Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Diversity vs. itself

Diversity vs itself:
On the one hand, to increase diversity in a movement, you must make sure that the focus isn't only on the concerns of middle class white men. ... On the other hand, broadening the focus constitutes mission creep, and may reduce the diversity of views allowed under the same tent.
An excellent analysis, with some deep implications for political science and social systems analysis.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Republican strategy

Peter Dorman speculates about A Game Plan for Rational, Self-Interested Republicans
Let’s suppose for a moment that all this talk about ideology—about the evils of big government, the flood of debt that threatens our moral and economic collapse, and of course the line that must be drawn in the sand against any new taxes of any kind on anybody—is simply a fig leaf, and that Republicans are pursuing their own partisan advantage without any scruples whatsoever. What would such a strategy look like?

As an unpaid advisor to Boehner and company, here is what I propose

Read the rest to discover Dorman's cunning and ruthless plan.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do you not know?

An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?

Axel Oxenstierna

Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?

(via the good doctor)


There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.

— Tennessee Williams

(via scarlettoharahasthetardis)

The meaning of subjectivism

One charge against subjectivism is that it entails contradictions. If I say, "Killing Jews is bad," (because I don't like killing anyone) and Hitler says, "Kill Jews is good," (because he does like killing Jews) both statements are true, but they obviously contradict each other. Any type of theory that has this sort of internal contradiction is obviously incoherent, n'est pas? But this view misses a fundamental point: while there are certainly philosophers who would endorse this kind of view (since there are philosophers who will endorse anything) a subjectivist account of morality must talk not about the objective truth of moral statements but about their meaning.

It is a tenet of meta-ethical subjective relativism that ethical statements in general are true relative to some subjective entity or entities. In other words, ethical statements are statements not about the "objective" world (i.e. the world outside peoples minds) but about the minds of various entities. As such, seemingly contradictory ethical statements are simply statements about the properties of two different entities, and we are typically not philosophically distressed when different entities have different properties. We do not see a contradiction when we say that "Alice is tall" and "Bob is short." Similarly, the statements, "Killing Jews is good," and, "Killing Jews is bad," are not in contradiction, because they are statements about the different properties of different minds.

The subjectivist account really can't be understood as establishing a pattern of logical entailment. Subjectivism cannot attempt to establish the syllogism
Minor Premise: I dislike killing Jews
Major Premise (enthymeme): What I dislike is bad
Conclusion: Killing Jews is bad
because of the rather obvious contradiction that different people really do have radically different likes and dislikes, which would entail that mutually contradictory statements would be accepted as true. The subjectivist position can't be that "Killing Jews is bad" follows from "I dislike killing Jews;" instead, the subjectivist position must be that the statement, "Killing Jews is bad" is the same statement as "I dislike killing Jews." A subjectivist theory is not a theory about how to find ethical statements objectively true or false, it is a theory of what moral statements mean.

Now it is of course true that a lot of people really do intend an objective meaning by ethical statements. In contrast, when people say "Ice cream tastes good," they consciously and intentionally understand that they really mean "I like the taste of ice cream." In this case, the apparently objective syntax ascribing a property to ice cream itself serves only as a metaphorical idiom for the more literally accurate subjective language. But people typically don't have this idiomatic metaphor consciously in mind. Whey they say, "Killing Jews is bad," they really do mean that it is objectively true that killing Jews is bad, regardless of anyone's preferences; it is merely a happy accident (or the consequence of the objective truth) that they also dislike killing Jews. The subjectivist therefore sees the conscious meaning as a category error, an error that can be corrected only by applying idiomatic interpretation.

Whether subjectivism in general and this particular flavor of subjectivism is actually true at the meta-ethical level is a different argument. It might be true that "Killing Jews is bad" really is objectively true regardless of what anyone or everyone actually thinks. It might be true that "Killing Jews is bad" really does follow from "I dislike killing Jews." To date, however, I've been unimpressed by the arguments for either position. More importantly, I think subjectivism has a compelling positive case (which I've described in previous essays). Until someone comes up with a compelling epistemic theory that can give us any knowledge at all about the mind-independent truth of of ethical statements — a theory which, as far as I can tell, would be as revolutionary an epistemic innovation as was the scientific method — I have to go with the simpler theory that when we make ethical statements, regardless of category errors we might make in our interpretation, we cannot be talking sensibly about anything other than our own preferences.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Skatje Myers on utilitarianism

Skatje Myers reviews The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris (via PZ Myers). I haven't read the book, nor am I particularly interested in reading it; I don't much care for Harris's work, even when I agree with him. Instead, I want to address Myers critique of utilitarianism.

Myers implicitly describes the utilitarianism as "maximizing well-being". Alternatively, utilitarianism is often described as the theory that an individual ought to do what will result in the greatest good for the greatest number. After taking a brief detour to criticize a vague conception of "relativism", Myers focuses her critique of utilitarianism on the calculation problem. While her critique addresses a specific theory of utilitarianism, it fails to adequately rebut the specific theory. More importantly, it fails to even address the fundamental concept of utilitarianism as a paradigm.

The calculation problem might undermine utilitarianism, but Myers fails to prove it. Myers succinctly describes the calculation problem: If we really are going to act to maximize well-being, we need to calculate not just the direct effects of our actions, but all the indirect effects: the effects of the effects, the effects of the effects of the effects, and so on ad infinitum. But noting that the full effect of an action is infinite is not to say it cannot be calculated. We have many conceptual tools to think about and estimate infinite calculations. In the same sense, quantum mechanics depends (or seems to depend) on not only the quantum state of every particle in the universe, but on the quantum state of all possible virtual particles that might have been created in every possible alternative history. But because these effects quickly become vanishingly small, we can get very accurate estimates of measurable quantities by considering only a finite (and small) number of possible interactions. Similarly, the indirect effects might well be infinite, but if they were to quickly become small, we might only need to use tractable calculations to get a good enough estimate of the effect of an action on social well-being.

Alternatively, we can deal with infinite calculations by using probability theory. I do not need to calculate an infinite (or intractably large or impossibly precise) number of interactions between a coin, my thumb, a lot of air molecules and the table to know that it has a 50% chance of landing heads. We do not have to perform a lot of quantum mechanical calculations to know the half-life of a radioactive isotope. Similarly, if we could empirically determine that the probability of good effects was very high for, to use Myers' example, dedicating a medical professional to curing malaria, we would be justified under even a simple utilitarian theory in doing so, even if we did not know that in this specific case one of the indirect effects would actually be highly negative.

Infinite calculation might undermine utilitarianism, but only if it could be shown that the effects of this infinite calculation typically* were radically divergent, nonlinear and chaotic. In this case, we could not depend on the later effects dampening out as we got "farther away" from the proximate effects of an action, nor could we adequately calculate probabilities. While it might be possible that the effects of human actions really are radically nonlinear (witness any number of science fiction time-travel stories about the dire consequences of making even the tiniest changes to the past), this view doesn't really conform to our everyday experience. Whether or not utilitarianism is an adequate moral theory, human beings typically do act in a loose sense to "maximize well-being". We don't particularly worry — and don't seem to need to worry — that if we hold the door open for a stranger in Peoria that the "butterfly effect" will cause the death of a child in Bogotá. History has shown that when we do so as individuals, people in general really are better off. We might, of course, be mistaken, but to adequately rebut utilitarianism, Myers would need to demonstrate nonlinearity, not just infinity.

*To be sure, there are "edge cases" where the nonlinear effects of human actions become obvious and important. But if such situations really were unusually, we could simply treat utilitarianism as a partial theory, in much the same sense that we treat Newtonian gravitation as a partial theory, inapplicable only in unusual cases, such as near a black hole or neutron star (and General Relativity as a better partial theory, inapplicable only at the singularity inside a black hole.

Myers can be forgiven for "disliking utilitarianism." If you read Bentham, utilitarianism is presented as the very simplistic view that an individual's well-being can be represented as a simple scalar value, and we can calculate overall well-being by simply summing up these scalar values over all the individuals in a society. This specific theory so obviously contradicts our moral intuition that we must view it with the most extreme suspicion. Bentham did have an ulterior motive: as Michael Perelman argues out in The Invention of Capitalism, Bentham was concerned with creating a philosophical justification for the exploitation of the working class for the "benefit of society*". Indeed we can quickly dismiss Bentham's over-simplistic theory with David Chalmers' tongue-in-cheek definition of "Benthamite" as "someone who really would ignore their own drowning child in order to push ... [a button] which will cause mild sexual gratification in a warehouse full of rabbits."

*scare quotes

But to dismiss a particular theory of utilitarianism is not to dismiss the underlying concept. In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill presents the underlying concept as
The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.
Notice the vagueness of Mill's definition. Mill does not tell us here how to actually calculate the rightness of an action; he asserts only that rightness is somehow substantively and necessarily connected to human happiness and pleasure. (Mill later tries to objectively quantify happiness and suffering, but we again get to a specific theory, which might be wrong even even if the key principle were correct.)

Mill's definition here might be vague, but it is not vacuous or tautological. It has at least enough definite meaning to serve as a starting point, because we can differentiate utilitarianism from deonticism. In deonticism, an action is right or wrong without regard to its effects on human happiness or suffering. Ignoring the case where deonticism and utilitarianism are trivially equivalent*, to assert deonticism entails asserting that there could be right actions that could, even if we knew everything, entail the maximum suffering and least happiness of all human beings. Scientific laws have this deontic flavor: if the laws of the universe entailed that all human beings were to die tomorrow in horrible pain (perhaps from a massive gamma ray burst from a nearby supernova), the consequences of the laws of physics would be irrelevant to their truth. While it might be difficult to construct a satisfying utilitarian theory, abandoning utilitarianism at a fundamental level for deonticism creates its own difficulties.

*I.e. actions are be right or wrong without regard to their consequences, but it in all cases the deontically right action "just so happens" to produce the best consequences.

The biggest problem with deonticism is epistemological: How can we know which actions are intrinsically correct, without appealing to whatever evidence we can gather about the consequences of those actions? I'm not talking about how we can know in exact detail or with absolute certainty; I'm talking about how we can get this sort of knowledge off the ground and at least get a sense. We cannot appeal to the scientific method. In science, we conclude that some statement constitutes a law of physics if and only if we never observe a true exception to the statement. We know that things always fall towards the ground when we drop them* just because we never observe things doing otherwise. If we observed a rock that just hung there in the air (and we were convinced we were not hallucinating or somehow being fooled), we would not say that the rock was "disobeying" the law of gravity; we would rather conclude that there was something wrong somewhere with what we thought was the law of gravity. But of course those actions that never occur are excluded a priori from ethical consideration: we do not say that we have any sort of "ethical obligation" to accelerate towards the center of the Earth at ~10 m/s2. However we think about ethical issues, we do not construing ethical laws in the same fundamental way we construe physical laws. We cannot appeal even to psychological evidence. Even if some action were physically possible, it would still be odd to say that an action was ethical if and only if no one at all wanted to do it. People (in some sense) actually do want to murder, rob and rape other people (as evidenced by the fact that they actually do so), but it would seem odd to therefore conclude that murder was ethical. If we can't appeal to the absence of counter-evidence, we appear — absent some radical advance in epistemology — to lack any sort of epistemological foundation for deontic morality save naked assertion or divine revelation.

*I'm egregiously oversimplifying the fine details of gravity, but my point should be clear.

Naturally, noting the problems of deonticism and the failure of Myers' critique of utilitarianism are not by themselves sufficient reasons to conclude that utilitarianism, at the fundamental level, is good paradigm in which to construct a useful ethical theory; we must actually construct such a theory. I will endeavor to do so in a follow-up post.



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Economic knowledge and attitudes

Students’ attitudes towards economics as well as their knowledge of economics before and after taking a college introductory economics class is examined using standardized multiple choice economics knowledge and attitude questions. Prior knowledge of economics, having a bank account, and other biographical information are used to hold constant many factors influencing pre/post performance in an economics class. Students who gained in economics knowledge appear to have a more negative attitude towards the subject compared to students who exhibited no knowledge gained. Prior experience in or outside of high school appear to have little impact on knowledge gain or attitude though the beginning of the semester knowledge of economics is important. Results are mixed but show a clear need to improve attitudinal change of students and the pedagogical knowledge of prospective teachers.

— Gregory Brock, Student Attitudes and Knowledge Change in an Introductory College Economics Course (abstract)

(via Peter Dorman)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The historical method

The First Rule of Historical Method is: don’t believe everything you read. A believable history has to be constructed from several converging lines of evidence that have been critically and skillfully examined, and not every piece of evidence is equally trustworthy. Humans are notorious liars, eager exaggerators, and happy to believe almost anything they agree with. Skepticism is a virtue—but unfortunately a rare one, even rarer than honesty.

— Richard Carrier

(via Open Parachute)

I have Marx in my bones

From Joan Robinson's Open letter from a Keynesian to a Marxist, 1953
When I say I understand Marx better than you, I don’t mean to say that I know the text better than you do. If you start throwing quotations at me you will have me baffled in no time. In fact, I refuse to play before you begin.

What I mean is that I have Marx in my bones and you have him in your mouth. To take an example – the idea that constant capital is an embodiment of labour power expended in the past. To you this is something that has to be proved with a lot of Hegelian stuff and nonsense. Whereas I say (though I do not use such pompous terminology): ‘Naturally – what else did you think it could be? ...

Again, suppose we each want to recall some tricky point in Capital, for instance the schema at the end of Volume II. What do you do? You take down the volume and look it up. What do I do? I take the back of an envelope and work it out.

Now I am going to say something still worse. Suppose that, just as a matter of interest, I do look it up, and I find that the answer on my old envelope is not the one that is actually in the book. What do I do? I check my working, and if I cannot find any error in it, I look for an error in the book. ...

Now, suppose I say to a Marxist: ‘Look at this bit – does he mean the stock or the flow?’ The Marxist says: ‘C means constant capital,’ and he gives me a little lecture about the philosophical meaning of constant capital. I say: ‘Never mind about constant capital, hasn’t he mistaken the stock for the flow?’ The the Marxist says: ‘How could he make a mistake? Don’t you know that he was a genius?’ And he gives me a little lecture on Marx’s genius. I think to myself: This man may be a Marxist, but he doesn’t know much about geniuses. Your plodding mind goes step by step, and has time to be careful and avoids slips. Your genius wears seven-league boots, and goes striding along, leaving a paper-chase of little mistakes behind him (and who cares?). I say: ‘Never mind about Marx’s genius. Is this the stock or is it the flow?’ Then the Marxist gets rather huffy and changes the subject. And I think to myself: This man may be a Marxist, but he doesn’t know much about riding a bicycle.

(via none other than Tyler Cowen)

Monday, July 11, 2011

An answer to Ross Douthat

The Horror of 160 Million Missing Girls – and Of the Attacks on Abortion Rights; An answer to Ross Douthat 


By Sunsara Taylor
On June 26, the New York Times ran an op-ed from Ross Douthat which highlighted the horror of there being 160 million girls missing in the world today, largely owing to sex-selective abortions.  However, rather than indicting this as a horrible outgrowth of deeply entrenched male-supremacy and patriarchy, Douthat places the blame for this on women’s right to abortion and the few hard-won advances that have been made in some spheres for some women.  As such, he ends up arguing for the very male supremacy and traditional values that lead to this kind of thing in the first place. 
Douthat’s argument rest on three key assertions.
First, Douthat makes the outrageous claim that the widespread practice of sex-selected abortions is not due to patriarchy, but to female “empowerment” and to abortion technology itself.  Second, Douthat distorts and discounts the very liberating aims and actual impact of the fight for women’s ability to control their own reproduction due to the fact that there were some very reactionary forces that overlapped at times with some of their program.  And, finally, Douthat insists that only the anti-abortion movement can legitimately and fully critique this horror.
On all accounts, as I will show, Douthat is dead wrong.
Let’s begin with his first major argument.
Douthat disputes the notion that sex-selective abortion is caused by patriarchy and misogyny, because, “Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less.”  He cites Mara Hvistendahl’s new book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, to argue, “In many communities... ‘women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,’ because male offspring bring higher social status.”
Excuse me?  There is a huge difference between “women’s empowerment” and increased “autonomy” within a world of patriarchy and male-supremacy and the full liberation and equal participation of women together with men in every sphere through the achievement of a world without patriarchy and male supremacy!  And lest anyone be confused: a world where “male offspring bring higher social status” is a world in which women are still a) valued not as full human beings but as the breeders of children; and b) boys are valued more than girls.  That is a world of patriarchy.
Further, it is extremely widespread for women in the countries where the practice of sex-selected abortions is most widespread to be severely beaten, set on fire, or burned with acid if they fail to produce a male child.  In this context, the fact that some of these women themselves “choose” to selectively abort female fetuses – and even the fact that often this brutality is carried out with the participation of women (most often the mother-in-law) – does not change the fact that this violence, the valuing of women only in terms of the offspring they produce, and the subsequent selection for male fetuses are ALL the result of deeply entrenched male supremacy and patriarchy.
Next, let’s take apart Douthat’s attempts to obscure and bury any discussion of the real interest of women beneath a game of guilt by association.
Douthat cites Hvistendahl in identifying “an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both ‘the needs of women’ and ‘the future prosperity – or many survival – of mankind.’”  He continues, “For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates.”
Notice first that there is zero discussion from Douthat as to whether or not “abortion [is] necessary for the ‘needs of women.’”  In fact, it is.  A world without abortion is a world in which women are forced to bear children against their will.  It is a world that enslaves women to their biology.  It is a world in which women have little more freedom than slaves.
But Douthat side-steps this basic and fundamental truth by instead “revealing” that there were some reactionary forces whose agendas overlapped in some ways with those fighting for women’s reproductive freedom.  Big fucking deal!  I spoke to a fanatical End Times fundamentalist not long ago who was eager to seize on recent scientific findings pointing to the tremendous extremes of recent weather patterns, but that doesn’t mean he had anything in common with those fighting to recognize – and put an end to – the man-made causes of climate change!
But to go even further, the fact that some in the movement for women’s reproductive rights have at times been influenced by racism and chauvinism that is so common in an imperialist country like the U.S., does not negate the fact that the right to decide for herself when and whether to have a child is necessary for women to be free.
Finally, Douthat implies that Hvistendahl and others who uphold women’s right to abortion don’t really have firm ground to stand on in condemning the situation that has led to – or the harm caused by – the 160 million missing girls.  Instead, Douthat offers the simplistic and wrong-headed claim that “the anti-abortion side has it easier” because it can say outright that, “The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re ‘missing.’  The tragedy is that they’re dead.”
Only they aren’t dead, they really are missing.  While a fetus has the potential to become a human being, it is not a human being until it is born.  Ever notice how we count how long we’ve been alive since the date of our births?  Until then – no matter how much the anti-abortion movement romanticizes it and no matter how many “pro-choice” people capitulate to their bullshit – a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body.  As such, those girls really are missing because they never came into being as independent biological or social beings. 
On the other hand, the women in whose body fetuses grow are fully formed human beings.  And each year, 70,000 of those fully formed human beings die due to lack of access to reproductive health and safe abortions.  They are not “missing” -- those women are dead!  And the lives of the millions upon millions of women worldwide who are forced to have children they do not want, their lives are significantly disfigured.  And the lives of all women who live in a world that fails to recognize the full humanity and equality of women in every sphere – and instead reduces them to either breeders or sex objects, and quite often both – is horribly diminished.
We do not need the horrors that Douthat is peddling – even greater burden on that half of humanity that has the misfortune in this world of male-supremacy of being born female, the retrenching the very patriarchy that leads to female children being valued less than males, and the further restriction of women’s ability to control their own bodies and their own destinies.  We need the kind of thorough-going, world-wide revolution that can once and for all lift these burdens off of women as a core and driving force in the emancipation of all of humanity – from the lack of access to birth control and abortion to the life-time of restrictions, insults, violence and degradation that comes from being born female.
To find out more about that revolution, here is a good place to start:

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper and sits on the Advisory Board of The World Can't Wait

Copyright (c) 2011, Revolution Magazine, reprinted with permission.

Krugman on money

Paul Krugman makes a good point about money. Monetary Rage
Monetary economics is inherently about market imperfections. In a frictionless, perfect-information, costless-calculation world we wouldn’t need money, and it wouldn’t matter how prices were listed. We’d just have Arrow-Debreu complete markets in everything.

Monetary theory — and monetary policy — are, then, all about dealing with an imperfect, frictional world. As a consequence, sensible policy is based around trying to figure how to reduce the costs of these frictions and imperfections. ...

So why the rage? I suspect that it’s because a certain sort of person wants more purity than the real world is willing to supply.

It's a blog post, so we can forgive the good doctor for not going into more detail, but I want to.

Money is not just about dealing with an "imperfect, frictional world." It's also about managing computational intractability. We cannot actually compute Arrow-Debreu complete markets in real time. So in much the same sense that we use probability to estimate quantum mechanics, we use money to to estimate a distribution problem that would require probably 1012 differential equations to compute from first principles.

I think people get enraged about macroeconomic policy for two primary reasons. The first is simply a "deserts" theory of morality. The rich are rich because, on the whole, they deserve to be rich. The poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. They see any sort of government intervention as acting contrary to the fundamental moral principle that people ought to get what they deserve. A utilitarian macroeconomic policy, i.e. a policy that tries to maximize social benefit, is repugnant at a very fundamental level, because it requires that we make very little effort to make sure that people do not receive benefits that they do not deserve.

(I think there are a lot of problems with "desert" (deontological) moral theories. First, I think deontological moral theories require supernatural assumptions to be non-circular. Second, many proponents of deontological moral theories seem to pretend to be utilitarians, but their utilitarian arguments are at best poor and at worst patently dishonest. But that's a topic for another day.)

Second, I think people get enraged because they're applying individual, microeconomic thinking to whole-economy, macroeconomic issues, but macroeconomics is fundamentally different from microeconomics. In microeconomics, money looks real: it's a commodity you can run out of, and when you run out, you die. In macroeconomics, money is just something you can create and destroy ex nihilo. A whole economy (an economic unit that defines its own money, such as the United States or the Eurozone) cannot run out of money any more than it can run out of words or inches. In microeconomics, money is something that can be saved, i.e. stored for later use. In macroeconomics, it makes no sense to save money, since money itself can be freely created and destroyed. To assume that because macroeconomics is composed of microeconomics entails that our microeconomic thinking necessarily applies to macroeconomics is a textbook case of the composition fallacy.

Individuals think microeconomically: when an individual runs out of money, he or she dies. People get very upset about things that they believe — even in the abstract — threaten their survival. If you think the government is running out of money, and you have a strong emotional association between running out of money and dying (rational at the microeconomic level), then you're going to view "excess" government spending as survival-threatening. But of course the government — the collection of institutions that manage the macroeconomy — cannot run out of money, nor can they save it in case they run out later.

Of course, there are real-world constraints on what the government can do with money; just because the government can create and destroy money at will does not mean that how much money the government creates or destroys at any given time has no effect. It's just that the way individuals must think microeconomically about money and constrain their money-using behavior in a market environment is substantively and fundamentally different from how government must think about money and constrain its behavior.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Schrödinger’s Rapist

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced:
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

(via PZ Myers)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Modern Theology

I’m starting to think that modern theology is simply postmodern literary criticism applied to a single book of fiction.

Jerry Coyne

Yes, yes it is.

Friday, July 01, 2011



The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm
with her little sister
is wearing a shirt that says
and I want to,
I want to put my bag of groceries down
beside the fire hydrant
and whisper something in her ear
about long division.
I want to stand behind her and run
a single finger down her spine
while she tells me about all her correlatives.
Maybe she'll moan a little
when I tell her that x equals negative-b
plus or minus the square root
of b-squared minus 4(a)(c) all over
2a. I have my hopes.
I could show her my comic books
and Play Station. We could pull out
my old D&D cards
and sit in the basement with a candle lit.
I know enough about Dr. Who
and the Star Fleet Enterprise
to get her shirt off, to unbutton her jeans.
We could work out String Theory
all over her bedroom.
We could bend space together.
But maybe that's not what she's asking.
The world's been talking dirty
ever since she's had the ears to listen.
It's been talking sleazy to all of us
and there's nothing about the hydrogen bomb
that makes me want to wear a cock ring
or do it in the kitchen while a pot of water boils.
Maybe, with her shoulders slouched
the way they are and her long hair
covering so much of her face,
she's asking, simply, to be considered
something more than a wild night, a tight
curl of pubic hair, the pink,
complicated, structures of nipples.
Maybe she wants to be measured beyond
the teaspoon shadow of the anus
and the sweet mollusk of the tongue,
beyond the equation of limbs and seen
as a complete absolute.
And maybe this is not a giant leap
into the science of compassion, but it's something.
So when I pass her
I do exactly what she has asked of me,
I raise my right hand and make a V
the way Vulcans do when they wish someone well,
hoping she gets what she wants, even
if it has to be in a galaxy far away.

-- Matthew Dickman, All American Poem (APR Honickman 1st Book Award)

(via Raw Raw Fight Da Powa)