Sunday, July 21, 2013

Communication Breakdown.

I think polls are fascinating. You know how some people can lose hours going from video to video on Youtube? Or article to article on Wikipedia? For me, it's hopping from poll to poll on Gallup, or, in this case, the Pew Research Center.

While meandering their site today, I came across this little infographic:

Pro-lifers, including myself, have often used data like this Gallup poll to assert that about half of America is pro-life. But what does that mean?

When I think of a "pro-life" person, I think of someone who believes abortion is wrong and thinks abortion should (generally) be illegal. I suspect most pro-life activists think of this definition. But if that's how we define "pro-life" then no, half of America is not pro-life. The Gallup poll says only 31% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the first trimester. The above Pew Research infographic says only 29% of Americans think Roe v. Wade should be overturned (and that includes some people who don't think abortion is morally wrong anyway). I expect the 18% of respondents who believe abortion is morally wrong but Roe v. Wade should not be overturned are people who consider themselves "personally pro-life," which is quite different from our working definition of "pro-life."

You may have noticed the four quadrants of the infographic don't add up to 100%. That's because (as you may have also noticed) the Pew Research Center found 11% of  people answered "don't know." To my mind, these are the most interesting respondents. I imagine these people haven't really developed a stance because they haven't really looked into the abortion debate; these people may be more open to changing (or developing) their position. I think the pro-life movement would be best served by reaching out to these undecided people. But even if we converted all of them, as it stands right now that would still only mean 36%-40% of people who think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. 

It's not nothing, but it's not near the support polls sometimes suggest.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman's verdict

I haven't read the jury's reasoning, and I'm certainly not suggesting juries always get things right. However it does bother me that so many people were sure Zimmerman was guilty even before he received a proper trial, and are now sure the verdict is wrong.

We have a system for a reason, and we have the high standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" as an attempt to ensure no innocent people go to prison. The price we pay for that is some guilty people will go free. I don't know whether Zimmerman was guilty, but in general I'd rather err on the side of the guilty going free than the innocent going to prison.

At the same time, I want the justice system to work the same way for everyone. A lot of people have been talking about racial bias in this case. I've seen several people link to another Florida story, this time one in which a black woman allegedly fired a warning shot (or shots?) against her abusive husband. She has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. I haven't read about the details, so I don't know, but people are making it sound like the difference between this outcome and the Zimmerman one is race. I also saw someone link to this chart from io9:
Roman [an analyst] also found that Stand Your Ground [SYG] laws tend to track the existing racial disparities in homicide convictions across the U.S. — with one significant exception: Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.
You can see the breakdown of the killings in the chart below. The figures represent the percentage likelihood that the deaths will be found justifiable compared to white-on-white killings, which was the baseline Roman used for comparison:

So, of course, the chart is showing a significant correlation between race and case outcomes, and of course, as with most correlations between race and X other factors, people assume this proves racism.

But the data we see here doesn't talk about types of homicide, or circumstances or anything. For example, a person killing a lover they found in bed with someone else is very different from a person killing someone in a gang fight which is very different from a person carefully planning to kill his boss which is very different from a person shooting an armed robber and on and on. Meanwhile, race is also correlated with criminal activity, which is also correlated with poverty and education level, and so on.

My point is not that racism doesn't exist. I think racism does exist. I think the above chart is disturbing. But I am not sure if it's disturbing because it suggests that our judicial system is heavily biased based on race, or because it suggests black men are actually more likely to be guilty of murder than white men, or because it suggests some parts of the country are more dangerous than others and thus more in need of Stand Your Ground laws, or what. I expect it's some of everything.

No matter how you look at it, there are clearly problems. No matter how you look at it, race is correlated with different incarceration rates. Whether that's due to the simple prejudice of juries or the complicated institutional problems that predispose certain races to crime, it's still a problem.

I'm not convinced the Zimmerman verdict was the wrong one, but I do think the case the case is a tragedy no matter how you slice it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Heterosexual Lifeboat

Recently I've been reading (or having) more conversations about homosexuality, a topic which I've never really researched. My knowledge and understanding of homosexuality are based primarily on the homosexual and bisexual people I know personally, which, while not being very scientific, has been enough for me because...well, I've just had no reason to want more information. Because I don't really care what peoples' sexuality is.

I believe that sexuality is not a choice because I've watched people I care about struggle--and fail--to not be gay. Either they genuinely didn't want to be gay and were unable to change it, or they put on a long-term elaborate ruse primarily for my benefit, given how few people even knew they were struggling. Seems unlikely. That, and I fail to see the incentive for choosing an important personal quality that will earn you scorn, suspicion, social ostracism, and drastically reduced odds of finding a good mate.

But again, I've never really looked into it. My observations about the gay people I know well--combined with a general popular consensus that no, it's not a choice--have been enough for me.

But because of the uptick in talks about this lately, it got me thinking about it more. And as I was skimming abstracts about origins of homosexuality, I came across this:
"I came out to my mother in a letter. I was twenty-eight. "I was born this way," I wrote, following with the most shattering high note of self-loathing I can think of: "If there were a straight pill," I lamented, "I'd swallow it faster than you can say the word 'gay.'"
I didn't mean either of these things. I said them because I knew they would elicit pity and absolve my mother of the belief that her parenting was to blame for my same-sex attractions. It worked. Five years later, my mother continues to talk about my lesbianism as if it were a genetic defect like Down syndrome--a parallel she's actually drawn--because clearly, in her mind, no one would choose such a detestable and challenging state of being.
This is not a message I'm proud to have sent. Contrary to how I actually feel about my sexuality, it suggests that I'm drowning in a sea of self-disgust, desperately grasping for a heterosexual lifeboat to sail my way out of it. But would my mother have been as sympathetic and tolerant if she thought I had a choice in the matter? Would conservative allies support us if they believed we could help it?
If the answer is no, and I believe it is, what does it say about our self-worth and status in society if we, as gay people, must practice a politics of pity to secure our place in the world? It says, for one, that we don't have a place at the table. It says that we are tolerated, but not accepted. It says, ultimately, that it's time to change our rhetoric. Until homosexuality is cast and understood as a valid choice, rather than biological affliction, we will never rise above our current status...
A few thoughts:

1) I'm not sure how I feel about comparing homosexuality to Down syndrome in that I don't like the idea of portraying Down syndrome as some horrible fate anymore than I like the idea of portraying homosexuality that way.

2) As I read this I tried to imagine if the author were talking about gender, instead of sexuality. I didn't have a choice in being born female, and it's a fundamental part of my identity. However, if I felt from time to time that it would be nice to be a man, I don't think that means that I hate myself. I think it means I recognize that society treats men and women differently, and sometimes I'm jealous. It's not a reflection of how I feel about myself so much as how I feel about society.

The same can be applied to sexuality. The options aren't limited to something freely chosen or a biological affliction. I don't believe it's a choice, but that doesn't mean it's shameful, any more than being straight or male or female would be. And sure, if you hate yourself you will probably wish you were different, but wishing you were different doesn't necessarily mean you hate yourself. It may just mean you wish things were easier than they are. That's not the same thing.

So, yes, I see what the author is saying about not talking about sexuality as a horrible affliction, but at the same time I don't think she should be too hard on herself if she ever wished she wasn't gay.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Ideal America: Civil Unions & Marriages

During a recent gay marriage debate, a friend of mine proposed this idea: we should have both civil unions and marriages for everyone, but the civil unions would be more lax in terms of expectations and laws about fidelity and divorce, and the marriages would be more strict.

I love this idea.

People talk about the sanctity of marriage, and I've argued before about how it's a weak rationale for banning gay marriage. On a societal level we've consistently had about half of marriages end in divorce for decades. In other words, gay marriage won't change anything because marriage already isn't sacred, so who cares?

But, first of all, I see how that would not be reassuring to someone who wants marriage to be taken more seriously. And secondly, I personally would feel a lot better about marriage if I thought society took it more seriously.

Then again, even if our divorce rates were nice and low, I still think gay marriage should be legal. I don't think there's anything wrong with homosexuality or homosexual relationships. I do, however, have a problem with some of the products of the gay marriage debate. Specifically, I have a problem with this:

First of all - love does know limits, especially romantic love. People fall out of love all the time, sometimes quickly, sometimes after many years. But secondly - that's okay, because marriage is not--or at least, in my opinion, it shouldn't be--simply about whether you're in love.

I think marriage should include love, sure, but also other-centeredness and commitment. I mean "commitment" both in terms of longevity but also in terms of committing to be respectful even when you're pissed off, to put your spouse's interests ahead of your own, to be kind even when you don't feel love at all.

Seriously, how many relationships have you had in your life where you even liked the other person 100% of the time? Much less loved them? People think of love as an emotion, and as long as it is, it's a secondary concern of mine. Love should be an action, a way of treating someone, not a feeling. And to my mind, the way people think of love is directly related to the way our society treats marriage--if love is a feeling that must be sustained at all times in order to stay together, then yes, of course, many people will get divorced. 

What does this have to do with the gay marriage debate? I mean, I think gay people are just as capable as straight people of either falling for the juvenile understanding of love and marriage or taking the more sustainable, less fluffy approach. However, at least from what I've seen, the gay marriage debate has been a lot more about the "all you need is love" version. 

It's really just the idealistic flip side of my cynical "marriage doesn't mean anything anyway, so who cares?" Both "all you need is love" and "it doesn't mean anything anyway" are stances that dismiss the idea of marriage having any real substance beyond publicly announcing that you're in love and getting (very significant) government benefits. If we assume from the get-go that marriage is just about being in love, or marriage isn't about anything in particular, then of course, no, gay marriage won't change anything.

However, if marriage is about more than that, gay marriage could change the institution. For example, some argue that homosexuals are more likely to embrace open marriages--not unfaithful marriages, in which one spouse wants monogamy but isn't getting it, but open marriages, in which both spouses are okay with non-monogamy. I don't see a problem with this. I don't care what people do as long as everyone involved is involved consensually and is okay with the setup. However, marriage is associated with monogamy, and if a high enough percentage of marriages become publicly open marriages, that association may change. You can argue about whether that's a good or bad thing, but you can't claim it has no effect on the institution of marriage. And the same argument applies to the extent that the rationale for gay marriage completely opens the door for polygamous marriage.

Anyway, I'm rambling. The bottom line is in "my ideal America," people could commit to each other regardless of sexuality, and marriage would be taken a lot more seriously. Therefore I love the idea of letting gay and straight alike be able to choose between civil unions and marriages. 

Civil unions would be basically the way marriage is (or is becoming) now--all include no-fault divorce, whatever prenup you want (or none), whatever setup you want. Kids? No kids? Monogamous? Non-monogamous? Married for a few months? Married for years? Whatever. It's not our business, do whatever you want. 

Marriage, on the other hand, would be more old school, in the sense that no-fault divorce wouldn't apply. Adultery and abuse and the like would be grounds for divorce, but you have to have reasons, you have to show cause. Maybe people would have to have kids or adopt kids within a certain time frame...I'd want to think more on that. This still would not break down based on sexuality--gay or straight people could get married. But the point is the Institution of Marriage (TM) would be a separate, more serious institution reserved for people who truly want to commit for life and, possibly, reserved for people creating the family unit, which, I agree, is the building block of society.

I'd like to point out that I wouldn't get married. I would get a civil union, for sure. You see, I am straight, and--completely separate from the gay marriage debate--I have struggled a lot with the marriage question. I'm in my late twenties. I've been with the same man for years. For awhile people were wondering when we were going to get married, because it's just expected of a (heterosexual) couple if they've been together X amount of time, I guess. 

But I am afraid of getting married. I do think of marriage as a lifelong commitment, I take that very seriously, and I don't know if I could promise I would stay with one person my whole life. I don't want to mock the institution of marriage by going ahead and getting married because it's expected, when I'm not even sure, only to realize down the road that nope, I guess I was right, I can't commit for life. I don't think I am other-centered enough to get married. There are a lot of things less severe than abuse or adultery that I think I would leave over. I know legally I can leave for any reason I want, even if I do get married. But then why marry at all? What's the point of marriage if you can only feel okay going into it while reassuring yourself that you can always ditch if you want? Pathetic.

If marriage didn't have those connotations (at least in my head)--if there was another form of marriage where not just your spouse but society understood that you were making some sub-level of commitment but not the supreme commitment of marriage--I would feel more honest about it, and I'd probably do it tomorrow. That is, if civil union meant a less severe legal commitment, I'd get one.

And I'd love it if society divided it up like that. If we left marriage to be marriage, a commitment of more meaning, more devotion, less as-long-as-this-feels-good bullshit, and at the same time we also let people commit at an in-between level--commit to a more serious setup than just dating, but less serious than lifelong...that would be great.

I know it'll never happen. Even if we instituted it tomorrow, society doesn't work that way. People like me--who would love to have a civil union instead--would probably be the vast minority, as most people wouldn't like the connotation that they aren't every bit as serious about their commitment as everyone else.

Maybe we could set it up so that everyone starts with civil a phase after engagement but before marriage...and if they survive the first 10 years in a civil union or something, then they get married.

I don't know. I just want people of different sexualities to be treated equally, and I want marriage to mean as much to the rest of society as it does to me. The end.

So in my world, this guy would get married, and New Gingrich would have a civil union. Or several.