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Fear and partisan politics.

(This was a comment on a friend's wall. Said friend wanted to promote it, so I moved it here for easy linking. It was written in response to a commenter writing about their fears about a Hillary Clinton administration.)

I recognize your fear, and I'm sorry for it.

Living in fear sucks.

Here's the thing, though: when Obama was elected I saw a lot of fear... that he would impose Sharia law, that he would criminalize Christianity, that he would criminalize gun ownership and confiscate everyone's guns, that he would be so weak our enemies would attack American soil like they did under Bush, that our economy would continue to collapse, and so on and so forth.

And it made me sad. And I asked people, if in four to eight years it turned out that none of those things happened, would they be less scared? Would that be evidence that their fears are baseless?

And now it's eight years later, and it's still legal to be Christian, to eat meat, to drink alcohol, to own guns, and we haven't seen another large-scale attack on our soil, the economy is recovering. And now that Clinton is being elected, the same litany is coming up. And we're still so very very scared.

And I ask the same question. What do we anticipate? Four years from now, eight years from now, if that hasn't materialized, will that give us reason to be less scared?

I mean, I was scared when Obama was elected. I was pretty sure he'd be assassinated before his first term was out, because that's the kind of country I thought I lived in. Turns out I was wrong, AND THAT IS AWESOME. Reality is better than I feared.

I was scared when Trump was nominated. I felt it entirely possible that my country would choose this man to lead our executive branch. But it's looking like I was wrong, AND THAT IS AWESOME. My country is better than I feared.

And like you, I'm scared that the government may not survive the next four to eight years. For example, when I see the Senate simply refuse to talk to a proposed Supreme Court justice, not because of any properties of the nominee himself, but purely because he was nominated by a Democratic President... that scares me.

The prospect of gridlock on an even vaster scale than we've already seen scares me, because government action can make people's lives better, and when the government is paralyzed that action is inhibited and people suffer in consequence.

But you know? If in four years it turns out that we haven't been gridlocked into paralysis, that'll be awesome. I'll breathe a sigh of relief and think maybe it's getting better.

And all of that helps.

But also, in some ways it doesn't. In some ways my fear of the reactionary elements that call themselves "conservative" in this country runs deeper than the specific issues.

So how about you? You're scared that Clinton will "take the whole government down" and thereby expose us to the "enemies at the gate." What would that look like... how would we know it was happening? If in four years, we aren't seeing that stuff... will you be relieved? Will you praise that?

Or is the fear deeper than the specific issues that concern you?


Shared responsibility

A while back, I made a comment about the residents of a hypothetical neighborhood having a shared responsibility to put out a house on fire, and a commenter expressed difficulty understanding this concept of shared responsibility, and asked why I preferred that framework.

I capture my response here with minor modifications.

Thoughts welcomed.

First off... perhaps you could help me out by establishing a baseline for the, I assume, easier-to-understand concept for individual responsibility.

E.g. you ask me what are the limits of collective responsibility.
Well... what are the limits of individual responsibility?

Similarly... how much trouble, toil and treasure must I invest in putting a fire out, if putting it out is my individual responsibility? At what point do I give up and let the house burn down?

How ought I make those decisions?

I think, if we can answer these questions about individual responsibility in a satisfactory way, I'll have a relatively easy time answering the analogous questions about shared responsibility, as the two concepts are pretty similar.

That said, I think these are difficult questions to answer in any sort of generic way, and differentially insisting on answers to them for shared vs individual responsibility constitutes an unfair burden on one of them.

Failing that, I'll try to approach your uncertainty about shared responsibility a different way.

It seems to me that parents can, and frequently do, share responsibility for a child.

If you agree with me, then perhaps we can build a more general notion of shared responsibility from that one agreed-upon exemplar. Can you say more about how you see that responsibility working?

If you disagree, can you say more about how you think the responsibility parents have for their children works? Like, is one parent responsible without reference to the other, except insofar as the other might agree to "help out"? Are both parents responsible without reference to the other, and if so, could you say more about how that works? Is neither parent responsible? Do they have mutually exclusive jointly exhaustive individual resonsibilities? Something else?


Failing that, let me try a different approach: suppose there are ten of us and we've performed a series of observations and experiments such that we've each come to the very confident conclusion that: a) we are locked in a room and unable to leave it, b) if there are nine or fewer of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will open and let us out, c) if there are ten or more of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will flood with poison gas and kill us all.

On your view, do we have any responsibilities as a consequence of the situation? What are they, if so?

On my view, in that situation we have a shared responsibility to save 9 lives, given that we have the ability to do so. But it's really unclear to me what individual responsibilities anyone in that room has. So a framework that only considers individual responsibilities is inadequate to consider that situation. (And, similarly, other situations that involve symmetric responsibilities such that an individual "share" of a shared responsibility is less than 1 implementable quantum.)


Failing that, I'm not sure what more I can say. Hopefully one or more of those approaches gives you some insight as to why I view shared responsibility as a superior framework for thinking about certain problems involving right action for individuals in groups.

Self awareness

The therapeutic framework I'm engaged in these days (Internal Family Systems) is really big on two distinct ideas: first, that minds contain a bundle of "parts" that have their own attitudes and agendas, and second that minds contain a core "self" that transcends all of that and is capable of exerting leadership.

The goal is to get the system to a point where it is self-led, rather than parts-led.

As I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I am all over the "parts" thing. The Council of Voles has been my working metaphor for my own mind for a long time. I'm fond of them.

And as probably comes as no surprise to many who know me, I am completely at sea when it comes to the "self" thing. If I have a unified coherent core self that is distinct from the aggregate of parts, I am completely unaware of it. My awareness of myself, my model of myself, is as an aggregate entity, period full stop.

And I get that this is common, and the IFS literature talks a lot about clients who are in that state of having no real awareness of self, but only an awareness of parts. And our response to that is basically "fuck you." Adding some hypothetical invisible "core self" to that self-model feels as unjustified to us as adding a hypothetical invisible "royal family" to our model of the U.S.Government.

For the most part, I've been able to finesse this conflict. I mean, I certainly have the experience of there being islands of greater stability within the ocean of loosely organized parts, and I'm fine with calling that a "core self" when the process requires a core self to weigh in on things. This is similar to how we did things in my college living group, which did not have a "president" but instead made decisions more collectively... when we received phone calls requesting to talk to the president, any house member was empowered to reply "Speaking!" and deal with the issue.

But it's becoming tricky (as indeed it often did in college) when those processes require that the core self commit to things. Cuz, well. We don't wanna.

Which, I mean, basically raises the same fundamental question as is common to all sorts of psychological models that posit a core self and various peripheral shadows thereof: "yeah, but what if my core self is kind of a dick?"

And, I think the traditional IFS response to this is the common one... "no, no, it really isn't. if it's being a dick, that's actually a part you're interacting with, not your core self."

Which, well, OK.

("God is Love. If what we find in our worship is not Love, then we have not found God." Etc. Which, well, OK, but don't ask me to justify the separate creation of necrotizing fascitis as an act of love.)

The thing is, I do sort of accept that as plausible, in a very theoretical way. But when I'm down in the muck, theoretical acceptance of plausibility just isn't enough. Because honestly, it really does feel in here like a Scout troop whose Scoutmaster died a while back. We manage well enough, most of the time, but nobody's actually in charge, and some tasks simply don't get done.


It's not a marathon.

It's not a marathon.

It's not a sprint, either.

It's a million people all independently running in vaguely the same direction.

And yes, some of them are going to run into side-alleys and get lost.

And some are going to trample neighbors' yards, get into fist-fights in the street, trash cars, and otherwise be counterproductive.

And yes, some other folks who had nothing to do with the movement in the first place are going to join in the trashing and trampling and looting, because some folks just want to watch the world burn.

And yes, some of the folks watching nervously from their windows are going to point to all that shit and think "well, honestly! If that's how they behave, I'm certainly not going to support their cause."

And sure, there will be folks watching who shake their heads and tut-tut about how the counterproductive stuff is counterproductive and harms the movement and lamenting all the support the movement is losing because it alienates and upsets and frightens potential allies. And they're not wrong. This kind of thing does alienate and upset and frighten people. And some of those people might have been allies, if they weren't feeling alienated or upset or frightened. That stuff feels shitty, and not everyone is willing to suffer through shitty feelings in order to help.

For my own part, though? Well, I don't want to be one of the folks watching nervously from my window and demanding support for my shitty feelings. And I don't want to be one of the folks shaking my head and tut-tutting and explaining how this is all counterproductive.

And that doesn't mean I'm going to join the folks running, either. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on a lot of stuff, much of which is crap, but, well, it's my crap and I live with it. Hell, I might not even get it together enough to cheer the leading edge along from the sidelines as they run past and hand out bottles of water. But even if I can't keep up, well, I can try to help some of my neighbors process those shitty feelings, help clean up a trashed lawn or two and mend some fences. Or I can get together with them and we can all work through our shitty feelings together.

And, hell, sometimes I just stare at the ceiling and cry and am doing well if I remember to feed my dog. Y'know?

And frankly, I endorse any of that over tut-tutting and pearl-clutching.

All of which is to say, policing what forms other people's anti-racism takes really is NOT my highest priority right now.

And also? As long as I've invested in this metaphor to this extent: can we please not forget that there are folks standing on the sidelines and shooting into the crowd?
A friend of mine recently shared Shriver's NYT opinion piece about how the Left is destroying diversity, which addressed a topic he's often felt he's not allowed to talk about: whether we're allowed to talk about certain topics.

Regular readers may recall that not being allowed to talk about it is something of a recurring topic. One might say obsessively so.

To quote myself in one of those posts:

I believe in dialog. I believe in the collaborative process of growing together through the exchange of ideas, of experiences, of perspectives. I want everyone to speak up, and everyone to be heard, and everyone's thoughts to be recognized, and if I have a spiritual practice then a huge part of it involves keeping the conversation going, and if I have a spiritual faith it is deeply entangled with endorsing what comes out of that conversation. He that hath tongue to speak, let him speak!

So I don't want to use words that shut down dialog. I don't want to contribute to the silence that way.

But [...] maybe the world simply is such that my only choice is who to silence. It may be that if I want my language to comfort the afflicted then I have no choice but to accept that it will afflict the comfortable.

Maybe that's just what it means to live in a fallen world.

So... that my response got way out of hand here is perhaps really no surprise at all.


So, anyway, as I say above, I believe in dialog. So I oppose there being things we can't talk about in a global sense.

But also? I don't want to have to deal with anyone in my office talking about how God disapproves of my family because we're queer. And by the same token, I refrain from condemning their families in the office.

So, yeah, I totally endorse there being things we can't talk about in the office. I think most people do. Mostly we think of it as being polite.

And I get that where the line between "local" and "global" speech suppression ought to be is controversial.

OK, maybe we can agree that we shouldn't condemn my family at work... but is it OK at the supermarket? Is it OK on television? Is it OK in my living room? Is it OK on my blog? Is it OK on a college campus? Is it OK at a commencement speech? Is it OK to write a novel in which a God much like the one you worship sends a family much like mine to Hell for our sin? Is it OK to write a novel in which a family much like mine is portrayed as living in constant misery due to our rejection of decent moral standards?

And if any of these things aren't OK... what is it OK to do about it? Is it OK to quietly condemn it? Is it OK to vocally condemn it? Is it OK to organize group activities to vocally condemn it? Is it OK to shun those who engage in it? Is it OK to hike right on past them without even talking, and not invite them to our frankfurter roasts or picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts?

The thing is, we're going to disagree about such things. That's OK.

Actually, it would be bewildering if we didn't disagree about such things. If we're going to draw a line at all, we have to draw it somewhere, and there will always be good arguments for drawing it somewhere else.

So the line is blurry, and it shifts over time. Fifty years ago, for example, it was mostly not OK for me to talk at work about my queer family. Now, it's mostly not OK for others to talk at work about why they condemn my queer family.

And, of course, when lines change such that stuff I do used to be OK, and now isn't OK... well, that's fraught.

And it's very natural, in those moments, to focus on how my freedom of expression is being curtailed. And it's very natural, in those moments, to generalize those examples to a broader narrative in which freedom of expression in general is being curtailed.

Shriver is not the first to do this, and won't be the last.

Usually the narrative is framed in terms of liberal inconsistency: fifty years ago the liberals were arguing for Dave's freedom to talk about his family, and now liberals are arguing against his coworkers' freedom to talk about how they disapprove of it! They're liars! They claim to be for free speech but really they're censorship-happy fascists!

Shriver has a minor variant: liberals aren't being inconsistent here, he she claims. Rather, the older liberals, who stood for free speech, are being overridden by the younger liberals, who are censorship-happy fascists! Never mind that conservatives in the 1980s were condemning the "older" liberals (who were of course younger liberals at the time) as censorship-happy fascists.


My point here isn't actually to condemn Shriver's argument.

Rather, my point is that this sort of narrative is commonplace when the culture shifts, such that what we used to consider OK, we stop considering OK. Groups invested in the things we now condemn feel their liberties are being infringed upon.

Which, well... sure. Of course they are.

I mean, setting easy rhetoric about liberty aside, living in a community means that we are prevented from doing certain things that we'd be free to do in isolation, just as it means we are enabled to do certain things we'd be unable to do in isolation. Even libertarians accept that the property rights of others constrain what we can do in communities, and that this is right and proper.

To the extent that we value what we're enabled to do more than what we're prevented from doing is not, we're usually OK with this. To the extent that it's the reverse, we're usually not. And for the most part we struggle to push the community norms around in ways that line up with our values.

That's just how communities work. Always has been, always will be. Aligning the behavior of a collective buys leverage at the price of removing individual freedoms. That's a constant.

The variable part is usually how our collective values reflect the individual values of different individuals. When that shifts so that my individual values are no longer quite so well aligned with my community's collective values, then yes, my individual liberties are infringed upon... just as my neighbor's were last week. And if I care about me more than I do about my neighbor, then I will care about how our liberties are being infringed on now more than I cared last week.

If we have an audience and they don't, we're typically OK with that. If suddenly they have an audience and we don't, we're typically aggrieved.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that Shriver's piece, and this whole "liberals are destroying the fundamental principles of free speech!" narrative that we never see in the press these days because conservative writers are prevented from espousing it... er... or something like that, anyway... is not wrong, precisely.

It is, however, coming from a very different set of values than my own.

And insofar as it's framed in general terms about valuing free speech and open dialog and so forth, it's misleading, since in those terms nothing is really changing... there have always been more and less dominant voices in the dialog. What's changing is the relative power of those voices.
I've been writing this comment several times lately, I suppose I should just put it here.

Yes, this election is terrifying and anxiety provoking.

And it's not just about the statistical question of what will eventually happen, though that's a big piece of it. Yes, the prospect of a Trump win, however unlikely it might be, is terrifying and anxiety provoking. But even if I knew for certain he would lose, the knowledge that so much of my country supports him remains terrifying and anxiety provoking.

This ought not be a question; this ought not be close. But it is. And, sure, a lot of that is artificial manipulation by a media industry that has a vested interest in it being close, rather than a bottom-up result... but still, well, OK, the reasons are the reasons, but the result is still the result. "He wouldn't have died, if it weren't for the bullet" is not reassuring.

Even if Trump loses, the fact that so many people are willing to stand up and be counted on his side of the current question on the table is already saying a lot. As is the fact that so many people are willing _not_ to be counted on Clinton's side.

Not that it's news, exactly. The shape of this has been clear for a while.

I'm not surprised, just dismayed and anxious.

I feel much the way I felt when marriage equality first became a serious legal question in MA. It sickened me that it was a _question_, that faced with the question of whether to treat people like me as people and families like mine as families, my neighbors' reaction (including some of my friends') was "well... maybe? maybe not, though. we have to mull this over. there are valid points both pro and con. And, you know, the pro-equality side isn't really doing this the right way, there are legitimate concerns here."

But, well, sickening or not, that was how it was. And we'd asked the question, and now we had to wait and see what the answer was. Not that there wasn't work to be done -- there was, and it was important work -- but fundamentally we were asking a question whose answer was out of our hands.

Very similarly, it sickens me that faced with the question of whether Trump or Clinton is better suited to lead and represent this country, so many of my neighbors (including some of my friends) are either frankly on the former side, or find the difference sufficiently uncompelling that their energies go towards answering a different question altogether.

But, well, sickening or not, that's how it is. And we've asked the question, and now we have to wait and see what the answer is.

Not that there isn't work to be done -- there is, and it's important work -- but fundamentally we're asking a question whose answer is out of our hands.


Signalling in-group status

(Some more thoughts, stitched together out of fragments of other conversations triggered by previous posts.)

Look, I'm not saying everyone has to mysteriously suddenly know everything and never make any mistakes ever and always use the right language.

But here's the thing: signalling mistakes really are mistakes.

And the proper response to making a mistake is to acknowledge my specific error, make amends where possible for any harm I caused, and change my behavior to avoid that error in the future.

It happens to all of us, all the time. It's not a big deal.

But if instead I insist that it's unfair to hold me to such an silly standard, and that the language I used ought to be perfectly OK... well, that's a different thing.

And if instead I go further and condemn the people who challenge my language use, argue that they're wrong to be upset, that they have no right to change the language, that they are sabotaging their own cause, that the only way they're going to get my help is by behaving nicely to me and not getting upset with me, etc...

Well, I reject all of that.

That doesn't mean I'm not permitted to make the mistake in the first place.

It just means I'm required to treat it as a mistake, when I discover it.

And that's where a lot of my frustration with the exchanges I've been having lately with friends of mine about the use of language is coming from.

Because it seems to me that what I'm hearing people say is not "hey, cut us some slack, we're human, we make mistakes," which I'd be perfectly OK with, but rather "no, these new standards are not OK, the language that I grew up using is fine, changing the standards doesn't solve social injustice, changing the standards doesn't create empathy, we should not be putting energy into changing the standards and enforcing the new standards, natural language evolution is fine but it's not OK for certain people to force the language to change in order to effectuate their agenda, and it's not OK for me to get cast as some kind of awful racist as a consequence of those changes which I didn't even know about, etc."

Or, more succinctly: "I'm a good person, so my default behavior ought to be acceptable."

A friend pointed out that someone with good intent could arrive at the kinds of attitudes I grouse about here, and I agree. I absolutely, 100% agree that someone can express the kind of attitudes that I refer to there, and have good intentions, and not be a horrible human being.

A British middle-class coworker can call me a faggot, and not intend to cause the reaction they cause, and be a great guy!

And that's important.

That said, good people with good intent can poison me, too. We live in a world where intent isn't the primary causal factor, and if we only look at intent, we miss something important.

And, honestly, I feel like educated adults living in a relatively cosmopolitan city with Internet access ought to understand this stuff, so yeah, I get frustrated.

Usually, I respond to this kind of "I'm a good person, so my default behavior ought to be acceptable" attitude on Facebook by writing people off... it's just not my job to engage with it.

But when it's my friends expressing it, I feel like I ought to make some kind of effort to breach that inferential gap.

So I'm trying.

And, I mean, I totally get that a lot of my friends don't have to worry about this stuff, it doesn't really affect them, they have no skin in the game. Which, I mean, at this point in my life, neither do I.

But even so, I don't actually think it's OK.

It's not OK for me to say "Well, I'm not going to suffer for my gender identity, and trans issues have more personal impact on trans folk, so I'm just gonna talk the way I like and they have to put up with it, they don't get to change the rules of how we get to talk."

One of my commenters was talking about how we ought to pay less attention to symbolic empathy than to genuine empathy. From where I sit, refusing to stop using language that excludes and marginalizes trans folks is a failure of genuine empathy, and learning better is in fact learning genuine empathy.

And, sure, begrudgingly changing my language to avoid being yelled at isn't the same as actually learning better, any more than begrudgingly saying "thank you" when my mom insists on it is the same as actually expressing gratitude.

But, well, OK. If all I'm capable of is begrudging compliance with the social norms that signal empathy, then that's where I start. There's a reason we make kids say "thank you."

The hope is we'll figure the rest of it out along the way.

And, look, I understand the frustration with how difficult and complicated all of this subtext management is, and I understand the wish that I could just somehow wave my wand and fix all cultural signalling into the patterns I'm accustomed to so I can just learn what words to use once and for all and not be subject to accusations of racism or sexism or transphobia or whatever and everyone has to be happy with me.

Which, you know, OK. That desire exists. There's nothing wrong with feeling it.

I even understand deciding that someone must be responsible for it all, and resenting them for it. I do that too. I also shake my cane at the clouds sometimes.

But at the end of the day, my feelings are my feelings, and the rest of the world is the rest of the world. And mostly I think the right reaction to most of those feelings is to acknowledge them deeply and with compassion and then move on.

So... I guess that's where I'm coming from.
(I wrote this as a comment in an extended conversation initiated by an earlier post, but it got stupidly long, so I decided to excerpt this bit and promote it. It really does seem to me to be a basic, fundamental idea and I'm in a lot of conversations lately that seem to depend on not understanding it, so I suspect that being able to reference it will save time.)

Yes, I'm definitely agreeing with you that, for example, changing the words that we use to refer to Jews will not in and of itself either create or eliminate antiSemitism, and changing the words that we use to refer to queer people will not create or eliminate homophobia, etc.

That said: when we Jews decide that we prefer to be referred to a certain way. that gives Gentiles an opportunity to signal their relationship to us.

Are they paying attention to our preferences? Having been informed of our preferences, are they willing to accommodate them? Will they instead complain about how we're trying to exert power over them? Will they brag to their friends about how they're resisting our attempts to control them? When we complain about that, will they talk about how we're insufficiently respectful and don't know our place?

All of that communicates an enormous amount of information about the speaker's attitude to Jews.

And it's not that they're going out of their way to use anti-Semitic slurs in order to insult us -- that would provide a whole different set of information.

They're just unwilling to keep up with the changes. It's not worth the effort to them.

And that's important to know.

Similarly, the words straight people use to describe queer people doesn't create or destroy homophobia. But it lets me know which straight people I can safely come out to.

Similarly, the words cis people use to describe trans people, that white people use to describe POC, etc. etc. etc.

Similarly, the conventions by which female and male politicians are referred to.

Similarly, a whole lot of things.

I mean... this is just one of the things humans do with language. Condemn it if you like, ignore it if you like, but you remain a human, and this will be done with your language as long as you talk to other humans.

On not having done the reading.

A friend shared, and asked me what I think about this article: It’s time to stop talking about racism with white people.

My response got too long for a comment.

What do I think?

In general, I think that in communities, much like in classrooms, there's a level of having-done-the-reading... of educating ourselves... that the general discussion presumes. When I find myself in a discussion for which I haven't done the reading, I have a few choices.
- I can admit the fact, and either stay out of the discussion or seek remedial education.
- I can bluff and count on my natural quickness of mind to cover for my ignorance.
- I can insist that the community change the discussion to suit my needs.
- Etc.

In general, I endorse the first of those, and I think the third is acting against the community's interests and it's legitimate for the community to protect itself. (The second I have mixed feelings about. "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice plays to virtue.")

And part of protecting itself includes refusing to have its time wasted.

So that's what I think in general.

In particular, I think it's time and past time for our communities to treat basic stuff like "racial inequality exists and causes enormous suffering" and "being neutral in an unjust system promotes injustice, and yes this is just as true for being 'colorblind' in a racially unequal system as any other instance," and "people get to be angry at a system that kills them," and "systemic racism exists," and "to be seen as white in America is to benefit from a system of racial injustice" as part of the reading.

I think being ignorant of this stuff should no longer be considered an unmarked default state, but rather a failure to have done the reading, which requires remedial work to address which is not the responsibility of the community.

That doesn't necessarily mean "stop talking about racism with white people," necessarily, though that's a thing it can mean. More generally, I think it's "stop behaving as though not understanding basic truths about racism is a legitimate stance for an educated person in 2016."

I think similar things about people who don't understand that queer families are families, or that women are people, or that gender is something we experience and perform rather than some kind of fixed essence, or that nurturing those who need care is an important goal of our society, or that theological beliefs cannot legitimately constrain or ground civil law in our society, or a handful of other things.

And when a community proves itself unable or unwilling to follow that standard, when it insists on dedicating significant portions of its available energy to helping its still-ignorant members navigate their feelings as they begin to explore those issues... there's nothing wrong with that, any more than there's anything wrong with devoting a party to the concerns of toddlers.

But neither is there anything wrong with devoting a party to the concerns of adults.

So... that's what I think.

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

(Started life as a too-long and deraily comment elsewhere.)

There's a difference between killing ~two million unrelated randomly chosen individuals around the planet, and killing 99% of the members of a ~two million person community. In the latter case, there is a moral/ethical violation occurring that does not occur in the former case, in addition to all the moral/ethical violations that occur in both cases.

I recognize that not everyone agrees; I recognize that many people will declare killing 99% of the members of a ~two million person community to be morally and ethically equivalent to ~two million individual murders.

I'm not really interested in arguing the point, as I'm not really sure how to do so that isn't simply repeated re-assertion. But it's clear to me at the level of moral and ethical intuition that something is happening at the aggregate level, and I'm not prepared to simply wave that intuition away because I don't understand yet precisely what that something is or how it arises.

That said, I do not have a clear understanding of how the things I think of as individual rights aggregate as multiple individuals enter the domain of discourse. As regular readers have perhaps noticed, most of the ethical problems I find most vexing basically rip their pants on this particular rusty nail.

My current tentative theory is that my problem (and that of my culture) is that I'm/we're reasoning backwards... that the rights are collective, and individual rights derive from that.

I'm reminded of a linguistics problem set that infuriated me decades ago, having to do with deriving the phonetic rules governing the pronunciation of Turkish plurals (I think). I simply could not work out rules that described the data.

The reason for that turned out to be that there were no rules for deriving the pronunciation of Turkish plurals. The plurals were the root form; the rules derived the pronunciation of singulars. Once I understood that, deriving the rules was easy. Until I understood it, deriving the rules was impossible, because they didn't exist to be derived.

That something similar might also be true of plural and singular rights is, to say the least, not a popular idea. ny


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