Top post and disclaimer

This is the permanent top post for Mikhail Ramendik’s blog.

All opinions in this blog, unless explicitly stated otherwise, belong to Mikhail Ramendik alone. Mikhail Ramendik does not represent any company, organization, church, or any other entity except himself.

Mikhail Ramendik’s Russian language blogs:

http://ramendik.livejournal.com -general

http://ramendik.diary.ru – fandom

 

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A response to Jane Clare Jones

Commented at her critique of Judith Butler https://janeclarejones.com/2019/01/24/judith-butler-how-to-disappear-patriarchy-in-three-easy-steps/comment-page-1/#comment-2604 ; posting here n case she does not publish.

The Second Wave was not a monolith, even its radical part. Shulamith Firestone in 1970 actually called for male and female to become socially irrelevant, pretty much the stuff you do not want.

However, something rather more important than un-retirement of an old academic has just happened. Those brave defenders of the right of women, Posie Parker and Venice Allan, were flown to the US and welcomed by the Heritage Foundation. Moreover, in a display of total dominance (whether or not Butler would find it “necessary”), Heritage distributed brochures at the event which listed being forced to “affirm same sex marriage” as one of the dangers of the sugested Equality Act. At an event where lesbians spoke. None of them rose to leave.

This is more than Stockholm Syndrome, this is a short leash. When after that the women went on to barge into HRC to harass people there, and actually posted a video of themselves doing that, this got more coverage, but I think the brochure moment was crusial in demonstrating total control by Heritage.

You wrote previously that trans activists somehow “invented” your ilk being in cahoots with the trad right. Right now, this is all out in the open. And Jean Hatchett, who protested against this act, was immediately and viciously attacked by her former (and your!) comrades. She was now driven off Twitter by them, despite being a known terminal cancer patient. By them, not by the trans and pro-trans crowd.

I understand you may have thought otherwise honestly. But the link to the far right of the trad variety – nay, the control by it – is now out in the open. It is your choice where to stand now.

Suggestion: Munster railcar network

I think that public transportation commuting in much of Munster can be significantly improved by means of railcars (sometimes called “railbuses”), without the need to create completely new railroads, purchase any land, and much can be achieved even without putting down tracks where they were previously lifted.

I would suggest developing a railcar network over the existing Limerick-Limerick Junction-Waterford line, the Limerick Junction-Cork part of the main Dublin-Cork line, and the closed but in-situ Limerick to Foynes line.

Limerick to Foynes: not just freight

I’ll start with Limerick-Foynes. As Foynes is an active port, reopening the line for freight gets on the radar frequently. I suggest that to maximize the value of the investment it should be reopened for both freight and railcar traffic.

The station buildings, which were sold off, are not needed, as the railcar should be operated as a diesel tram. It should have unattended platforms with automatic ticket machines, and also support the Leap card. Car parking should be provided at the platforms. Railcars should run a few times per day to support typical work commute times; there should also be a late railcar, starting from Limerick about 10.30-11pm, to support people going for a night out in town.

Apart from the traditional stops on this line, a new stop, if not two, should be added to serve Raheen Business Park and the leafy Raheen-Ballysimon housing estates.

As the line is single-track, the service can not really be frequent, but that’s fine. About 4 trains in each direction (early morning, late morning after school run, commute evening, and late night) would do a lot already. Freight can use the line the rest of the time.

An inexpensive restoration of the line is likely to result in a 40 mph (60 kph) speed limit, but even that is not a huge issue, as the railcar would still deliver good time in peak hours because it avoids traffic. Ideally, of course, the restoration should aim at a 60 mph (100 kph) speed limit on most of the line.

Limerick to Waterford: super low hanging fruit

There is already a railcar-type service from Limerick to Limerick Junction linking up with trains to Dublin and Cork and, twice a day, to another railcar service to Waterford.

It would take very small effort to add platforms at Dromkeen, Pallasgreen, and Oola. Again, these platforms should operate as unattended stops (I think the railway term is a “halt”) with automatic ticket sales machines; the Leap card should also be supported. This would increase travel times for linked services by a few minutes, but would create commuting opportunities for many people; with reasonable car parking this would cover a pretty vast area.

The Limerick Junction to Waterford service already has well-placed intermediate stops in major towns. However the service itself should be increased to 4 times a day to enable commutes to Waterford; right now it seems to be optimized solely for commutes to Limerick as the earliest service arrives to Waterford at midday.

Cork to Limerick Junction (on to Limerick): bringing towns onto the network

Between Limerick Junction and Cork, a few significant towns, such as Kilmallock, Buttevant, Blarney, are close to the track but not served by the railway.

This happens because the intercity service is time-critical. Adding stops to this service would mean slower travel between the first and second cities of the Republic of Ireland.

My suggestion would be learning from continental Europe: running an intercity service and a commuter service on the same line. Indeed something like that is already implemented on the very same line between Dublin Heuston and Portlaoise. But in the case of Munster, the commuter service is probably best off as a railcar, which, again, enables small unattended platforms.

My suggestion would be running a railcar between Cork and Limerick via Limerick Junction, stopping at every town, while the intercity service continues at its present schedule of stops. As the railcar is slower and schedules are not always perfect, facilities to put the railcar on a side track and let the intercity pass shuld be provided at Limerick Junction and Mallow. Ideally, this railcar would also take over the current arrangement of synchronized passenger transfer from Limerick to Dublin and Cork intercity trains and back. Railcars already run from Mallow to Cork; some (or all) of the runs could instead be all the way Limerick-Junction-Cork and back, and additional Mallow runs could be added if necessary,

This would enable both Cork and Limerick commutes for the towns brought into the service, while keeping or extending the coverage that Mallow now has.

Brief personal political manifesto

This is a brief (well, compared to writing an article on each issue) summary of my political views, as an Irish citizen, as of January 2019. Not all have the same weight, and just being in a minority on some one issue would not preclude me from working with a political force. And I am not some prophet; my mind can change. But this is where I stand right now.

Some issues are not covered, I am one person, not a political party. I can’t think of everything and I don’t experience everything.

Critical: foreign policy

This is one issue on which an *actively* different point of view (notably on the neutrality/war points) might be a deal breaker.

I oppose all Western military involvement in the Middle East. I opposed the wars in Iraq and especially Libya. I oppose any support for Syrian “rebels”.

I support Ireland keeping its neutrality and, moreover, normalizing diplomatic relations with the Syrian Arab Republic. I am strongly critical of Saudi Arabia and oppose any arms shipments to the country.

I oppose the use of Shannon for NATO military flights.

I oppose “Russia-baiting” and have strong doubts about Russian involvement in the Skripal case. I am sympathetic to Russian action in Syria including liberation of Aleppo. I admit, however, that Russia’s record on internal democracy and on several human rights areas, notably free speech and LGBT rights, is very blemished and well worthy of strong criticism.

I believe that the Ukraine situation must be settled peacefully in accordance with the Minsk agreements. I believe, on the evidence I have, that Ukraine is no better than Russia on free speech, and quite possibly still worse. (It was definitely worse in 2014 but Russia has adopted new laws limiting speech since then).

(Regarding Israel and Palestine, I support a two state solution, oppose settlements on territory Israel does not even claim as its own, and do not like the BDS movement, but this one is far less important – as long as no Western troops are on the ground and no Western bombs hit anywhere).

“National question”, Irish unity, Irish history, and Europe

I am firmly in the Fine Gael/”free stater” camp on interpreting the Irish Civil War. (I did consider joining Fine Gael back in 2013 after I was naturalized, but their foreign policy and later their housing policies put an end to the idea).

I believe that membership in the European Union has been an unblemished positive for Ireland, *including* the matter of immigration. EU immigration has largely been harmonious with Irish culture.

I have some sympathy with those supporters of Unionism and of Partition in the 1910s who were afraid of “Rome Rule”, implementation of Roman Catholic social policy. While independent Ireland never had organized persecution of Protestants, it had, for decades, a regressive record on civil liberties, largely under Roman Catholic Church influence. I highly value W.B.Yeats and think that his statements on the matter, while not without problems, have generally been wise and to a degree even prophetic.

However I believe that the issue of “Rome Rule” died in 2015 and was buried in 2018, with two Referendums leaving that social policy definitively in the past. Therefore the arrangement of two jurisdictions on one small island no longer makes any sense.

Moreover, bizarrely, strong Unionists are now also strong social conservatives – and this stuff just never made any sense. Starting with Ian Paisley, who managed to do battle against “Sodomy” and against the biggest anti-“Sodomy” organization in the world, the Roman Catholic Church at the very same time! The macabre spectacle continues as the same Northern party now fights for “British as Finchley” and against same-sex marriage. The current MP for Finchley, Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Party, is *in* a same-sex marriage!

I believe that attacks on civilians related to the troubles were never justified and that the Provisional split, followed by a rapid descent into attacks on civilians, has put an end to any hope of success of traditional Republicanism by destroying any moral high ground it held previously. But the present arrangement makes no sense anyway.

It would be ideal to see the European Union make the border gradually irrelevant until the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland. Scotland, Wales, and England are close together in a European confederation (with the Euro and, possibly, metric system to boot). Unfortunately, the scourge of Brexit has put the border firmly back on the map. I believe that the only solution that would let Britain have a clean Brexit involves a united or federal Ireland, all of it still in the EU, or even a Celtic Federation (all Ireland and Scotland) in the EU; the latter might be more acceptable to Ulster Scottish Protestants.

I believe that the Republic of Ireland should seek to learn from “our gallant allies” in Germany how to prepare for, and pay for, a reunification. It should also ensure it can show itself as welcoming to all communities of the North. For this end, the Dubln & Wicklow Loyal Orange Lodge should be permitted to march in Dublin, without any paramilitary banners or paraphernalia; I would suggest a Dawson Street (historical HQ) to St. Patrick’s Cathedral route, firmly away from the GPO (being on the “leafy” South side helps too).

The economy

I believe that the Celtic Tiger was very far from “for nothing”. By welcoming foreign investment, creating a liberal tax regime, and using its position as a gateway to the EU, Ireland has transformed itself, and this transformation remains there even after the burst bubble. (But I would say this, woulnd’t I? I came here to work for multinationals, and am doing so still).

I do think the bank guarantee to bondholders was a critical mistake if not worse. Ireland should not have taken on sovereign debt and instead should have allowed some banks to fail, guaranteeing the accounts, but not the bonds.

Ireland needs to continue and improve as a high-value, high-tech, high-finance hub. The corporation tax rate must be maintained, but this rate must be collected. Companies relocating EU services from the UK must be welcomed. They should be offered strong incentives to locate in cities other than Dublin, including Limerick. Local related services will thrive as a result.

This does not mean neglecting agriculture, tourism, and other “native” industries, of course. I am simply incompetent to say much about them, as I only ever worked in IT. (Boosting public transport, as I describe lower, would also boost tourism in more rural locations – look at the Netherlands!)

A comprehensive welfare system, a reasonable minimum wage, and a managed system of requirements on contracts and labour rights do help, and not hinder, a civilized labour market. Ireland should keep and strengthen its system and never comprehend disastrous changes similar to the UK’s “universal credit”. The ban on zero hour contracts was long overdue. However, crackdowns on high-value contracting (a common staple of IT) and other similar issues, where poverty is not a concern, should be avoided. Let the market take care of itself where it can do so without crushing people.

Housing

The issue of housing has become a major problem in Ireland, and the government is evidently failing to make a dent in rising homelessness and increasing problems that people face.

However, from Soviet experience, I honestly do not believe in the state itself running a major building programme. The cost numbers from Limerick regeneration schemes were also not inspiring; they were similar to house prices in fairly different areas of Limerick at that time. The state is fit to govern, to manage, not to produce.

And so it should govern and manage, using the tools at its disposal, which are planing and taxation. Urgent measures must be taken to force an increase of supply and to protect people from becoming homeless. On top of what is already being done with the rental market, and of the obvious measures like a set percentage of social housing in new developments, I would suggest the following steps:

  • A punitive tax on vacant land zoned residential. This is probably the most important measure in the medium to long term.
  • A punitive tax on unfinished dwellings (after 2 years), aimed at “ghost estates” that are not sold on even now; should not apply to one-offs when the family owns only one such dwelling, probably.
  • A punitive tax on vacant homes. Equal to about 25% of market rent, it would apply only in housing pressure areas, so no worries about that holiday home in Cahersiveen or that derelict cottage at the edge of the farm. All owners of vacant houses in such areas should be sent a letter that the tax kicks in after three months; the letter should include offers of a HAP tenant and, if necessary, refurbishment trust (see below). If a HAP tenant can not be provided the tax does not apply.
  • A refurbishment trust programme – I think this already exists, where the trust refurbished the house then rents it out to recoup the cost.
  • A surrender-and-rent programme for homeowners in deep mortgage arrears. A bank should not be allowed to evict before offering that programme.
  • Tax incentives for rent-to-buy programmes, which are a much safer way of “getting onto the ladder” for younger people than 100% mortgages were. I would suggest that if a part of the rent goes into a deposit saving, the tax on this part should be refundable in the event that the purchase takes place.

Social liberty, including free speech and LGBTQ

Suppression of people’s identities and of people’s speech are two sides of the same coin, as we can well see from Section 28, from the recent abuse of obscenity laws against LGBTQ works, and from the present “propaganda law” in Russia.

I had my questions in the past, but at present I fully and enthusiastically support sex-neutral marriage in Ireland and legal self-identification of gender. Transgender health care in Ireland must be improved to catch up with Western standards. Many people notice that Ireland’s tolerance towards gender-diverse people is remarkably high; this should be celebrated and built upon.

The government must not follow in the footsteps of Russia and China by regulating (blocking) website/social media content, nor in the footsteps of the suggested measure in the UK requiring identification when accessing adult websites.

Current law must be clarified so that LGBTQ and sex education materials distributed to adolescents electronically (which do not meet the definition of obscenity or pornography) are clearly legal. The present formula at http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/act/2/section/8/enacted/en/html makes sending such material arguably illegal.

I actually support changing the age of consent to the UK (and Canadian, and Russian) value of 16 but this is not a high priority.

I have no personal opinion on the debate about the Nordic Model. I do have reasons to distrust Rachel Moran as a political activist, though. She suddenly got “worried” about the effects of gender self-identification, three years after it was introduced, but coinciding with the attempts of the far right to establish itself in Ireland.

I support legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use; driving under its influence should of course be illegal.

Female genital mutilation (or vaginal mutilation) must be suppressed, with measures including mandatory removal of children from families where a child was found to be mutilated, unless the parents cooperate with prosecution of the mutilators. I would suggest that the children’s rights amendment makes this lawful.

While a ban on male circumcision at present would be overkill, male circumcision performed outside a proper medical facility must be effectively banned – and when it leads to harm or death, must be prosecuted with the full force of the law. The acquittal of Osajie Ighinedion https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/jury-clears-nigerian-man-involved-in-circumcision-death-case-25960678.html was unacceptable and must be clearly rejected, with legislation if necessary. There is a new case going through the system and should be prosecuted vigorously: https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/man-54-charged-with-endangerment-of-life-after-crude-circumcision-on-baby-37703414.html

Abortion

I am no fan of abortion but I do not believe in prohibition, and (reluctantly) voted Yes to repeal. I believe that an unborn human is human and that at some point (later than conception or implantation but earlier than birth) the fetus becomes a person. I would however not permit the state to force any person to share their very body with another person, which is why abortion must be safe, legal, and rare. I broadly agree with the Irish legal regime as adopted.

While I was sympathetic to the pro-life movement in the past, its modus operandi in Ireland in recent years has convinced me that it is fully counterproductive and does not have the interests of the unborn human at heart. The gory images, for example, only ever made things worse. Moreover, except for Renua, no pro-lifers in Ireland have noticed the link between social deprivation (notably the recent homelessness crisis) and abortion. One could argue that a balance existed in pre-2014 Ireland with an abortion ban and a reliable safety net for single mothers; the safety net was unraveled and abortion had to come in next. I am not saying this is necessarily right – I am saying the pro-lifers seem not to notice the issue!

And even now all they do is seek out abortion providers for noisy small-crowd protests. If they were, instead, to disperse, standing one person at a place with leaflets offering exhortation and material help to pregnant people in a bid to change their minds about abortion, they would actually save more unborn lives but make less of a media impact!

I do believe the state needs to take some measures to reduce abortion, but none of them punitive:

  • Offer subsidized, if not free, contraception, including voluntary use of long-term implants/injections (they are already available in Ireland but should be free or nearly free)
  • Ideally add a one-off social welfare payment on delivery of a child, including a stillbirth.

In the long term, the only solution to the quagmire of rights involvd in abortion is development of “extracorporeal gestation”, the artificial womb into which an unborn human could be evacuated at an early stage of pregnancy. This is not unimaginable and some animal tests were successful. If the pro-life movement cared about unborn lives, they would have put money into THAT instead of propaganda and lobbying!

Such technology, when proven and established, would lower the gestational age of viability and thus automatically restrict traditional abortion under existing law, as evacuation of the fetus becomes offered instead. A win-win, pro-life AND pro-choice.

Education

I might differ from the Irish left-liberal mainstream on this one. Based on Soviet experience, I am deeply suspicious of single state-run education systems, and I see a lot of value in the Irish system because it is competitive.

However this value is only realized when it is actually competitive – for example, look at the excellent schools of Adare, where two systems exist in the same village. There is no competition when the Roman Catholic system holds effective monopolies over large swathes of territory where other schools don’t exists or are overbooked.

The state must ensure that at least two primary and two secondary schools cover every area: Roman Catholic and something else (whether Church of Ireland, Educate Together or VEC). Eligibility for school transport to the nearest non-RC school should no longer depend on religion, as even Catholics sometimes want a non-Catholic education for their children. (Similarly, in the rare case the nearest school is non-RC, eligibility for transport to the nearest RC school should not depend on religion).

A minimum curriculum including fact-based sex education should be maintained and enforced across all schools.

Church of Ireland secondary schools should be transitioned, in an organized way, into the free fees system, on the same basis as VEC secondary schools (where voluntary religious teacher labour is also not used).

I see no reason to object to establishment of Muslim schools where demand exists, subject to the same regulations, including sex ed curriculum, as other schools.

The student contribution to 3rd level fees should not be increased, and a decrease should be considered, especially for institutions that are not Universities.

Transportation

Having covered the “grand” issues that interest me, I come to the ones that actually matter in local politics, and of these, transportation is foremost.

Ireland’s public transport situation is critically bad compared to Western European standards and improvement must be rapid. No amount of electric cars can achieve an impact close to a decent public transport system.

All towns must be served with commuter-type buses to the nearest city. In county Limerick, significant improvement of bus service is needed in places like Kilfinane.

The M20 must still be built, as the absence of this road is quite painful and there is no workable fast rail link from Limerick to Cork anyway (the Limerick to Charleville line is gone for good as I understand). Once the M20 is built, adequate bus service must be ensured.

The bus routes in the city must be reviewed to ensure interconnection between city buses and the Bus Eireann buses that serve as county commuters. Right now, there can be quite a walk between these buses.

Serious consideration must be given to improving rail services for commuting, including reopening of the Kilmallock station, opening stations at Pallasgreen and Oola, and bringing the idea of Moyross Station back on the table. Reopening of the Limerick to Foynes railway should be considered not only for freight, but for tramway-type diesel railcar service. (I am aware that station buildings were sold off, but a tramway/railcar service does not require station buildings, the LUAS has none).

Equestrian issues

I am generally incompetent to judge the specific issues around the Travelling community; being a literal neighbour does not make me competent. However, there is one area that concerns that community primarily but not solely and is also of interest to me, and that is the treatment of and accommodation for horses.

I believe that all forms of equestrian activity and, indeed, many forms of equestrian transport are, when properly managed, beneficial for the economy, culture, and environment of Ireland.

I would legalize and regulate sulky racing to ensure both animal welfare and cultural expression. I would accommodate horses around social and other housing in a regulated way, ensuring that bylaws regarding microchipping and inspections can be fulfilled.  I would suggest introducing basic equestrian education in the school cycle, ideally in a Traveller-led approach, but with attendance certainly not limited to any group of children; I firmly believe that controlled interaction with horses is beneficial for most people.

I would moreover look at limited accommodation for actual equestrian transport, which is at present not illegal, and actually exists, but enjoys no facilities at all. Yes, I mean hitching posts. I have seen a trap (or cart, but not a sulky, it accommodated two people) stop at a petrol station in the city so the drivers could get some food; it was not pretty, and I do not think the drivers treated the horse right. Accommodate, legalize, regulate to maximize animal welfare – and to enable alternatives to cars.

A licensing scheme (with a test) to ride or drive equines on the public road unaccompanied could be considered, but should not impact accompanied riding, notably tourist “treks” that need to use stretches of public road to reach their destinations.

 

 

 

 

Letter to MEPs re Article 13

I have sent the following letter to all MEPs of the Ireland South constituency. I also sent it to the party email address of Liadh Ni Riada, as I feel she might be most receptive and would not want to risk the email being lost.

Anyone else please feel free to use in whole or in part.

Dear [NAME],

I am writing to you as one of your constituents. I am an Irish citizen, naturalized in 2013, permanently living in [REDACTED], county Limerick. I have voted in every poll since I got my Irish citizenship, and I will be voting in the 2019 European elections.

I am writing because I am extremely concerned about the prospect of the European Parliament approving the proposed Article 13 of the Copyright Directive. This article removes the previously existing “safe havens” for online platforms, requiring them to take proactive steps to remove “licensed” works in cooperation with holders of rights.

This article would create a restrictive censorship regime where any work would be at risk for removal because some “measure” believes it to infringe a copyright. No due process rights would be afforded to independent creators.

It would have an especially strong chilling effect on derivative art, such as song covers, amateur dance videos, amateur music videos, mashups, and critiques. And derivative art is, in the current context, one of the primary ways in which new content creators come into their professions. People start out as singers, dancers, animators, show hosts, and in other creative endeavours while making derivative works, relying on traditional fair use exceptions to copyright.

Article 13 runs roughshod over such exceptions. It would strongly discourage beginning creators and, therefore, significantly deplete the pool of upcoming creative talent throughout the European Union. People do not face such tight restrictions in Japan, Korea, Russia, the United States, Canada, and for all I know even China, so the article would place EU countries – including Ireland – at a disadvantage in the emerging cultural landscape.

Therefore, I would entreat you to oppose the article and to demand that the “mere conduit” approach to media hosting platforms remains in place, or, at the very least, that any new measures prioritize protections of derivative and other independent art.

 

Why Professor Meriwether is wrong

A Christian Professor has sued an American university for requiring him to use preferred gender in addressing a student. The issue is that the professor uses “the Socratic method” which involves addressing everyone very formally as Mr or Miss (last name). And so, while he agreed to use just the name for that one student, the University did not accept it as the student was singled out.

I believe the Professor is wrong. Not just in his beliefs about gender – this is a contentious debate. I belong to a more liberal denomination than he does, as the Church of Ireland ordains women. So we may never see eye to eye on this and I recognize his freedom to believe what he does.

He is wrong about his behaviour even *granted* his beliefs about gender! And I would gladly debate this with him, and will send him a link to this text.

To start with, there is exactly nothing in Holy Scripture that mandates or prohibits the use of any pronouns or any addresses. Except possibly “brother” and “sister”, but the professor did not use those. (There is also that debated prohibition on using “father”, also beside the point in this case)

There are, of course, some places that differentiate men and women. But these refer to life in church and marriage. A university is neither. The university being secular, Romans 13 might be read as calling for compliance.

But most importantly, the professor can, and in my view should, comply without even using the addresses and pronouns that he rejects.

He is said to teach using the Socratic Method and for that purpose, to use Mr/Miss, which created the entire issue. But I would suggest that he is misapplying the Socratic Method. We have received the method from Plato, and Plato – unlike conservative evangelicals – believed in a full dualism of body and soul. The Socratic Method should be as close as possible to a dialogue of disembodied, “Platonic” souls. Referring to a student’s sex defeats the purpose. *Any* student’s sex, that is, not just that one student. We humans have a subconscious bias, we process opinions of men and women in different ways, and so, to minimize the bias, we should make this distinction invisible in Socratic philosophic dialogue.

The Professor should therefore use a sex-neutral address and reference for all students. Such an address and reference can be modeled on British Parliamentary ways, where “the Honourable member…” and “my honourable friend…” are typical. And in British courts, the words “my learned friend” are routinely used to address or refer to another lowyer. A similar formula, or “my honorable student”, should be used for proper Socratic debate.

Alternatively, of course, the Professor can reject Platonic dualism and insist on a Christian understanding – but then he should follow this all the way and replace the Socratic method with the traditional Christian dialogue form, which uses first names, as Our Lord did. He never went for formal honorifics, not even to Herod or Pilate. Nor did the Apostle Paul go for anything more formal than just “King Agrippa” when facing a monarch in Acts 26 – and for non-monarchs, apparently not even that. Look at Acts 24, where Tertullus says “most excellent Felix”, but Paul, despite being a prisoner (and also a Roman citizen), says nothing of the sort.

So if the Christian tradition is followed, one can just use  first names – this also avoids the problem.

I call the Professor to offer a defense of his choice of using “Mr” and “Miss” in philosophical dialogue. These terms highlight the bodily sex of the student (in the view of the Professor) or the gender identity of the student (in the view of the University). However, none of these things are relevant for philosophical discussion. Therefore, I posit he should not be using such address.

And if the use of any gendered (or sexed) address in shown to be unneeded, then the lawsuit becomes moot, without any need for the Professor to alter or suppress his views on gender.

 

“Not liking penis sexually is transphobic” bugbear

A favourite tactic of anti-trans activists (whether or not they admit they are conservative, and whether or not they call themselves feminist) is to mention claims that “lesbians [or straight men] who don’t want penis are transphobic”, as if it is a mainstream claim of trans activists right alongside self-ID.

Which, of course is not the case. Riley Dennis is not the Monarch of Trans People. Even Zinnia Jones, who actually did NOT make this claim but wrote something that was misread as this claim, is not the Monarch of Trans People. There are no such monarchs, anyway. And none of the high-profile activists like Laverne Cox come anywhere close.

So this is isolated stuff that a few people hold and the antis like to blow up. But even those people did not actually start it.

Radfems started it. Back in the Sex Wars of the 80s they saw a backlash from some women who actually liked models of sexuality that the radfems saw as too submissive or too male-pleasing. And they started calling such women to examine their own sexual desire critically, from a political perspective.

The intersectional crowd was, as I understand, next on this particular bus. They declared that if someone has a sexual prerefence for a particular skin colour or ethnic group, whether their own or otherwise, that’s somehow racist.

Both of these trends are quite alive and young trans people absorb them from the environment. So a few of them made the connection and decided – ok, if not wanting to sleep with a black woman is racism, not wanting to sleep with a trans woman is transphobia.

The liberal position should be restated firmly. Sexual desire and sexual choice between consenting adults is their own business, and whoever they personally want to invite into their lives (this includes any personal choice of religion or philosophy). The only thing that matters is consent. End of story.

(Bonus points, of course, for those who call out Riley Dennis and the like for being critical of people’s sexual desire – and then immediately turn around and do just the same by shaming something called “autogynephilia”, a fancy description for some people enjoying in a sexual way, or wanting to enjoy in a sexual way, their body in a feminine form. The term was born in a bygone era when the general idea of sexual enjoyment of one’s own body was not yet accepted, thus the meaningless description of “target location error” – to have an error, you have to have the One Right Option first).

A theory of mind: suggestions regarding Asperger Syndrome

Abstract: I propose that Asperger Syndrome is not a disability but a natural response to a particularly contradictory society. The response is socially beneficial while it can sometimes hurt the individual and those around them.

“I am going to argue,” he said, “the very thing that you said was so ludicrous and impossible.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m going to base the defence,” said Father Brown, “on the fact that the prosecuting counsel has a bald head.”

G.K. Chesterton “The Mirror of the Magistrate”

Full disclosure. The author has something like “Schroedinger’s Asperger’s”. Diagnosed with Aspergers by an Irish clinical psychologist (not self-diagnosis; the lady has, I think, since retired), diagnosis not confirmed by Pakistani-Irish psychiatrist. This may have to do with cultural difference between them or, more likely, mean that the psychological symptoms are there but the maladaptation needed for a formal DX is not there. Anyway the clinical psychologist view means this is not an external subject for me.

So, to the point. The conventional wisdom about Asperger Syndrome seems to have something to do with “theory of mind”. It ascribes to people with the syndrome some inability that has to do with understanding other people, with forming a theory about how their mind works. But many people with the syndrome, including those with a full proper DX, are actually very good at building systematic theories of everything from mathematics to the cosmos itself. Why would just one element of the cosmos – the mind – suddenly become an exception? That would be like a person who generally has perfect eyesight but somehow can not see elephants?

I think that a different angle understanding this particular syndrome – specifically “high functioning” Aspergers in verbally proficient people, as distinct from Kanner syndrome – might be useful. It could also put the focus a bit less on alleged “abnormality” or “disability” of such people and more on the peculiarities of society that might be leading to the problems between them and other people.

And to reach this understanding, I would do the thing traditionally considered unscientific. Ad hominem. I would look at the researchers who described the syndrome. Starting, of course, with Hans Asperger himself.

Hans Asperger. The officer in the German army. No, I am not pushing the “Nazi Asperger” thing here. He was not in the SS and was generally not evil; many people were caught up in the military machine of the Reich and were still trying to be good people and did the best they could in the circumstances. Asperger got pretty far on this road. He did not kill people; he did not torture or persecute people; instead he (with a Roman Catholic nun) opened a school where he educated and helped children.

This school was in Croatia, under a regime of a group known as the Ustasha. The Ustasha were a local version of the Nazis, with a twist. They did not care very much about Jews and indeed some Ustasha hid Jews from Germans. Instead, their big enemy were the Serbs, and they massacred about 300,000.

For a German Nazi, the enemy had a distinct face. The typical Jew looks different from the typical “Aryan”. Not so for the Ustasha. Serbs and Croats are basically identical ethnically and linguistically; the only distinction is ancestral religion.

The children in this school spent their formative years in the Ustasha totalitarian environment. They were bombarded with social messages that made some people just like them into “enemies”, based on something completely intangible. Basically, the entire environment did not make sense. (Not that the Nazi one did, but here is was even more obvious). People were devising ways to survive under this regime, so social messaging, verbal and non-verbal, became a mesh of interwoven half-truths and outright lies that contradicted each other at every level.

Now that I described it this way, would anyone find it abnormal that some children did not manage to respond properly to all cues in this kind of society? Or was it perhaps more abnormal that most actually did? Who was disabled – the child who needed Hans Asperger’s help to survive this hellish mess, or the child who rolled with it perfectly? And was social isolation in such an environment, which Asperger described in his subjects in 1944 (!), even a bad thing at all?

Very importantly, I am not blaming Hans Asperger for the mess. He did not create the regime. He did not even really uphold it – that was the job of armed henchmen and of propaganda hacks (one can argue that one of the hacks was Aloysius Stepinac who was later made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church – so much for general norm). Asperger helped people, innocent children, survive under the regime. But, being only human after all, he might not have fully realized the enormous abnormality going on around him. And he might have seen some natural reactions to it as more abnormal and more disabling than they objectively were.

Now, Hans Asperger was not the only person to describe the syndrome. It is commonly accepted that the same set of symptoms was earlier described by Grunya Sukhareva, a psychiatrist sometimes incorrectly described as Russian (she was Ukrainian, or Jewish, or – th identity she would probably consider primary – Soviet). While her work was published in 1926, it was mainly based on her work with children in Kiev in 1917 to 1921.

During that time, the ruling regimes in Kiev were, in various periods, more or less in chronological order:

– The Russian Empire

– The Ukrainian “Central Rada” which at a point proclaimed a republic federated with Russia and later independence

– Early Bolshevik/Soviet Ukraine (Red Army)

– German-backed “Ukrainian State” under Hetman Skoropadsky

– Ukrainian People’s Republic under Hetman Petlura

– Second Bolshevik/Soviet Ukraine

– The White Russian Army under General Denikin

– Third and final Bolshevik/Soviet Ukraine, which ultimately became a constituent part of the USSR

The comparative benefits of the regimes (who killed more people and who killed less, etc.) is beyond the scope of this study. (It was a typical civil war with no “good guys”). But importantly, every single regime change brought about its own ideology, its own set of assumptions, its own attempt at social conventions. The children whom Sukhareva studied had to navigate a society that was being constantly re-created and modified by the changing regimes, again creating a contradictory mess of verbal and non-verbal messaging.

So, again some children totally failed at navigating it and ended up isolated… what was abnormal there? (I would suspect that Sukhareva, unlike Asperger, knew exactly how abnormal the situation actually was, but might not have been able to articulate that fully under Soviet constraints. Unfortunately I have not actually seen the work, and I’d love to see it – would be very interesting to try and read between its lines).

For all I know, there have generally been “epidemic flare-ups” of Aspergers in societies where social messaging became especially contradictory. This includes the late years of the Soviet Union and subsequent post-Soviet states, all seeking a new identity in a changing world. Also, the times in the West when social mores were shifting significantly (for reasons beyond the scope of this text).

And so here is my “theory of mind” for Aspergers, the stuff that Aspergers “sufferers” are not supposed to have (or something):

There is a feature of the human mind that lets it adapt to a society that is not exactly driven by logic. No society, in fact, is fully logical, and humans evolved along with society, so evolution created a social response mechanism. Verbal and nonverbal cues are all processed into a system that is never fully consciously realized. Responses expected by the particular society are duly produced. This helps the person gain cohesion with society. As cohesion is the main positive product of the mechanism, I will now use the term social cohesion mechanism.

There are always some contradictions in the cues. But when a particular society becomes especially contradictory, some people have their social cohesion mechanism overloaded. It usually happens in childhood as that is when they start to be immersed in society and the mechanism gains its data. When the mechanism is overloaded, it shuts down. The person still has intact conscious intellectual facilities, and often overdevelops some of them to compensate. (Or perhaps some of them, notably the ability to concentrate on a topic, develop more freely as the social cohesion mechanism is normally impairing their development to a degree?)

I would tentatively suggest that, far from being a disability, this is an evolutionary adaptive development, much like the social cohesion mechanism itself. We are talking social evolution here; the situation might not always be beneficial for the affected persons but it is vitally important for the affected society. The “aspies” are the guardians, those who bring a society going mad some sanity, a chance to right the wrongs. Remember the monarch who went out naked? Those who shouted “the emperor has no clothes” were the “aspies”. They failed to respond to all the social cues typical in a monarchy.

Now, “adaptive development” does not equal “great thing”. Compare a fever: it is an adaptive development, a response to an illness, a fever is never the illness itself. But we often take paracetamol to calm the fever, and we have a reason, as the fever exhausts us while also killing some microbes. Likewise, the unadjusted “aspie” might sometimes be a herald of social sanity but also can sometimes create problems for themselves or others. So, yes, help with asjustment can be a real and needed thing. But, like a fever, Aspergers can be an inconvenience but is not a “disability”, not an “abnormality”. It is, perhaps, at its root a social mechanism that balances other social mechanisms when they go runaway.

Postscript on gender issues

With this theory of the syndrome, we can look at the high prevalence of “gender issues” in “aspies” without referring to some dinosaur-type views. (The biggest dinosaur is “Aspergers means extreme male”. No, it’s just that the traditional male gender role is somewhat more accepting of ignoring social cues, perhaps in the name of being more successful at some form of domination or conquest. So someone with a reduced reaction to them can be read in that role).

Gender is a social mechanism. It starts with the way society handles biological differences between the sexes. But many things in the gender mechanism have no obvious current link to biology; rather they have evolved from the way biology affected society hundreds or thousands of years ago. To take a very rough example, “ladies first” was probably a means of preserving society’s reproductive capability; if a set number of people is to die, more men and less women killed means more children in next generation. But how many people thought about this on board the Titanic?

A society’s notions of manhood and womanhood, and (separately) masculinity and femininity, are complicated systems. They are taken as “natural” only because of the social cohesion mechanism. The “aspie” has this mechanism shut down but other intellectual facilities intact or overdeveloped (importantly, including emotion). Therefore the “aspie” can, for various reasons, identify with, or be drawn to, things that are seen as some gender or other. And they process it in various ways, including, yes, developing an “opposite” or otherwise “unconventional” gender identity.

This leads us to a hypothesis: other aspies might process the same situation by developing a hostility to the idea of gender in general or of masculinity or of femininity. (Or to men or to women; this requires additional reasons, Aspergers in itself does not lead to increased aggression, but it might increase the chances of trauma that does lead to it).

Therefore there might be many aspies among the radfem crowd. Which possibly makes the radfem-trans controversy a huge aspie battle? Wonder how that could be verified.

Very tentative postscript on practical conclusions

If any actual practitioners are reading this, they might be fuming. “Okay, this uppity brat is proposing some smart-assed theory, which does exactly nothing to help people who are measurably suffering from the condition; telling them they are some sort of brave guardians of society won’t make them into actual superheroes”.

Realising that, I got thinking about possible, tentative, practical applications of the theory, which itself is quite tentative. So we get to “very tentative” – and I continue with this disclaimer:

If “aspie” is no a disability but a reaction to society, perhaps try creating a small society that does not have the problem?

Aspies already flock to subcultures that have a modicum of logical organization; there are many in the open source developer crowd (Eric Raymond mentions this in his article http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#keepcool ; note he proposes a somewhat similar theory but with an organic slant, missing some of the brain circuitry that lubricates “normal” human social interaction. I am not proposing that the “social cohesion mechanism” is quite so identifiable on the cellular level).

Unfortunately, such subcultures are often only logical where they diverge from “normal” society because of their mission. There have, for example, been issues with treatment of women in the open source developer crowd. And this is quite natural because there is no reason for open source to proclaim a logical method of negotiating sex-related communications – so the regular awkwardness applies. Clear sexual negotiation protocols are present in some other circles, which in turn have their own illogical spots.

It might be an interesting approach to try and develop micro-societies (for example, in a live-in summer camp) where all social interactions are guided by a clear and logically consistent code, and therefore interaction does not require the “social cohesion mechanism”.

There are huge pitfalls in this approach, of course. Such a “clear and logically consistent code” is supposed to exist for a large subset of human interaction, in the form of law. We all know how political the act of lawyering can be, how things can rely on irrational, unquantifiable influence on judges and juries even when no foul play is involved. So any micro-society with an attempted logical code might get lost it its own lawyering battles. Or it might try to avoid lawyering by having a few “omnipotent” leaders who define what “logical” is – and then things quickly turn into “influence the leader”, again by means having more to do with iffy social games (extolling the value of logic) than with actual logic.

So I’m not claiming to have a solution. Not even a very tentative one. This is only the start of an approach. Instead of trying to change “aspies”, how about trying to create small societies that work the “aspie way”? It is not easy. But if it succeeds, we might find that they work well for other people, too. And this could amplify the kind of evolutionary influence that “aspies” as a group are, in my theory, supposed to have – while attempts to “cure” them deprive society of their necessary balancing influence.