Friday, February 25, 2011

The Logic of Justifiable Violence

Mother Jones has reported on some attempts at the state level to make killing in defense of a fetus "justifiable homicide," and many have interpreted the language of the bills as allowing for the murder of doctors who provide abortions.

I think this is related to the problem of underlying axioms. When you accept an underlying axiom, you can debate about degree, but you will have excesses following the axiom. The underlying axiom at work here--violence can be a moral means to prevent evil--is largely accepted. So when some view a particular action as abhorrently evil, they may consider violence to prevent that evil as morally justified. The same logic that allows some to justify war (the general principle, specific wars, and particular practices of warfare), torture, and capital punishment, can be used to justify murdering.

Many grapple with this underlying axiom to try apply it responsibly in a complicated world. Some abuse the axiom for their own ends, while others ignore it and use violence to their own ends. Some will apply the maxim in ways that most of us find dangerous and immoral. And some (very few) reject the principle altogether as a matter of ethical principle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Religion and Justice

Today in church, the Old Testament reading included the following passage from Leviticus:

"The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning."

It is a simple, specific rule, but it is typical of the Bible's concern for social and economic justice. The writers of this text tell us that according to God, employers are to deal fairly with their employees. According to God, there is a righteous and an unrighteous way for workers to be treated.

What does this mean for us today?

The Journal Sentinel's Annysa Johnson cites a Catholic Archbishop, a Methodist Bishop, and a Rabbi expressing support for unions and collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Johnson also cites Illinois churches and synagogues that have offered sanctuary to the Democrats from Wisconsin that fled the state to avoid a vote stripping state workers of collective bargaining rights. These religious leaders, with their conviction and faith in God, are standing up for the rights of workers and the usefulness of unions and collective bargaining.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I am a Wisconsin state worker.

At one rally I attended, a speaker said (something like) that if this was happening in the 1800s, it would be a riot, but we've learned nonviolent protest, we've learned what works. And that's not only the legacy but the lesson of Gandhi and King: they not only showed us that nonviolent protest can work, they actually taught us how to do it. Today, around the world, people know the shape and form of a protest. People know about the strength of numbers, about passive resistance, about why but also how to gather into large groups and nonviolently express protest. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't (sometimes it is even in opposite causes), but this is the form that protest takes today because we were taught that this is the form that a protest can take. We have power in and through peacefulness.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gender and Meat

When I teach units involving popular culture, and particularly about advertisements, I focus a lot on gender stereotypes. We discuss things like what foods get associated with a particular gender ("Close your eyes and picture 'beer drinker.' Who are you picturing?"). And we discuss meat. There are so many representations of Men in popular culture as voracious meat eaters (when men are shown cooking, it is usually over a grill), that Manhood and consuming animals are closely associated. Sometimes I perceive that in American culture, I'm not seen as a "Real Man" because I am a (mostly vegan) vegetarian (and a pacifist too at that).

At Grist, Holly Richmond complains about a trend of mainstream media articles, ripe with gender stereotypes, featuring shock at discovering male vegans. She's right in what she says, though I wonder if baby steps toward less rigid gender stereotypes about food and eating are still steps worth taking. Those steps are definitely still worth critiquing too, of course.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Amanda Marcotte is critical of B. R. Myers' crusade against foodies, because Myers' emphasis on the sinfulness of gluttony is, Marcotte says, anti-pleasure. I can see validity to her critique, if the gluttony stuff is taken literally. But I took the trope of gluttony as a framework for Myers to make his central thesis: in general, foodies have little to no regard for ethical concerns about eating, and when they're not outright dismissive of ethical questions, they find ways to argue that their own desired forms of eating are ethically superior to everybody else's.

In that sense, Myers' crusade scratches me right where I itch. I have little time for Michael Pollan, whom I perceive acts like and is treated like the moral compass of eating, but whose public function largely features defending eating meat, assuaging questioning consciences and assuring meat eaters not to worry about their lifestyle of eating animals. Myers' negative review of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma similarly had me reading with an attentive rush, finding some of my vague perceptions articulated concretely.