Transportation Is a Utility: Thoughts on Airplanes and Trains (Part 2)

One of the advantages Amtrak has over domestic airlines is that passengers are treated with a lot more dignity. There is no TSA – all you have to do to board an Amtrak train is show a photo I.D. and a ticket (and conductors don’t always check photo I.D.). Baggage policy is more flexible (which, do be fair, is partially due to technological differences). While different conductors are stricter than others, they generally try to help passengers have a good experience.

Furthermore, while Amtrak employees have complaints about their work (like most workers), the general impression I’ve gotten from my conversations with Amtrak crews is that they believe they have decent jobs, and a quick internet search indicates that most Amtrak crew members are paid a living wage (unlike many airline crew members). While I have encountered Amtrak crew members of all races, a disproportionate number of them seem to be African-American. That might be partially because working on trains has historically be culturally coded as a ‘black’ job, but it may also reflect that the federal government, as an employer, tends to discriminate less on the basis of race than private employers.

Amtrak is owned by the government. It is essentially a government-owned utility with the purpose of serving the people, not making money.

The Trump administration’s attempt to cut down Amtrak is not a new trend. Some Republicans in Congress have been trying to attack Amtrak for a long time, saying that it ought to pay for itself through passenger fares. However, this reflects the views of only certain types of Republicans and other right-wingers – there is another set of right-wingers who support Amtrak.

I remember one time, when I was on an Amtrak train (one of the train lines which might be eliminated under Trump’s budget proposal), I was talking to a libertarian who told me that government is too big and ought to shrink down. I pointed out to him that he was riding Amtrak, which receives government subsidies. His response was that Amtrak was useful, unlike some other government activities, and that highways and airports are also subsidized by the government, so he couldn’t avoid using a mode of transit which is subsidized by the government. The thing was, he lived in a rural area. I suspect that, if he were a Silicon Valley libertarian rather than a rural libertarian, he would be in favor of cutting Amtrak’s subsidies.

Generally, I have found that rural people – regardless of their political affiliation – like passenger train service, and are opposed to cutting Amtrak. When riding on Amtrak, I have found that a lot of passengers live in rural areas. This is partially because a) many rural areas are not served by an airport and b) even if there is an airport, travel by train is sometimes significantly cheaper. For example, I learned that travelling between Arizona and Texas – especially if one buys tickets at the last minute – is much cheaper by train than by airplane. Now, maybe if the airline industry were not an oligopoly without sufficient public control, the airfare between Arizona and Texas would be more price competitive with train tickets. But that is how things are now.

Speaking of price, cutting Amtrak subsidies is a class issue, not just a rural issue. Aside from Amtrak crew jobs being better than airline crew jobs, people who ride Amtrak – especially the train lines which Trump’s budget might cut – tend to be poorer than airline passengers. Also, it is a disability issue, since some people, for medical reasons, cannot travel by airplane.

Anyway, back to the rural issue. Yes, it is true that some major metropolitan areas might also lose all passenger train service under the proposed budget. I find it particularly shocking that New Orleans might be completely cut out, since New Orleans is currently one of the major passenger train hubs. On the other hand, New Orleans does have a couple of airports as well as Greyhound and Megabus, so losing Amtrak would not be as devastating to NOLA as would be to a rural town.

Oh, and Greyhound? I’ve heard that their prices went way up after they bought Trailways, their main competitor. They also eliminated a lot of routes. This is another great example of how reducing competition increases prices and reduces service. Usually, travel by Amtrak is cheaper than Greyhound, though Greyhound is sometimes faster and usually has better wifi than Amtrak. If Amtrak gets seriously cut back, I predict Greyhound will become even more expensive, and their service might get crappier. MegaBus pretty much only serves major metropolitan areas because that is the most profitable market for long-distance buses.

As it so happens, last week (assuming everything went according to plan – I scheduled this post to go online about two weeks after I wrote it) I went from San Francisco to San Diego by train. Guess what? Neither of the train lines I used (the San Joaquin and the Pacific Surfliner) are directly threatened by Trump’s budget. In fact, I think the proposed cuts to Amtrak, if they come to pass, would barely affect the San Francisco Bay Area. We would still have the Amtrak lines which are not affected by the cuts, as well as Greyhound, Megabus, Caltrain, the airports, etc. The attitude of most San Franciscans towards Amtrak is that it’s nice, and they do not want to cut its subsidies, but they do not consider it particularly important.

Let’s compare that to Dunsmuir, California.

Dunsmuir is in Siskiyou County, which consistently leans Republican. Amtrak has tried to end passenger service to Dunsmuir before, but the people of Dunsmuir insisted on keeping passenger service, and eventually the City of Dunsmuir made a deal with Amtrak. Dunsmuir does not have an airport with scheduled flights, nor does it have Greyhound (and the nearest airport with scheduled flights is only served by two airlines – one of them is United Express). If Dunsmuir were to lose passenger train service, then the only remaining means of long-distance transit would be the interstate highway (technically, it would also still be accessible by freighthopping, which is illegal, and by foot and horse, but that is not enough to keep a town alive in this day and age). Losing Amtrak would be a much bigger deal to Dunsmuir than to San Francisco.

Yes, you guessed it. The proposed budget cuts to Amtrak might end Amtrak service to Dunsmuir, a town which needs it more, not to San Francisco, a city which needs it less.

Of course, though losing Amtrak would be bad for Dunsmuir economy (and Dunsmuir’s economy isn’t doing so great in the first place), the people of Dunsmuir also have cultural reasons for keeping Amtrak. Dunsmuir was founded as a railroad town, and Southern Pacific is still one of the biggest employers in town. Trains are a key part of their heritage. To them, losing passenger train service would be like San Francisco losing its cable cars. And yes, the city government tried to eliminate San Francisco’s cable cars in the 1940s and 1950s, and it took citizen activism to keep the cable cars running, just as Dunsmuir had to make a fuss in order to keep Amtrak. San Francisco cable cars have much less utility than Amtrak trains, and also require subsidies from local taxpayers to keep running, yet shutting down cable cars would be as unpopular today as it was in the 1940s/1950s because San Franciscans recognize their cultural value (and their tourist-economy value, which is derived from their cultural value).

By the way, one of the conservative/right-wing arguments for subsidizing Amtrak is that Amtrak is preserving a piece of the United States’ cultural heritage.

Though I have not done the research to confirm this, based on what I’ve read, it seems that Republicans from rural areas tend to like Amtrak and favor having Amtrak serve their communities. For example, Doug LaMalfa, the Republican who represents Dunsmuir in Congress, has voted in favor of Amtrak subsidies (he is opposed to California’s high speed rail program, but that might be because HSR, unlike Amtrak, would not serve his district). I recall reading years ago that Republicans in southern Mississippi also tend to be pro-Amtrak, and a quick internet search yielded this article (which is obviously out-of-date, but also supports my hunch than rural Republicans tend to support Amtrak). IIRC, the article I read years back quoted a Mississippi politician as saying something like “the Yankees are trying to take away our trains”.

It seems to me that Republicans who most aggressively Amtrak are from affluent-to-rich suburban or urban areas, or are just plain wealthy (Trump obviously belongs to this group).

Likewise, the politicians – both Republican and Democrat – who most favor ‘deregulation’ of the airline industry and allowing high market concentration by ignoring anti-trust laws are so wealthy that they can afford to travel by private jet, or rely on campaign contributions from people who are wealthy enough to travel by private jet.

I hope that the Democrats and rural Republicans can work together to prevent these cuts to Amtrak’s budget. Even though some Amtrak lines are not directly threatened by the budget cut, the way it works is that because Amtrak currently serves so many rural areas, there are a lot of representatives in Congress who have a stake in sustaining Amtrak service in their district. If a bunch of congressional districts lose Amtrak, then there will a bunch of members of Congress who will have much incentive to, say, vote to increase funding to the Northeast Corridor.

Yes, the national network train lines operate at a net loss, but they increase revenue on other lines thorugh connecting passengers. For example, a national network train (the Coast Starlight) might bring a passenger from Portland to Sacramento, and then they will take the San Joaquin to Fresno. Without the Coast Starlight, they probably would not choose to use the train, and thus the San Joaquin misses a potential passenger.

And we get back to national cohesion. You either have the principle that one tries to serve as much of the nation as feasible because this nation is for everybody, or you’re only going to serve the people it’s ‘profitable’ to serve, which in the case of Amtrak would mean that people in the Northeastern United States would have Amtrak service and nobody else (not even California).

And transportation supports national cohesion in another way. You probably think that there is some region of the United States where a lot of people have very messed-up ideas. If so, and you want people in that region to have less messed-up ideas, you want the United States to have a good transportation network. The better (by ‘better’ I mean affordable and convenient) the transportation network, the more people in that region will travel, the more they travel, the more ideas they will be exposed to, and the more ideas they are exposed to, the more likely they will replace some of their very messed up ideas with less messed-up ideas. Though all forms of transportation support the flow of ideas, I think that trains, because they foster more social interaction between strangers than other forms of long-distance transit (except certain types of boats), serve this purpose particularly well.

So to wrap this all up – transportation, like water and electricity, needs to be treated as a utility. This is necessary to ensure fair treatment of passengers – both in terms of price and dignity. When transportation is offered by private companies, it needs to be regulated by the public. It’s also sometimes a good idea for transportation to be delivered by a government-owned utility, like Amtrak. Sometimes, offering transportation to some places requires operating subsidies, but the benefits to society as a whole can justify the cost of those subsidies.

Transportation Is a Utility: Thoughts on Airplanes and Trains (Part 1)

Note: This post is scheduled to go online a little less than a week after I wrote this, while I do not have access to the internet. It might already be out of date by the time it is posted, and due to lack of internet access, I may be slow to moderate/respond to comments.

***

I’m guessing that just about everyone who is reading this post knows that, on April 9, 2017, United Airlines (or more specifically, United Express) called in Chicago Aviation security officers to forcibly remove a passenger who was already boarded and seated and posed no threat to anybody, and those officers broke the passenger’s nose, gave him a concussion, and caused him to lose two teeth. This has sparked a lot of discussion, including (but not only) the fact that the airline industry in the United States is an oligopoly, and that this situation (the broader situation, not just oligopoly) exists partially because the government chose to hand over airline regulation away from democratic systems and towards airline managers.

Though it was published before April 9, this article explains how enforcing anti-monopoly/oligopoly laws is necessary to preserve/expand civil liberties. That article focuses on African-Americans, but I think its points can be applied more broadly, and I think the United Airlines incident is an example of the link between concentrated market power and violation of civil liberties.

Meanwhile, another piece of news which has gotten far less attention (for obvious reasons) is the Trump administration’s proposal to cut all funding of Amtrak’s national network trains. You know those trains which I rode last year? Those routes might be eliminated if the budget passes in its current form.

The common thread in these two news stories is that they are about how transportation policy in the United States has been moving towards giving the private sector, as opposed to public sector, more control over transportation, and that this is bad for societal cohesion. In other words, the United States is moving away from treating transportation as a utility.

Let’s go back to airlines. It has been more than ten years since I was ever on a domestic flight in the United States, and most of my experience with U.S. domestic flights was with an airline which no longer exists (TWA). Thus, I do not have personal experience with current conditions on domestic U.S. flights. However, I do have recent experience (within the last five years) with domestic flights in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, and I can tell you that they have much better customer service than what people describe with domestic airlines in the United States at much lower prices. Now, some of that is because people are going to talk more about their horrible experiences with airlines than their boring experiences with airlines. However, it does seem to me that Americans are dissatisfied with airline service in the U.S. in a way that most East Asians are not dissatisfied with their domestic airlines. Furthermore, the domestic airlines in those countries either have government price controls (Taiwan) or are much more competitive than the regional air markets of equivalent size in the United States (Japan and South Korea).

Some of you are probably thinking ‘Domestic flights in Taiwan / Japan / South Korea? That’s ridiculous! Those countries are so small!’ Well, it’s not ridiculous because Taiwan and Japan are island countries, and South Korea has an entire province (Jeju) which is not on the Korean peninsula, just as the United States has an entire state (Hawaii) which is not part of the North American landmass.

Since I know most about Taiwan, I will focus on the airline industry there. Most domestic flights in Taiwan connect the main island to the outer islands. There is also ferry service to the outer islands (except Kinmen), but since air travel has some advantages over sea travel, having both air and sea connections means better transportation than having only sea connections. Since some islands are only served by a single airline and can only sustain a limited number of flights (for example, Qimei, an island with about 3,700 inhabitants, has only two flights per day), market competition clearly cannot keep airfares reasonable. Thus, the government imposes price controls. And when the airfares go up, the islanders make a big stink about it, and it is reported in the news.

Obviously, Taiwan’s regulation of domestic air travel has big problems because this happened (note: I once took a TransAsia flight from Taipei to Kinmen – if the timing had been different, I could have been on that flight). However, Taiwan’s approach – treating airlines as a utility – is the approach which best serves its interests. When I interacted with airlines in Asia, I generally felt I received good customer service. For example, I once got a refund for my ticket with very little fuss for a flight where I was a no show (I did not cancel – I was a no show). That airline had a monopoly for that particular route, so the most plausible reason why they gave me a refund so easily is that they were legally required to do so.

Now, one may ask ‘who cares if the outer islands, which have a total population of less than 300,000 people, have good, affordable transportation?’ First of all, good transportation is critical to maintaining the economies of the outer islands, but that is arguably not important to the 23 million people who live on the main island (the total population of all of the outer island is less than 300,000). The most obvious benefit to the people on the main island is military security – in every single instance in history when there was warfare between China and Taiwan, it started in the outer islands because they are the buffer zone. It is in Taiwan’s interests to keep the loyalty of the people in the outer islands, and for the outer islands to have sufficient resources to support Taiwan’s military (which is heavily concentrated in the outer islands).

But beyond the question of how helping the outer islanders benefits the main islanders, there is the basic principle that they are all part of same society, and that it is the duty of a society to take care of its own people.

Here one might say ‘yeah, that’s Taiwan’s situation, how is that relevant to anywhere else.’ True, people in New York City do not depend on upstate New York to serve as a buffer against military invasion (though I suppose that, if there were any serious threat of Canada invading the United States, that could change). However, the point about broader social and national cohesion applies just as much to the United States as to Taiwan. That is the case made by this blog.

One of the issues I’ve seen come up again and again in discussion about United Airlines is that some people cannot avoid using United Airlines if they want to travel to/from certain places by air because United Airlines is the only feasible option. Though I do not know the details, apparently Louisville (the destination of the flight) is one of those places where flight options are limited. Thus, one cannot rely on the power of the market to ensure good service – if the government does not step in, then the managers of the airlines will just do whatever the heck they want, which is probably to make themselves richer at the cost of both passengers and employees (it turns out the employees who were working on that flight are grossly underpaid, which might be related to why they performed so badly – employees who can’t take care of themselves can’t take care of passengers).

I have zero sympathy for United Airlines, and I would not feel sorry at all for them if they go out of business because of this scandal. However, because the airline industry in the United States is an oligopoly which does not have sufficient public control, I do not expect eliminating United Airlines will improve conditions for passengers. On the contrary, I think increasing market concentration might make the surviving companies even less inclined to treat passengers fairly.

Now let’s get back to trains…

(To be continued in Part 2)

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).