A Rebuttal to the States’ Rights Motivated Argument Against Marriage Equality

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The Supreme Court ruling finding Same Sex Marriage (from here on out, SSM) bans unconstitutional has unsurprisingly sparked a great deal of “debate” (using the term loosely). While some opponents to the decision don’t bother to hide the fact that the motivation for, and only reasoning behind their opposition is homophobia, others have taken to the only available counter argument worthy of a response shorter than a link to a Wikipedia article defining a logical fallacy. That argument hinges on the right of a state within the country to self govern in such a way that reflects popular opinion within their boundary. So, the argument runs, it’s an unacceptable violation of this right for the federal government to impose a ruling that goes against popular opinion in a given state. Please note here that this is the strongest formation of the argument I have come across, and if a stronger one is encountered, please feel free to provide it. I have no intention of fighting against a mere straw man.

Taken out of the context of SSM, we can see how this argument might run and come out with a reasonable conclusion. Let’s take scrapple. Scrapple is a widely popular dish within Pennsylvania, but outside of the state’s boundaries, is often seen as disgusting and repulsive (the Wikipedia article linked above does describe its main ingredients as “mush of pork,” so there may be some merit to finding scrapple repulsive). Let’s imagine that for whatever reason, the federal government decided to ban the selling and consuming of scrapple (perhaps simply because they found it disgusting). The state of Pennsylvania and its citizens would have a reasonable case for finding this ruling problematic. Sure, the federal government might find scrapple repulsive, perhaps even the rest of the world might find scrapple repulsive, but in PA popular opinion favors scrapple, and a federal ruling against it seems invasive and unnecessary.

This analogy to scrapple, weak as it is, at least provides some clarity on the functionality of the states’ rights argument (from here on out, SRA). Alas, as might be gleaned from the analogy, the argument only functions properly so long as there is no ethical justification for the ban imposed by the federal government. This is to say that SRA hinges on the condition that the argument/ruling/legislation it attacks is a matter of subjective opinion, and that no substantive argument can otherwise be provided for or against the position.

Going back to our scrapple example, a person may like scrapple, or they may find it repulsive. But any arguments one might fashion to defend either view are merely subjective, and appeal to a matter of taste (“I find the texture of scrapple pleasing!” “Scrapple looks unappetizing, and the ingredients used to make it are disgusting!”). No real objective stance can be taken here, and thus it’s reasonable to appeal to popular opinion.

When dealing with any argument where morality is concerned, however, the SRA can be torn apart like wet tissue paper. Doing so, for the most part, requires only an imagination for moral unpleasantries that might be permitted in a given jurisdiction via popular opinion. In this way, the SRA is very comparable to moral subjectivism, the belief that morality is merely a matter of opinion, and may vary widely from one culture to another. This connection is why I will provide a lengthy counter argument to show why the SRA is fundamentally flawed in its application to marriage equality, or any other moral matter.

I. The Segregation Analogy

For those of you that will need the least convincing, I’ll start with a very simple analogy that will sufficiently demonstrate the weakness of the SRA and moral relativism in relation to the SCOTUS ruling on SSM. This analogy will demonstrate, via reductio ad absurdum, that accepting the SRA’s application to moral issues (and to a lesser extent, moral relativism) leads to absurd and untenable consequences, and therefore ought to be rejected.

De jure segregation during the 20th century was presumably backed by a very large degree of public opinion. Racism was wildly rampant, and it’s reasonable to suppose that many Americans were not only in favor of racial segregation, but saw blacks as fundamentally inferior to whites. And yet, through Supreme Court decision, overtime the country began to realize the moral error that had been made.

While the Supreme Court decision itself did not sway the hearts and minds of Americans, leaving many opposed to the newfound recognition that “separate is inherently unequal,” it nonetheless passed. It would be plausible, if one is to accept SRA as a premise, to say that states rights to self govern according to popular opinion within their boarders was infringed by the banning of racial segregation. Surely there were a number of southern states where the majority favored segregation, and yet it was banned.

If SRA and its application to moral ideas is accepted as a premise, it should still be morally permissible for states to racially segregate if this is what voters in a given state prefer.

Exempt the remaining vehement racists in this country (a large enough number still remain, unfortunately), I think most will recognize that the consequences of SRA when applied here are tremendously problematic. We recognize now that segregation was in fact morally wrong, and based merely on racist sentiments with no real backing. SRA must be rejected in this case.

One might attempt to grant here that SRA must be rejected in its application to racial segregation, but contend that SSM is sufficiently different from segregation such that SRA should still apply. Arguments attempting to draw this distinction between the two cases, so that SRA is still applicable to SSM without being applicable to segregation, are bound to fail. The two cases are sufficiently similar such that if one rules in favor that SRA is not applicable to one case, the same decision must apply to the other.

Both present an instance where a SCOTUS decision ruled that a practice was unconstitutional. Both present an instance where a demographic were/are treated as second-class citizens with fewer rights because of something they can’t change about themselves. Both present an instance where bigotry was the only motivation behind a practice.

Now, in order to attempt to draw a distinction between the two cases, one would have to provide an argument as to why SSM is morally wrong. If this could be done, it would sufficiently separate SSM from racial segregation, and perhaps not only allow the SRA to function so that states ought to be able to decide whether SSM is permissible within their boundaries, but push back in favor of a federal banning of SSM. After all, if something can be proven to be morally wrong, it ought not to be done, and if it ought not to be done, it is reasonable to suppose that one might favor a legal prohibition.

Prohibition against an equal treatment for one demographic under the law, taken in abstract form, is uncontroversially morally reprehensible. If the law were to prevent the granting of rights to people with blonde hair, or people who enjoyed scrapple, for instance, we would not hesitate to call the law unjust. There is no difference here. I will say again, this is an instance of a demographic being given unequal rights under the law because of something about them they cannot change. The banning of the rights that come with a legal marriage license to a demographic of citizens is unjust.

The first set of “arguments” that I will deal with that attempt to draw this distinction between the two cases and show that SSM is morally wrong are religious ones. As I’ll explain in the next section, there is sufficient reason to regard “religious arguments” as something of an oxymoron, especially as applied to law. The second set of “arguments” that I will deal with are secular ones. These arguments are almost entirely logically flawed, or just generally too weak to put any pressure on SSM. Finally, I’ll deal with moral relativism as a general principle to supplement this section, and show that one cannot forward the SRA in regard to moral issues, as doing so would lead to tremendously undesirable consequences.

II. Why Religious “Arguments” are Irrelevant

In order for an argument to be sound, it must contain true premises. In order for premises to be “true,” they must be objectively true. Religious arguments hinge on religious principles of various kinds and use them as premises to defend their conclusions. Religious principles are by their very definition, non-objective.

Religion, in its essence, is based on faith and belief, not fact, and not evidence. Faith and belief have no value in argument, as they are non-objective. As non-objective values, their truth as premises cannot be verified. This means that even upon completing a valid argument, soundness can never be granted so long as the argument includes religious principles. Defending against a religious argument is as simple as “Well that may be true for you, because you believe in X, but since I do not, your argument does not apply to me.”

We can see clearly how this functions in relation to SSM. A Christian, for example, may well be able to establish a valid argument that hinges on interpretation of some bible passage or another, but at the end of the day, so long as the audience for the argument is not Christian, the argument has no weight. The premises remain unverifiable, and thus, the argument is unsound. This is why no argument against SSM that contains subjective premises derived from religion is tenable.

As an additional counter argument, one need only brush up on Plato’s Euthyphro, which contains one of the most famous counter arguments against the relevance of religious principle in evaluating morality. For those unfamiliar, the text is centered around a young man named Euthyphro, who intends to prosecute his father for manslaughter. Euthyphro encounters Socrates, and the two discuss the morality of such an action, and Euthyphro attempts to defend himself to Socrates. Socrates challenges Euthyphro to define piety, as Euthyphro has claimed that prosecuting his father is pious.

Euthyphro’s third attempt at defining piety, and thus justifying his action as morally permissible, appeals to religion. Euthyphro suggests that piety is what is pleasing to (all of the) god(s), such that what is pleasing to them/Him is pious, and what He/they hate is impious. It is here that Socrates asks the question relevant to our conversation: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”

While I encourage the reading of the original text and a study of its interpretation to have the full effect, I will briefly summarize what this question means for religious arguments. Socrates sets up two possibilities, either (1) something is moral because God loves it, or (2) God loves things that are moral.

If (1) is true, and a thing becomes moral only because God loves it, the definitions of morality are arbitrary. What’s to stop God from changing His mind, thus rendering something previously moral, now immoral, or vice versa? If (1) is true, morality is left to seem deeply unsatisfying. If (2) is true, then there is some deeper reason for why a given thing is moral or immoral, as God’s love or distaste for the action has something to do with the action itself, not merely because of God’s arbitration.

This, in effect, means that relying on religious principles to justify a vision of morality does not provide the whole picture of why a given action is moral or immoral. It would instead provide a mere anecdote, and the root of the issue is left untouched. Justification of an argument that attempts to show that an action is moral or immoral, cannot rely on religious principles, for this reason.

III. Other Flawed Secular Arguments Against SSM

There exist a wide variety of secular “arguments” (again, using the term loosely) against SSM, but they are all deeply flawed, or patently fallacious. I’ll list a few of them here, with short explanations of their flaws and thus grounds for their outright dismissal.

“If SSM is permissible, then there are no grounds to prevent polygamy, bestiality, incest, or pedophilia!”: This argument runs a classic slippery slope argument, which is fallacious so long as evidence is not provided which makes the inference reasonable. A slippery slope argument seeks to show that if one action happens, a second (or series) of undesirable consequences will inevitably follow. The first issue with slippery slope arguments generally speaking is that it is tremendously difficult to argue that a set of consequences are necessitated by an action. Such a proof requires a very high burden of evidence to become plausible. Non-fallacious slippery slope arguments do exist, but one needs to clearly establish that the first action has lead to certain consequences in all (or nearly all) other cases. With respect to SSM giving way to bestiality etc, the evidence to support the slippery slope argument does not exist. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. Many countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, the UK, Luxembourg, Finland, and Ireland all legally permit SSM. Very few of these countries legally permit bestiality, for example. To show an inevitable link from SSM to bestiality, one would need all, or quite nearly all countries that have legalized SSM to have also legalized bestiality. This is not the case, so the argument falls flat.

Additionally, there are two counter arguments that work to effectively separate SSM from the myriad of other problematic cases. The first counter argument runs on consent. With SSM, there is consent between both rational, autonomous agents, who choose willingly to engage in an activity between the two of them. Via any number of moral theories, consent between two parties engaged in an activity that affects no other parties is permissible. Any challenge here would need to show that the activity being performed adversely affected others who had not consented to the activity, perhaps via the Sanctity of Marriage Argument, which I’ll cover later.

The second counter argument might be aptly named the “why do you give a shit” argument. This argument anticipates rebuttals to the consent argument, where one might take issue with the practices of consenting parties. Using polygamy this time as an example, let’s suppose one worries that SSM will lead to polygamy. Assuming that all parties involved in the polyamorous marriage are consenting, why is polygamy problematic? If your answer has something to do with the sanctity of marriage, see the next section. If your answer has something to do with undesirable consequences of polygamy for those involved, I refer you again to the consent argument. Adults may willingly consent to take on risks associated with actions, and if entering a polygamous marriage presents a number of emotional or medical risks, there is no reason to see these risks any different from consenting to skydiving, or boxing.

“If SSM is permissible, the sanctity of marriage will be destroyed!” The very concept of sanctity ties very closely to religious principles, so for the most part I’ll refer you to the previous section regarding religious arguments. Taking this counter as an exclusively secular argument, referring to the “institution” of marriage, or perhaps the health of other marriages in a given country, I’m afraid I can do little more than scoff. Prior to the federal legalization of SSM, was marriage really a sacred institution otherwise unscathed? What about these issues? 1, 2, 3, 4,

Furthermore, I might refer you back to the “why do you give a shit” argument, in the sense that I fail to see how what two (or more) people consent to has any impact on your marriage, or marriage as a concept or institution. When little children pretend to be married to one another as a game, does this disrespect and damage the institution of marriage? If one thinks that marriage is such an important institution, I’d hope that it’s strong enough to withstand child’s play, and general misuse at the hands of others. Even if you find SSM somehow distasteful (because you’re a homophobe), it remains unclear on how two men or two women getting married has an impact on heterosexual marriage as a concept.

“What about the children!?”: What about them? The suggestion here is that SSM leading to same sex couples raising children will damage them and their development. Proponents of this argument will sometimes attempt to cite studies that there is not enough evidence to prove that there isn’t a substantive difference in children raised by homosexual and heterosexual couples. So, let’s suppose for sake of argument that there is in fact a lack of evidence to show whether there is a difference, or more importantly if active damage is done to children raised by two men or by two women. Why suppose that there’s an issue here at all? Sure, lacking the evidence that there isn’t a difference isn’t enough to say for a matter of fact that there isn’t, but what would lead one to assume that there is? The answer, inevitably, is homophobic tendencies and cultural ideals that place undue value on heterosexual parenting.

But, let’s ignore the motivations of the argument to be fair to it. Until there is evidence that gives us reason to worry that homosexual parenting damages children in a way that heterosexual parenting does not, I fail to see why the issue is being raised. It’s a bit like worrying that not eating a healthy balanced breakfast as a child will lead to becoming a serial killing communist pedophile. Is it possible that failure to eat a balanced breakfast as a child will lead to becoming a serial killing communist pedophile? Sure! Is there evidence, or any reason to spark a worry about this? Um…

IV. The High Price Tag of Moral Relativism

Let’s suppose you’ve read through all of this, and still aren’t convinced. Following the SRA, and placing an incredibly high value on democracy and people’s ability to self-govern (which, perhaps you should come to realize, also means your ability to control your next-door neighbor, and his ability to control you. This isn’t about freedom and liberty and autonomy like you think it is. If it were, and you and your neighbor had no business telling each other how to live, you would be in favor of SSM), you still think states should be able to decide for themselves whether to permit SSM, because some people don’t like it but still think it’s immoral, and if gay couples don’t like it, they can move to another state where it’s allowed.

What you’re espousing is essentially moral relativism. As a reminder, this is the belief that morality is subjective, and a given culture or group of people should be able to set their own standards for what is and isn’t morally permissible. You’re suggesting that because some people find SSM distasteful or claim that it’s immoral, they should be able to decide within their own communities whether or not to permit it. So, if popular opinion within a community finds SSM “immoral,” that community can rightfully ban SSM.

Spoiler alert: Your old friend reductio ad absurdum is about to rear its ugly head again. Moral relativism has incredibly ugly entailments when accepted wholesale. This section will be nothing more than a fun little list of the cans of worms opened up by accepting moral relativism, by imagining a given community (I’ll call it community X, but one can imagine the Deep South or an alternate reality where Nazi Germany won WWII, if one prefers)

  1. Community X agrees by popular opinion that black people are a stain on humanity and should be eradicated. They proceed to lynch every black person they can find. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  2. Community X agrees by popular opinion that homosexuals are a stain on humanity and should be eradicated. They proceed to lynch every homosexual they can find. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  3. Community X agrees by popular opinion that blondes are dumb, and whores, and shouldn’t reproduce. They proceed to have every blonde either lynched, or forcibly sterilized so they can’t reproduce. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  4. Community X agrees by popular opinion that Jewish people are a stain on humanity and should be eradicated. They proceed to lynch every Jewish person they can find. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  5. Community X agrees by popular opinion that it’s super fun to light 10 year old girls on fire for the mere pleasure of watching them burn. Once a month, they proceed to light 10 year old girls they select at random. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  6. (This one goes out to the people who took issue with section III) Community X agrees by popular opinion that goats make the best bed partners. They proceed to “breed” as many goats as they can to “breed” with. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  7. Community X agrees by popular opinion that homophobic people are a stain on humanity and should be eradicated. They proceed to lynch every homophobic person they can find. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.
  8. Community X agrees by popular opinion that racists are a stain on humanity and should be eradicated. They proceed to lynch every racist they can find. Adhering to moral relativism and as an outsider to community X, you have no grounds with which to protest their actions.

The list goes on, and is limited only by your imagination, as I’m sure you can see at this point. Moral relativism has very, very ugly repercussions, and cannot be accepted as a premise. This means that moral relativism cannot be used to support the SRA, and any iteration of the SRA that banks on moral relativism ought to be outright rejected.

Slacktivism for Brown and Garner

In the wake of the failure to indict police officers in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the news media and social media have been flooded with outpourings of anger. Understandable anger. Don’t get me wrong going into this, there’s plenty of reason to be angry, and while I don’t plan on spending time commenting on either case in this post, it seems to me an indictment was reasonable in both cases.

My issue here is that that anger has taken only a few forms, and the forms that it has taken haven’t accomplished much, and don’t seem likely to change anything anytime soon.

I’m talking about protest marches, I’m talking about stopping traffic, I’m talking about rioting and looting, I’m especially talking about the use of hashtags on social media, and I’m talking about a protest that apparently included the tearing of an American flag on my college campus (that I was not present for, so my take on that event is hearsay, but I’ll touch on it lightly anyway).

My problem isn’t with the anger. The anger is understandable, perhaps even righteous. The problem isn’t the desecration of a sacred symbol of our country that men and women have given their lives for. Honestly I won’t shed any tears for a piece of cloth, larger symbolic meaning or not.

The problem is that none of this really does anything.

Sure, the news media and social media are overflowing. But what will they look like in two weeks? A month? Two? Will anyone remember who Eric Garner was? Mike Brown?

Media, and our society, have a very short attention span. We fixate on current events and are inundated with messages about them, but when we become oversaturated, we move on. Suddenly it’s not about Trayvon Martin anymore. Where did that take place again? Somewhere in Florida? Do you remember? Maybe if you’ve paid close attention to these things you do, but do you think the majority of Americans remember? Do you think they care anymore?

Riots are temporary. Store fronts get rebuilt. Torn flags get replaced. And everyone forgets. Like it never even happened.

If you’re angry about the results of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner deaths, I hope you want something to change. And I hope you can see, like I do, that no matter how many flags you burn, no matter how much traffic you stop, and no matter how many store fronts you destroy, no one will care in a few months.

That’s why if you want change, you need to start thinking about alternative methods of achieving that change. Because throwing around hashtags isn’t going to do it. It’s lazy and unproductive.

Because everyone's minds are changed when they read your tweets and like your facebook posts.

Because everyone’s minds are changed when they read your tweets and like your facebook posts.

So I think what we need to do is identify our goals, and then find avenues with which we can work towards achieving them.

So what is our goal?

Is it convincing people that racism is alive and well and that black Americans face police prejudice daily?

Is it ensuring more accountability for police officers?

Is it changing how the legal system works in some capacity to ensure that the kinds of cases we’ve seen at least go to trial?

Is it working to make sure police officers have sufficient training that they can disarm/disable/control a situation without using a large degree of force?

Is it all of these, or some combination? I’m not sure, I don’t have all the answers of course. But we need to collectively, as a country, do some thinking and decide what it is we want to change and how we want to go about doing it.

Burning/tearing a flag doesn’t suggest directions or methods for solutions. It just expresses anger, and makes other people angry, and thus more unlikely to listen. Take my word on that last bit, I have some personal experience with making people too angry to be willing to talk about something.

So, all that being said, here’s my two cents on a method.

I think we ought to start with police. It may not be the root of the problem, but we can at least address symptoms while we spend the however many years it takes to root out the systematic and institutionalized racism embedded in the country.

There are two ways we can start with police, (1) we can strive to increase their accountability and try to work towards ensuring they’re appropriately punished for excessive force and other issues, and (2) we can look towards ensuring they aren’t motivated to taking the actions in the first place.

How we go about doing those two things is what I think we all need to spend some time thinking about. Here are my ideas, take them or leave them, spaghetti against the wall.

(1) Body Cameras. Rather than half ass it, or be disheartened by the camera footage in the Eric Garner case, we should raise money and public outcry for body cameras as a mandatory piece of equipment for all police. Yes, we can argue all day about how there’s the possibility the video may be tampered with, or might not help in leading to an indictment or conviction, but at the very least it takes us out of the murky realm of “he said” “she said” when trying to search for truth in the aftermath of an incident. We could also champion for strict laws surrounding tampering with video or the cameras themselves, and make doing so a fireable offense etc.

(2) More extensive police training. It’s not always easy to subdue someone without hurting them, especially if they’re trying to hurt you. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of training. I’m not exactly an “expert” on this, but I’ve been studying a martial art that focuses specifically on this topic for a number of years now, so I know a bit more about subduing an attacker with minimal force than the average bear. It’s not always a simple thing, and it can’t be learned in a handful of one hour classes, but it can be learned.

If police officers have limited training on how to do this, we can’t be surprised that when they’re threatened and scared the first thing they do is reach for their gun, excessive force mandates or not. But if police officers feel confident in their ability to subdue without force and harm, without reaching for their gun, they’re more likely to do so, and less likely to panic. We can call for a stringent minimum number of hours in hand to hand training for police officers to ensure they have a decent grip on how to handle themselves without panicking and without using excessive force.

As always, the goal here is to incite conversation and thinking. Don’t like my ideas? Great. Rather than “pfft”-ing and moving on, pitch some of your own. Talk to your friends about them. Find a way to organize a movement and do something productive. Just do me a favor, and stop using hashtags and thinking you’re helping and patting yourself on the back.

Slut Shaming: Is an Aversion to Promiscuity Useful?

More and more commonly, society has begun to recognize the use of the word “slut” as not only derogatory, but as rhetoric that functions to preserve a culture that polices women’s sexuality and gives extra power to men.

We now often see “slut” as a tool to treat women as objects at the hands of men: a “slut” is a woman who has had an inexcusable number of sexual partners, because larger society dictates that number and will enforce it with ridicule.

Often this gets taken to the point where “slut shaming,” the practice of condemning sexual promiscuity, is tantamount to homophobia or racism or any other form of absurd and irrational bigotry.

Have to say I disagree almost entirely.

Yes, the uneven distribution of the word is problematic because the way it’s used functions to uphold gender oppression.

And yes, bodily autonomy means you can do whatever the hell you want (for the most part, assuming you’re not harming anyone), so there isn’t much concrete reason to shame someone for having a large number of sexual partners.

BUT, I don’t see a reason why there can’t be an objection to (1) the objectification that takes place in one-night-stands, or (2) the meaning that’s stripped from sexuality if it’s used merely for pleasure.

Both hard arguments to drive, but are worth entertaining and trying to flesh out before we all jump aboard the “end slut shaming” train.

1. Sure, do what you want with your body, and if you and the other person are consenting adults, none of my business. But, if you’re engaging in the pursuit of a person merely to use them as a means to gain pleasure for yourself because you find them attractive? Isn’t that the very meaning of objectification/commodification? You’re treating your partner as a vibrator, and divorcing them from any humanity.

Perhaps you could reason that it’s perfectly fine to consent to being objectified, and that if you want to be each other’s vibrators, there’s no reason not to be. And that’s a good angle, solid counter, so long as we look at the two individuals taking part in the act.

But I worry that on the macro scale, it creates a society where commodification can thrive and flourish, allowed to cultivate in the stagnant water of one-night-stands like mosquitos in a dirty puddle. If we can, and frequently do, consent to being objectified and objectify each other, how much of that “you are useful to me as a body and nothing more” do we internalize? Do we start to think of ourselves ONLY as bodies? Or even just primarily as bodies? Worse yet, does this mean we’re contributing to the rhetoric that women have internalized that their bodies are the most or only valuable things about them?

Perhaps a strong women can say “No, it feels good, but I’m ME and not anyone’s vibrator.” But doesn’t the strong women also set a precedent for the more insecure? Isn’t a culture created where “the thing to do” is to go hook up? The insecure are then stuck performing the same actions the strong people are, and left to worry and be anxious and further their own body image worries.

I find this normalization of sexual promiscuity problematic for that reason.

On the side of men within the same argument, sexual promiscuity has allowed patriarchal notions of the “successful man as sexual conquerer” to thrive as well. I’m not certain that going out of the way to shame people as “sluts” is the answer, but something, some attitude within society needs to communicate to men that they’re no better for being sexually promiscuous than their peers. Because that too creates a pervasive attitude of success and failure, where men who ARENT “succeeding” sexually are demoralized.

Furthermore, removing any judgement of sexual promiscuity, (again, I’m not too keen on wielding the word “slut” as a sword of social justice, but nonetheless maybe we can actively condemn sexual promiscuity) not allows attitudes of masculinity to thrive, but it gives men the opportunity to guiltlessly commodify women in their pursuit of one-night-stands. The push against slut-shaming is the mysogynist’s golden ticket to get his cake (read: vagina, and not human being or woman/women or anything else, just vagina) and eat it too, without any flack from the feminist community for treating women as objects.

Again, maybe A woman can consent to being treated as an object if she enjoys it too, but doesn’t this fuel the wheels of a more broad commodification in the mind of the guy who was just out to “get some” (again read: vagina)? Doesn’t that male (I’ll refrain from using “man” to avoid encouraging “men get lots of sex” rhetoric) walk away from that one-night-stand thinking that it’s perfectly fine to see women as sexual objects?

What happens plays into the narrative of men as pursuers and sexual conquerors: the male walks away thinking that so long as he can convince the woman to consent to being objectified, it’s all totally fine. And anything (any objectification) that happens up until that “okay I’ll sleep with you” is perfectly fine because it’s all in the name of pursing a mutually consenting exchange.

Seems like what’s happened here is nothing more than trading slut shaming for further commodification of women.

2. Short version because I spent longer on the first than I intended:

When sex’s primary function, or the capacity that it is used in for a long period of time is exclusively pleasure as in one-night-stands, what remains after?

Long term treatment of sexual acts in this fashion strips any deeper meaning behind sex from it, either for the person doing it, their future partner that they want a romantic relationship with, or both.

And maybe that’s a price that you’re/we’re willing to pay: maybe sex doesn’t need to have a deeper meaning.

But, pushing against that idea, there is something special about a romantic sexual connection that is worth preserving. Yes, sex feels good, but doesn’t it also have the potential to be much more than that? And isn’t that worth holding on to?

Will that deeper meaning survive years of treating sex as for nothing more than feeling good? Only time will tell, I suppose.

What’s Wrong with Feminism? Feminists.

And you’d think I’d have learned my lesson about clickbait titles. Apparently not.

Before you fly into a righteous indignant rage, let me pitch my angle.

Feminism is supposed to be a movement geared towards striving for equality between the sexes.

Despite what you hear from celebrities that refuse to associate with the word, and men who chortle and guffaw at the idea of “ugly lesbians who are angry they can’t get any, and so decide to hate men and try to put men down” (probably an actual Rush Limbaugh quotation), it’s not about man hating. It never was and never will be.

“But,” you ask, “where do idiots like Limbaugh get the idea that it is about man hating? Surely Limbaugh isn’t capable of an original thought, it might trigger a stroke or he might overheat and pop like a cyst.”

And you’re totally right. The idea that feminism is angry man haters didn’t come from men seeking to destroy the feminist movement and keep women in their place.

It came from angry man-haters.

Before you lose your shit, let me reiterate: I am a feminist (inb4 “u hav penis, u can’t b a feminist lul,” go fuck yourself, I’ll proudly use the word and you can bitch and moan all you want about how I should be using the word “ally,” and I’ll continue to totally and completely ignore you).

Feminism needs to be critically assessed and pushed forward, and it’s causes are good ones.

But the reason it’s struggling is because of the stereotypes that prevent it from being taken seriously. Try to support or even utter the word feminism, and half the room is going to giggle and say you’re either a weak beta whipped piece of shit if you’re a guy, or an angry bra burning miserable ugly and resentful man hater if you’re a woman.

Pretty hard to persuade anyone of anything if the conversation starts with those assumptions.

But those assumptions exist because the stereotype is actively perpetuated by radicals who brandish the word and use it to excuse over zealous generalizations about men (what spurred the #notallmen shit that everyone hates in the first place) and general anger and bile.

The worst part is, that anger and bile and hate that enables the stereotypes that then ensure no one who calls themselves a feminist ever gets a word in edgewise, is often rationalized and excused by even moderate feminists as “justified”.

Why, you ask?

It usually looks like this:

“Of course they’re/we’re angry! We’ve been second class citizens for hundreds of years etc and we’re tired of it! And no one listens when we ask nicely, so now we’re yelling because we’re pissed! We have every right to be angry. In fact, complaining about our tone, tone policing, is just a construct of patriarchy that’s oriented to ensure women know their place and don’t speak out of turn! It’s just more silencing! Furthermore, when you complain about us being angry, you’re totally distracting from the point!”

Well yes. You’re correct. Women (and other marginalized groups, for that matter) have every right to be totally pissed and fed up with what they’ve been through and continue to deal with. But having a right to something doesn’t mean you should do that thing, or even that it’s a good idea.

I have every right to tell every single person I know and dislike why they should hate themselves because they’re useless pieces of human refuse. But I shouldn’t. Because that would be pointlessly mean, and not terribly helpful or productive with anything.

So yes, you can be pissed, and probably are, and that’s okay. But expressing that in hot and wild anger and fury is just going to get people to go “oh look, another angry feminist we don’t have to listen to. Them feminists sure is angry miserable people. Someone needs to get laid, amirite? Either that or it’s that time of the month.”

By leveraging the “we have every right,” you’re basically doing what homophobes do in the US all the time.

It’s the “hurr durr but freedom of speech means I can say what I want!” argument.

CAN IS NOT SHOULD. Having a right to do something means you can do that thing, it does not mean that you should, or that you’re excused of liability when you do.

Because what you’re doing when you (talking to radicals now) fly into a righteous rage of mouth foaming indignation is ensure feminism flounders and doesn’t make any headway in the public sphere and sway minds.

So do me, as a feminist, a favor, and don’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes of feminism.

In fact, if you’re going to be a radical about it, don’t even call yourself a feminist.

And feminists, when you see radicals, tell them and others around you that they are not feminists. Strip them of their power to destroy the movement by being bad examples.

After all, you know what they say, the best way to fight a protest/movement isn’t to yell and scream and argue with it, it’s to join it badly and make everyone else in it look bad.

I’m pretty sure people say that anyway.

Why Suicide Prevention Day Sucks for the Suicidal and Depressed

First I need/want to say that this is probably one of the more difficult things I’ve ever tried to write, for a couple reasons.

The first being that when you are or have battled with depression or suicidal thoughts, talking about it at all very often feels like attention seeking behavior that you’ll inevitably be criticized and mocked for. Because that’s what it looks like, and it’s how it feels when it comes out of your mouth. And feeling like you’re asking for a pity party, or sympathy, or hugs, or tender loving care, or a “you brave little soldier, I acknowledge your pain,” can be humiliating. People don’t want that. In fact, it hurts to imagine coming off that way, but more about that in a minute.

tumblr_inline_n8damuVknc1ri5bwy

The second reason being no one wants to hear what I want to say. Not other people who are battling depression and suicide, not their loved ones, not people who want to post about Suicide Prevention Day (SPD from here on out) and raise awareness, and definitely not the people that want to use the internet for aimless scrolling and cat videos.

What I want to say isn’t going to be easy to hear, for different reasons for all of those groups.

The third reason is that (as sort of implied by the second) this by no means applies to everyone dealing with suicidal thoughts or depression. It’s not a perfectly homogenous group. Some things that help some people hurt other people who are dealing with the same type of thing. So even if I come forward and say what I’m trying to say, not everyone affected is going to feel the same way about it. And that makes it hard to move forward.

But in spite of how shitty it feels to try and say something, and in spite of the fact that hardly anyone will read this stupid post on a blog no one gives two shits about, and the ones who will won’t be happy about what I have to say, I think it needs to be said.

Because I still believe social movements are supposed to be about more than just the unaffected being aware or made aware of the problems the affected face, and the affected venting about them. I believe that while that needs to happen too, social movements are supposed to be primarily about enacting positive change in the problems we find with society and for individuals in it. And that means critically assessing how we approach and deal with those social problems through our movements, and talking about it. That’s what I’m trying to do here.

I’ll try to come out and say it. I’ve been on both sides of the coin here. So I know how hard and frustrating and scary it is to watch someone you care about struggle with depression, thoughts of suicide, and self harm. I know how utterly fucking useless you can feel watching that happen to someone you care about and not knowing what you can possibly do to help at all.

We don’t need to measure and compare which side has it worse, they both suck in different ways. I sometimes feel a small desire to tell the people struggling with helping a loved one that what they’re going through doesn’t come close to comparing to how it feels to be on the other side, but honestly there’s no need and it just makes everyone feel worse. Don’t compare the two.

So I know that when you’ve known or know someone who struggles, and SPD rolls around, you really want to show you care and try to get other people to care maybe. So you take to social media and post a touching status you wrote or a quote from someone about the day, or depression, et cetera. And you mean well. You want people to know that they can reach out to you for help (I assume), and/or that someone somewhere loves them so they shouldn’t end their lives. You may have spent years watching someone you love hurt, while you’re stuck on the sideline with no idea how to do much other than hold them while they cry or tell them things will get better.

But while some forms of that support can help, other forms of it can hurt.

As I said earlier, there’s this inexorable problem with depression/suicide/self-harm: At the moment at least, it’s often viewed as cries for help. And sometimes it is.

But when the last thing you want is to come off sounding like, or appear to be just pitifully desperate for love, because you’ve seen people mocked and belittled and for that behavior, having someone make a specific day to pat you on the back and say “I acknowledge your pain” is horribly uncomfortable, belittling, and embarrassing. But it’s a bit more serious than just how it feels too.

Because often the rhetoric (often times from the loved ones looking for ways to help, but not always) about suicide tries to fight that mocking of attention seeking and the like by saying things like “Suicide isn’t selfish, it’s brave,” or “It’s a last ditch effort to save yourself from something that seems inescapable and all consuming.”

And I understand why a person trying to help wants to say that. In the face of observing harsh treatment from others, you want to give love and hugs and support and a soft place to fall and a shoulder to cry on. You want to be a warm safety blanket that will help the person you care about get better. You just want to fucking help somehow, because you hate seeing them hurt, but you don’t know how.

But here’s the thing. The one no one wants to hear. Sometimes, some of that, with some people, is going to make what they’re going through much worse. It’s going to make them hate themselves more for getting your attention and sympathy, because now they feel like they were just pandering for it. It’s going to make it harder for them to talk about any of it, because now anytime it comes up in conversation, on tv, in a movie, in a book, they feel the pity look you give them and they feel weak, and broken, and fragile.

And all of that pushes them back into, or deeper into their depression. Because they’re now more alone because they can’t talk to you about it because you pity them. Because they hate themselves for garnering that pity. Because they do feel weak and broken and fragile. It starts to make them feel like they’re more of a problem and a burden than anything else. It makes them feel like maybe being dead and having you grieve for a while would be better than stringing you along unable to help and forcing you to watch them struggle.

Basically, when you try to be a shoulder to cry on, sometimes you help, and sometimes you drive them closer to the edge.

It depends on the person, and it depends on you, and it depends on the situation, and it depends on how you’re trying to help.

But I can tell you that organizations like “To Write Love on Her Arms,” all about and filled with smiling faces ready to hug it out and pat you on the head and tuck you in with a warm glass of milk, can very easily make you hate yourself so much more, instead of actually helping.

I can tell you that posting a warm and loving Facebook status trying to make people aware can feel like bringing attention to something you desperately don’t want to have people think you want to bring attention to.

I’m already really sorry for how much it might hurt you to read this. It hurts writing it. But there’s one more thing.

Sometimes, not always and not with everyone, tough love might be the better option.

I might have a “friend” who was kept alive by telling himself that suicide WAS weak, selfish, and pathetic, and that he was better than that. That going through with it wasn’t brave or a last ditch effort to avoid what’s otherwise inescapable, but actually just a refusal to step back and realize that nothing, even depression, can stand up to the slayer-of-all that is time. Telling himself and that in a few years, what drives one towards jumping out a window or dragging a knife across a jugular might be a bad joke. With enough time, it might just seem childish and silly that it ever had so much effect on him.

And I can tell you that trying to say that to someone struggling as an outsider is not only incredibly absurdly hard to do, but a lot of the time it might not help either. I don’t have a “Do this instead,” after I got done telling you what not to do that works for everyone, unfortunately. Because not everyone who struggles with depression is the same. So it’s not that simple. And I know that makes you feel more useless and hopeless and I’m sorry for that.

I can tell you that my friend was a little taken aback but thankful when a friend of his told him they probably couldn’t forgive him if he killed himself. It takes a lot of balls to say that. A lot. While I know my friend said harsher things to himself than that, I can’t imagine having the guts to say that to someone I cared about who was struggling. (And again, I’m not telling you this is the “thing to do” to try to help everyone.)

But being a shoulder to cry on isn’t always the answer, because sometimes it does more damage than good.

And while taking to Facebook to say you care about the people who are struggling and want to raise awareness may help some, maybe even someone you care about, you may also be killing others.

So do with that as you will I guess. I won’t ever be trying to just “raise awareness” by posting my sympathies to social media, because I can’t stand the thought of hurting some, even if it helps others. The cost is too high.

Maybe I’m just personally more pragmatically oriented than emotionally oriented, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one, and those of us, like my friend, would rather hear you say “Tough it out,” and “Don’t you dare give in,” than “I’m so sorry,” or “It must be so hard,” or “You are loved and we want to help you.”

And for people with that pragmatic orientation, and because of hating feeling like it’s garnering pity, Facebook posts doing the latter can really suck for people dealing with suicide, depression, and self harm.

I’m Not Your Fucking Cheerleader

This spring, a lot of people were very angry when I wrote this article:

http://ursinusgrizzly.com/2014/02/27/straight-wealthy-white-guys-deserve-a-say-too/

While the jist of the piece is something like: “Hey, sometimes white people have something they’d like to share about a race related issue, sometimes men have something they’d like to share about feminism or the treatment of women, and sometimes straight people have something they’d like to share about LGBTQA issues, and just in case they might have something worth hearing, we ought to hear them out before dismissing them, because who they are doesn’t invalidate ideas they might have stumbled upon,” 

the responses sounded something like: “Are you ignorant or stupid, read a book, no one cares or wants to hear from you because you’re white and we all already know what all white people have to say [because all white people think the same exact things, don’t you know], sit down, shut up, and listen, we don’t want you to share because the only thing that matters is what people with first hand experience have to say, so why don’t you listen to them for once.”

While that was frustrating, primarily because I worry that someone might stumble upon something interesting despite who they are, and also on a moral level because we ought not to categorically dismiss people based on something they have no control over, that discussion got tired and old and people gave up on converting me so that I might see the light, and I gave up on trying to convince them that I might be on to something.

But then Ferguson happened/is happening.

And because of Ferguson, people have been wondering things like this: “Why the fuck aren’t all the white people talking about this race issue, it’s like they’re scared or don’t care! They should show support and talk about it and be outraged and do something about it! In fact, here’s a pre-approved list of ways I find acceptable for them to contribute!” (specifically, here: http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/)

Now this creates a bit of a problem. More or less a contradiction actually.

And that’s because the following two things don’t fit together:

1. “We don’t want to hear from you, because we don’t care what you have to say, because we already know what you have to say because you’re white [again, because all white people think the same exact things so if we’ve heard from a couple dozen white people we’ve heard from them all]. So don’t talk. Just sit and listen to what people of color have to say because they don’t get enough of a chance to talk (which is totally true and a problem that needs to be addressed).”

2. “Any time there’s a race issue, we expect you to be outraged and post on social media about it and champion our cause and shout to the world that you support us and that you won’t stand for this and you should make people listen and help us enact change.”

Because quite simply: I can’t both shut up and shout, you have to pick one.

More importantly, I’m not your fucking cheerleader; I’m not your fucking puppet; and I’m not your fucking lapdog that you can give commands to, scold when it misbehaves, and give treats when it does what you want it to.

Nope. Nope nope nope.

Nope. Nope nope nope.

You can’t demand restrictions on how and when I contribute to social discourse, if you want me to contribute. There are two very simple options here:

1. I speak up when I think I have something worth speaking up about, and if I don’t, I don’t say anything, because I have no interest in having you pat me on the back for being a slacktivist who bemoans the thing everyone else is currently bemoaning. I contribute to social discourse on my own terms, because I’m a fucking autonomous human being, and you don’t get to choose what I’m allowed to say, when I am obligated to say something, and when I’m not permitted to speak. Maybe sometimes you don’t like or don’t agree with something I say, and maybe sometimes I accidentally say something ignorant because I’m not aware of something that someone who has had that personal experience is aware of, in which case you tell me, and I adjust or retract what I’ve said to reflect that new information. And together, through discourse and communication, we work towards correcting the problems we ALREADY FUCKING AGREE ARE PROBLEMS in society.

2. I do shut up. And I don’t contribute to issues that I apparently COULDN’T POSSIBLY know anything about when I lack the personal experience that others have. You happy with that? Good, because it also means I don’t have to/am not physically able to help support any social movement that doesn’t directly relate to me, eg feminism, racism, LGBTQA issues, et cetera. And since I’m not allowed to share, you can’t demand that I share when you want me to support and help. Good luck changing society now that you’ve isolated the majority of it from being involved in the change.

PICK ONE. If I were you, given the choice, I’d pick #1, but that’s just me. 

Nontraditional Thoughts on the Mythical “Friendzone”

Let me first say this.

Being a nice guy and expecting some sort of romantic interest from the other person and being mad when they don’t have it is childish and inexcusable. Be a nice guy and flirt, and if you get rejected, either keep being a good friend or move on and don’t be a whiney bitch about it (sure, be sad, being rejected is sad, but you can’t blame the person for rejecting you and you need to suck it up eventually).

BUT

There are times when the mythical friendzone exists, and it’s not an okay thing to do to someone.

The problem is the word “friendzone” is misused, and anytime we hear it now, we think of the first context. In that context, you’re being a misogynistic whiney little fedora wearing ass-clown, and you need to get the sand out of your ass and dick-hole and move on.

But here’s the other context:

Sometimes people (women and men both) make a point to use other people. When a person finds out someone else is interested in them and deliberately strings them along by letting them flirt and never saying they’re interested and never saying they’re not interested, simply because they enjoy the power that comes from having someone follow you around like an eager-to-please puppy dog isn’t okay. Especially when the person is forward about having a romantic interest.

It’s manipulative and kind of gross. If the other person is clearly interested and you’re not, tell them you’re not interested.

If they keep wanting to be your friend, Great! (And in that case it can get a little weird then in terms of whether you’re maintaining a healthy platonic relationship or if you’re still sort of manipulating their interest in you.)

I’ve seen it done by both men and women, and it’s really kind of cold and sick to deliberately use someone that way.

Rephrasing again for clarity so people don’t misread and get angry: Yes, complaining about someone not developing interest in you/rejecting you when you’ve been friendly to them is bullshit. They’re completely within their right to be attracted to and not attracted to whomever they please. Get yo sexist shit outta here.

But there is a difference between turning down advances and leading someone along by the nose becuase it’s empowering to have someone who finds you attractive kiss your feet.

How To Deconstruct Demands on Masculinity

As a forewarning, this post is actually more prescriptive than it is argumentative. There is little argument within this post, and instead it’s a suggestion on a method of social change. Of course, as always, it’s open for debate. That’s the whole point. So pick apart as you will and discuss. But the goal of the post is to define a method for pulling apart how society dictates men should act, and what it means to be a man. Incidentally, it’s also about pulling apart patriarchy, which is the force that places demands and constraints on what it means to “be a man.”

It’s surprisingly simple a project for the individual. It just requires monitoring of your giving and withholding the one thing patriarchy holds most dear: Respect.

Not this kind of Respect.

Not this kind of Respect.

By respect, I don’t mean the kind way your grandmother told you that you ought to behave towards strangers. Respect in this context doesn’t mean merely showing politeness towards the people you interact with. It’s not the sock-it-to-me sock-it-to-me just-a-little-bit just-a-little-bit kind of respect we usually think of when we hear the word.

This heartier, more robust sense of the word respect is something we need and use to interact as social creatures. We all naturally crave it and seek it, and loathe when it’s taken from us. It’s the fabric that holds together social convention and norms. It’s how we express our approval and disapproval of certain behaviors, actions, attitudes, and dispositions.

Respect is what you give to the people who impress you when you’re not afraid to show it. Respect is what you withhold from people who disappoint or offend you and you want them to know it.

You don’t “owe” this kind of respect to anyone, it’s yours to giveth and taketh awayeth as you please. And you already do it all the time, according to certain values you hold about what kind of behaviors, actions, attitudes, and dispositions you think are admirable, and which ones you find distasteful.

And you express this giving and taking of respect according to those laws all the time. The people you give and take it form usually know you’re doing it. It can be as simple as a glare to communicate disapproval, applause after a rousing speech, a nod of agreement, or folded arms and furrowed brows of disappointment.

Hegemony...?

Hegemony…?

Now the best thing about hegemonic masculinity is that it is predicated upon earning the most respect from the most people. A successful machismo hegemonic male will do the best to impress the most, “women want to be with him, and men want to be him,” as the saying goes. While all (or almost all) human beings are creatures driven by the need and desire for this kind of respect and approval, hegemonic masculinity stresses respect’s importance far further than just about anywhere else in society. A “Man” is someone who sleeps with lots of women, because this reinforces to him that lots of women desire him, and thus, respect him. A “Man” is someone who is physically intimidating and not afraid to show it, because physical prowess can mean the threat of violence which means keeping dissenters in line by intimidation. A “Man” is someone who controls the room and the room’s conversation when he’s in it, because everyone wants to hear what he has to say because his voice is the one that matters the most, because his voice mattering the most means everyone respects him.

Love me? Worship me? Please? It's cute when it's a puppy, less so with a secretly attention starved human being.

Love me? Worship me? Please? It’s cute when it’s a puppy, less so with a secretly attention starved human being.

This makes it remarkably easy to train men who have bought into the system, much the same way you train a puppy dog that just wants you to pet it and give it treats. You scold it and withhold pets and treats when it does things you don’t like, and you give it a little pat on the head when it comes when it’s called. Whoever said men weren’t dogs? At least, the ones who’ve bought into the power structures of patriarchy, and are desperate to earn affection and respect through demonstrating power and dominance via the prescribed social definitions of masculinity.

But that’s the brilliant bit. Those definitions of masculinity, the things we reward men for doing and admonish them for doing, are up for debate. They can be changed over time. While thuggish dominance, sexual conquest, and  are what we currently reward men for (thus training them to act as such), we can bend “what it means to be a man” to resemble just about anything.

Chivalry is dead at the moment, because to be chivalrous is to be a ‘white knight,’ and thus, a ‘beta male,’ a meek submissive man said to be hoping to garner affection from women via his ‘feminine’ and ‘girlishly weak’ support for her. But it need not be. We can show respect for chivalry (really just common decency in general) and thus incentivize it, thus pressuring the ‘alpha’ puppy-dog-men to sit-stay-and-play-dead. By which I simply mean that incentivizing common decency will pressure men desperate for those incentives to act decently.

(As a side-note, this does not need to entail broadening the mythic “friend-zone”. Patriarchy has men believing that when they do something good, they’ll be rewarded with romantic affection or sex. Often times this attitude is what people rightly mock white-knights for. Some of them genuinely believe that sticking up for a woman, being a ‘nice guy’ instead of the alternative, means they’re owed sex by society. These attitudes can be admonished just the same as any others. These genuine white knights complain about being friend-zoned and say things like: “I’m a nice guy, but all my female friends do is complain about how they just want to date a nice guy, and none of them want me!”. These kinds of sentiments can be dismissed just the same way as machismo alpha-shit is. You tell the complainer that he’s not owed anything, and that his expecting a reward is pathetic and repulsive. You tell him that he’s not really a ‘nice guy’ if he’s acting in a certain way just for the promise of sex, and that doing so actually makes him just as bad, if not worse, as any other agent of patriarchy.)

Just the same as we can incentivize good behavior, we can admonish bad behavior. Rather than celebrating men who womanize, we can dismiss them. When a friend brags about sexual conquests we can roll our eyes, walk away, or openly mock him. When a man tries to assert physical authority and dominance over another, we can look him in the eye and tell him he’s pathetic, weak, and desperate.

Even when the crowd disagrees, and even when the target individual doesn’t seem to care what you think, those small or large gestures can go a long way. The hegemonic male desperate for respect is watching everyone to ensure he’s earning the maximum amount of it, and when some of it is being withheld, he’ll take notice. And even if he doesn’t the rest of the crowd may. Your individual withholding or offering of respect may force others to question why you’re doing it differently from them.

At first they may mock you for your difference of perspective. You may be a white knight, a beta, a ‘fag’, but some people will hear you. And overtime your values may take root in others, which will inspire more to change. It’s really a grass-roots kind of thing. You just have to be willing to express your approval and disapproval. And you have to remember that when you’re the one doing the distributing or withholding of respect, you’re not the one on trial.

Preventing Teen Suicide? An Unethical Intervention in Autonomy?

Tagging this view onto my previous arguments about Physician Assisted Suicide, I think it’s also important to think about the permissibility of interfering with attempted suicide cases, even though they’re hairy.

I anticipate this topic potentially going to a dark place pretty quickly, especially as my view has to weigh in on teen suicide and similar delicate matters. While I don’t want to offend anyone, I do think it’s an important to address and discuss.

In my previous post, I brought up a potential condition as having a physical component necessary for AE/PE, or at least sufficient age for informed consent. I’m not convinced this is a necessary condition.

I might (or rather, ONE might) argue that suicide of any kind is permissible, regardless of age or suffering threshold, because there’s no reason to interfere in the autonomy of individuals who may wish to take their life. I find this potentially convincing provided it does the necessary work.

I don’t mean to say that we ought to be OKAY with people killing themselves, certainly we should still take measures to raise awareness about teen suicide and the necessary ways to get and offer help to teens in need, but do we really have any right to interfere with someone who wishes to take their own life? Or are our intuitions, which tell us that we ought to stop people from killing themselves, only based in selfish concerns about the loss of a peer/friend/family member/colleague/whatever?

If so, should we really be basing an ethical principle fundamentally concerned with interfering in the bodily autonomy of others (granted this is sts permissible) on grounds related to OUR best interests? This seems quintessentially conflicted to me. Any view that wishes to take issue with a permissive view of suicide HAS to deal only with the best interest of the subject, not those around them (provided no dependents).

Ethical Obligations to Assist Euthanasia

Here’s some more follow-up thinking on Physician Assisted Suicide.

In this post, I will argue that provided sufficient conditions, any individual has a right (a claim on the assistance of others) to euthanasia of any kind. I do not believe this claim on others is restricted to passive euthanasia, in which the subject is merely allowed to die via a foreseen consequence of actions (or non-actions), but includes active euthanasia, in which the subject may ask for the assistance of and thereby obligate others to take action to end his/her life.

While I believe the intend/foresee distinction is a valid one, it will not enter into my post, as I believe both intentional and foreseen killing/euthanasia is permissible. Note I also will not take the time to outline the sufficient conditions for a right to die. While important, this can be argued elsewhere and I do not have the space.

Furthermore, I would argue that because the right to die can obligate others to actively assist in euthanizing, refusing to take part in an active process and force the subject into a situation in which they must await death as a foreseen consequence is unnecessarily cruel.

First, negative argument intended to dismantle objections:
One might argue that a right to death is far too demanding. Granting a claim on the assistance of others seems to unfairly obligate a third party to do something they don’t wish to partake in, violating their autonomy. My response is two-fold.

1. Demanding-ness is Meaningless. While the objector may have a valid concern that such a right is in fact demanding, I fail to see why such demands hamper the strength of my argument. For example, granted Kiddie Pool which was part of one of my recent posts (Walking by kid drowning, low risk to save him, you are obligated to save him), it seems that our intuitions sometimes think that it’s okay for a moral principle to place demands on others. Provided no/minimal risk, as in the case in both Kiddie Pool and active euthanasia, there is a duty to assist people in need, so we ought to think we’re obligated to assist the suffering person seeking assisted euthanasia.

2. This Isn’t About You. A naysayer might object, “Sure, but there’s a difference between Kiddie Pool and AE (active euthanasia)! I don’t have anything against the act of pulling a kid out of a pool, that’s a good action, but killing someone!? I can’t do that!” Let me refer this objection back to the title of this argument. This Isn’t About You. The action itself, be it a killing or letting die, is permissible granted the informed consent of the subject, regardless of whatever feelings you have about the act of killing. Any feelings you may have about the emotional damage you may or may not suffer (The brutalizing of the killer argument?) by assisting in a death are massively outweighed by the subject’s suffering. In short, I’m ambivalent to concerns you have about getting your hands dirty when someone is so miserable they want to die.

Looking at The Elizabeth Bouvia case (explained in more detail later), “Judge John H. Hews … [decided] allowing her to starve herself to death in the hospital would ‘have a profound effect’ on the staff, other patients, and other handicapped people.” This is a miserable reason to assert that someone continue to suffer. The argument, in effect, asserts that the autonomy and wellbeing of Bouvia is less important than the well-being of the people around her, who might be negatively affected. Give me a break. Better yet, give the suffering woman a break.

Now, positive argument in favor of active euthanasia:

Passive Euthanasia Defeats the Purpose. The point of euthanasia is to end/shorten suffering. Does passive euthanasia do this? Our response is mixed. Yes, it does end suffering, but it does not shorten it (case in point Elizabeth Bouvia, who eventually decides she can’t starve herself to death because the side effects would be too costly and actually worsen her suffering, despite her wishes to die). Passive euthanasia (often, in comparison to active) prolongs the very suffering euthanasia seeks to end, seemingly only for the reasons addressed in This Isn’t About You. While the intend/foresee distinction does have significant moral weight, if the very goal of euthanasia is to end/shorten suffering and This Isn’t About You is granted, it seems that PE (passive euthanasia) fails to achieve its goals. It should therefore be rejected in favor of AE.

I think it is important to lay out necessary/sufficient conditions upon which we think that a claim on others for AE is granted, but won’t argue for them here. What’s included is not meant to be an exhaustive list, merely some preliminary ideas that might guide the creation of necessary/sufficient conditions. Such conditions might include:
1. Subject’s inability to perform euthanasia themselves.
2. Physical and emotional suffering, where emotional suffering alone is sts insufficient for AE (physical suffering that does not cause emotional suffering seems unlikely to create a situation in which the subject would ask for AE).
2a. Emotional suffering may be sufficient for AE, should it be great enough, and the subject is of an age where they can make an informed decision (Perhaps above 21? 25? 30?) This quells worries about teen suicide.
3. The lack of dependents – a parent that is still able to provide for his/her children cannot ask for AE (if the parent is no longer providing, perhaps this condition is not necessary)

Provided such conditions are fulfilled, we ought to think AE is preferable to PE, and subjects have a right to demand AE from others.