Apr. 30th, 2012

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I'm on the bus back from Baltimore to NYC.

It was a good weekend in the Charm City. The conference didn't go quite as well as I would have liked, mostly because it was a little outside my expertise and also because it was only a single day - felt like just once I was getting into the swing of things the event was over. I think I was spoiled a bit by my last conference being spread over three days. At a minimum I got exposed to some interesting ideas that I hadn't been exposed to before. It focused on the intersection of race and gender, and asked whether there were distinctly different concepts of being male or female (or black/white/whatever shade of brown/etc.) mattered).

For the interested, I started out with a basic line of thought that has really bothered me in the healthcare debate: the idea that being forced to buy insurance was an infringement on your liberty. Now, we can disagree over whether forcing everyone to buy a service from a private company is the best way of organizing health care. And we can ask whether we need to tie it in to having a job or not; and whether choices like smoking, exercise level, fat intake, etc. should impact premiums. All of these are legitimate debates. But just because you don't like having to buy health insurance doesn't mean you're the only one impacted by not buying health insurance. Specifically, when you can't pay for care (one way or another) you force a ahrd choice on me: either pay for your care or allow you ot suffer. That second option makes me go against a relationship we have (as neighbors, fellow citizens, fellow humans, whatever). And relationships matter, particularly to women. They seem significant, and forcing me to violate my relationships seems immoral somehow. That issue just hasn't entered into the debate.

I started by talking about someone named Carol Gilligan. She basically said that men typically think in terms of mrules and women tend to think in terms of relationships. The problem is, if you want to move beyond talking about what people actually do to what they should do, you run into a problem. Either you have to say men are better than women or women are better than men - a problem for obvious reasons! - or you have to say there's some way we can explain how they're equal, even though they aim after different traits. One approach stems from gender essentialism, and it's basically the idea that character traits (say, being nurturing) make you a good woman but a bad man. There's some pretty obvious sexism there and it also makes women into a separate group from men, rather than two halves of the same whole. Which is, you know, not particularly cool.

The third way that I wanted to look at (surprise, surprise) came from Anselm. He said that good humans love well. We recognize the things we ought to love and then love it. But it's a two-way street; particularly with God but also with other things, our love helps us know something's worth. It directs our attention, it inspires awe and hope and other things that help motivate us to really think about something. There's a single activity that good humans ought to do, but you need both the rule approach we associate with love and the caring/relational approach we associate with women. As the old line goes, God took Eve not from the head of Adam to rule over him, nor from his feet so she might be trampled by him, but God took Eve from Adam's side to stand beside him. Or something like that. The basic idea is you have an ethics for humans but it respects all the human psyche, male and female and everything in between. Which, frankly, traditional ethics hasn't done such a great job of!

Anyway. Enough deep thought, and enough focusing on this paper. Back to God-talk and the ontological argument for me. For now, I'm happy to watch the world pass by.

Speaking of, this meme from FB completely cracked me up:

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