Monday, February 25, 2013

A random song and my brain gets away from me.

I once read some quotes from wives who had been married for years or decades. All of the quotes were about how their husbands weren't the men they'd married, or how they'd been married to multiple husbands who were all the same man. The idea is that over time people do change, and you can live several different types of lives in one lifetime.

There are people I really dislike that I used to be close to, once upon a time. Without meaning to or even realizing it, I often think of the friends I once had and the people they are now as different people. I could never find those friends again, because they no longer exist. Their bodies are still here, but occupied by other personalities--there's no use in searching there for those long-gone friends. There's nowhere to look for them.

Of course I don't mean this literally. But sometimes it does feel as if I'm thinking of past lives, no longer accessible, instead of memories from my own life that I know must still be shared by other people, even if I never talk to them.

And just now, as I'm studying in a coffee shop, I hear a song that reminds me of a man I dated years ago. I still know him, and we're on friendly terms, but the song reminded me of how I used to see him, a perspective I don't remember often. And I realized that I also think of the man I dated and the man I'm friends with now as two different people, even though they are really one and the same.

We had a good relationship, with many good memories. Both of us are now in happy relationships with other people, and it would no longer be appropriate to reminisce with each other, which is fine. But it makes it strange--if you are the only person who remembers something, it can feel as if the something never really did happen to begin with. It's as if that man I dated is gone, replaced by a pleasant but different friendship.

And it makes me wonder (again) about marriage. Everyone says you shouldn't marry someone based on the assumption that they will change, and I agree. You can't make people change and you can't predict that they will change in specific ways. However people do change--how many people are really the same now as they were 10 years ago? Sure, there are common patterns, personality traits that persist, of course. But there are changes too. How can you commit to someone when the personality you're committing to might not be there in a decade or two?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Defend your position!

Recently I've been discussing gay marriage more often than I normally do. Each discussion has been with a different traditional marriage proponent ("TMP"), but I've noticed a frustrating pattern.

Aside: I use the phrase "traditional marriage proponent" because that seems to be what people for heterosexual-only marriage call themselves. I think some parts of their stance may not be traditional depending on which period in history we look to for examples or marriage, but for simplicity's sake I'd rather just adopt people's self-descriptions and get to the actual arguments.

 People seem to think that marriage must mean either (1) heterosexual couples making lifelong commitments and producing children or (2) any consenting adults making lifelong commitments to love each other. In terms of government recognition and enforcement, I think both of these definitions are problematic.

When I talk to a TMP, the conversation often goes something like this (roughly paraphrased from multiple conversations):
TMP: Marriage requires a lifelong sexual union that bears children.

Me: Then why do we have [no-fault divorce/legal infidelity/infertile couples marrying]?

TMP: Well then what do you think marriage is?
No no no. Setting aside the gay marriage debate for a moment, this is not how it should work. People should be able to defend their perspectives regardless of what my perspective is. I could think marriage should be between dogs and cats and have completely idiotic reasons for thinking so, but that doesn't mean the holes in the TMP's arguments have disappeared. Shouldn't it bother people if there are holes in their arguments they can't reconcile?

I suspect TMPs think the options are either the TMP definition or the gay rights definition, so as long as they can poke enough holes in the gay rights definition, the TMP definition has to win by default. But I don't think that's the case. If I find holes in both definitions, why would I go TMP by default? If I hesitate over some aspect of the gay rights perspective on marriage, how would that prevent me from continuing to see holes in the TMP view as well?

Whether we're talking about gay marriage or any other topic of debate, I guess all I'm really trying to say is: defend your position or stop spouting it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Maternity Leave

Keep on, Minnesota:

Rep. Sandra Masin was one of 16 house legislators to author the bill, H.F. 463, all of whom hail from the DFL party. Six of the co-authors were male. The legislation was introduced on Monday by the chief author, Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn.

The bill requires employers to grant a minimum amount of maternity leave to all women for a "reasonable period of time," with a maximum of up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of absence for female employees disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Additionally, the employee would be entitled to use of any accrued vacation or sick leave during this period of time.

If passed, the bill would also oblige employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees laboring under conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, as per the woman's request or the advice of her doctor. The legislators describe "reasonable accommodation" as seating, frequent restroom breaks, and limits to heavy lifting, among other things. If possible, the employer must transfer a pregnant woman to light duty, though no employer would be required to create a job that didn't previously exist. The bill further states that employers will not be required to displace or discharge other employees to accommodate a pregnant worker.

A different perspective:
For hard-working professional women accustomed to overloaded calendars and constant communication with colleagues and customers, the isolation of maternity leave can be a shock. After the birth of my first child, I used to joke with my husband that for the sanity of new mothers an iPhone should be just as mandatory as a car seat when leaving the hospital. Yes, bonding with your baby during middle-of-the-night feedings is a wonderful thing, but when you’re stuck in a chair nursing several hours every day, that smartphone can also feel like a much-needed lifeline to the outside world.
What happens much more often, according to Mathiason, is that professional women are upset when they aren’t allowed to continue communicating with clients, directing projects or managing their teams while on leave. In fact, pregnancy-related litigation is actually up in recent years, he says, as more women come back from maternity leave, get laid off several months later for reasons that may be unrelated to their leave, and argue they weren’t kept in the loop while they were away.

Maternity leave for teens?
New Mexico's public schools will be required to grant leave to teenage parents under legislation approved by the House.
The measure will establish a statewide policy requiring at least 10 days of leave when a student gives birth. The excused absences also will be available to the child's father.
A pregnant teen or student who is a parent will receive four days of leave per semester. That's in addition to the absences allowed for all students.
Schools must provide an opportunity for students to make up the work they missed while on maternity or parenting leave.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Universe Without Purpose

Recently I've had several conversations about objective morality, a subject I haven't really wrestled with before. I wish I had more time to blog, as I've had a lot of thoughts on it that I'm afraid I won't be able to recall once I do get a chance. Pity, I don't have time right now, but this image seemed related and I found it a little bit comforting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Gay Marriage

I'm for gay marriage, but I don't think I've really examined how I got to that stance. In this post I am exploring my own thoughts, so it might be pretty meandering.

I was raised to believe homosexuality (or, to be more specific, homosexual sex) is wrong. I vaguely agreed until midway through high school when I became friends with a select few gay people. And here I'm not talking about teenagers who want attention and make a big deal about coming out one month and then are back to being straight the next. Here I'm talking about people who hid that they were gay. They tried not to be gay through prayer or heterosexual dating or sheer will, and they feared the reactions of their parents and friends should they find out.

Through witnessing their struggles--in some cases desperately so--to not be gay, I came to believe that being gay isn't much of a choice. Or rather, I think it might be sort of a choice for some people and not as much for others. I agree with people who say sexuality is more of a spectrum than a bunch of check boxes. I know people who are so straight (or gay) that the thought of sex with the same (or opposite) sex just completely weirds them out. And I've known bisexuals that seem pretty open to either. I've also known people that are open to dating the same sex but mostly prefer the opposite, or vice versa. In that sense I expect there are some people who could more easily choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle than others, because they already lean hetero so it's not as much of a leap. But even in those cases I'm not convinced people choose to be "a little bit bi."

On the other hand, I'm dubious that being gay (or straight, really) is purely biological. I suspect there's a strong biological basis but that other factors from birth until whenever can influence it one way or another. I'm sure there are plenty of non-straight people even now that are completely aware of their sexualities but won't come out for fear of the repercussions. But I also think there are a lot of people who genuinely consider themselves straight that, if they'd been raised in a very different culture, would be much more open to sexual interactions with the same sex. Not everyone, of course. I think it's clear that the strong majority of people are simply straight. Still I expect if no one objected to homosexuality we'd have both a lot more people coming out and a lot more people (who never felt repressed in the first place) experimenting.

Anyway, all that is to say I don't think sexuality is wholly a choice, or that much of a choice, and I don't see any reason to believe it's wrong. But--unlike what seemingly all gay marriage proponents suggest--I think whether homosexuality is immoral is a distinct topic from whether gay marriage should be legal.

The gay marriage debate annoys me because gay marriage proponents seem to sincerely think that the only reason you could oppose gay marriage is bigotry. I may not find the arguments against gay marriage compelling, but I think most of the people who make those arguments find them compelling. I'm not going to do that thing where you assume your ideological opponents secretly agree with your premises and only oppose you because they're just bad people. I'm not going to assume that arguments against gay marriage are just a flimsy cover up for homophobia. Some people are homophobic, yes, I'm not denying that--I'm just rejecting the idea that everyone who has a problem with gay marriage must, by definition, be homophobic. (By the way, this sounds exactly like the assertion that everyone who is pro-life must, by definition, hate women.) It's just so much easier to ignore our opposition when we vilify them first.

As I said, I was ambivalent on gay marriage for a long time, and for three main reasons:
  1. Unlike (apparently) most secularists, I think freedom of religion is important.
  2. I don't understand why the government is involved in marriage in the first place.
  3. I generally think the arguments for gay marriage are pretty weak.
#1: I don't want to tell you what you can (or can't) believe any more than I want you to tell me. And I don't want to say "Sure, believe what you want, as long as you don't actually try to live your life according to beliefs I disagree with." What's the difference between that and telling you what to believe?

I think situations where freedom of religion comes in conflict with civil rights are pretty tricky. Secularists tend to dismiss these situations as an excuse for prejudice, and certainly they can be used to justify prejudice, but I don't think it's that simple. How about the Muslim barber who wouldn't cut a woman's hair because it's against his religion? The woman was angry because she felt discriminated against based on her gender; the barber was upset because he believes it's wrong to touch a woman outside of his own family. Secularists tend to dismiss the barber because they don't share his beliefs about gender and family. But what's the difference between us dismissing (or trying to legally override) religious beliefs because we feel our beliefs make more sense, and religious people dismissing (or trying to legally override) our beliefs because they think theirs make more sense? It's a culture clash but I don't think it makes sense to assume by default that whichever is the religious side ought to lose.

It's like free speech. I don't agree with how everyone uses the right (I'm looking at you, WBC) but I want the right protected even for people I heartily disagree with because I also want the right protected for myself. The same goes for freedom of religion--I want people to be able to believe what they want and live accordingly--even if I don't think their beliefs make sense--because I want to be able to believe what I want and live accordingly too.

Obviously this can't be unlimited. If someone follows a religion that says you should shoot all 4-year-old, we're going to have a problem. My point here is not that freedom of religion should be unlimited (how can it be, with so many conflicting views?) My point is to say that freedom of religion is relevant and should be taken into account in the discussion.

I don't think legalizing gay marriage inherently takes away from freedom of religion. But I do think there's merit to the suggestion that as gay rights increase, religious people and institutions are open to legal action if they refuse to perform marriages for gay people, or set up adoptions, or teach their children that homosexuality is acceptable, and so on. In other words I doubt we can expand gay rights without limiting religious freedoms, and while that may be well worth, it I still think we should acknowledge the point.

#2: If we could strengthen gay rights without limiting any other rights I don't know that there'd even need to be a conversation about this; it's all benefit, no cost. However I think expanding the rights of some necessarily limits others. That might be okay (it certainly was when we ended segregation, after all) but I think it's worthwhile to look at costs and benefits. And this is another reason I used to get tripped up. I don't see a huge benefit to allowing gay marriage because I don't see a huge benefit to having state recognition of marriage in the fist place, gay or straight. In fact, I kind of wish we just got rid of legal marriage entirely, so in a sense gay marriage is moving in the opposite direction of where I think we should go.

Don't get me wrong. It's clear marriage is monumentally important to a lot of people. I don't think society needs to get rid of marriage. I just don't see the point of having the legal recognition. My best friends are important to me too, but I don't need the government to formally acknowledge it and in fact I'd feel pretty irritated if people thought my friendships were somehow "lesser" than their friendships based solely on the fact that I hadn't gotten the government to acknowledge my friendships. What the hell do I care what the government thinks?

Ultimately marriage is what the people in the marriage make it. I think the ideas of love combined with lifelong commitment are lovely, and I also think you can have those whether the government gives you a license or not. When it comes to it, I would respect and admire a legally unmarried couple who loved each other and stayed together for life a great deal more than a legally married couple that treated each other like crap and eventually got divorced (as we know so many of them do). That's not to say the only options are sucky legal marriages or wonderful cohabitations--not at all. Some people get legally married and love and commit to each other for life. And that's awesome. I just think the love and commitment are way more important and I don't really see what the legal part brings to the table, relationship-wise.

Yes, I know being legally married includes certain rights and benefits, but frankly I don't see why. What's the government/societal interest there? Why should married people pay less in taxes than single people? Is it because we want to encourage people to create families? We can just give tax credits to people who have children, no? Don't we already do that anyway? Why should married people who don't have children pay less in taxes?

And why should only spouses and blood relatives be able to visit you in the hospital? Goodness knows our blood relatives are not necessarily the people we're closest to, or even the people we love. You should be able to designate whomever you want to visit you in the hospital, or to make medical decisions for you when you're not capable--and I may be ignorant on this, but I think you can do that anyway. I don't see why you should need legal marriage to be able to do that.

Again, this is not to say I want to get rid of marriage itself. Given my way people would continue to get married in whatever weddings or commitment ceremonies they see fit, but the government wouldn't have anything to do with it. Society can reflect how seriously it takes marriage and how sacred marriage is just as much by continuing to get married and then making those commitments priorities. Envision a society where people commit to each other without legal enforcement and then stay committed to each other because, hey, they really meant it in the first place.

Not to mention this solution eliminates the gay marriage debate anyway. No special government treatment if the government is irrelevant to marriage.

#3: My overall understanding of the argument for gay marriage is that consenting adults who love each other should be able to marry each other. Some gay marriage proponents mock their opposition for acting as if this definition implies way more than it does. For example, check out this graphic explaining why gay marriage would not necessitate allowing pedophilia, necrophilia, or bestiality.

However, notice the graphic leaves out polygamy and incest. People get indignant when you suggest either of those are somehow related, but, well, they are. If the definition we are to accept is "consenting adults who love one another," there's nothing in it about the number of consenting adults or whether they're related. And you can add in that, sure--say the definition is "between two consenting, unrelated adults who love each other"--but I'd be pretty interested to hear the objective rationale for limiting marriage to two people, or to unrelated people. Most opponents of gay marriage use religious reasoning, which they can also apply when they oppose polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, incest, and so on. But from what I've seen gay marriage proponents tend to reject (or ignore) religious authority on the subject, so it'd be tricky to invoke that same authority in order to ban other formal recognition of other sexual relationships.

I've known some gay marriage proponents who readily accept polygamy and even incest (in some forms) as the logical conclusions of their argument. I've known some who reject the ideas, but I suspect they might not personally care so much but are thinking "one battle at a time." It's not pragmatic for the gay rights movement to openly embrace polygamy and incest; it would only strengthen the opposition right now. And then I've known a few who sincerely reject polygamy and incest, but it's amazing how their reasons for rejection sound so similar to older arguments against homosexuality.

This whole thing seems like a struggle between these ideas: "Marriage is the thing where man and woman commit and love one another and probably have kids together" or "Marriage is the thing where adults commit and love each other." Given the changing purposes and definitions of marriage over time, these definitions seem about equally arbitrary to me. One is just a lot broader than the other.

Anyway, so I do think fighting for gay marriage amounts to fighting to redefine marriage as something far broader and then, perhaps, less meaningful than marriage was supposed to have been in our country's history--at least our recent history. And arguing that any adults who love each other should be able to marry doesn't seem that compelling to me, since the government can't stop you from lifelong commitment whether they formally recognize it or not, and since I don't really get why the government recognizes it in some cases in the first place, nor why people should care whether the government recognizes it or not.

So then why am I for gay marriage?

A few reasons:
  1. I don't find anything morally objectionable about being gay and I think the government should treat people equally. Since the government isn't actually going to get out of straight marriage, may as well open it up to whomever.
  2. Even if I think gay marriage specifically doesn't make a ton of sense, I also think the fight for gay marriage is contributing to more compassion and acceptance of gay people, which is good.
  3. I find the arguments against gay marriage even weaker than the arguments for it.
#1: I think religious institutions should have the freedom to serve according to their beliefs, which includes the freedom to refuse to perform homosexual weddings, if that's what they want. I don't think you should be able to make people do things they think are wrong, (although I can think of exceptions and I recognize an inherent conflict of rights here). However I think the government should have to treat people equally, absent a compelling argument for a difference (e.g. children are treated differently than adults because they lack the experience and rationality required for adult responsibilities). I think the better equality, again, would be to get the government out of marriage, but no one is really considering that, so here we are.

#2: Even if a couple doesn't care whether the government recognizes a relationship, it matters that society treats people so differently. And if I trusted people to acknowledge differences but still be kind, I might not make this point. However I have seen enough stories (and personally heard enough statements) of broader anti-gay feelings to believe that society would be improved by being more accepting of homosexuality. I think the fight for gay marriage very much influences people to be more accepting, so while I'm dubious about the marriage part itself, I think the fight is having a good effect.

#3: So far the arguments I've seen against gay marriage boil down to the belief that marriage requires procreation. Now, obviously procreation is important to our species as a whole, and to our country specifically and so on. However:
  • Plenty of straight married people don't have and never intended to have kids, and it doesn't seem to be a problem for the married people who have kids anyway.
  • Procreation is important, but I don't see why it is only important when done naturally by a man and woman. Lesbian couples can do IVF. Gay couples can get surrogates.
  • Procreation is important, but so is a stable home for child-rearing. I sometimes wonder whether gay marriages can bring more gravity and honor to the institution of marriage because they've shown how much it means to them to make that commitment, and not just live with each other. Ideally gay marriages would be especially stable, and gay couples could adopt. (In reality I see no reason to believe that gay divorce rates would be any different than straight ones, but you can always hope.)
  • Given how many children wait for adoption,  I think the more loving couples we have that want to adopt, the better. I do believe that a mother and father are ideal because they can teach about the different genders, but I also believe that a mother and mother or father and father are a good deal better than foster care.
I can see a societal interest in creating stable family units, I'm just not convinced gay marriage undermines that interest.

I am really tired, I think I'm just going to stop here. Abruptly.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Catholicism and Pedophilia

I woke up this morning to a lot of statuses about the Pope resigning. Most of them were from Catholics  reflecting on the Pope's teachings and wondering what will happen next. Some of them were from atheists making joking comparisons between the Pope and Emperor Palpatine (there are those that see a physical resemblance). And, as with pretty much any situation where Catholicism is in the headlines, I saw a lot of statuses about child abuse and pedophile priests.

Seems to me that non-Catholics, especially secularists, associate pedophilia a lot more with the Catholic Church than other institutions (such as other religious denominations, public schools, or say, the family.) Look, it's bad no matter where it comes from, but I'm dubious the Catholic Church merits the close association everyone assigns it. As Pat Wingert of The Daily Beast explains,
Many point to peculiarities of the Catholic Church (its celibacy rules for priests, its insular hierarchy, its exclusion of women) to infer that there's something particularly pernicious about Catholic clerics that predisposes them to these horrific acts. It's no wonder that, back in 2002—when the last Catholic sex-abuse scandal was making headlines—a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests "frequently'' abused children. Yet experts say there's simply no data to support the claim at all.
Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. 
According to Wingert's article, estimates suggest 4% of Catholic priests have abused children, compared to roughly 10-20% of the general male population.

Of course if the best defense for the Catholic Church is that everyone else is even worse, I don't find that terribly reassuring. After all, 4% is still way too high. But my point here is not to defend of condemn Catholics, but to figure out why Catholics are associated so much more strongly with child abuse when they actually abuse at a rate equal to or less than everyone else. A few thoughts:

  1. People react strongly to hypocrisy. Child abuse is always bad. Child abuse from institutions that are supposed to be moral authorities in the world is even worse.
  2. You'd think, then, that people would be equally appalled by all other religious denominations (not to mention school teachers) that abuse. And I expect people would be equally appalled, but you hear about it more in regard to Catholics. Wingert suggests a few reasons for why this is the case:
  • Catholicism is one of the largest religious denominations in the country (there are more protestants than Catholics, but Protestantism is broken into many denominations). The rate of Catholic abuse may be equal or less than others, but the raw numbers will be higher as compared to smaller denominations.
  • Catholic sex abuse scandals have been made public in waves. Victims often delay reporting, but when some come forward others realize they aren't alone and feel encouraged to report as well. What might seem like a high concentration of scandals is actually a diffuse pattern over years or decades that comes to light all at once. This pattern is similar to abuse patterns for the general male population, but it appears much worse because of the way it's reported.
  • The Church has been historically bad at punishing and preventing this sort of abuse, and this can result in a single priest abusing many children before he is revealed. In other words there haven't been very many abusive priests, but many of those who have been abusive have been able to go on for far too long without intervention. One study estimated over 160 abuse cases per abusive priest.
Again, it's not exactly reassuring to think that Catholics aren't that special because everyone else abuses children at least as much, if not more. It's freaking awful. 

However, given the seeming eagerness of some detractors to bring up pedophilia every time Catholicism gets mentioned in any context, and given my own (now confirmed) suspicions that it is not somehow a Catholic-specific phenomenon, I tend to see the accusations as more of an anger at Catholicism (or religion in general) than as an anger over child abuse. Although there's no reason it can't be both, really.

Friday, February 8, 2013


I've noticed if I don't write a blog post about an idea in the moment (or within an hour) of the idea occurring to me, I lose interest soon after. I've got about 4-5 drafts of ideas that occurred to me in the last week or two while I was trying to study or work, and since I didn't stop and write them then, now I don't care. Topics included:

  • Another "stupid abortion conversation"
  • White Privilege
  • Revoking consent
  • Free will
These will probably all come up again, right?