Civilization is Dependency

Anne Helen Petersen writes about civilization:

But the idea that I should only pay for things that benefit me directly is anathema to me. Every single thing on that list benefits me in some way, because it benefits the community around me. Kids’ education matters not because they’re my kids, but because education matters, in general. I might not need rescue services in the woods out in the corner of the county, but some day, maybe I would.

Which reminds me of this Steve Jobs note:

I love and admire my species, living and dead, and am totally dependent on them for life and well being.


So there’s a meme that goes around regularly and it’s introduced in terms of “food for thought”. It goes something like this: “One day, your mom will pick you up, put you back down, and then never pick you up again.” I’ve seen it a bunch of times by now, and every time, it rips through me. Kind of like how I felt for the entire duration of the movie “Inside Out” (which, to this day, I can not yet watch once more), but in meme-form. I think this trips the same part of my brain that wrote a farewell post to my dorm room or to our first house.

I have a hard time with endings.


The Lesson to Unlearn:

Suppose you’re taking a class on medieval history and the final exam is coming up. The final exam is supposed to be a test of your knowledge of medieval history, right? So if you have a couple days between now and the exam, surely the best way to spend the time, if you want to do well on the exam, is to read the best books you can find about medieval history. Then you’ll know a lot about it, and do well on the exam.

No, no, no, experienced students are saying to themselves. If you merely read good books on medieval history, most of the stuff you learned wouldn’t be on the test. It’s not good books you want to read, but the lecture notes and assigned reading in this class. And even most of that you can ignore, because you only have to worry about the sort of thing that could turn up as a test question. You’re looking for sharply-defined chunks of information. If one of the assigned readings has an interesting digression on some subtle point, you can safely ignore that, because it’s not the sort of thing that could be turned into a test question. But if the professor tells you that there were three underlying causes of the Schism of 1378, or three main consequences of the Black Death, you’d better know them. And whether they were in fact the causes or consequences is beside the point. For the purposes of this class they are.

I wish I could go back in time. I would tell myself to submit to this reality and actually get smart about tests and grades and working the system. I wasted a lot of time.

Getting a good grade in a class on x is so different from learning a lot about x that you have to choose one or the other, and you can’t blame students if they choose grades. Everyone judges them by their grades — graduate programs, employers, scholarships, even their own parents.

Warped Old Men

Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker:

How did caring about a drowned or desiccated future come to be a partisan issue? Perhaps the simplest answer is money. A report put out two years ago by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis noted, “In the 2000s, several bipartisan climate bills were circulating in the Senate.” Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations and wealthy donors could, effectively, pour unlimited amounts of cash into electioneering. Fossil-fuel companies quickly figured out how to funnel money through front groups, which used it to reward the industry’s friends and to punish its enemies. After Citizens United, according to the report, “bipartisan activity on comprehensive climate legislation collapsed.”

I’ve certainly been reading and thinking about the Court a lot lately, but this one surprised me. Perhaps the hyperpartisanship we suffer under wasn’t stumbled into, as so many pieces about algorithms and media silos suggest, but rather made by some warped old men warping the law.

And, indeed, when you think about it: our tragic addiction to stupid guns can trace its roots back to different warped old men mere decades ago, warping the law.

And, indeed, when you think about it: our societal refusal to protect women, to criminalize pregnancy on a path to god-knows-where has been similarly paved by warped old men warping the law.

Climate Action

Andrew Marantz, at The New Yorker, The Young Congressional Staffers Going Rogue to Demand Climate Action:

Republicans are expected to win majorities in at least one house of Congress in November, meaning that Democrats will have sweated through a rare trifecta with little to show for it. “At a certain point, it’s, like, O.K., we tried being patient, we tried to be good little soldiers, and it got us nowhere,” Levin said. “Imagine going home and facing your relatives: ‘Oh, cool, you work on climate policy? Well, where the fuck is it?’ ”

I’ve been, uh, not reading news for a good five months now, but you know… if the bad news keeps getting worse, I’m going to start again.


Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker, shows women in America their future, and it isn’t good:

Connecticut, a progressive state on the matter of abortion, recently passed a law that prevents local agencies from coöperating with out-of-state abortion prosecutions and protects the medical records of out-of-state clients. Other progressive states will follow suit. If prohibition states can’t sue out-of-state doctors, and, if abortion pills sent by mail remain largely undetectable, the only people left to target will be abortion advocates and those trying to get abortions.

Abortion makes the Supreme Court feel oogy, so to hell with good law. Tolentino continues:

If a fetus is a person, then a legal framework can be invented to require someone who has one living inside her to do everything in her power to protect it, including—as happened to Savita Halappanavar, in Ireland, which operated under a fetal-personhood doctrine until 2018, and to Izabela Sajbor, in Poland, where all abortion is effectively illegal—to die. No other such obligation exists anywhere in our society, which grants cops the freedom to stand by as children are murdered behind an unlocked door. In Poland, pregnant women with cancer have been routinely denied chemotherapy because of clinicians’ fears of harming the fetus.

Fetal-personhood laws have passed in Georgia and Alabama, and they are no longer likely to be found unconstitutional. Such laws justify a full-scale criminalization of pregnancy, whereby women can be arrested, detained, and otherwise placed under state intervention for taking actions perceived to be potentially harmful to a fetus. This approach has been steadily tested, on low-income minorities in particular, for the past four decades. National Advocates for Pregnant Women—the organization that has provided legal defense for most of the cases mentioned in this article—has documented almost eighteen hundred cases, from 1973 to 2020, of prosecutions or forced interventions related to pregnancy; this is likely a substantial undercount. Even in states such as California, where the law explicitly prohibits charging women with murder after a pregnancy loss, conservative prosecutors are doing so anyway.

And now, with that criminalization, we are rocketing toward an Attwoodian future:

Pregnancy is more than thirty times more dangerous than abortion. One study estimates that a nationwide ban would lead to a twenty-one-per-cent rise in pregnancy-related deaths. Some of the women who will die from abortion bans are pregnant right now. Their deaths will come not from back-alley procedures but from a silent denial of care: interventions delayed, desires disregarded. They will die of infections, of preëclampsia, of hemorrhage, as they are forced to submit their bodies to pregnancies that they never wanted to carry, and it will not be hard for the anti-abortion movement to accept these deaths as a tragic, even noble, consequence of womanhood itself.

It is particularly important to read the last three paragraphs of this piece.

The case against the Supreme Court

Ian Millhiser at Vox, The Roe opinion and the case against the Supreme Court of the United States:

[Dismantling voting rights], moreover, is consistent with the history of an institution that once blessed slavery and described Black people as “beings of an inferior order.” It is consistent with the Court’s history of union-busting, of supporting racial segregation, and of upholding concentration camps.

Moreover, while the present Court is unusually conservative, the judiciary as an institution has an inherent conservative bias. Courts have a great deal of power to strike down programs created by elected officials, but little ability to build such programs from the ground up. Thus, when an anti-governmental political movement controls the judiciary, it will likely be able to exploit that control to great effect. But when a more left-leaning movement controls the courts, it is likely to find judicial power to be an ineffective tool.

The Court, in other words, simply does not deserve the reverence it still enjoys in much of American society, and especially from the legal profession. For nearly all of its history, it’s been a reactionary institution, a political one that serves the interests of the already powerful at the expense of the most vulnerable. And it currently appears to be reverting to that historic mean.

My anti-Supreme-Court rhetoric as of late felt like my own conclusion, but of course it is just a result of me reading people smarter and better-read than myself. Case in point, Gerald Rosenberg’s “The Hollow Hope”:

Rosenberg’s most depressing conclusion is that, while liberal judges are severely constrained in their ability to effect progressive change, reactionary judges have tremendous ability to hold back such change. “Studies of the role of the courts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” Rosenberg writes, “show that courts can effectively block significant social reform.”

So if you live in what is nominally a representative democracy, but two out of three of the branches of Federal government (again, as pointed out by Millhiser) are structured to hold back societal improvement by granting such great, stubborn power to a minority belief (e.g. abortion prohibition)… what, precisely, do you do?


After reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay, I’ll read anything by her, no introduction necessary. So you can imagine hers is the first take I read after the leaked forthcoming overturning of Roe v. Wade. Here she is at The Times, “It’s Time to Rage”:

We should not live in a country where bodily autonomy can be granted or taken away by nine political appointees, most of whom are men and cannot become pregnant. Any civil right contingent upon political whims is not actually a civil right.

So that got me wondering, what is the best thing for me to keep ready in my head should I ever need to explain where I stand? The following tweets from Shannon Hale’s excellent thread are a good place to start:

How do we determine what constitutes a baby? Science overwhelmingly agrees that an embryo and fetus are not a fully formed human. Some religions disagree, and many believe that at the moment of conception, an enteral spirit enters those cells, making it human.

There’s no proof of this. It is a belief. It is faith. And people are absolutely free to believe as they will and act on that faith. But requiring others to believe and act according to others’ religious beliefs? That’s, like, just SO against the laws of this republic.

Also against the laws of this republic? Requiring anyone ever to put themselves in any harm or threat of harm in order to save another’s life. Mandatory blood donations? Bone marrow? Kidneys? Liver? Skin grafts? NEVER! Even after death, no one can take our organs w/o permission.

The ONLY instance where laws require people to sacrifice their own health and give up their body autonomy in order to support another’s life is with pregnant people. So it’s not really about the sanctity of life, it’s only about controlling pregnant bodies.

And here’s the final realization that changed me: If you believe that a pregnant person should be able to terminate their pregnancy if they were raped, if they are a victim of incest, if they are a 10yo child, if pregnancy and birth will kill them, then you are pro-choice.

And now I loop right back around to what Roxane Gay said: Any civil right contingent upon political whims is not actually a civil right.



Windy Day

Windy Day