Why debate is necessary and painful

Contrary to those who say we needn’t debate what has been resolved, the

need for public debate arises from the nature of political persuasion itself. Persuasion is a slow accretion of reasons in the public consciousness. Reasons in support of a proposition and in opposition slowly become present for thinking in the memory of society as a whole. Despite its steady nature, however, persuasion is not gradual in its observable effects. People need to hear the same arguments repeatedly before they make conscious steps to change their minds, then they suddenly shift. Every debate is simultaneously a rehearsal (of old ideas) and an exploration (of new ideas).

That is why the mindset that confuses the need for debate with the validity of one of the sides in debate is as much an impediment to social progress as those who refuse to entertain new ideas altogether. It’s untrue that debate arises from a need to resolve a given issue; rather, decade is a vehicle of persuasion. The mindset that opposes this says in effect that (regardless of whether the refutation is understood by everyone) no debate is needed where there exist effective arguments against the refuted side of the debate. This is like thinking that once one has gotten out alive, there is no further need to go back into a burning building to rescue others. Never mind that the building is still half full of people — it is frightening and dangerous to go back. It might even feel unfair. Nevertheless we have a duty of care to those who remain unmoved to engage them.


Public familiarity with legal system

In common law, societal expectations (eventually) determine legal expectations. The interpretation of laws and the laws themselves change to reflect changing standards in duty of care. For example, the eighteenth century conception of torture of POW’s was much more limited than it is today. More familiarly, municipalities monitor typical traffic flow and adjust the speed limit (higher or lower) based on average or modal speeds. Here is the Nevada department of transportation recently doing just that:
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FNevadaDOT%2Fvideos%2F1383546958349396%2F&show_text=0&width=560 Like glaciers, the law grows and recedes in the crevices of public life based on people’s behaviour and changing social norms.

At the same time, the final forum for the examination of societal expectations is a court of law. When disputes arise between people, we expect that our most determined, strongly-felt moral judgements (“in the situation, you clearly ought to have done X and your having done”) will also find validation in law.

Yet it often happens that one or another of our firmest expectations are a product of grotesque social conditioning that a judge of the law will find disgusting – shallow or petty expectations of our fellow citizens that common law precedent has long expunged from consideration at law. For example, recently a dude decided that his irritation with his date’s using her phone to text message during their date was grounds for the dude to sue his date. Here is a video brief:

I think this is because (despite widely circulated reporting on salacious lawsuits) there’s generally no mechanism for reintegrating findings at law back into societal expectations. Indeed, to limit their liability, lawyers seem loathe to casually share or volunteer findings of law with the lay public based on the worry that such a digest will be understood as “legal advice”. Daytime reality TV courts do more to emphasize the personality of the judge than the character of the common law. For their part, courtroom dramas are obsessed with murder (their investigation and prosecution); worse, they often reproduce and exacerbate popular misconceptions about the law.

This is a problem, because the lay public needs to be “in touch” with the legal system so that we can gauge whether our most strongly felt societal expectations are plausible to the system of justice we’ve established, which we must ultimately depend upon to resolve disputes.

For now, my only suggested solution to this problem is that we need more people to be court watchers (go in person to watch public trials and hearings at the courts). Or perhaps we need a way of broadcasting trials that respects the parties’ privacy interests.

Collective deliberation as a theatre production

​Democratic deliberation is like a theatre play on repeated showing. People choose their parts in the play by adopting one of the various arguments available. Once everyone is tired of seeing the same play (hearing the same arguments be met with the same counter arguments), we make a collective decision to not reenact the play (revisit its arguments) if for no other reason than sheer boredom. This decision is crystallized as policy. This estoppel arrangement can only be maintained, however, so long as we remember the play’s synopsis: If we forget how it went, we may need to return to its stage and play it out a few more times to remind ourselves of its acts.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Riots in Baltimore

“When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

Feminist Philosophers

In the Atlantic:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie…

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The TransAdvocate interviews Catharine MacKinnon

Catherine MacKinnon, I misunderstood you.

Feminist Philosophers

Really interesting interview with Catharine MacKinnon here. I’ll only quote a few bits (I really am leaving out interesting things though, so do take a look yourself):

MacKinnon on who is a woman:

I always thought I don’t care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else’s. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman.

And on ‘bathroom panic’:

Many transwomen just go around being women, who knew, and suddenly, we are supposed to care that they are using the women’s bathroom. There they are in the next stall with the door shut, and we’re supposed to feel threatened. I don’t. I don’t care. By now, I aggressively don’t care.

On misrepresentations of her…

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My Name is Palestine

eL Seed is a French-Tunisian street artist whose works incorporate traditional Arabic calligraphy, a style he calls ‘calligraffiti.’ His art was born on the streets of Paris, and now adorns walls across every continent. (Wikipedia)

eL Seed - Arabic Inspired Street Painting

The olive tree: at once a symbol of peace throughout the mediterranean and an embodiment of identity deeply entranched in Palestinian culture. The olive tree is also the foundation for the economic activity and development in Palestine. Planting an olive tree, therefore, is both expressing a desire for peace and also a desire to protect lands from dispossession and ruin.

The scattered pockets of color which compose this mural are but a symbol of a culture, an identity, which is itself disjointed and in fragments. In contrast, the phrase ‘My name is Palestine’ affirms the existence of this identity. Naming is one manner through which to assert the presence of a people, a history, and a culture.

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“That’s just the internet”?

Sometimes discrimination can be easy to spot – for example, if a hotel turns you away because you’re gay. This is called direct discrimination. This is when you’re treated differently simply because of who you are.

But there are other times when you may be treated in the same way as everybody else, but it has a different and worse effect on you because of who you are. This is also discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 calls this indirect discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is when there’s a practice, policy or rule which applies to everyone in the same way, but it has a worse effect on some people than others. The Equality Act says it puts you at a particular disadvantage.


A health club only accepts customers who are on the electoral register. This applies to all customers in the same way. But Gypsies and Travellers are less likely to be on the electoral register and therefore they’ll find it more difficult to join.

This could be indirect discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers because of the protected characteristic of race. The rule seems fair, but it has a worse effect on this particular group of people.

Feminist Philosophers

From an article on internet comments sections over at The Guardian:

Recently, however, a colleague penned a piece that defended a woman – it doesn’t even matter which woman or what context. Every week brings a new reminder women are not welcome – especially on the internet.

The site published it proudly – however, and inevitably, the comment section ended up a fat sack of misogyny hanging like an unwanted testicle below it. This wasn’t a special case; it seems to happen every time a woman writes something that somehow defends some aspect of women’s autonomy.

A lot of times when people express their hatred for people’s behaviour online, wizards emerge to inform us, “That’s just the internet. Learn to deal with it.”

This assertion gives no humanity to victims: everyone is a blank, emotionless internet user, with no history of being targeted for her sex, race, sexuality…

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