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Racism, sexism, agism, classism, et cetera – they suck, right?

I would like to propose a law that says that people in a position of privilege have a legal obligation to speak out on behalf of the less-privileged in the same category, or pay a penalty.

So men always have to speak up against misogyny, Caucasians against racism, the middle-class against classism and so on.

I’m particularly looking to get my fellow youngish straight cis white normally-abled middle-class men on side. Whaddaya say, fellas? Every time you hear someone being misogynist, racist, classist, agist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted, you have to speak up or lose a chunk of change?

No? Sounds exhausting? A bit excessive? Why the hell should you have to choose between speaking up or paying up?

Welcome to being on the receiving end. Every time something misogynistic gets said, a woman has to make the choice: fight or lose out. And she might be losing something worse than money. Every racist joke costs its target time and energy, or something else, whether a little peace of mind or self-confidence, a job, their personal safety… And so on; you get the idea. Every time someone is put down for some irrelevant attribute, there’s a choice: fight it or pay.

And if they aren’t around to hear, they don’t even get the choice to fight. They just have to pay, later, when the latent bigotry that’s been instilled and/or reinforced comes into play.

It’s one of the key ways in which the -isms suck. And if you’re at all fair-minded, you have to admit: it shouldn’t be up to the people who are already copping it to have to pay every time. So if you truly believe the -isms are wrong… guess we’ll be hearing from you.

Not a lot to say about this – most of it was rehashing all the myriad ways that privacy is almost a matter now of hoping people choose not to look too hard, especially as regards any interactions with the network. (And also the dangers of getting mixed up with other people who share your markers – name, address etc.)

The key issue, which was skirted around but never squarely addressed, was that privacy is heavily linked with questions of power differentials. The discussion of how modern privacy was a bit of a joke when you had servants around all the time (though you didn’t, in fact; but certainly the more general point stood, that you just had to assume that there were people who knew stuff about you and trust them not to share it) hinged on this point: the only way to enforce aristocratic privacy was the terrible power the upper class had over their inferiors. But it didn’t actually go there, nor to the critical point that any imbalance of power is exacerbated by differences in knowledge about each other. This is true both as a simple, passive translation of knowledge to power, with oppressors having the apparatus and disposable attention-hours to apply close observation and analysis that the oppressed usually cannot afford – something already seen in East Germany’s Stasi and the accompanying informant network – but more insidiously as an active incentive for corrupt people, those seeking power over their fellows, to find their way into the apparatus of surveillance. This isn’t limited solely to surveillance of course – but because surveillance is not directly harmful in and of itself (though it becomes so merely by being known, let alone by being applied) it is easier to rationalise.

Hope this is clear – doing the last-minute rush before sleep again!

Key points:

  • Simply reducing emissions is not enough; “if you’ve dug yourself into a hole, you don’t just stop digging, you need a ladder”. I.e. we need to reduce greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere and/or reduce global temperature.
  • Waiting for the biosphere to reabsorb the carbon liberated over the past centuries is a matter of further centuries. We need to take counteraction to break the positive feedback loop we are already seeing.
  • Two proposed fixes: dumping crop waste to the ocean floor rather than letting it biodegrade and release carbon back into the stratosphere; and releasing aerosolised sulfur into the atmosphere, initially above the Arctic for testing purposes, in order to reflect solar energy back into space.

Greg Benford is a very smart guy, and I was impressed by his presentation and the ingenuity and efficiency of the two key ameliorative techniques he presented. Many of my reservations were addressed. (Doesn’t dumping crop waste sequester elements other than carbon? Turns out that the particular waste types he’s proposing dumping, particularly corn stalks, don’t have much else in their composition. Doesn’t transporting the waste create more emissions? Not if you use river transport, which efficiently lets gravity do most of the work. Won’t there be effects on seabed biospheres? They’re studying it but it looks like there is little long-term harm. Doesn’t pumping sulfur into the atmosphere increase the risk of toxic/acid rain? Yes, and over decades the pH of the ocean will change, but there are other measures to counteract that… and the breathing space we get will enable us to concentrate on finding other tech to fix the core problem.)

However there are still a hell of a lot of questions there was no time to ask. How much will stratospheric sulfur precipitate, and what effect will that have on ice melt rates? (Is it like salt, which accelerates melting? That would be my assumption.) Are the metal frames which held the bales of sequestered crop waste in the study necessary every time? If not, does their absence change anything?

He was also far, far too acquiescent in the existing economic models that are precisely to blame for the problem. He kept talking about what is “affordable”; one of the key jobs for scientists, in my view, is to debunk the economic models that hold that minerals in the ground and – particularly – trees in a forest have no economic value until they are ripped out and injected into the human production chain. It’s the same mentality that makes a heart attack a hundred-thousand dollar boost to the economy – all that surgery, medication and equipment, isn’t it awesome how much money has to be found! The way to get the infrastructure we need to fix the problem is to ensure that the costs of inaction are accurately included. It isn’t that long ago that economists were seriously, unironically writing that they couldn’t see how a global temperature rise of even several degrees would have any major effect on industry, other than maybe increasing aircon bills in factories a bit, and agriculture would just have to shift specialities to the new climatic realities for their regions, but that wasn’t a big deal, people change crops all the time. Trying to muster resources to deal with the new realities in such a twisted framework is unnecessarily hard work, if it’s possible at all.

I’m also sick of the internal jockeying for who gets to be the heroes in this. Yes, engineering solutions will be indispensible to dealing with the problem. So will political and economic reform to reduce energy waste and excess emissions; there is no way around that either. As I think I mentioned in a post yesterday, greenies are usually pretty OK with technology having some part in dealing with the problem, though they do exhibit a certain wariness about further large-scale interventions. But given the history of humanity’s dealings with the environment, that’s kind of understandable, and unless confronted with absolute intransigence, I regard that as proper scientific scepticism. I’ve yet to see the equivalent of the claims I’ve seen here, that it’s “an engineering problem” (with overtones of that being the only significant part of the problem). I’m not saying that kind of crap never happens – I’m not exactly a central figure in these debates so I’m sure I’ve missed that sort of stuff – but either way it’s not like we can afford to be neglecting any avenue of attack on a problem of this scale and complexity. That means we need mutual encouragement and support, and joint action against the human systems that caused and sustain the problem, not territorial pissing contests. (Excuse the fused metaphor but I think the blend is not inappropriate… aside from the urinary element.)

So I’ve been looking into the Creative Commons licenses for my possibly-big thing. They are awesome and I will certainly be using them in future.

However, there’s a glaring omission. For those who don’t know, Creative Commons is basically a way of issuing a free blanket license on material whose copyright you own – basically allowing anyone to do anything they like under a range of standard terms, without all the headaches of getting clearances and permissions in advance.

The four standard options, which can be mixed and matched to some degree, are BY (if you use my stuff in your work, you have to credit me), NC (non-commercial: you can only use this if you’re not making money from it – if there’s profit involved I may want some so you have to contact me first), SA (share-alike: if you want to use my material you have to share whatever you make on the same terms as I just specified), and ND (no derivatives: you can only share this exactly the way it is, you can’t remix it or mash it into something new). See the link for proper explanations.

The problem I have is that, provided it’s not “commercial”, there’s no way to say “you can’t use this for political speech”. So if you create some awesome feisty feminist character and the local NeoCon franchulate, sorry, political party wants to make posters with her on them, they can do so freely provided none of the steps in the chain are “commercial”.

Now, I know there’s a mighty fine line (or else a very wide, smeared one) between opinion and political speech. But I’m pretty sure most jurisdictions already have legal definitions of political speech for regulatory purposes. Here in Oz, it’s the stuff that has to have that little spiel “Authorised by so-and-so”. So my suggestion for an NP clause for the Creative Commons is something along the lines of simply:

“You can’t use this if you’re working (whether paid or unpaid) for a political party or a government agency; you can’t use this in anything that would count as political advertising for other legal purposes, or to advocate voting or otherwise supporting a particular political party; and you can’t use this in material that is primarily intended for an audience of politicians or members of a political party.”

Does it work for you?

[This is actually a follow-up to the following post (i.e. the one above), but in order to make it appear underneath the OP I’m posting it first. I’m sure there’s a neater way to do it but I’m rushed for time and this works. ]

I also thought about suggesting an RV (Respect Values) clause, which is sort of a more full-on version of the NP clause. The basic idea is that, to use the same example, your awesome feminist character can only be used to promote the same values she was clearly created to embody. Using her to promote sexist bilge – some smartypants having her mope about how nice it’d be if only she had a man to please, for instance – would constitute a violation of copyright and could result in a lawsuit.

But I’m really not sure about the idea. If it worked as planned, it could make more people willing to release stuff to Creative Commons, but it would probably generate a tonload of case law and could be used by court junkies to generate lawsuits. It also raises the question of what to do if someone you decide has breached the RV terms can point to someone else’s work which is more extreme and say that they genuinely didn’t realise your character was supposed to embody particular ideals… you could get around this by specifying broad principles the character stands for in the license the same way you do the attribution text for the BY license though… hm. Still all seems like a bit too much work.

But an interesting idea, so I’ll post it anyway 😛

I’d do something to recognise the paradox that undermines all representative democracy: even if you choose a person who is genuinely a member of the local community and committed to representing the same, the very business of going off to the centre of power to participate in government exposes them to ideas, influences and concerns which may be completely outside the experience of the community they are supposed to represent.

In such a situation, do you act on what you now know? Or do you act to represent your constituents – even though you may now know them to be in the wrong?

This is one of the central flaws in representative democracy as it is currently practiced: that this tension is not openly stated and understood.

So my party would recruit and promote its candidates on the following basis:

  • They are grounded in local issues but capable of dealing with the bigger picture;
  • They are expected to deal with the bigger picture, and manage both outwards and inwards (i.e. represent their constituency to the wider community – but, crucially, also vice versa);
  • That wherever possible before they contribute to a decision they will have a chance to come back to share the information they have because of their privileged position with their constituency, in order to synchronise their perspective with the constituency’s to whatever extent possible;
  • That where possible the above will happen over some time, to allow for questions arising from the community to be answered;
  • That there is an expectation that the constituency will take some responsibility for paying attention to the stuff being brought back by their representative.

…And this is why my party would almost certainly fail completely.

I don’t, however, believe that spending time on consultation such as this is wasted. Time spent making the decision, vetting the idea, getting everyone on board, etc leads to better decisions – and it means implementation is less likely to be sabotaged because more of the bunfights have already happened. Plus there is the little matter of respecting and seeking the consent of the governed.

Urgh. Need sleep. Sorry if this is muzzy – it gets that from me.

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