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Chris Bertram Isn't A Libertarian And Neither Am I; Or, Just Because Everyone Consented Doesn't Mean Nothing Wrong Is Happening

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.09.12

There was an interesting post on Crooked Timber a week or two ago (Fuck me or you're fired!), linking to a post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians about what could possibly be wrong with a boss giving a "Fuck me or you're fired" ultimatum. If you're in favor of sex work being legal, what's the difference between "Fuck me or you're fired" and "Take this package down to the post office or you're fired"? And given that the latter is clearly fine, why shouldn't the former be? The BHL post ended up resting on the idea that it was a bait and switch problem -- the idea is that most workers weren't hired with an implicit agreement that sex was going to be part of their duties, so springing that on them unexpectedly would be wrong, and if you could get past that problem, maybe it wouldn't be wrong. You know, the sort of conclusion libertarians come up with.

The Crooked Timber discussion is pretty good, with attention to issues of abuse of power, and how sex work is fundamentally different from other work, so even if you think it should be legal, there should be more protections for sex workers. What I found interesting, though, is a simple point that's implicit but not really highlighted in the CT conversation: that using consent as a baseline rule of thumb for determining whether someone is being wrongfully mistreated or injured in an interaction between people isn't useful at all.

Consent isn't irrelevant -- if something's happening to someone they haven't consented to, you can presume that it's a wrong, and then see if maybe it falls into some exception that makes it permissible to act on another person without their consent. But situations like quid pro quo sexual harassment seem to me to involve actual consent -- the difference between "fuck me and you're fired" and "mail this package or you're fired" doesn't seem to me to be that an employee who accedes to the first demand has not consented in the same way that an employee who accedes to the second demand. The difference is that regardless of that consent, the first demand is abusive in a way the second demand isn't.

And while bringing sex into it helps drive my belief that there's something wrong with quid pro quo harassment even where the victim consents, I don't think there's a specific sex-only problem with consent. Unpaid internships work just as well: in a tight labor market, you can get people who are willing to work hard and usefully without pay so that they have the experience for their resumes, and may be able to get paying work in the future. People who do this sort of unpaid work are clearly straightforwardly consenting to do it. They're still being exploited by their employers, and an agreement to work for an employer for free, in the absence of an educational or charitable motive, is still the sort of thing that should be prohibited. Workplace safety rules? People will consent to take jobs knowing that they're likely to get hurt -- the workers' knowledge and consent does not mean that it's all right to leave the safety guards off the machine tools.

This does not get me to a easy rule distinguishing abusive employment and other relationships from acceptable ones. But I had, in a unexamined way, thought of consent as a useful rule of thumb that would tell you a situation was probably unexceptionable: it seems plausible when you don't think about it too hard. Thinking about it in the context of quid pro quo harassment and the other examples I brought up above, I now think that lack of consent can tell you there's a problem, but the presence of consent doesn't, by itself, give rise to any kind of presumption that an employment or other relationship is not a serious problem.


 

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Auto-focus task manager

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.08.12

My friend is trying out this auto-focus system for getting tasks done. Basically you keep a running list of your tasks - across any arena of life - and they naturally filter themselves over time. (There's some details about different pages in your task book and having a highliter around.)

Remember when we were classifying tasks as either important/not important and urgent/not urgent? The point then was that grad school was full of important-but-not-urgent tasks, which is a total mindfuck, and teaching is full of not-important-but-urgent tasks, which is rather pleasant and makes you feel productive.

I'd try out the system above if I found myself back in an important-but-not-urgent job. I'm not sure how well it'd work, though, for tasks that you completely hate. For most of us, we eventually tackle that task because our anxiety eventually outweighs our hatred of the task. This auto-focus system still rests on that same mechanism - anxiety eventually kicks in and drives you to choose your most hated task. Or you never deal with the hated task, and deal instead with the fallout.

The point being that someone here should try it out and report back to us. Be sure to list "commenting" as one of your task because I don't want to lose commenters just because I posted this stupid thing.


 

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Neurofeedback

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.07.12

A friend told me this story: She got to play a neurofeedback videogame with some friends, at a museum. Whoever was the most relaxed won the game. Then they decided to play to lose - whoever was most keyed up and anxious would reverse-win the game. My friend rocked this round and handily beat everyone. Then the game ended and everyone dispersed and went home. As she was leaving the museum she realized "Oh my fucking god, I am as keyed up and stressed out as I've ever been in my life, and I have to go to bed and get up in the morning." She ended up going running and pacing and trying everything, and was really kind of locked in the anxious-hell for a while.

I'd love to try neurofeedback sometime. It sounds like the video-game version of meditation. What my ego secretly wants is for it to show that I'm terribly chill and relaxed and that I already get all the benefits of meditation without having to sit still and be blank. My superego is duly embarrassed to admit that.


 

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Guest Post - lw

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.07.12

Three links about privacy. Basically, I believe that stuff like telephone logs and financial transaction records will create huge political instabilities, maybe have already behind closed doors.

First, there is no liability to US companies that violate their own stated privacy policies.

Second, two examples of phone records being used to destroy (bad) officials - Boston, and Prague.

In the second case the source were secret police. I don't see a source for the first, but phone records can be bought from shady telco employees quite cheaply. I always say "God Bless America" loudly after criticizing the government in my own living room.


 

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Buying elections

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.06.12

So last year, we argued about Citizens United, and loosely speaking, the lawyers among us argued that the corporations already had unlimited means of channeling money wherever they saw fit, and wasn't my naivete kind of sweet? It was weirdly consoling.

Anyway, is anyone's opinion changing, now that actual elections are playing out? I have no idea what kind of funding Scott Walker would have gotten pre-Citizens, nor do I know what's a reasonable comparison.

Emotionally I still feel like Citizens marked a terrible, new era of corruption. I just don't know enough to make a case for it.


 

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Small talk

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.06.12

People who can happily chat about themselves for long stretches are great for overcoming awkward smalltalk. I can ask questions all day long. It's much harder to hold conversation with strangers or acquaintances when both people have a healthy dose of self-consciousness.

Basically small groups of at least 3 people are always less lethal than being stuck with just one other person that you don't know well. The worst I've seen is math people. At times, at conferences you might be at a banquet, sitting around a table with eight people, and nobody could keep conversation going. Everyone looks around expectantly, eventually someone would ask a question, one person would answer, and then it would die again. Again and again. It's exhausting to sit there and try to think up new innocuous questions to ask, and feels especially futile when you know one person might contribute and then it will die again. Obviously not every single dinner goes this badly, but that's the only context when I've been around that big a group that is so unable to keep light conversation going.


 

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ATM: talking about race to small children

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.05.12

At the pool last week, Hawaiian Punch was playing with the black 10 year old son of a friend. To get his attention, Hawaii called "Hey, brown kid! Brown kid!" Jammies was right there, and corrected her about calling people by their names.

It's hard to figure out how to start explaining the problem with calling him "Brown kid", because we call each other by nicknames all the time. And body/feature-based nicknames, ie "Hey Messy-face! Get over here!" So it's time to start talking to her about race. But there are really two tasks - 1) historical background, and 2) practical guidelines as to what's okay for her to say and not to say.

Let's have a discussion about this. Advice welcome.


 

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In contrarian columns

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.05.12

Wow, Ezra. That's really stupid.

(Near the end he acknowledges that voting for Romney so that Republicans won't crash the economy might set a bad precedent.)

Via Cecily


 

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I consider this pretty awesome

Posted by Ben
on 06.04.12

I can't believe I found out about the new Edmund Welles album only after it had already been out for ten months.


 

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Geek Trionfante

Posted by Ben
on 06.04.12

What's next? What's next? I ask you. We have known the locavore. We have seen the butcher shop and the butcher set on a pedestal, even to the point of shops that offer classes, furnishing their patrons with the opportunity to cut flesh in the large. Pollan of the baleful influence has sparked a resurgence in the "lost" "art" of hunting. Part and parcel, no doubt, of a feeling of hollowness to modernity, a feeling that older, more brutal, more "primitive" things are ipso facto realer and better. And indeed going along with a feeling that one is thereby being more honest about what one is doing, something even Elizabeth Costello can acknowledge: “We can call this primitivism. It is an attitude that is easy to criticize, to mock. It is deeply masculine, masculinist. Its ramifications into politics are to be mistrusted. But when all is said and done, there remains something attractive about it at an ethical level.” Or this acknowledgement by Cora Diamond: “It does normally, or very often, go with the idea of a fellow creature, that we do eat them. But it then characteristically goes with the idea that they must be hunted fairly or raised without bad usage. The treatment of an animal as simply a stage (the self-moving stage) in the production of a meat product is not part of this mode of thinking…”

Whatever the attractions are of this primitivism, not everyone can partake. As Costello goes on: “It is also impractical … you do not feed our four billion people through the efforts of matadors or deer hunters armed with bows and arrows. There is no time to honor and respect all the animals we need to feed ourselves.” What, then, is next? Can the celebrated locavore eat peacefully knowing that his steak ate only prairie grass and was killed by hand? No—not just like that, surely. More in the way of expiation is needed. The means are there, however. For has not our obsession with the pastness of the past led to a revival of the burlesque, the circus, not just as they were, but as one's work? Is not the time ripe, I ask, precisely for the geek, not in its modern but in its chicken-biting sense?

The geek is there to perform a service for us, we who cannot hunt, cannot butcher; the geek performs a grisly act of respect for the animal without and the animal within—no deer hunter is as personally involved in the death of his prey as the geek is in that of his chicken. The teeth crunching through cartilage, the mouth filled with blood (and no doubt at least occasionally whatever sand and pebbles are there in the gizzard)—here is something real. Not, admittedly, something we in the audience experience directly! But we are nevertheless in its presence. One can imagine meat-eaters making attendance at a geek's performances a weekly ritual.


 

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Scott Walker

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.04.12

So what do you all think is going to happen in Wisconsin tomorrow? I'm extremely nervous about it, as a test case for the November election.


 

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Allergies

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.04.12

A certain friend did this thing at lunch last week: "Since I last saw you, I found out I'm allergic to broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, citrus, and a bunch of other ordinary vegetables and food staples."

No, you just aren't. I don't believe you. I would believe, however, that we're ingesting a shit-ton of sketchy chemicals and phthalates through daily living, and that plausibly those generally make some people's immune systems freak out and start having reactions to ordinary foods. I would further believe that the chemical companies successfully suppress research linking the effects of their compounds from being widely publicized, and so you get a population of people believing that they are spontaneously allergic to most vegetables.

Also: when did pistachios stop being red? Why were they red in the first place? Just to cover your fingers in nasty staining dust?


 

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