So It Goes On | Clarissa’s Blog

So It Goes On | Clarissa's Blog

It seems like because there is not a clear line as to what comprises authority, there is a battle for authority.  Like I said, this could relate to a general conceptual fuzziness about justice, since everybody and everything is considered more or less the same, no matter what their actions.

So It Goes On

Another person was shot dead today in St. Louis. It seems that the only thing these police know how to do is kill people. They probably think a great way to make their jobs easier is to mow down as much population as possible.

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Liberating violence

Let me make the difference a bit more explicit to you, because it can be lost on people who have been brought up in the comparatively more permissive West.  I will make it more obvious in this way, by a narration, but I am sure there could still the temptation to say that two opposing motivations (fearing dishonor and wanting to be liked) are fundamentally the same.  
In the Air Crash Investigations show last night, they showed a Korean Air cargo jet that crashed in the UK.  Apparently the pilot was a captain in the Korean military before he transferred to become a captain in the airline business.  But in fact he had not trained on airliners.  He should really not have been put in the position of captain, but for him to be relegated as first officer would have been a loss of face.  Anyway, the instruments were faulty, but he had previously been reprimanded for not paying attention to his instruments, so even though he may have sensed that something was wrong, he continued to take his readings from his instruments.  Meanwhile the first officer told him that he was banking 90 degrees.  The first officer’s instruments were correct.  But the military trained pilot ignored the first officer and followed his own instruments.  The first officer didn’t say anything more, because he did not want the higher status captain to lose face.  So the plane ploughed into the ground.
Well, firstly, I do not want to deny that there is a sense of awe and honor, loyalty, etc. in obeying cultural laws like these created in the Korean military.  But I also want to point to a qualitative difference between behavior that is commanded by fear and behavior that is commanded by a principle of wanting to get along and be liked.   One might well argue that the differences are philosophically subtle, and that we ought to just say that whatever anybody does, it is for the sake of the pleasure principle.  Somehow this would make the Korean pilots out to be like jolly old fellows, just rolling along and wanting to be liked.   In fact, perhaps it is more likely that the first officer feared, as the narrator of the show insinuated, dishonor more than death.
But I do see this theoretical flaw appearing the theorizing of contemporary Westerners again and again.  It posits that we are all jolly old clowns, just rolling along and wanting to be liked.   It’s very strange to impute that motivation to everyone, in my view, and this is a lens that does tend to fuzzy rather than clarify the vision!

I actually think Bataille is speaking to people like me – people of the stricter authoritarian orders, who need terrifying visions and terrifying help them free themselves from terror.

It’s a strange solution but one that seems to work.

Empty Shells | Clarissa’s Blog

Empty Shells | Clarissa's Blog

Well the corruption of ethics in contemporary times is seen in the notion that if somebody gets killed or maimed, then both parties -- the murderer and the murdered -- are probably equally to blame.  I don't know who set this notion into circulation, but there it is, and it causes the erasure of ethics and ethical considerations.

Silly Site o’ the Day

Here's a clever photo collage project by Samantha Decker (via Laughing Squid), in which she has a new twist on combining photos from the past and present.
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Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet

Trayvon Martin’s mother writes a letter to Michael Brown’s family.

On speechlessness, racism and respectability in #Ferguson.

“Please disabuse yourself of the notion that my purpose on earth is to tuck ignorance in at night.”

The New York Post explains that catcalling is actually flattering. Now you know.

The power of peers in preventing campus rape.

Women are more often to be penalized for asking for flexible work schedules.

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Fatal Hypothesis: How Belief in a Just World is Killing Us

(A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Georges-Pierre Seurat 1884)

(A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Georges-Pierre Seurat 1884)

If prejudice is a structure, as it has now become popular to say, what are its girders made of? What holds it up and what makes it endure? Certainly a great many scholars have ventured indispensable answers to these questions, but in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder and the ongoing tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, I think there is one thing we can pull out of these rich analyses for further examination: the just-world hypothesis.

In defiance of all sense, I often do read the comments, largely because even these feculent brain droppings can provide essential insight into the state of our society. Put simply, to understand one of the roots of police brutality, one need only look at what its most ardent defenders are saying.

Racism is a painfully obvious theme, of course, even among self-identified police officers who leave comments on forums and websites. Only those dense enough to bend light around them could deny the role of race in Ferguson or its intimate salience in all other tragic episodes of police brutality. But one thing that makes the poison of racism positively infectious and seductive to the majority of people who want to believe they are fundamentally good is the sense that everything happens for a reason, and that there is a kind of cosmic order and justice. This is how nominally good people end up justifying murder and terror as seemly expressions of a “just world.”

A Culture of Death

In other words, the Just-World Hypothesis. This notion is basically the more appropriate term for what most people unwisely call “karma;” in part, it’s the idea that “what goes around comes around.” According to this cognitive bias, we live in a fundamentally just world where most or all occurrences are just or explicable. It’s not hard to see how this bedevils feminist and anti-racist politics, surely: this is part of what makes victim-blaming in rape culture so durable. It is more comforting to believe that we live in a fundamentally just world where, if only one did not do x, y, or z, she simply would not have been raped. Similarly, the way that so very many (mostly white) people leapt on the invidiously released surveillance video that allegedly showed Michael Brown robbing a liquor store just before his death reveals how hungry such people are for an explanation that exonerates our society of any responsibility (even as the police’s claims are fraying).

It is always worth noting how frighteningly common it is, whether it’s in discussions of overseas wars, of those in solitary confinement, or of those slain in gun violence, that implicit in such justifications is the idea that death is a fitting punishment in this perfect moral universe for, say, stealing cigars.

Remember this? This is the just world hypothesis at work. The subtext of such headlines was always either "She's lying, so all's right with the world" or "it happened but she brought it on herself." Whorephobia, classism, sexism, and racism will take care of the rest.

Remember this? This is the just world hypothesis at work. The subtext of such headlines was always either “She’s lying, so all’s right with the world” or “it happened but she brought it on herself.” Whorephobia, classism, sexism, and racism will take care of the rest.

People are quick to seize on the imperfections of victims because it gives us a sense of justice with none of the hard moral work involved. The just world hypothesis asks nothing of us but the occasional ‘tut tut’ to the less fortunate. After all, if the world is already fundamentally just and morally balanced, why do anything to rock the boat? It makes it easy, then, to see protesters as “rioters” who are sabotaging that careful equilibrium, and to dismiss them as savage dupes who simply fail to understand how good they have it.

When this fantasy of a fundamentally just world mixes with longstanding prejudices, it makes for the deadly cocktail that lulls even the finest of people into doing evil. It is the perfect balance of beliefs that allows one to believe she is a good person while still defending the indefensible.

But it need not be this way.

Our world’s evils remain painful to confront not only for their sheer terror—in some ways, looking that in its lifeless eyes is the easy part—but because it forces us to deal with the fact that “good people” often were responsible for these tragedies. Evil most often arises in its most virulent form when it warps and makes use of the better angels of our nature. Most human beings actually do want to be good—contrary to a litany of nihilistic and cynical fantasies, that desire is both genuine and meaningful. Tragedy, hatred, prejudice, violence, avarice, and all the other human epics of sin come about because that desire is terribly easy to take advantage of. That old saw about the road to Hell and its paving stones exists for a reason, after all.

The Just-World Hypothesis is simply a widespread fallacy that exists at the cognitive level which makes our minds fertile ground for prejudice’s seeds. How many times have we heard, for instance, from people who swear up and down that they are not justifying rape even as they shame victims, or assign hierarchies to different kinds of rape, or trot out tired rape myths? The deeply tragic thing is that their incredulity at being called rape-apologists is sincere: they genuinely believe that they are anti-rape, in other words. And therein lies the rub.

Every apologist for police violence and police racism, similarly, will swear with all sincerity that they are good-hearted, virtuous people without a prejudiced bone in their bodies. The victims of police brutality, or of the similarly militarised mentality that afflicts many white gun owners, simply deserved what they got. Or, if such a claim is flat out impossible to sustain, they will individualise the crime and say it was a “mistake”—followed by the usual clichés about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or how it could have happened to anyone. Thus is the moral balance of the world restored.

The Just Person Hypothesis

So how do we deal with this?

This vision of a morally balanced world where all good deeds are rewarded and all failings are cosmically punished is a shibboleth many people cling to with bleeding fingernails because they fear any alternative.

For so many ordinary people, who are not inured to the folkways and norms of activism, the idea that the world is fundamentally unjust frightens them. It is a night terror that they violently barricade against in their minds, hoping that if they chant “everything happens for a reason” enough all the clamour outside will go away or at least be silenced into sensible white noise. This leads, also, to clinging to the prejudicial ‘common sense’ that makes such a belief credible, whether it’s believing that the Third World brought poverty upon itself, that the poor only need to “work harder,” that those on food stamps buy too much king crab, that women bring our rapes and sexual assaults upon ourselves, that transgender women’s “deception” of cis men is an invitation to violent reprisal, or that people with various mental health struggles simply need to “try harder” to not “be crazy.” The list could go on.

But such hateful beliefs have been perversely pressed into threads for the security blankets of a great many people—and not just white men, either. That blanket has been passed around in feminism itself, and among a host of marginalised communities, with terrible consequences.

Melvin Lerner and Dale Miller, the psychologists who first identified this cognitive bias and the attribution errors it creates, explained why they believed so many people laboured under this delusion:

“The belief that the world is just enables the individual to confront his physical and social environment as though they were stable and orderly. Without such a belief it would be difficult for the individual to commit himself to the pursuit of long-range goals or even to the socially regulated behavior of day-to-day life.”

This is the security blanket– and if we are to get past this, we’re going to have to find a creditable replacement that allows people to get by in their day to day lives.

First and foremost, it means that we have to summon those better angels of our nature to their true calling—not shivering in a corner, justifying human events as if they were uncontrollable weather, but actively and proactively working to make our morality a real and tangible force in the world. In short, actually doing the work in our communities to punish injustice rather than rationalise it, and to recognise how our best impulses can be distorted and manipulated in service to our worst ones.

This means shifting the focus from just-worlds to just people.

A just world, unfortunately, does not exist. But just people absolutely do; the bright candle of human virtue is what has been sustaining us these long centuries, and it is what endures above all else. It’s the light that links us across generations—those who knew that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice only if we make it bend. And that inspiration can take the place of the false hope that we live in an already just world.

We can replace it with the conviction that our virtues can help us all mend the wounds of this world, and that this power will be what can not only unite us against the demons of our own prejudices and the structures they create, but will also dispel the fear that comes with letting go of the just-world security blanket at long last.

Katherine CrossKatherine Cross likes her hypotheses to be testable.

70 percent of voters say the government should not restrict access to abortion

7-in-10-infographic 2A new poll confirms that, contrary to the persist framing of abortion as a “polarizing” issue in the media, Americans are actually pretty united in their support of abortion rights

Seven in ten Americans don’t think the government should enact any new laws to further restrict abortion, according to a new national poll commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America. The reproductive rights group is pointing to the results as evidence that politicians’ efforts to impose more restrictions on the procedure are unpopular, even among voters who may not identify as “pro-choice.”

The poll, which was conducted by the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research firm on behalf of NARAL, offered respondents more detailed options to indicate their opinions on abortion than simply asking them whether they’re “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” Respondents could choose between the following statements: “I believe having an abortion is morally acceptable and should be legal,” “I am personally against abortion for myself and my family, but I don’t believe government should prevent a woman from making that decision for herself,” or “I believe having an abortion is morally wrong and should be illegal.”

About 45 percent of respondents chose the middle category, indicating that they personally oppose abortion but don’t necessarily support enacting further restrictions on it. NARAL says that this is the sector of the population that’s typically underrepresented in polls. GQR pollster Drew Lieberman told Politico that traditional polling often forces people into “artificial categories” because “almost half the population is in the gray area” of believing abortion is morally wrong yet opposing efforts to outlaw it.

And let’s be even more clear: there is actually nothing particularly “gray” about the category of people who personally wouldn’t get an abortion but don’t want the government denying the right to others. In the vast realm of personal emotions and values, I’m sure most people’s views on abortion — just like literally any other human experience — could be called “gray,” which is just to say complex, layered, situational, potentially subject to change. The real question, from a political perspective, is where they come down on the far more black-and-white question of the law. And the majority of Americans understand that the personal beliefs of the few have no place being imposed on the beautiful grayness of our individual lives.

As ThinkProgress notes, it’s been clear for awhile that polls which only survey whether people identify as “pro-choice” or “pro-life” are not actually capturing the public’s opinions on abortion rights. And studies like this are usually fodder for yet another discussion about whether the pro-choice movement needs to reframe the issue. But, of course, plenty of reproductive justice advocates have moved beyond the “choice” framing for awhile now, and these days most mainstream pro-choice organizations have jumped on board too.

Frankly, I think the media — which loves itself a polarized issue and excels at giving credence to extremists in service of some false sense of “balance” — and the anti-choice movement — which has a clear vested interest making their ideas seem less fringe than they are — deserve the most blame for perpetuating this myth that at least half the country wants to outlaw or restrict abortion.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

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A quick note on Michael Brown’s death and “plausibility”


Dorian Johnson was walking with Michael Brown when they were stopped by Officer Darren Wilson. According to Johnson’s eyewitness account:

…a police car pulled up alongside Brown and him, and the officer—who has been identified as Darren Wilson—allegedly told Johnson and Brown to “get the f–k on the sidewalk.”

The two men told the officer that they were only minutes away from their destination. Johnson said that Wilson backed up his car and asked Brown and Johnson what they just said. Johnson claimed that Wilson then tried to open his car door but the door ricocheted off of Brown’s body and closed again.

Johnson said that Wilson pulled Brown through the car window by his neck, and Brown began to try to pull away. Johnson said that Wilson shot Brown during the scuffle, and Brown managed to break away from Wilson’s grip. Brown and Johnson then began to run away from the police vehicle.

Johnson said that Wilson got out of his car and began to shoot at Brown while Brown was running away. Brown then stopped, put his hands in the air, turned around and pleaded with the officer to stop shooting, since he didn’t have a gun.

Johnson said that Wilson continued to fire several more shots before Brown’s body fell to the ground.

That account is from The Root. The article there includes four other eyewitnesses collaborating parts or all of Johnson’s account.

Some right-wingers have doubted those accounts. On The 700 Club, Pat Robinson discussed the Michael Brown shooting:

“The facts aren’t totally clear,” he admitted. “But this great big guy — this gentle giant, they call him — went into a convenience store where he wanted some cigars. So, he stole some cigars. And when the clerk tried to stop him, he pushed the clerk aside, pushed him down, walked out into the middle of the street.”

“Now, was he high on some kind of drugs?” Robertson asked. “That hasn’t come out yet… But the next thing we understand was he was walking down the middle of the street and obstructing traffic, which says to me he probably was high on something.”

The televangelist speculated that Brown “knew he committed a crime,” but “the police maybe didn’t know about it yet.”

“So then, did this giant man charge the police officer, and the police officer tried to defend himself?” he wondered. “It doesn’t seem like there was some kind of wonton act of assassination or execution. That just doesn’t fit the pattern.”

Over on Ethics Alarms, Jack Marshall makes a similar case:

The witness accounts of the death of Mike Brown that have received all of the publicity suggest that the unarmed teen, after being shot in a police cruiser while resisting arrest, bolted from the car and was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson as he tried to escape, even after the victim stopped and appeared to surrender.[...]

To those who are convinced that the police are evil, jack-booted racists and that a police officer with no record of equivalent misconduct would shoot down an unarmed and surrendering teen in public, this undoubtedly seems like a plausible scenario. It sure doesn’t to me. I can see one way it might have happened this way: After Brown, who was huge, hurt and frightened Wilson in the car when they fought, Wilson lost his composure, and fired in rage. If that was the case, then he should be prosecuted for murder. Nothing in even that scenario proves or even suggests racism, but Brown was black and the officer was white, and for too many in the African-American community, that is proof enough.

Now another account has surfaced, on that might support Wilson’s account. It is also more plausible, because it both explains and even justifies the shooting. That account suggests that rather than turning from his flight and surrendering, Brown charged Wilson, placing him in legitimate fear of bodily harm.

In both Robertson’s and Marshall’s accounts, that the police officer Wilson might have been the aggressor and acted irrationally is dismissed as not fitting “the pattern” and not a “plausible scenario.” However, neither of them comments on how implausible it seems that Michael Brown, suddenly and for no apparent reason, decided to essentially commit suicide by cop.

Someone claiming to be a friend of Officer Wilson has been telling what she says is Wilson’s side of the story. CNN somewhat confirms this, saying “A source with detailed knowledge of the investigation later told CNN the caller’s account is ‘accurate,’ in that it matches what Wilson has told investigators.”

In this version of the story, which has been widely reproduced by conservative news sources, Brown literally dares Wilson to shoot him:

And then Michael just bum-rushes him [Darren] and shoves him back into his car, punches him in the face. And then Darren grabs for his gun. Michael grabbed for the gun. At one point he got the gun entirely turned against his hip. And he shoves it away. And the gun goes off.

Well, then Michael takes off with his friend and gets to be about 35 feet away. And Darren’s first protocol is to pursue. So he stands up and yells, “Freeze!” Michael and his friend turn around. And Michael was taunting him, ‘Oh what you’re gonna do about it. You’re not going to shoot me.’

And then all of a sudden he [Michael] just started to bumrush him [Darren]. He just started coming at him full speed. And, so he [Darren] just started shooting. And he [Michael] just kept coming. So he [Darren] really thinks he [Michael] was on something because he just kept coming. It was unbelievable. So he finally ended up, the final shot was to the forehead. And then he [Michaelo] fell about two, three feet in front of the officer.

To suggest that a cop would suddenly and for no apparent reason shoot an unarmed teenager is, right-wingers like Robertson and Marshall say, outside “the pattern” and not “plausible.” But somehow, they don’t find it implausible that an unarmed black teenage boy for no apparent reason charges an armed cop, virtually (and in some accounts literally) begging to be shot.

I don’t know what the truth is. It’s possible that Brown irrationally attacked Wilson (and the witnesses to the contrary misunderstood events); it’s possible that Wilson irrationally shot Brown; we just don’t know for sure, and maybe we won’t ever know. But to say shucks golly, it’s just plain implausible that any cop would ever act like that, while not finding anything at all implausible in thinking that a college-bound black kid suddenly decided to attack an armed cop, is an obvious double-standard.

Of course, a similar double-standard was in play after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. We were told over and over again that it was ridiculous to suggest that Zimmerman started a fight with Martin (even though Zimmerman was the one stalking Martin in the dark with a gun), but the same people had no problem accepting that Martin attacked Zimmerman for no apparent reason. For young black men to suddenly and for no reason commit irrational attacks is never seen as “implausible.”

* * *

Some more Ferguson-related links:

Missouri GOP: Michael Brown Voting Registration Booths ‘Disgusting’ The person objecting to voter registration is Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills. Nice.

Michael Brown and the Danger of the Perfect Victim Frame – COLORLINES

When it comes to police mistreatment and harassment, Blacks and whites live in entirely different universes. Which relates to my post above: The white conservatives who declare what stories are and aren’t “plausible” believe that they’re speaking from a neutral, unbiased view. But actually they’re speaking from the perspective of white people who aren’t in a position to be aware of even a small fraction of the irrational police harassment Blacks face.

A comment on “Black-on-Black crime”

Here is a list of donations, protests, and petitions that you can do to help the people in #Ferguson…

The Ferguson Police Department’s Top 10 Tips For Protester Relations

Documenting the arrests of journalists in Ferguson – Boing Boing

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson – Vox

Trayvon Martin’s Mom writes an open letter to Michael Brown’s family: ‘If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us’ | TIME

A local public defender on the deeply dysfunctional Ferguson court system – Vox

Say What?: On Speechlessness, Racism and Respectability in #Ferguson | The Crunk Feminist Collective

The Timing of Elections Matters (Ferguson Edition)

Ferguson: Survey says white people in US have way more confidence in police than black people – Boing Boing

[Post later edited to add in Dorian Johnson's account. --Amp]

Feministing Jamz: Kelela x Le1f x P Morris – OICU

our mudflap girl, jammin on her headphones

Feministing Jamz faves Kelela and Le1f teamed up with P Morris to bring you this gem of a track this morning. Enjoy it after the jump! 

Oh, and I realize that your girl has been slackin’ on the Jamz posts lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought of a bunch of good songs and videos that would be great to post here. Since you can’t get in my head though, I’ll tweet a few later today — look for them under the #FeministingJamz hashtag.

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfullVerónica is sorry she hasn’t done a Jamz post in the last couple weeks, but this week she’ll do two to make up for it!