sexist.” I think I am on empirically firm footing when I say the odds of a woman being raped by a man are astronomically higher than the reverse, and that there are far more male voyeurs than female voyeurs…)

Okay, it’s the ‘biological men’ thing again! I could not find any statistics about what percentage of sexual predation is done by cis people, and what percentage is done by trans* people, so I cannot cite them. First of all, that footing might not be as empirically firm as the writer thinks (and, on a more personal note, I have been sexually harassed by women, and in my experience, it is just as bad as being sexual harassed by men, which I have also experienced). However, based on what I have read about sexual predation, social forces seems to have a much stronger effect on whether or not someone will be a sexual predator than biology. Female sexual predation perpetrators have not been studied nearly as well as male perpetrators, but in the case of male perpetrators, sexual predations is associated with certain types of extreme masculinity (I emphasize ‘certain types’ – not all types of masculinity encourage sexual predation). Transwomen explicitly reject masculinity, so to the extent that they engage in sexual predation, they are more likely to do so for the reasons that ciswomen engage in sexual predation … and ciswomen are already in women’s bathrooms! Though I do not have data to back me up, I think the odds that a transwoman would sexual prey upon me are roughly the same that a ciswoman would sexually prey upon me.

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims.

You know what differentiates “biological males who really do self-identify as women from [sexual predators]”? (I did that word switch because some people do consider transwomen to be ‘perverts’ even if they never hurt anybody ever). Whether they actually sexually prey upon people. And nothing in de Blasio’s order forbids distinguishing between “sexually preys upon people” and “does not prey upon people.”

…To convince my many progressive friends that this approach—adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to economically crush localities that pass laws you don’t like—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side owns the vast majority of the guns in the nation and has most of the police and military on its side, is probably not a winning proposition.

Let me flip this around. How about “adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to threaten with the use of guns, police, and military—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side can economically crush you, is probably not a winning proposition.” Okay, I take the issues of wielding economic power and wielding guns/police/military more seriously than that, and there are a lot of implications of one group in this nation having one type of power, and another group having another type of power, but that is not the topic of this post. I’m just trying to make the point that suggesting that it’s wrong to use economic threats, but that using threats based on guns/police/military is alright … is not convincing. And the last time I checked, boycotts are legal, and threatening to hurt people with is not, and futhermore, most people consider those who use boycotts to promote their cuase to have higher moral ground than people who use guns to promote their cause.

Of course, this article is full of stale old arguments against anti-trans discrimination policies which were stale and old ten years ago. However, since they keep getting recycled, and evidently have some effect on policy, they are still worth critiquing. If you are wondering why I did not criticize some particular aspect of this article, the answer is probably because either a) I am not an expert on trans* issues or b) I did not want this post to be even longer than it already is.

Why critique this article? 1) it was linked in the linkspam of a blog I respect and 2) I looked at the comments sections of a mainstream news article I saw about the rescinding that executive order. Out of about 50 comments, I could not find a single trans-friendly comment on that mainstream news article, which surprised me. The combination of those two things convinced me that it was worth writing this critique (which is super-long by the standards of this blog).

Reading Formosa Betrayed on 2/28

I am in the middle of reading Formosa Betrayed. I had hoped to finish today, but it did not happen. That’s partially because it is about a destruction of society, economy, and mass violation of human rights which was completely preventable.

I wished I had read this book years ago. I knew the broad outlines of what had happened, but there is a big difference between knowing the general flow of events, and knowing the details.

Today, of course is Èr-Èr-Bā, which is Mandarin for ‘2-2-8’ as in ‘February 28’. This is a public holiday in Taiwan, and I am sure many Taiwanese people have enjoyed their four-day weekends. (I briefly mentioned Èr-Èr-Bā in this post).

This is also the 70th anniversary of the February 28th Incident, also known as the February 28th Massacre. That is why this is a public holiday in Taiwan. To this day, new information and documents about the ‘incident’ continue to be released. For example, just recently, a letter sent among the main perpetrators of the massacre has been made public.

Formosa Betrayed is one of the best historical documents of the ‘incident’. I remember a Taiwanese man in Chiayi explaining to me how important Formosa Betrayed is. For decades, any Taiwanese person who dared to talk about the ‘incident’ would be, at best, censored, and at worst, would be tortured and killed and have their family members punished as well. To this day, there are Taiwanese people who are reluctant to talk about what their families experienced during Èr-Èr-Bā. That is why no Taiwanese witness has written a book like Formosa Betrayed. George Kerr, as an American, was safe from censorship and threats of violence, and that is how he, as a firsthand witness of Èr-Èr-Bā, was able to write and publish a book about it.

As an American, George Kerr does have a pro-American bias. I suspect that, if some Taiwanese witness had managed to write a book, it would not have been as pro-American as Formosa Betrayed. However, as an American, George Kerr had a better understanding of the U.S. government’s role in Èr-Èr-Bā than a Taiwanese witness would have been likely to have. And one of the new insights I am getting from Formosa Betrayed is just how badly the U.S. government messed up this situation. And that is one of the main reasons why this book is relevant to Americans, not just Taiwanese.

The U.S. government continues to make the same types of mistakes which are described in the book. Sometimes it makes those mistakes with regards to other countries, but since this is February 28th, I am going to focus on U.S.-Taiwan policy. Living Taiwan and observing how American media reports on Taiwan was eye-opening … in the sense of learning just how much fail there is in American media (both mainstream and alternative media, though mainstream media can do much more damage to Taiwan). I was in Taiwan when the New York Times decided to spew this load of dangerous crap (and if you do not understand how that editorial is dangerous crap – you really, really need to read Formosa Betrayed, though if you do not have time to read it, accepting that Taiwan belongs to Taiwanese people, and that Taiwanese people ought to decide what happens to Taiwan, not the United States and especially not China, is a step in the right direction).

In U.S. politics, there is a narrative that the United States is always the imperialist bad-guy, that the United States is uniquely responsible for international wrongs, etc. Sometimes the United States is the bad guy, and is responsible for international wrongs, but to present the United States as uniquely evil is as much a form of American exceptionalism as the line of thought which presents the United States as uniquely good and never wrong. Formosa Betrayed lays out how the ‘China-Firsters’, who kept on insisting that the United States ought to give Taiwan to China in spite of the lack of a solid sovereign claim, and that the United States ought not to intervene in the way China administered Taiwan in 1945-1947 because China was an oppressed Third-World country, actually enabled the Chinese war-criminals who pillaged and looted Taiwan, and stripped the Taiwanese people of even the limited legal rights they had under Japanese rule.

There are still too many ‘China Firsters’ who have influence in the U.S. government today. And there are too many people in the U.S. media, mainstream or alternative media, who want to enable China to annex Taiwan again. To them, it is not a problem that the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese do not want to be annexed by China. They do not want the mass looting which happened in the 1940s to be repeated. They do not want the massacres which happened in the 1940s to be repeated. They don’t want a repeat of the White Terror. And yes, I think those things are entirely possible if China were allowed to annex Taiwan again.

Even when I was living in Taiwan – specifically, the part of main island which likely be targeted first if China ever invades Taiwan (the first line of defence, of course, are the outer islands, not the main island) – I was never at risk the way my neighbors were. If an invasion had happened, I would have run back to the United States as quickly as possible, and option not available to most Taiwanese. I would not have had to live with the long-term consequences of an annexation. However, even though I was at less risk, spending years living in a place with the threat of military invasion hanging over one’s head … has affected the way I think about war and politics. Living among people who have lived with this type of threat all their lives, who believe the question of a China-Taiwan war is a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ also had an impact. It is not easy to describe the shift which happened, aside from saying that it has made me more skeptical of mainstream American politics than I would have been otherwise.

This post is not the most brilliant thing which will be said about Èr-Èr-Bā. It’s not even as worthwhile as this this speech by a Taiwanese-American addressing other Taiwanese-Americans at UC Berkeley. But it what I have to offer.

I don’t know what to call this post, but this post discusses anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-atheist bigotry, rhetoric, Steve Bannon, and at the very end, asexuality

This is for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces.

This is related to asexuality (or at least I think it is, you are free to disagree with me) but it is going to take a while for me to bring asexuality into this post.

I am Jewish. My mother’s family is Jewish (my father’s family is not Jewish, but that’s beside the point). My Jewish family has very diverse political views, and as such, we do not all agree about recent political events in the United States (for one thing, some of us are Americans, and some of us are not, which in itself tends to cause some differences in opinion). However, as far as I know, none of us has felt threatened as Jews because of the election of Trump. Furthermore, even given our varied political opinions, to the extent that I know my relatives views, we consider attempts to present Trump, whose daughter and grandchildren are Jews, and whose Jewish son-in-law is one of his most trusted advisers, as specifically an anti-Jewish bigot as something which delegitimizes the critique which is making that claim. Specifically speaking of myself, when someone lists ‘antisemitism’ as a reason to oppose Trump, I take that as a sign to consider their arguments which increased skepticism. And when a non-Jew tells me personally that I ought to feel scared as a Jew because of Trump without backing it up with reasoning, and especially without listening to me as a Jew … well, I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it ain’t a good feeling.

Around the time of the election, I encountered a lot of claims that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’. Even though I think most people who say this are claiming that Steve Bannon is bigoted against all semitic people, not just Jews, I am going to use the term ‘anti-Jewish’ rather than ‘anitsemitic’ for clarity, except when I am quoting somebody else.

As a I Jew, I was very interested in learning about Steve Bannon’s ‘antisemiticism’, so I did research. It was very frustrating that most of the people who were claiming that Steve Bannon is anti-Jewish did not present evidence. Sometimes, when I clicked a link which presumably would present evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, it was just another website claiming that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ without presenting evidence (to be fair, the online essay I had intended to use an example has apparently made an edit an no longer says anything specific about Steve Bannon).

Ultimately, the evidence I did uncover was:

– During a divorce proceeding, Bannon’s ex-wife said that Bannon did not want their daughters going to schools with Jews, and Bannon denied the allegation. I think the allegations that Bannon committed domestic violence are more disturbing than the part about choosing a school for their daughters.
– Breitbart News has a lot of anti-Jewish bigoted readers, and a lot of anti-Jewish bigotry in the comments. I admit that I have, at most, read one article on Breitbart years back, so I have not looked at this evidence first-hand. However, I know that I have sometimes seen anti-Jewish screeds in the comments of progressive websites which I do not consider to have an anti-Jewish slant. I’m not going to judge a publication just based on its commentariat. Furthermore, during my attempt to find evidence of Steve Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, I learned that Breitbart News was founded by Jews and has hired a lot of Jews so … it is going to be really difficult to convince me that a news organization which has so many Jews working for it is bigoted against Jews.

Mind you, my conclusion at this point is ‘the evidence that Steve Bannon is bigoted against Jews is insufficient’ not ‘Steve Bannon is *not* bigoted against Jews’. I think it is still possible that he is, and if anyone is aware of further evidence, feel free to bring it to my attention.

I also find it amazing that people are focusing so much on Bannon’s (and by extention, Trump’s) anti-Jewish bigotry when there are so many firmer grounds to critique them. I am going to bring up a grounds to critique Bannon which a) is much easier to substantiate with evidence and b) which almost nobody in the media I read has brought up – I discovered it on my own.

A few months back, I read what Steve Bannon said at a Q&A at a conference in the Vatican in 2014, and I re-read it while preparing this post. Anti-Jewishism? Steven Bannon does use the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ repeatedly, which is a problem because, well, I am going to quote the essay “The Superseded Jew”:

“Judeo-Christian”, of course, is a nonsense phrase that is 100% Christian and, where it does happen to overlap with Jewish perspectives, does so completely by accident. And where Jewish ideology clashes even a little bit with Christian hegemony, it is immediately jettisoned from the pantheon. So we get Katherine Harris telling folks that adhering to “Judeo-Christian values” means only electing Christian legislators (presumably, not Jews), and Duncan Hunter explaining that the reason Israel can have gay soldiers but America can’t is because the latter’s combat troops have, you guessed it, “Judeo-Christian values.” Effectively, the “Judeo-Christian” concept nails Jews from both ends: conservatives get to claim Jews (against our will) to obtain faux-diversity, liberals happily cede us to them so they can bash us as part of the oppressive Christian/conservative power structure they’re warring against. What’s lost in all of this is the simple fact that Christians and Jews are different. Ask 100 people about the “traditional Judeo-Christian position” on abortion or the death penalty. I guarantee 90% of the time you’ll get an answer reflective of traditional Christian conservatism – but one that will have nothing to do with the way those issues are treated in classical Jewish texts … Ultimately, the refusal to situate Jews inside their own narrative and experience, instead defining them as mere extensions of Whiteness or Europeaness or what have you, is a replication of the supersessionist ideology in which Jews were stripped of their subjectivity as human actors.

If anyone wants a longer-form explanation of the problem with the term ‘Judeo-Christian’, there is the essay “There Is No Such Thing as Judeo-Christian Values”.

However, the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ is also often used by people with good intentions who are simply uninformed, so the use of the term is not sufficient for me to label someone as ‘anti-Jewish’.

Here is a quote from that Steve Bannon speech (bolding is mine):

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war, really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right?

Here’s another quote:

The other tendency [which is very disturbing] is an immense secularization of the West. And I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.

This is clear anti-atheist bigotry. It is not at all subtle.

I admit, these days I pay almost no attention to atheist media/blogs, so for all I know, they are discussing this in depth (or screaming their heads off about this, which I think is justified in this case). However, a lot of the claims that Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ is not coming from Jewish media. And when I read/hear many ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ list all of the vulnerable groups which Bannon and the new administration threaten, such as Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people, Jews, women, disabled people, etc. – I do not recall any listing atheists as a vulnerable/targeted group.

I have spent months pondering this – why exaggerate the case that Bannon (and the Trump administration) is bigoted against Jews, and ignore the case that it is bigoted against atheists? Ultimately, I cannot read minds, but I do have a hunch.

People who oppose Bannon and his ilk want him to be an anti-Jewish bigot because then they can rhetorically tie him to the anti-Jewish bigotry of the Nazis and the Holocaust. In other words, they are trying to invoke Hitler as Boogeyman, rather than actually consider the implications for Jews alive today (if these people have solid evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry that I am completely unaware of, then I retract this comment).

It is true that some Jewish media publications are among those claiming that Bannon is an anti-Jewish bigot. To me, that smells just like when Jews who defend Israel’s far-right policies claim that anyone who critiques those policies is an anti-Jewish bigot. Those right-wing Israelis (and allies) are also trying to invoke the legacy of the Holocaust to silence their critics. I find it sad that some left-wing Jews are now sinking to their level.

By contrast, including atheists as a vulnerable group who is specifically targeted by Bannon’s rhetoric does not bring any such rhetorical advantage. On the contrary, many Americans (mistakenly) believe that Hitler was an atheist, and (not-so-mistakenly) associate atheism with Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

The Democratic Party (and ‘liberals’ in general) only took up the cause of black people, LGBT people, disabled people, etc. because those people forced the Democrats/liberals to take their concerns seriously. And the Democrat establishment still only take those concerns seriously when marginalized people hold their feet to the fire. For whatever reason, atheists have not pulled this off yet. I think that is why atheists are not typically in the lists of vulnerable groups who Democrats and/or liberals supposedly intend to protect. This is not to say that atheists are any less deserving of protection than other marginalized groups, simply that we (yes, I am an atheist) have not gained the symbolic protection of the liberal elite yet (and LGBT people only got that ‘protection’ very recently, and that protection is still very … shaky).

Okay, I think it’s finally time to explain what the heck this has to do with asexuality.

Though more and more ‘social justice’ types are including aces among the marginalized groups they stand with, it is still more of the exception than the rule in ‘social justice’ circles. Mostly, we are still ignored, and sometimes deliberately excluded. And we are not even on the radar of mass political movements/ideologies. Often, asexuals do not conveniently fit into the rhetorical paradigms which people are used to using, such as the paradigms of ‘sexual liberation’, just as atheists do not fit as well as Jews into the rhetoric which some of Bannon’s critics want to use.

Also, a lot of the rhetoric used by trolling ‘alt-right’ types, such as calling people who were devastated by Trump’s election ‘special snowflakes’, is rhetoric which I first became aware of when people, often people who identified as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, were using it against aces. I do not know where this type of rhetoric originally came from, but I see common patterns.

I almost decided to sit out of this Carnival of Aces for various reasons, and I still feel that this post is rougher than I want it to be. And I feel bad about posting it on February 28 (even though it is being published on February 27 in my timezone) and wished I had finished this a little earlier. I hope I will at least be able to write a post more appropriate for the 70th anniversary of the February 28th Massacre and publish it before February 28 ends in my time zone. However, I decided it was still better to put this out in its flawed form than to keep these thoughts stewing in my mind unexpressed.

Reflections on Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr., Part 1

I have tried to show the real nature of humanity’s predicament, not because understanding its nature will enable us to escape it, but because if we do not understand it, we shall continue to act and react in ways that make it worse.

– William R. Catton Jr., from the Preface of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

First, I shall summarize the main ideas of Overshoot

– Humans are part of the local ecosystem, therefore to understand human society one must use the ecological paradigm, that is, look at humans the same way one would look at any other species in an ecosystem.
– All species, including humans, have a carrying capacity within the ecosystem. The carrying capacity is the largest possible stable population of that species the ecosystem can support.
– According to the ecological paradigm, humans have been able to greatly increase the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for humans by the takeover method, that is, taking biological resources which were previously exploited by different species. For example, when humans figured out how to use fire to make food more digestible, they used wood which otherwise would have gone to feed fungi. Thus, humans took a part of the biosphere which previously had been occupied by wood-consuming fungi.
– Many technological advances have increased the ecosystem’s carrying capacity for humans via the takeover method
– The takeover method is sustainable because it is about seizing a share of renewable resources from other species. Because the resources are renewable, the increase in carrying capacity is semi-permanent.
– In the year 1492, European technology allowed them to have a much higher carrying capacity per acre of arable land than the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Thus, the discovery of the Americas meant a dramatic increase of carrying capacity for Europeans, creating the ‘Age of Exuberance’. By contrast, since the indigenous human population of the Americas was already at the carrying capacity of the Americas ~with indigenous technology~, the coming of the Europeans meant that they would be crowded out of their ecological niche.
– Humans can use an increase in carrying capacity to either increase their population and/or to increase their material standards of living
– There is a limit to how much life the Earth can sustain, thus the takeover method is ultimately limited. Humans cannot use more than 100% of the biosphere, and in practice, trying to get even close to that would cause such ecological damage that it would actually decrease the ecosystem’s long-term carrying capacity for humans. In short, there is no second Earth full of resources to exploit.
– Some species use drawdown rather than takeover to TEMPORARILY increase their carrying capacity. Drawdown is when a species uses resources much faster than they can be renewed. These species drawdown the renewable resources until the resources are exhausted, which leaves the species with a population that greatly exceeds the carrying capacity. This leads to a mass die-off.
– Humans have also used drawdown during the industrial revolution – we have used nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels, mineral deposits, etc, to enable a population boom.
– Humans have mistaken drawdown for takeover, and temporary increase in carrying capacity for a permanent increase. This is why people speak of ‘producing’ fossil fuels, when ‘extracting’ fossil fuels is a more accurate description of what is happening.
– With the use of drawdown, some humans have increased their material standards of living so much that they are now ‘homo colossus’ rather than ‘homo sapiens’ (Catton does not mean that ‘homo colossus’ is biologically a different species, it’s just a phrase he uses to distinguish high resource consumption humans from low resource consumption humans)
– Humans are already in overshoot (when a population exceeds its carrying capacity) (note: this book was published in 1980), and there is going to be a mass die-off. It is too late to prevent this.
– When a species is near or above its carrying capacity, there is great deal of intra-species competition. Humans are experiencing this with their many human-on-human conflicts.
– However, even though it is too late to stop human overshoot, there are still things humans can do to make the overshoot less bad. For example, humans can reduce their resource usage, can reduce births so the overshoot is less extreme. However, the most important thing humans can do is understand that this has been caused by ecological forces which affect all species, and is not caused by a malignant, evil Other. By understanding this as the work of fate (Catton has a nice definition of fate which does not depend on belief in theistic or supernatural entities) rather than the work of the Other, humans might be able to avoid great wars and genocides.
– People are at various stages of accepting the ecological paradigm, namely, Ostrichism (There’s nothing wrong!), Cynicism (None of this matters!), Cosmeticism (we can fix this with birth control, recycling, and environmental protection laws), Cargoism (technology will fix this!), and Realism (overshoot is here, and we must adapt as best we can). Adopting ‘Realism’ will lead to the best outcome for humans (I have to note the neat rhetorical trick of labelling people who agree with the writer as ‘Realists’ and everybody else as, er, look at the labels yourself).

This summary is long enough to be a post in itself, so I will start discussing what *I* think about all this in the next part (well, I already expressed some of my thoughts in this post).

Thoughts on Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress

Congress is the most powerful branch of the national government of the United States. It is also the most transparent and democratic branch. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, according to Neil M. Barofsky’s important book Bailout, Congress is also the least corrupt branch of the national government (if you care about American politics, I highly recommend reading Bailout). Given that Congress is a) the most powerful and b) the most subject to democratic control, it seems to me the obvious place to push for change.

This is part of why I was so puzzled that people said that the Democratic Party was in much better shape than the Republican Party in October 2016. First of all, unlike nearly everybody in my social circle, who were all certain that Clinton was going to win, I was expecting a close election and that either Clinton or Trump could win it. It turns out I was right and they were wrong (that does not mean I’m happy about being right in this case). However, aside from the Presidential election, the Democrats had not had a majority in the House since 2010, and have been bleeding seats in state legislatures all over the country. Even if Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had given their electoral college votes to Clinton, it would not have changed the outcomes of the congressional and state legislature elections.

I find it frustrating that people focus so much on the presidency that they ignore so much of what is happening in Congress, let alone the state governments. For example, when I went to vote in 2008, I was shocked by how crowded it was. There were not nearly so many people at the polls in 2006, when there was an election for the governor. The thing is, with the way the electoral college is set up, voting for POTUS in California does not make a difference, and this has been true ever since California has been a state. In other words, California votes have never mattered for electing a POTUS. California votes do matter a great deal for electing the governor, and the governor (or, as we called him in 2008, the ‘governator’) has more power over California affairs than the POTUS. Granted, the infamous Proposition 8 was also on the ballot in 2008, but had Proposition 8 been on the 2006 ballot rather than the 2008 ballot, would the crowds have shown up in 2006 instead of 2008? I will never know.

Personally, I think the fact that a) the Republicans control almost enough state legislatures to pass constitutional amendments without Democrats and b) the way some state legislatures are acting to dismantle democracy (most notably in North Carolina, where they elected a new governor because their previous governor was unpopular, and the legislature responded by gutting the newly elected governor of his powers) is scarier than the election of Trump. The election of Trump, in itself, is (flawed) democracy in action, not a dismantling of democracy (the electoral college is a problem, but an old one, not a new one) (what Trump may do in office to undermine democracy is something else). A lame duck state legislature gutting the powers of the newly elected governor is a direct dismantlement of democracy. Furthermore, I found out just today that the Arizona Senate has voted for a bill which would allow police to arrest people organizing peaceful protests, even if those protest organizers have not harmed anyone or damaged any property.

However, I don’t think there is much I can do about the North Carolina or Arizona state governments. I can do some small things about the California state government, and on that note, a PSA for fellow Californians: tell Governor Jerry Brown to ask CALPERS board member Bill Slaton to resign. Even though California votes don’t count for POTUS elections, the California government does control CALPERS, one of the most powerful investors in the world. Arguably, having control over CALPERS grants more power than a pile of electoral college votes. The problem now is that CALPERS is going rogue and behaving in a way which is harmful to Californians, which is why citizens need to intervene.

I also can do some small things about the national legislature, Congress.

So, with all that said, I have great interest in what will happen in the 2018 midterm elections. And two groups, the Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress have come to my attention. These are two groups which are starting to work now to change Congress in the 2018 elections.

I agree with most of the Justice Democrats’ platform, and the parts I disagree with are issues I am willing to compromise on. In other words, I would be very happy to see a majority of Congress adopt this type of platform. However, since they are a new group, there is relatively little information about them. I will keep a critical eye on them.

As the Justice Democrats’ said in one of their emails (yes, I am on their email list because I want to learn more about them), their endgame is different from that of Brand New Congress (BNC), but they have decided to work together because the work that needs to be done is so overwhelming that they need partners. BNC, based on what I was able to learn, seems to be run by former campaigners for Bernie Sanders. I prefer the platform of the Justice Democrats over the platform of BNC, but the BNC platform is also a significant improvement over status quo.

The thing which most concerned me about the BNC when I first learned about them was that it seemed they were going to recruit almost exclusively from people who have no experience with elected office. Now, I see on their website that they are not going to exclude all people with elected office experience, but I’m still concerned on their drive to recruit people without an elected office track record. Why? I could take the easy way out by just saying “look at Trump, the first POTUS with no prior experience in elected office” but I will explain. First of all, without a record of what a candidate has done in elected office, it’s much harder to predict what they will do when elected. Second, inexperienced people tend to be less competent than experienced people. Inexperienced politicians are more likely to cave to oligarchs. This happened in California when term limits were imposed – the California legislature got a flood of inexperienced legislatures who were so clueless that they depended on lobbyists to ‘help’ them do their jobs far more than the incumbents they replaced. Yes, many of the incumbents were corrupt, but they at least had a more independent power base, and thus greater leeway to tell big money interests “Fuck You.”

That is not to say that all members of Congress need to have experience in elected office. I think there are teachers, nurses, factory workers, etc. who would be fine congressional representatives (especially if they have experience with union politics). However, I am worried about what would happen if the majority of Congress did not have prior experience with elected office.

On the other hand, given the powerful antipathy voters feel towards ‘career politicians’ these days, maybe recruiting primarily ‘ordinary people’ to be candidates is a good strategy for winning elections.

I am also concerned about the centralized campaign that BNC proposes. On the one hand, maybe that is exactly the kind of thing which is necessary to win elections. However, my concern is that it will become too centralized, and power will be concentrated in too few hands. Then again, power is already concentrated in too few hands, namely in the hands the oligarchs, so perhaps being ruled by whoever controls BNC will be a major improvement, even if power is too concentrated.

BNC says they are going to prepare legislation this year, and that it will be released to the public before the 2018 elections, and that all of their candidates will pledge to vote for the legislation that BNC drafts. I look forward to seeing what BNC will come up with. Or maybe that is too passive an approach. Maybe it’s better if I tell them what I want, even though BNC currently is not soliciting from the general public what the general public wants in their legislation. And that is also a bit of a concern for me. They’re drafting candidates, but they are not soliciting input for what voters want to put into their legislation? Hmmmm.

Catton’s Five Questions for an Old World

Last week, I mentioned my intention to read Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr.. I just finished reading the book. I intend to write a more general post about my reading experience, but first, I want to answer the “five questions for an old world” in Chapter 14 of Overshoot (the penultimate chapter).

This is what Catton says of the questions:

If instead, guided by knowledge based on the [ecological] paradigm, we can face reality, we may recognize that we still could make some adjustments to stem the tide of our de-civilization. Those adjustments will not “lead to an even better life,” but they may keep us from making our future more gruesome than it has to be. To see what really needs to be done, we must ask ourselves several excruciatingly tough questions. They carry our thinking far beyond the point reached in political discussions of energy policy.

I will answer each question on two levels – a) the individual level (referring to myself) and b) on a human-species-wide level.

1) Can we begin to phase out our use of “fossil fuels” as combustible sources of energy?

Answer (individual): I’ve used a number of ‘carbon calculators’ (figuring carbon footprint is a decent proxy for fossil fuel consumption) and they have such different assumptions that I get very different results using different calculators. However, they generally agree that I use much less fossil fuels than the ‘average’ resident of the United States, California, and San Francisco. They also agree that I use much more than the world per capita average. Some of the things which tend to make my carbon footprint / fossil fuel usage lower than an ‘average’ resident of San Francisco / the United States are a) the fact that nobody in my household owns a car b) I’m a strict vegetarian (no animal products in my diet, no dairy, no eggs, no fish, etc.) c) I have not been inside an airplane since 2014 d) I generally do not buy much in the way of material goods d) I live in a housing unit with no air conditioner and where we never ever turn on the central heating. That said, I am still very much a fossil fuel user. I do things which are not necessary for my survival, or even my happiness, which consume fossil fuels, such as using the computer for non-essential tasks (which uses electricity, which is derived from fossil fuels). I covered significant distances for discretionary travel last year, most notably the “The Mississippi Journey” using diesel-powered trains and buses. If I had just stayed in San Francisco, less diesel would have been burned. In summary, I have significantly lower consumption of fossil fuels than my peers, but I still refuse to do all I could to reduce my fossil fuel consumption.

Answer (species-wide): According to The World Bank, per capita carbon emissions from the United States has declined from 20.8 metric tons per year in 1980 (when this book was first published) to 16.4 metric tons a year in 2013. At first glance, that implies that residents of the United States are reducing their use of fossil fuels (assuming fossil fuel usage is correlated with carbon emissions). However, during the 1980-2013 time frame, a lot of manufacturing shifted from the United States to other countries, notably China, which has had a sharp rise in its per capita carbon emissions in the same time period. Since a significant portion of goods which Americans used were in 1980 manufactured in the United States but are now made in China (and other places) and imported by Americans, it’s possible that the carbon emissions have just been shifted, rather than reduced.

And then there is this chart which shows that global carbon emissions *from fossil fuels specifically* (not other sources) has been continuously and exponentially rising since 1800 – and that it has NOT STOPPED SINCE 1980. Okay, actually, there was a reduction in fossil fuel consumption during the recession in the early 1980s, but it was a small dip (just a 4% dip, as opposed to the 16% dip in fossil-fuel related carbon emissions which just happened to occur at the same time as the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic), but since the early 1980s recession it has been rising dramatically. More troublesome, global per capita fossil-fuel related carbon emissions have also been rising. So I conclude that, since this book has published, we have not weaned ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels. Could we still do it? It would have been easier to phase out of fossil fuels in 1980 than now, so that fact that it has not happened means that I do not expect it to happen until we are forced to stop using fossil fuels (i.e. extraction becomes too expensive due to having to resort to deposits which are difficult to extract). Technically, we could ‘begin’ to end our dependence, but considering the social reality, I say no, we cannot.

2) Can enough of us recognize at last the inescapable intricacy of any non-detritovorous relationship between the human species and its habitat? To translate that question into less jargon-laden terms, Can enough people figure out that we are dependent on the renewable/sustainable resources offered by our habitat, and that we have to keep our habitat in good condition in order to continue to have enough resources to survive at our current population level?

Answer (individual) Yes, I think I understand that humans need a habitat which supplies our needs in order to survive, and that degrading that habitat to the degree that it can no longer supply our needs means we will not survive. Of course, just because I think I understand it does not mean I actually do. Observe my behavior. I cause damage to the habitat which is not strictly necessarily for my current survival or even happiness. There are things which I could do to either reduce my negative impact on our global habitat, or to help restore the habitat, yet I do not. Perhaps my actions (such as going on a completely discretionary journey over thousands of miles in fossil-fuel powered vehicles) speak louder than my words or thoughts.

Answer (species-wide): Considering how much habitat destruction which threatens humans has happened since 1980, no, I don’t think ‘enough’ of us understand that, and I do not think enough of us will until habitat damage causes the global human population to go down, not up.

3) Can we candidly acknowledge that general affluence simply cannot last in the face of a carrying capacity deficit? To translate the question into a less-jargon heavy version, can we candidly acknowledge that general affluence cannot continue when we are using more ecological resources than are being replaced every year, which means that in the future humans will have dramatically less ecological resources?

Answer (individual): I can acknowledge that. It shapes a lot of decisions in my life. One reason I live the way I do now is that I think that there is a high chance that an affluent lifestyle will be impossible for me in the 2040s (assuming I am still alive then).

Answer (species-wide): Again, I don’t think people in general are going to acknowledge that until most currently affluent people are forced to become non-affluent, and not even then. After all, a lot of people are falling out of the middle class in the United States right now, but they are mostly blaming scapegoats who may be partially responsible but are not the deepest cause, and they believe that taking out the scapegoats will restore affluence when it will not.

4) Depletion of ghost acreage [non-renewable resources and resources we had temporarily appropriated from others which we are forced to give up] is not only forcing us to take stringent efficiency measures, but it will also irresistibly compel return to a simpler life. Will we accept it with any grace? Or will we kick and scream our way into it, imagining we could always have everything we want if only those government people weren’t forbidding it?

Answer (individual): I think I can accept it with some grace, though to be honest, I will probably also being doing some kicking and screaming too. After all, if I really believed that giving up the material benefits of fossil-fuelled affluence and going to a strict subsistence lifestyle was awesome, I would have already done that (and would have stopped updating this blog, and stopped using computers unless absolutely necessary for survival). That said, I find it ironic that, when the internet stops working for whatever reason, it bothers me less than it bothers my parents, even though they grew up in a time when there was no internet. My travels have also taught me that I can be happy even with a lower level of material wealth. For example, even though I definitely prefer sleeping under a solid roof surrounded by solid walls, living in a tent can be okay.

Answer (species-wide): I actually have some optimism here! Even though most people do not think in terms of the ‘ecological paradigm’ the general expectation is that people are going to be downwardly mobile than upwardly mobile. Why is that a good thing? As Overshoot sometimes mentions (and which is consistent with what I know about the world) if someone expects a bad thing to happen, and someone else does NOT expect the bad thing to happen, and bad thing does, in fact, happen, the person who expected it will handle it will be less mentally devastated than the person who did not expect it. Also, younger people in the United States are being less materialistic than earlier generations in significant ways – for example, many young people are foregoing car ownership, home ownership, etc. (granted, a lot of this has to do with the combination of high student debts + a terrible labor market for young people entering the work force, but the adaptation is happening). Granted, this is a bit of a US-centric analysis, but in other parts of the world where I have been, I have seen the same kinds of things happening. I can’t comment on what young people in, for example, South America are doing, but in Japan, there is also a strong sense of downward mobility, so many young Japanese people are turning away from a materialist lifestyle to try to pursue happiness in other ways.

Another source of optimism is that material well-being does not seem to cause happiness. Some measures of ‘happiness’ (such as the United Nations’ ‘World Happiness Report’) measure ‘happiness’ based on criteria such as ‘GDP per capita’ and find that countries with higher GDP per capita are also ‘happier’. However, according to the Gallup survey, which measures happiness by asking how people feel rather than measuring their material wealth, the correlation between a country’s wealth and its happiness is not strong (note: I haven’t done a regression analysis). What seems to have a big effect is not whether it’s a first world or third world country – compare Japan and Honduras for example. What seems to really make people unhappy is having recently been ravaged by war (Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan) or major civil upheaval (Turkey, Tunisia).

5) Is there any chance that we can learn to practice such mandatory austerity unless we can first be spared the widespread, deliberate badgering of people into wanting more, more, more? With the [ecological] paradigm we should begin to recognize the increasingly anti-social ramifications of advertising.

Answer (individual): Okay, my first reaction to this question is ‘???!!!???’ It seemed to come out of the blue, especially since the rest of the book doesn’t discuss advertising or television at all. In the discussion of the question, Catton wonders whether it’s worth amending the Constitution of the United States (specifically the First Amendment) in order to make advertising, such as television commercials, illegal. When I got to that part, I thought ‘Whoa’. Upon further reflection, I realized that this is a very dated section of the book. As it so happens, I’ve read part of a very long 1970s tract about the social evils of television, and thinking about that tract made it easier for me to see where Catton is coming from, even though my reaction to the idea of violating the First Amendment to ban television commercials is still ‘Hell No!’

Anyway, I will now answer the question rather than just register my bafflement. I can be austere even when I am exposed to advertising. I admit there have been times when advertising has influenced me to consume things which were no in my best interest to consume, but I think I learned from certain early experiences, and that later increased my resistance to influence by advertising. And no, I don’t want ‘more, more, more’. I would actually be very happy just to maintain my current standard of material living for the rest of my life (especially since I think that I may not be able to maintain it for the rest of my life).

Answer (species-wide): There is actually some reason to have this concern, and actually, advertising in children’s television is regulated by the U.S. government because that has been shown to be a particularly harmful form of advertising. However, it seems to be that advertising has become much less effective in influencing people to consume stuff than it was back in 1980. Which makes me wonder if advertising really did play such a role in persuading to consume so much more than what they need even in 1980, or whether it was just a surface phenomenon which had a deeper cause beneath it. So yes, I think it is entirely possible for people to learn how to practice personal austerity even in a world full of advertising, and that interfering with the First Amendment is entirely uncalled for.

So, if you have gotten this far, I ask: how would you answer Catton’s five questions for an old world?