Monday, 20 December 2010

Best of Philosophical Comment 2010 (from a snowed in London)

Being one of very many people that are currently stuck in various European cities with cancelled flights due to the harsh winter conditions, I'm still lucky to be able to enjoy the hospitality of good friends. Hopefully I'll be able to make it back home for Christmas, but in any case it is unlikely that you'll see any more substantial posts from  me this year. As a compensation, here's a sort of "best of" graph for Philosophical Comment between May and December this year (just click the image to see a larger version!). While the WikiLeak piece was perhaps an expected winner, I was pleasantly suprised to find my modest Philippa Foot obituary at a handsome second. Thanks to all of you who visit, read, repost, refer, like, subscribe, follow and comment!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Bite into the real deal of the atheism-faith debate

If you have any sort of interest in issues such as atheism, secularism, humanism, religion, intelligent design, creationism, and so on. Take a rest from the amateurs of the blog world, click the free online link below and bite into the real deal. For non-philosophers: Synthese is a highly rated and renowned peer-reviewed academic philosophy journal in the analytic tradition.

Repost from Brian Leiter's Leiter Reports:

"Special Issue of Synthese on "Evolution and Its Rivals"

Available free on-line through the end of the month!  Longtime followers of my "Texas Taliban Alerts" will, no doubt, be particularly interested in the extended discussion of the ID creationism apologetics of Francis Beckwith.  (Earlier relevant items here and here.)   Alas, one of the essays, by Robert Pennock (Michigan State), appears to be a purported defense of the demarcation problem against Laudan's famous critique."

Saturday, 11 December 2010

So, What's Up with COP 16?

Almost a year ago, I kicked off this blog by offering my reading of what were the underlying mechanisms at play at the COP 15 meeting on global climate change policy in Copenhagen. The overwhelming consensus at the time was that this meeting had been a fiasco beyond comparison, and I tried to offer some simple pointers as to the roots of that outcome. Today, headlines in the news are flowing over with jubilant cheers over the final agreement reached at the just finished COP 16 meeting in Cancún, Mexico. So, simply put, what's the difference? Has any of those hard-to-release knots I tried to sketch in my initial post on the subject been at least slackened?

From scanning the news reports (there are loads, as you may imagine – here's a selection from different parts of the world: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i), it is easy to get the impression that the result of COP 16 is a major step forward. To top it up, this image has been accompanying most reports all over the globe, underlining the the initial feel one gets (why is it that I can't get that fake footage of a supposedly Albanian young woman carrying a kitten while trying to escape an alleged - but non-existent - gruesome war from the movie Wag the Dog out of my head?):

The dramaturgy of the news-reports helps also – I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that the Mexican hosts had hired a major public relations firm to handle the reporting. For several days, we have been fed with story after story about this or that country wanting out of the talks, not wanting to sign, making impossible demands, et cetera. But, as the reports triumphantly tell us today, in the end only Bolivia declined to sign! Fantastic!! There was no consensus!!! But wait a minute.... In Copenhagen a year ago, there actually was a consensus..... So, exactly what is the major step forward??

Looking at the actual content of the deal made, I find no actual or substantial difference compared to COP 16. There's no concrete agreement on emission levels (besides continuing to keep the 2° C average global temperature increase limit in sight), on a schedule to decrease them, or on how the burden of decreasing the levels - and of managing the effects of already inescapable climate change - is to be distributed. There is now a deal on the creation of a fund, the purpose of which is to help poorer countries to carry some of the just mentioned burdens. However, there is no deal on how much different parties are to be contributing to it, or the conditions for benefiting from it. This is no difference from COP 15. In fact, what was described as a huge fiasco in Copenhagen was exactly this: the impossibility of reaching an agreement on how a schedule for emission level decrease was to be matched to a distributive pattern for the costs thus created for different countries. So the deal in Copenhagen had to be mostly about agreeing to keep talking, and this actually seems to be what the deal in Cancún is about as well. With one difference: this time one country actually refused to agree even to this! So how come that what was a fiasco in Copenhagen has become a triumph in Cancún, although the pure political outcome in the latter case actually seems to be poorer (no consensus)?

The answer, besides admirable PR footwork of the organisers, seems to be: it's all in our heads! A year ago, we expected so much and were disappointed. This time, because of what happened a year ago, we expected failure and are therefore happy to welcome the absence of catastrophe as progress. Well, nothing surprising in that, I guess. But meanwhile, the same callous chicken race with hundreds of million lives in the pot that I described in my post on COP 15 continues. This time, the organizers and the parties had surrendered in the face of this fact already before the meeting began, and, as a result, a number of other parties have presented bids to join that madness by refusing to extend the Kyoto agreement (Japan and Russia, for instance). 

Meanwhile, the natural forces have their course and even the 2°C average global temperature limit will very soon be a tasteless joke. Hundreds of millions will then quickly become billions.....

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Keep track of WikiLeaks!

Re. my former post, you might have noticed that some of the links died (they are now replaced). This was, of course, an effect of the global censorship attack against Wikileaks currently going on - led by whom, I guess time will tell. In the meantime, here are places to keep track of WikiLeaks as it leads its censorship-happy pursuers in a merry dance around the internet globe:

- Wikileaks own list of mirrors
- @Savewikileaks on twitter
- List of mirrors shared on twitter
- @Wikileaks itself on twitter

And, if you happen to be in control over a unix-based server, here is request and a description of how you can aid in the fight against censorship.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Wikileaks Cablegate Pro & Con

I have tried to avoid airing my thoughts on this subject, but the pile of rubbish from supposedly able foreign policy experts all over the place that has been made public during the week makes this impossible. So, here's my take on Wikileaks and, in particular, the "cablegate" release of about 250.000 US diplomatic cables dating from 1966 up to the beginning of 2010. A very well-structured presentation of the publication, together with analysis and commentary, has been made available by UK newspaper The Guardian.

First of all, some - unfortunately necessary - preliminaries. Although this is not as evident as it should be on the Wikileaks website, the Wikileaks operation is not the same as its founder Julian Assange. As you may be aware of, when this is written, the latter has been arrested and, by reason of probable cause, detended in his absence in my country for one count of rape, two counts of sexual assault and one count of unlawful coercion (during a time he spent in Sweden) – resulting in an Interpol wanted poster, a so-called Red Notice this wednesday. There has been a lot of conspiracy theories aired about this on blogs, forums and places like Facebook and Twitter, but the fact is that the allegations have some history, and that the Red Notice is a consequence of Assange not having made himself available to the police or the prosecutor to clear himself of what he claims to be false allegations. On some forums, I have seen the suggestion that the crimes he is accused of would not be grave enough to warrant international action of this sort and that this would be proved by the fact that Sweden seldom requests the issuing of such notices. Neither is true. Regarding the latter, the simple explanation for the lack of Swedish Red Notice requests is that the suspected perpetrator as a rule can be found in the country or apprehended in another country in simpler ways (ways which, in the case of Assange, have been tried before the notice was requested). Regarding the former, rape is a very serious crime in Swedish legislation and the level of suspicion underlying the arrest is of the higher level. That, together with Assange's apparently deliberate absence and lack of communication with the Swedish authorities is enough to warrant requesting the notice. As to the allegations themselves, it is apparently easy as a Wikileak supporter to forget that there are actual people who have made these - women who have reported to the police that they have been raped and assaulted by Assange - and that the prosecutor has found evidence enough for the court to find probable cause for a detention decision. Now, Assange may, of course, be perfectly innocent here, but as in any country, this is for a court of criminal law to establish, no matter who you happen to be and what good things you may have done.

But the point I want to make here is this: none of that has anything to do with the question about the justifiability of the actions of Wikileaks. Moreover, contrary to what this excuse for a political analyst believes, jailing or even killing Assange does not amount to punishing or, for that matter, closing down Wikileaks. Get it? Good! Over to the main show:

There is, in my view, not a shadow of a doubt that the first leak of US documents - the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs - was morally justified. Yes, the person who leaked the documents committed a serious crime in US jurisdiction. Yes, legally he deserves to be punished within that jurisdiction. However, regarding those documents, he did the right thing, as did Wikileaks when making them public. What made the source's action right is that it is a clear case of justifiable civil disobedience. He acted against the law, as well as his legally sworn professional duty, but nevertheless, he did the right thing. Why? Because what the documents reveal and their revelation is of that level of importance. What they reveal is a stinking heap of elaborate lies and cover-ups all intended at making two bloody and senseless wars look less tasteless in the eyes of the public. That is, the very same public that is supposed to be able to make informed decisions when it is election time. This blinkering of the people is by itself reason enough. However, to this may be added the effect of the lies to make the launching of war more easy. I'm not a pacifist. I believe that war may sometimes be justified. However, war should be made only after a decision made on as correct, complete and relevant information as possible about the expected gains as well as costs of war. And voters in a democracy, should have access to all these facts in order to be able to assess the decisions of their leaders in upcoming elections. The first publication of Wikileak is of the utmost importance for making this slightly more possible in the future. The United States claims itself to be the world's leading democracy and, indeed, is constitutionally bound to the democratic ideology and values by definition. The talk about the leak being against the US "national interest" is thus, if you excuse me saying so, a load of bollocks. There has also been talk about soldiers or others being put at risk by the leak. Well, perhaps that is so, but to make a moral assessment that cost needs to be balanced against the cost of future wars that a preservation of secrecy would have made more likely and all people that would have been put at risk by those.

So, how about cablegate? It does look a bit more complicated, doesn't it? The argument above is surely not applicable here. My assessment so far is undecided. But, what I don't agree with are the many statements about the cablegate leak making the world a less safe place through undermining the prerequisites for efficient foreign policy and diplomacy in the service of peace.

It seems to me that the cablegate revelations fall into two categories. The first one is that diplomats express themselves less than nice and polite about their colleagues in other embassies and foreign dignitaries. Of course, while this was surely not very surprising, it may be used as an excuse by one or the other country to jump out of a negotiation or deal or two. But claiming this revelation to be the end of diplomacy or something close to that, as my own foreign minister did just a day or two ago, is just ridiculous. And it remains ridiculous even if we assume that states will be forced to seriously count on Wikileaks-like leaks in the future. Why? Because the cure to the supposed problem is as easily accessible to all diplomats as it is obvious: Refrain from slandering other people or calling them by less than honorable names - at least in your diplomatic cables. Put more simply: behave yourselves! I'm sure that diplomacy and world peace will survive that apparently drastic culture change in diplomatic circles.

The other category of revelations from cablegate concerns less laughable matters. Secret messages and requests between countries (such as Saudi Arabia asking the US to attack Iran), reports about proofs of various covered up actions of the US as well as other countries (China cyber-attacking Google), and actions taken within the US foreign policy hierarchy. Most sinister of all is a report belonging to this last topic and is, of course, Hillary Clinton's reported orders to US diplomats to spy on UN high-level leadership, staff and representatives. In what way, I ask, do any of these revelations threaten foreign policy and diplomacy in the service of peace? A number of arguments may be launched in response to this, but they all come down to one thing: the need for hush-hush. So, the crucial issue seems to be about this: how necessary is hush-hush for foreign policy and diplomacy in the service of peace?

This question is not an easy one to answer, since it is ambiguous. Here's one apparently sound and valid pattern of reasoning: When making foreign policy and diplomacy in the service of peace with respect to some particular chain of events or a particular topic or area, any nation must have the possibility to adapt to the fact that other players are making things secretly. If a nation cannot act in secrecy itself, it will be played for a sucker by those nations that can or, at least, it will be more difficult to reach desirable results. So, for instance, country A may approach country B with the message that it will yield on some important topic of negotiation only if country B assists country A in an action against country C that country C would react very strongly to if taken by country A. If country B cannot keep this request from A secret, there is a risk of conflict between C and A even in the lack of action from B's side. And if A can't trust its request to B being kept a secret, it will never make its offer regarding the important topic of negotiation. I assume that numerous examples of this sort, many far more complex and dirty than this generic sketch, can be given by those who know better than me. As regards spying, there are many examples through history (not least from the cold war era) of espionage intelligence being very important from the perspective of peace. Conclusion: hush-hush does seems to be a vital ingredient in foreign policy and diplomacy to secure peace. Thus, threats to hush-hush, such as Wikileaks, are  threats to peace.

Against this picture, the following, equally sound and valid, line of argument may be mounted: Suppose that, e.g., the US and the EU countries launched a policy of complete openness about foreign policy actions taken and information received regarding foreign policy. This would include refusing to keep secret any sort of clandestine request or offer, but also openly declare all intelligence or "ops" activities - such as wanting to scan the irises of Ban Ki Moon, or paying off some corrupt Afghan minister for not rocking the boat. From a democratic point of view, such a position would seem to be much more desirable than the one described in the former paragraph. Here, the voters are perfectly aware of what their elected representatives are doing in their name. The argument for this is the same as the one outlined earlier. What is more, however, the strongest powers in international politics taking up such a position would seem to cripple the chances of any other country playing them for suckers by applying a hush-hush policy themselves. This since they will then not be able to cooperate at all with US or the EU. In effect, all other countries would have a strong incentive to adapt the openness position as well! As a consequence, a situation would develop where the default premise in international politics would not be that others are lying to you and hiding things from you, but the other way around. Just as in the hush-hush dominated world, openness and honesty of a single player would lead to ruin, in the openness world, trying to hide your actions or intentions would become extremely risky. Chances are that you are discovered and, as a consequence, made a pariah in the international community. Now, the question is this: which world would the better one from the standpoint of peace - the one where nations habitually lie and cheat and expect everyone else to do likewise, or the one built on the opposite of that? The answer should be obvious and, thus, to have foreign policy and diplomacy promoting peace, hush-hush is, in fact, not essential. Even stronger, hush-hush actually diminishes the chance of foreign policy and diplomacy to deliver peace.

So bear with me being a little bit utopian here. I hereby make the following suggestion to the US, the EU, Russia and China on how they should best respond to the Wikileaks phenomenon in general and cablegate in particular. Use Wikileaks to your advantage! Stop playing the hush-hush game! Adapt the openness position and you will have secured a win-win situation that no one will be able to touch! If you do, tomorrow belongs to you!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Dr. Haas Running for Cover

Re. my post yesterday, Dr. Haas has apparently been all over the place priding the National Catholic Bioethics Center with his insights in the media on what the Vatican position on using condoms for preventing HIV/AIDS amounts to nowadays. Given the quality of analysis and reasoning of the piece I related, the result may seem predictable.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

More on the Pope's Condom Turnaround: Dance of the Imbeciles

Just the other day, I offered my analysis of the Pope's apparent turnaround on the morality of using of condoms for preventing HIV infection. Most other readings made by people who are supposed to know a bit of ethics I have seen have made a similar interpretation (see, e.g. this comment and the ensuing discussion): The Pope is using the Doctrine of the Double Effect, according to which the good intention of trying to avoid the transmission of HIV (slightly) whitewashes the otherwise (according to past dogma) sinful act of having safe sex. Although the Pope, in the interview where he was reported to state his new opinion, was reported to use only the example of a male prostitute, obviously, the argument from the DDE is applicable no matter the gender of the person having safe sex or in what relationship they stand to each other. Indeed, this was confirmed by the Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi at a press conference yesterday, reported at the website Catholic Culture (emphasis added by me):

Father Lombardi explained that the Pope did not attach great significance to his choice of a male rather than female prostitute to illustrate his point. The basic point, he said, is “the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of another.”

According to the Catholic News Agency, Lombardi even added:

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point,”

At the same time, several other high representatives of Catholicism have been very active, some (reported at the Catholic Culture website) pointing out what us secular ethics guys saw immediately - that reasoning from the DDE is old news in Catholic ethics - others, rather desperately, doing their very best to push the toothpaste back into the tube. Some in this last crowd makes for a splendid illustration of what an oxymoron the notion of combining dogmatic religious faith and well-reasoned ethical analysis is. Catholic Culture thus reports (my emphasis added):

In response to questions about whether the Pope’s statement applied to married couples in which one partner is HIV-positive—which it clearly did not—the Catholic bishops’ conference of South Africa issued a statement emphasizing “the primacy of an informed conscience.” Going far beyond the Pope’s statement, the South African bishops said: “Where one spouse is infected with HIV/AIDS they must listen to their consciences. They are the only ones who can choose the appropriate means.” 

Wonderful! So, according to the South African version of Catholic moral dogma, there is nothing(!) to be said for having safe sex with your spouse if you are infected by HIV rather than having unsafe sex. If it is not a question of spouse but girl-/boy-friend, a fiancee, a one night stand or - indeed - a prostitute, however, then protecting the life of your sexual partner immediately becomes morally significant. In some mysterious way, however, consulting one's conscience is not of importance in the latter case, but (apparently) highly so in the former. And, by the way, as to the the reference to the (marital?) ethical importance of conscience: How very Lutheran!

Another example regards the expansion of the DDE reasoning to situations where we are not only talking about two people, but a society. I argued, in my analysis, that a logical expansion of the Pope's argument implies that there are (Catholic) moral reasons for states to employ condoms to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic: Handing them out freely or subsidizing them, educating people about how HIV is transmitted and how condoms might prevent it, et cetera. From a Catholic point of view, obviously, such actions are second best to having the population resort to abstinence, but that does not take away the moral reason, especially when the state knows that abstinence is not to be expected no matter what political measures are employed (and, for that matter, that any democratic government taking such measures would be out of office by the next election). This, however, is obviously viewed with some horror by the Catholic Culture reporter:

Secular journalists have routinely interpreted the Pope’s statement as an admission that condom use can be justified, although the Pope’s full statement, in context, clearly makes no such claim. Many reports have suggested that the Pope was backing away from earlier statements, in which he said that condom-distribution campaigns are the wrong way to fight AIDS. In fact, in his interview with Seewald, the Pope was defending those earlier statements when he made the remarks that have prompted so many headlines. 

So, is the point here that the intention of protecting the life of others is morally worthy when directed at one person, but not at several? If the ideas of the South African bishops looked a bit over the top, this one seems to be right in the center of the madhouse. But, obviously, this can hardly be what the Pope meant, or what is the present standing on the dignity, sanctity and value of human life within Catholic ethics. Neither can the point be that a good intention makes no difference, since that would imply that the Pope is wrong altogether in everything that he says on this matter (which I, actually, can't imagine being a view that the Catholic Culture is representing). My suspicion is that the reporter has been missing out on what I claimed to be a bit of a novelty as regard ethical analysis in official Catholic moral teaching in the Pope's pattern of reasoning: an idea of degrees of wrong and right. So, just as with the case with two people having sex, the condom solution is not claimed by the Pope as being the morally best one. But neither is it the worst one! If you have HIV and is going to have sex (which, as a good Catholic, you really shouldn't), better use a condom than not. Similarly, if you're going to shape a policy to stop HIV and can't or won't have people to practice abstinence, better use condoms than not. Clear enough?!

But the most hilarious example of desperation and confusion comes from a person who is supposed to be a highly proficient and sharp mind when it comes to ethical analysis, US moral theologian John Haas – head of the National Center for Catholic Bioethics. As reported by the Catholic News Agency. Dr. Haas' object of complaint is not the statement of the Pope, but the interpretation related above that the DDE argument for condom use applies no matter the gender of the person (my emphasis added):

“The gender of the prostitute is indeed relevant to the point the Pope wanted to make with regard to the use of condoms,” Haas said. [...] the “presumption is that the male prostitute has AIDS. His decision to use a condom perhaps might mean some expression of concern and regard for the other person.” Haas pointed out that female prostitutes do not use condoms. If a female prostitute does use condoms, he said, that act would likely reflect a selfish concern – to protect herself from disease.
"She would want to protect herself from being infected and in no way would be expressing the concern for the 'other' that the Pope said might be the first step toward 'moralization' if it were being done by a male prostitute. This is why the example of a female prostitute doesn't work,” Haas said.

First of all, note that Haas seems to clear transgender people. Fine, but what is he doing next??? Primo, it seems, making false assertions and contradicting himself better than in any textbook example you might want to use in A-level logic or argumentation class. Female prostitutes don't use condoms (false!), but, then again, they do. Or what? Secundo, he seems to be suggesting that the value of a human life is not very important when that life is one's own. That is, the value of human life is, in fact, not the sort of absolute that I would have thought would be the last conviction of a Catholic ethicist to be sacred on the altar of dogmatism. Anyhow, splendid news for all Catholics who are contemplating suicide: keeping yourself alive is a mere "selfish concern" that is in no way to be seen as being a step towards "moralization" - just ask Dr. Haas! Tertio, and most startling, considering that Haas is supposed to be a prominent bioethicist, he demonstrates what must either be lack of willingness to learn some basic facts about the case he is commenting on, or a conscious refusal to apply those facts known to him. For, considering that we are talking about a lethal pandemic, the assumption about the woman's motive can only involve herself and her client is clearly faulty. This is an infectious disease we are talking about, and one that is spreading rapidly. The woman's concern may therefore be about herself, her present family, her forthcoming children, people who may become infected in a secondary stage, should she herself be infected, and so on and so forth up to a concern for the entire population.

Back to school, Dr. Haas!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Meanwhile, in the real world.....

Today, the second U.S. clinical trial for embryonic stem cell based treatments received clearance from the FDA.

But wait! Wasn't this with embryonic stem cell research banned in the U.S.?? Or wasn't it at least highly contested at the most important legal and political levels? Well.......

Sunday, 21 November 2010

New Catholic ruling on condoms? Maybe, and maybe some ethics news as well!

Today, it was made public that the current Pope in an interview has announced what looks like a change of official Roman Catholic Church teaching on the morality of using condoms, e.g., here, here, here, here. Nothing has been posted at the Vatican website yet, but the reports cite the German journalist Peter Seewald, who has been interviewing the Pope for a new book, as the source. So, maybe, maybe not, but interesting enough to have a closer look at. This is what the BBC relates (with my own emphasis added):

When asked whether the Catholic Church was not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the Pope replied: "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."
The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by male prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection".
He says that the "sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality" where sexuality is no longer an expression of love, "but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves".

Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh interprets this for the BBC as meaning:

"The prevalence of HIV raised the question of whether condoms could be used to prevent the transmission of the virus.

"If the intention is to prevent transmission of the virus, rather than prevent contraception [I'm sure this should be "conception" and will assume so in the following], moral theologians would say that was of a different moral order."

Now, part of this argument is very familiar territory in Catholic ethics, namely the reference to the need for a proper intention. I will not rant on the outdated view of what human sexuality may properly be used for here, so let's just concentrate on the idea that preventing the HIV virus to spread would be a good thing and grant, solely for the sake of analysis, that using condoms for any other purpose would be wrong. What Mr. Ivereigh is referring to then seems to be the application of the so-called doctrine or principle of the double effect, a theoretical device conceived within the Thomistic part of Catholic philosophical tradition for dealing with problems of apparently conflicting moral duties that are a necessary part of the sort of rigid absolutist ethical system that the Catholic reading of Christian ethics results in. Take, for instance, the idea of the sanctity of human life, normally understood to be expressed by an absolute moral ban on homicide. What does this idea tell us to do in situations where the consequence of abstaining from homicide will be the death of one or more human being(s)? Strictly read, of course, the fifth commandment still forbids killing, but already medieval Catholic scholars realised that such an interpretation is both inhuman and very difficult to reconcile with many things in the Bible, such as the message of love. Therefore the idea was gradually conceived that in situations where avoiding an act that would otherwise be forbidden would lead to a sufficiently evil effect, it may be permissible to perform this act. There's quite a lot of fine print around this, but the most important condition is that the intention or motive be the right one. If your intention is merely to avoid the bad side-effect of avoiding the otherwise wrongful act, this act is in fact not wrongful. This principle has been used for justifying war, capital punishment and abortion, to give a few examples. In effect, if a side-effect of the act of having unprotected sex is an elevated risk of transmitting the HIV virus, then having protected sex with the intention of preventing such a transmission is permissible. This becomes even more significant on a societal policy scale: if the political motive behind a policy of, e.g., handing out free condoms, provide sexual education, and launching propaganda campaigns for safe sex, is to prevent the public health menace of HIV, then this is OK!

The only strange or surprising part of this way of reasoning is why on earth the Vatican has not thought of saying this a long time ago. As observed, it seems to go well enough with established theory as well as past policies condoning much worse things than a roll in the hay, while the HIV pandemic is an extraordinary evil of seldom seen proportions. Seemingly, the Catholic church's curious fixation with the act of sexual intercourse has made them seriously loose track of much, much more serious matters - also judged by their own moral standards. But my mission here is not to rant about that. I'm quite pleased that they have seen the light (if that is indeed what they have done) - better late than never, however cruel that may sound in light of the many human lives that have been the victims of the delay.

But this is only half of what the Pope seems to be saying. The other part is that he seems to be introducing a rather novel element in Catholic ethical theory: right and wrong on a scale! The Pope's own formulations here are more than a little slippery. The use of condoms to prevent HIV, he says, is not "a real moral solution" but "a step" in the right direction. Mr. Ivereigh attempts to clarify this when he says that what the Pope means is that using condoms for preventing HIV transmission  is "of a different moral order" - presumably different than using condoms for just avoiding having sex resulting in pregnancy, and presumably not as wrong. Now, since the official teaching is that having sex with any other intention than that of procreation is a sin (unless you exploit the occurrence of so-called safe periods in the menstrual cycle - an exemption for which I have so far never seen an intelligible explanation), the Pope thus seems to be saying that having sex using a condom with the intention of preventing HIV is, in fact, not a sin. Now, in standard Catholic ethics, this would imply that such acts are morally right. This since traditional Catholic ethics is built on the structure of the Ten Commandments, according to which you act wrongly if you act against these rules, but permissible if you avoid doing so. In other words, there are only two moral categories as regards actions: either they are right or they are wrong. But what the Pope says does not seem to be this. What he says is that, while using condoms for preventing HIV is morally acceptable, morally speaking, it would be even better if..... Well, here it becomes a bit unclear, but let's be charitable, shall we! There is, according to the Pope, a something (not very well explained) that would be an even better approach to combining the facts of human sexuality and the HIV pandemic than using condoms. This something would be very or fully morally right, while using condoms is not. At the same time, however using condoms for preventing HIV is not wrong. In effect, the Pope seems to be saying that there is a moral category in between (very or fully) right and wrong. In fact, he seems to suggest some sort of continuous scale of moral elevation on which a person can travel some distance between wrongful action and morally (very and fully) right action!

Theoretically, this novelty (in the Catholic context) could be unpacked in many ways familiar to moral philosophers for the simple reason that secular ethical theory has been developing ideas of this sort for centuries. If the appearance of the Pope's statements hold up to scrutiny and becomes official teaching for real, this would imply quite a lot of work for catholic moral theologians. Nevertheless, should that be the case, I would be the first to welcome them out of the medieval hazes they have been inhabiting for quite some time!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The New European Political Racism, Pt. 3: From Nationism to Conditionalised Citizenship to Ethnic Cleansing

In the first part of this series, I distinguished the rhetoric of the new racism from its actual ideological core, as it appears from analysing original, concrete and comprehensible policy suggestions. These being mainly about conditions for citizenship, what transpired was that the ideology of the new racism is about, what I called, Nationism; the idea that states have a basic moral reason to make a fundamental moral distinction between people who are born of citizens of this state (or who meet some similar immediate citizenship condition) and other people (who need to perform according to some conditions to attain citizenship). At the same time, the new racism is indeed wielding a lot of classic ethno-racist rhetoric. However, as it turns out, this is only a smokescreen for what is the real deal. This is shown, besides the fact that the rhetoric makes no comprehensible mark on what is actually suggested with regard to policy, by the way in which the new racists immediately back down from the ethno-racist claims as soon as they are being challenged. On this basis, I made the point that one of the reasons for the recent success of the new racism in elections is that the nationist ideology has not been adequately seen, exposed, explained and distinguished from ideas about making a difference between different people with regard to citizenship for purely pragmatic reasons (the latter supporting far less drastic conditions for citizenship for people who do not become immediate citizens). The new racists have been able to triumph simply because of the uncertainty of voters and political opponents on this basic point.

In the second part of the series, I continued to demonstrate that this, what looks as the new racists' best political weapon, is actually also their weakest point. This since the strategy of ducking away from objections to the ethno-racist rhetoric is only smart as long as the nationist ideological core is not clearly visible and thereby provides a sort of political hideout camouflaged as something far less sinister than what it in fact is. When we see it for what it is – nationism – we can also see that the joint political message of the new racism is genuinely paradoxical. Nationism is, as a matter of fact, contradicting ethno-racism, and vice versa.

So, suppose that the nationist ideology is effectively exposed (as it surely will be, eventually). Where will this lead (besides having the new racists loosing votes faster than you can say "citizenship test")? Well, the new racism will then have to face the nationist - ethno-racism paradox head on. Facing a contradiction they will, of course, as Robert Nozick once observed, have the option of remaining inconsistent. That, however, will surely lead to the effective end of this sort of political movement for a long time. Simply put, being openly inconsistent is not a trait being favored by very many people - not even with regard to immigration policy. And I'm sure that the leaders and strategists of the new racism are perfectly aware of this. So, then, what will they do?

Well, besides remaining inconsistent, the only available way of reacting to a contradiction is to reject one of its sides. That is, the new racism will have to purify its message into one that is about nationism, and nothing more than that, or drop the nationist ideological core and wander down the more well-known ethno-racist route.

My suggestion is that an openly nationist political movement with no access to further rhetorical sources will not win the hearts of many voters. This for three reasons. First, nationism, when seen clearly is a basic moral position as reprehensible as the idea thatpeople have a right to treat other people much worse just because they happen to have another hair colour, another birthday date, living on another street, et cetera, compared to oneself. It doesn't help very much here that the new racists perform the universalisation trick and thereby avoid the most obvious objection of being simply arbitrary in singling out themselves, their own group, yard, neighbourhood (or what have you) as enjoying a moral privilege that nobody else does. This was one of the factors that made the racism of the first half of the 20th century unsustainable under any other condition than war (which tends to make us all into infantile 1st person egoists). When universalised, nationism avoids this by acknowledging the same moral privilege to all states visavis their own citizens. But since we are not here talking about favors to citizens based on the need for pragmatic adaption to the condition of a multinational world, but of nationism (see part 1 for more about this) clearly spelled out, I suggest that not many people would be attracted to this evolved version of the new racism. In particular, and this is the second reason, they would understand immediately that nationism actually professes measures that are clearly against the national interest as well as the interests of most citizens! How this is so is developed in part 1 as well. Third, part of the success of the new racism surely has to do with the pull that the ethno-racist rhetoric exerts on some people. Without it, the new racists have lost a significant lever of popular seduction.

So, that seems to leave the ethno-racist route, but with some crucial differences to what used to be possible for the new racist movement to do politically. First, the new racism will not hold up for very long if they try to support ethno-racist policy claims with various alleged pragmatic arguments (as they have been trying to do in their recent rhetoric). Not when they no longer have have a nationist ideological core that nobody else sees clearly to hide behind. This means that, rather than a shallow rhetoric, the ethno-racist claims have to become the new ideological core. What will that imply?

As I explained in part 1, and elaborated further in part 2, ethno-racism as an ideology is about making a fundamental moral difference between people sorted in different groups in terms of some selected socio-cultural signifiers, "muslim" being the latest term of division in a long line. Also this idea can be universalised with regard to ideas regarding conditions for citizenship, effectively stating that every state has a basic moral privilege (not implied by pragmatic necessities in a multinational world, but of value in itself) to award citizenship only to people who belong to the group defined by the socio-cultural signifier selected. This is the origin of the idea of a citizenship test that needs to be passed in order for citizenship to be awarded, as well as the notion of revocable citizenship. Now, as demonstrated in part 1, recent new racist policies of such tests are in fact not ethno-racist but nationist, since people who are born by citizens are not required to take any test or conform to any standard of behavior to attain or keep citizenship. However, it is perfectly possible to modify these sort of policies so that they fit perfectly with an ethno-racist ideological core. The only thing needed is that the ethno-racist conditions of citizenship are applied to all people - also those who are born by citizens.

In other words, the ethno-racist ideological turn will force the new racism (at pains of being caught in another paradox) to advocate the idea of conditionalised citizenship all across the board. No one, born in the country or immigrant, can become a citizen unless they are demonstrated to conform to some sort of socio-cultural standard. Moreover, even if they do so and are awarded citizenship, they can be stripped of it if demonstrated to depart significantly from this same standard. This, of course, is the same cluster of ideas where we find the notion of more or less enforced repatriation programmes and, of course, ultimately, ethnic cleansing. Luckily, not many people will be attracted by such suggestions, unless we have a socio-economic meltdown of the sort occurring in continental Europe during the 1930's and a subsequent period of serious violent conflict. Hitler, in his way, understood this perfectly - thus, the gradually sharpened provocations to boost the emerging chaos of Germany.

This is where I end my attempt to understand the ideology of the new European political racism and its role in current, as well as forthcoming, politics. Hopefully, by reading this blog or by just thinking for themselves, political parties and people in general will soon pick up on the trick I tried to expose in part 1 and see what measures are needed to have the new racism caught with its pants down rather soon. This means that the sort of critical reflections on the prejudices residing within the shallow ethno-racist rhetoric so popular among anti-racist, liberal or left-leaning intellectuals are, perhaps not bad or unnecessary, but of secondary priority. Some new topics, such as the crucial difference between nationism and pragmatic accommodations to a multinational world, need to be addressed and some new tactics need to be developed on the basis of that. Godspeed!

Monday, 1 November 2010

The New European Political Racism, Pt. 2: The Nationism - Ethno-racism Paradox

In the first post of this series, I argued that – rhetoric suggesting the contrary notwithstanding – the ideological core of the new European political racism is actually about neither race biology, nor ethno-racism (or -centrism). Instead, it is about what I called Nationism; roghly, the idea that there is of some value in itself for a nation state to apply lower standards of treatment to people who are not born by citizens of this state (or who do not meet some similar condition for immediate citizenship, ICC). I contrasted this idea with the notion of applying such lower standards for pragmatic reasons connected to the fact that the world happens to be organised into a multitude of nation states, and held out the lack of understanding of the difference between this latter idea and the nationist one as a crucial factor for explaining the recent success of the new racism.

Now, even if I am right about this analysis, it would be foolish to think that such an explanation is to be found only in the ideology of the new racism and the inability of people and other political parties to spot it in time. For sure, the rhetoric employed by the new racists also plays a part. In the first post, I described how this rhetoric wields familiar ethno-racist elements, where socio-cultural signifiers (such as language, clothing, traditions, mores) are allegedly associated with features that many people would indeed find to be reasons for less favorable treatment (criminality, cruelty to others, general antiociality, blameworthy costliness for society, and so on). Moreover, I pointed to how the introduction of the nationist ideology actually has helped this rhetoric to function more effectively: whenever an alleged link between a socio-cultural signifier (e.g. "muslim" or "gypsy") and some feature held to be morally important is questioned – factually or morally – the new racist campaigner can simply drop it and retreat into the nationist position. This since the latter is, as a matter of fact, not dependent on any ethno-racist arguments or assumptions, neither factually, nor morally. So, summing up, while nationism is the ideological core of the new racism, its success is best explained by the combination of (1) an initial rhetoric making use of classic ethno-racism, and (2) an ideological core of pure nationism and political suggestions built on that.

What I want to point to now is that this combination, while indeed helping to explain the recent success of the new racism, is in fact also its Achilles' heel. For hidden inside this seemingly clever politico-tactical set-up lurks a bona fide paradox. This paradox, I suggest, is what must be exposed in a serious and convincing way by politicians, journalists and others, for the electoral support of the new racism to start to falter.

This is the paradox:

The ethno-racist rhetoric is about the idea that national states should apply lower standards of treatment to people who don't sufficiently conform to a "national culture". This is not to be confused with the idea that a nation is permitted to enforce its own laws - culture is not the same as actual single behaviors or actions, culture is composed by things like languages, worldviews, traditions and mores). Applied to the issue of what conditions for citizenship to apply (a favorite issue of the new racists), this idea implies that it should be more difficult to be awarded citizenship of a country, the more a person deviates from this country's (supposed) national culture or "identity". In contrast, the nationist ideology pays no attention to cultural belonging or identity. Its sole center of value is the distinction between those who are born by (or connected by lineage to) people who are already citizens of a country and those who are not. Applied to the issue of conditions for awarding citizenship this means that people who are born by citizens receive immediate citizenship (what I called the ICC), while people who are not need to perform according to additional requirements (what I called ACC) in order to be awarded citizenship. Now, as briefly pointed out in that context, the nationist idea implies no ideas whatsoever about the citizens of a country conforming to any particular culture or having a certain "national identity". Quite the contrary! By the awarding of citizenship via ICC, the nationist model leaves the country wide open to limitless cultural variation among citizens. In addition, people who do not meet ICC, but who indeed have the sort of national culture or identity that is valued by the ethno-racist are met by extra difficulties should they desire to receive citizenship. In short, nationism is open to awarding citizenship to exactly such people that ethno-racists want to deny citizenship to, and is open for impeding citizenship for exactly such people that ethno-racism want to award citizenship. Thus, ethno-racism and nationism are not only different, they are incompatible and, in combination, inconsistent.

This incompatibility or inconsistency appears just as clearly if we instead proceeds from a basis where the ethno-racist position is the starting point. From this point of view, then, only people who can demonstrate (sufficient) conformity to a national culture or possession of a national identity are to be awarded citizenship. That is, the fact that you are born by (or can demonstrate lineage to) a citizen is of no concern whatsoever. On the contrary, regardless of your heritage or where you come from, if you meet the ethno-racist culture/identity condition, citizenship is within reach. In other words, the ethno-racist citizenship idea will both block citizenship for people who, according to nationism, should receive automatic citizenship, and award citizenship to people, who nationism would want to impede from receiving citizenship.

Thus, combining the ethno-racist idea with nationism leads to a paradox. The message is that some people both should and should not be awarded or impeded from receiving citizenship. This paradox is built into the totality of the ideas conveyed by the new racist political movement. If the rhetoric and the ideological core is taken together, the result is a state of deepest confusion. Exposing this confusion, I suggest, is a powerful political and rhetorical weapon.

This leaves the question what wielding that weapon will result in. Hopefully and presumably, weakened electoral support of the new racism, of course – after all, voters are as a rule not prone to subscribing to obviously idiotic ideas. But where will that move the racists – those who have been engaged in these sort of parties or movements for decades? That will be the subject of the third, and last, posting in this series.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

(Finally) the End of US. Gene Patents?

Today, the New York Times reports that the US federal government, through the Department of Justice, has decided to reverse the policy practice with regard to patenting of genes and genetic mutations. I blogged about this issue earlier this year, pointing to all the excellent reasons for revising US policy on genetic patents – not least the con artist like businesses that have been allowed to flourish in the genetic testing area thanks to the odd idea of exempting genes from the general principle that constituents of the natural world cannot be patented, only processes that manipulate such constituents. Interested readers can download the full so-called friend-of-the-court brief for closer inspection.

The article makes clear that most serious business in the area of genomics and gene technology will not be significantly disturbed by the change of policy, since these companies have actually developed unique processes to patent. Likewise, synthetic or otherwise modified DNA that is different from DNA occurring in nature will be possible to patent. Especially the latter means that some of the ethical problems connected to this issue will remain. However, hopefully, the new policy will make it more difficult for scam companies such as Myriad Genetics to run a profitable business, thereby saving many people from being deceived and helping medical research to help people with genetic diseases more effectively. See my earlier post on this issue for more details on that.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The New European Political Racism, Pt. 1: How Nationism Whitewashes Racism

In Europe during the last decade or so, new (or, in some cases, semi-new) political parties have been not only popping up, but actually having some success among voters with a racist or semi-racist message. To the already established Front Nationale of France and the Fremskrittsparti of Norway, we now have, among others, the Danish Danskt Folkeparti, the Italian Lega Nord, the Dutch PVV, the Austrian FPÖ, and earlier this fall, my own country joined the ranks when the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, in Swedish) won themselves 20 seats in national parliament (securing  between 5 and 6% of the votes in the general election). This development has come as something of a shock to many people, it seems, but – apparently – also to established political parties. The latter have been quite at a loss when it comes to handling the rhetoric of this new movement – which is designed to deflect associations with national socialism or the ethnic cleansing ideologies of the 90's Balkans and thereby avoid accusations of obvious racism of the sort repugnant to almost all Europeans. In some cases, most notably Denmark, parties labeling themselves liberal have become so confused by this trick that, apparently, they have concluded that this new wave is not about racism, but actually an acceptable form of liberalism where responsibility rather than freedom is emphasised (it has helped, perhaps, that this conceptual move have been fitting for other political purposes, such as down-scaling the public sector). Personally, I have been quite stunned by this inability of political leaders – "why don't they simply say what should be obvious to any politically trained eye, and quickly dismantle this new attempt of the far-right to gain foothold so that all voters can see it?", I have been asking myself.

Because they have not been saying it (and, I'll come to what "it" is). What they have done is either of three things: (a) pretending that the new racism doesn't exist (not seldom medicalising the phenomenon using terms such as "xenophobia"), (b) trying to snatch enough of the ideological/political ideas of the new racism, so that voters will be satisfied without voting for the new party, or (c) formulating arguments or rhetorical figures where an implicit premise is that the new party has to be fundamentally wrong or flawed – thus preaching only to the already converted. Of these tactics, two have failed, and one has actually functioned as an ideological arrowhead, helping tremendously to establish the ideological basic premises of the new racism as acceptable ones in public debate. This last one is, of course, (b). In Sweden, the pioneers of employing (b) have been the traditionally social-liberal Folkpartiet; clearly inspired by the success of Danskt Folkeparti, suggestions have repeatedly been made over the years (most notably in connection to upcoming parliamentary elections) about the launching of a test required for immigrants in order for them to be awarded Swedish citizenship. More lately, this party and the Christian Democrats have complemented the basic notion of conditionalised citizenship with the idea of at best awarding immigrants a revocable citizenship (e.g., should they commit serious crime). And during the last campaign-stretch of our most recent election, the conservative/right-wing liberal party Moderaterna choose to go public with similar ideas about citizenship for immigrants in tandem with increased opportunities for expelling foreign criminals from the country. The Christian Democrats produced the topping of this splendid cake of political opportunism when its leader, Göran Hägglund published an article declaring that, in fact, the Swedish population can be divided into two groups: "the people of reality" (yes, I am not joking, that's what he said) and the other (I guess, less real) ones – namely intellectuals and academics questioning the premises of the above described suggestions. The final package has then been made to fit into the present Government's (a – nowadays minority – coalition of the above mentioned parties plus Centerpartiet, led by Moderaterna) ideological basis that stresses the responsibility of citizens as a supplement or condition for liberty and security. Now, as evidenced by Moderaterna's clever little move of actually not suggesting that the citizenship of immigrants should be revocable in case of serious crime, "only" that citizenship should be revocable if attained deceitfully and that opportunities for expelling serious criminals from the country should be expanded, the application of strategy (b) has been gradually modified. Similarly, Folkpartiet has gradually changed the original idea of a test required for immigrants to get citizenship into the idea of an obligatory course on the Swedish language, public life, political system, etcetera. – quite close to the what the citizenship test implemented in Denmark since a few years is about, just without the test.

So, what did this do to the Sweden Democrats (our new racists), then? Well, as a matter of fact, the process described above – especially the early dashes at the citizenship test idea of Folkpartiet – made it quite easy for the Sweden Democrats to find and establish their own position. Although, there are some nuances, this position is the same as the one occupied by several of the other European new racist parties mentioned above. Moreover, thanks to the application of strategies (a)-(c) by the established parties, the Sweden Democrats could quite easily seize the most potent of rhetorical tools available to a small, new party: the repeated claim of addressing issues of importance to "ordinary people" that are ignored by other parties. The critical word here is "issues", because what is really meant, of course, is that the other parties are not supporting their policy suggestions. However, since some of these suggestions had actually already been put forward by some of the other parties (strategy (b)), or since the other parties either ignored (strategy (a)) or dismissed in an off hand way (strategy (c)) whatever the Sweden Democrats were saying – the latter were left quite free to make this proven pitch, sometimes added to by the observation that the other parties (through strategy (b)) actually agreed with the basics of what they were suggesting re. immigration, they just pretended to disagree due to childish or tactical reasons. As far as I have been able to understand, this pattern is basically the same as earlier developments in several other European countries – albeit, of course, there are various sorts of national variations in detail. However, this pattern alone does not explain the success of the new European political racism – in particular, it does not explain how established parties can get away with strategy (b), or why they seem to be unable to get a hold on the ideological core of the new racism and simply demolish it, intellectually as well as politically. The rest of this blog is about what this core is, what makes it work politically and, in effect, how to disarm it.

In my view, this is a matter of far more than theoretical importance. One consequence of the above-mentioned inabilities of established political parties and movements has been the occurrence of rather desperate and ill-considered actions of anti-racist groups, such as stopping or trying to stop regular meetings in the course of general election campaigns – not seldom combined or followed by predictable riot-like violence that, equally predictable, has been blown up i media reporting. While the feelings of frustration underlying such events may be understandable, the events themselves have had the actual effect of further strengthening the foothold of the new racism in the Swedish public political landscape. The new racists have been helped to hold out themselves as a voice of reason and civility that is impeded by a senseless minority mob from exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and democratic political action. Again, they have been able to do so thanks to the rather cleverly designed ideological core of the new racism, where all traditional militant insignia and openly racist pejoratives have been carefully weeded out. So, let's return to the nature of this core.

Being a racist in the original sense – advocating different standards of treatment for people belonging to different biological races – is a politically dead concept since the end of the second world war. It became ultimately, irrevocably dead only the other year, when biological scientists declared that the impotency of the human race-taxonomy even as an evolutionary biological explanatory variable had been conclusively proven - biologically speaking, there simply are no human races. However, not even the Nazis where racists in this pure sense – the Nuremberg laws' criteria and even more the practices in Nazi Germany of applying these laws for distinguishing jews from non-jews contained a rather chaotic multitude of socio-cultural signifiers, as did various other taxonomies applied during the heydays of race biology in the first few decades of the 20th century. Possibly, the only pure biological racists in real policy making were the engineers and decision makers during the times of US slavery and the European colonisation of Africa. Rather, the classic real racism is one where one or more socio-cultural signifier (language, customs, worldview, mores...) in combination with physical characteristics, are claimed to be intimately connected to features that provide reason for applying less favorable standards of treatment of people falling into the delimited category than to other people. The first step away from this classic racism of real modern politics is to drop the part about physical characteristics (skin colour, eye or facial shape, height...). The result is the idea that people defined by certain socio-cultural signifiers are therefore possessors of features providing reasons for less favorable treatment, no matter their physical appearance. This has been a much repeated phenomenon over a period of several decades, with the signifier of "muslim" being the latest and possibly most successful.

However, at the same time, this sort of ethno-racism is a very vulnerable position, since it needs to assume the mentioned link between the socio-cultural signifier and the features that are supposed to give reason for less favorable treatment. A nice illustration of this is provided by a smaller part of the debate precluding the Swedish parliamentary election recently: The Sweden Democrats went for the classic link between immigration and crime in order to support their various ideas of impeding extra-european immigration and repatriating the ones already here, based on statistics showing that  immigrants are overrepresented as criminal offenders. However, it was immediately pointed out that, first, the immigrant population that this statistics is based on is made up by predominantly Scandinavian and European people (actually, according to statistics - alas only available in Swedish, but with easy to understand graphs - from the Swedish Migration Board, most immigrants are Swedes!), second, that the immigrant factor is a much more weak predictor of crime than, e.g., a number of socio-economic variables and third, that the part of Swedish crime that the overrepresentation of immigrants stands for is such a tiny portion of the total amount of crime that it could hardly provide much of a reason for less favorable treatment – especially not considering all the negative side-effects that such policies bring. This last argument is, of course, strengthened by the other two.

This is merely one of numerous examples of how the factual and moral foundation of ethno-racist claims has been undermined over and over, not least regarding wild generalisations with regard to muslims or people from alleged "muslim countries" (people that many times are no more muslim than most Swedes, Finns or Danes are christian). But, as a matter of fact, this has not weakened the hold of the new racism to any greater extent. Here is the reason why: The ethno-part is actually not a part of the ideological core of the new racism, it is a shallow cosmetic employed for purely rhetorical purposes. When its weak points are exposed, the new racists merely abandons it without being moved in their basic convictions. So, what are these basic convictions? To get to those, it is instructive to study more closely the way in which the ethno-racist rhetoric is constructed and then transfer this study to actual policy suggestions being made by parties of the new racism. For, as with all politics, it is there – not in the surface of phrases in speeches or slogans – that ideology is to be found.

The attempt by the new racists to use an association with criminality or, for that matter, with religion or particular ways of dressing as an argument is merely a way of trying to convince people that there is a profound difference between "real" Swedes (or Finns, or Brits, or Germans, or Danes, or...) and foreign people. That this, and nothing else, is the heart of the matter for the new racists came out clearer than ever in a TV advertisement by the Sweden Democrats, showing an ever so sweet and very lonesome Swedish old lady being literary overrun by a horde of women dressed in a burqa when trying to pick up her pension – the film making clear that, instead, this money would be spent on immigration. Everybody knows, of course, that the state budget does not determine the size of pensions, the growth of the national economy does. It is also well known that immigration, in fact, is actually one of the more important factors for securing future pensions, since it promotes economic growth. However, let's leave this aside for the moment, for what I want to point to is this: Even if it were true that there is a relation of competition between money for pensions and money for immigration in the state budget, the latter is neither the only nor (by far) the largest expense. However, it is the only expense that is exclusively spent on foreign people. This is why this particular item is picked out in the film: it holds out nationality or national background as the decisive factor for how we are to treat people. The burqas are just for show (albeit rhetorically important), obviously, they are there just to emphasise the felt difference between real Swedes and those from other countries. The message being that the Swedish state should treat people from other countries less favorable than Swedes. I'll get back to that shortly.

First, though, let's have a look at the actual policy suggestions of the Sweden Democrats. Hardly surprising, to the extent that they can be understood or have any originality or significance to speak of, they are about immigration policy. Now, when reading the programme (which, needless to say, is available only in Swedish), one finds that most of the suggestions are actually already a reality (e.g. regarding refugee policy, obligatory visa for people from countries who are terrorist hotspots or sources of organised illegal immigration). Besides the general tone, the talk about "mass-immigration" (a rhetorical misnomer, since, during the last few years, immigration didn't even count for 1% of the total population increase and, since the Sweden Democrats really mean only immigration from outside of Scandinavia - this is clarified in the programme, but since the same principles explaining this applies to EU, I guess immigrants from there are not "real" immigrants either (?) - at least half of this immigration needs to be ignored), unsubstantiated slander of refugees as not being "real" refugees and loose talk about "assimilation" being the main goal of integration policy, the only proposal that stands the test of an initial test-bite is the one about citizenship. The suggestion on this front is a sort of toughed up version of the above-mentioned suggestions from Folkpartiet a few years back: 1. all residence permits are to be temporary (1 year at a time) and revocable also in case of minor criminality, 2. a trial period of ten years where a "blameless character" needs to be demonstrated (exactly how is unclear, but I suppose criminality of any sort is out of the question) is necessary before citizenship is a possibility, 3. a special test (Swedish language, history and societal life) needs to be passed in order for citizenship to be awarded, 4. awarding of citizenship is connected to the signing of a contract where the new citizen swears allegiance "to Sweden" and promises to respect Swedish law, 5. If it is found out that citizenship has been awarded to a person "on false grounds" (whatever that may mean) or - perhaps more significant - after a period of staying in the country on the basis of a residence permit obtained on false grounds (false identities and bribing of immigration officers are given as examples), can have their citizenship revoked and be expelled from the country. There are also a few other suggestions, such as a ban on double citizenship for Swedish citizens, a repatriation programme where the party is apparently prepared to spend a sizable portion of the state budget (ergo, immigration policy can very well be allowed to cost a lot of tax money!) to have immigrants move away from Sweden and drastically weakened legal security for asylum seekers or people who are found in the country lacking a required visa or residence permit, but the above ideas are enough for me to make my point. The point is this: for the Sweden Democrats, there is a tremendous difference between people with a Swedish national background (i.e. people born by Swedish citizens) and other people. The Swedish state is not only permitted but required to apply drastically different standards of treatment with regard to these two groups.

Now, to be fair, there is a lot of talk in the programme about Sweden as a cultural entity, and that the main idea is that citizenship is to be tied to nationality and that Swedish nationality is about being a part of a Swedish "identity". Some of that turns out to be trivialities that are already applied (e.g. that immigrants need to abide by Swedish law), but what about the rest, e.g. loose talk about restricting culturally distant immigration, etcetera? Well, actually, it is obvious that this is just a collection of hot air, very much a part of the shallow rhetoric mentioned earlier. For, assuming the Sweden Democrat policy to have been implemented, if I am born by Swedish citizens nothing compels me to assimilate to an alleged Swedish identity or culture. For sure, we have obligatory school for all children and securing a job will be hard if I don't get (good) grades, but as born by a Swedish citizen I can pass through this system without learning the language or assimilating in any other way without any effect on my citizenship (although I will have to endure other consequences). What is more, I am automatically awarded said citizenship at birth, no questions asked (ever!) about my cultural identity, allegiance declarations, possible past or future criminality or somesuch. And so on. In conclusion: what matters is if you are born by a Swedish citizen or not, nothing else.

This core, then is not about race or ethnicity. Neither is it about patriotism (the my country right or wrong-idea) or nationalism (the idea that citizens of a country have obligations or virtues of love and/or fidelity for/to their country). In lack of a better word, I will call this idea Nationism. This is, roughly, the idea that a state is permitted (or even required) to apply significantly less strict/demanding standards of treatment to people born by citizens of this state, than people who are not. Clarifying further what nationism means will also show what has made the move to this ideological position into the success story of the new racism.

Every country applies less strict/demanding standards of treatment to people born by citizens of this state or, sometimes, also to people who are or have been born within the national territory (or can demonstrate a lineage back to such people), and sometimes to a mix of these – let us call this the Immediate Citizenship Condition (ICC). Minimally, the system applied by countries involves that people not meeting the ICC has to perform according to some pre-set standard (call it the acquired citizenship condition: ACC) in order to be awarded citizenship of this country. This is a pragmatic necessity for any single country in a world organised according to the system of a multitude of nation states. Should a single country award citizenship to a person just by virtue of him being present in the country and wanting citizenship (or simply just that he wants citizenship), many functions supposed to be handled by a country would be severely jeopardized due to the fact that other countries do not reciprocate this courtesy (were they to reciprocate, we would effectively have a world with only one nation state). However, in order for a country to use the division between awarding citizenship by ICC and ACC to dodge this threat, it needs only make the demands made on people by ACC significant enough to make the influx of new citizens manageable. Since, as mentioned, most countries have a significant interest of acquiring new citizens through immigration, there are further reasons in terms of the national interest not to make the demands of the ACC stricter than necessary. The idea of nationism, however, is that it is of some value in itself to make it harder for other people than those meeting the ICC to attain citizenship. Facing this explanation, the question may be asked if the new racists really are nationists – is their idea not simply based on the presumption that it is very demanding to have a country function well and that, therefore, ACC needs to be very strict? Well, as we have seen, this does in fact not seem to be the case, in spite of some rhetoric suggesting such a line of thought. If it were the case that a country needs to be very careful about the characteristics of those who are awarded citizenship for the country to function well, using ICC for awarding citizenship would be sheer recklessness (and the new racists do not want to touch that, quite the opposite). This since that practice makes no demands whatsoever on people who meet the ICC with regard to their personal characteristics for them to attain the status as citizens. So, the new racists are nationists - that is indeed their ideological core.

However, the difference between the nationist position and the purely pragmatically motivated system of awarding citizenship by applying both ICC and ACC is not very obvious to most people. If we don't think carefully about it, most of us would, I suggest, have the feeling that nationism is already an established doctrine – that our countries (and all its political parties) do in fact already accept the idea that it is of value in itself to make a difference between people who meet ICC and those who do not when awarding citizenship. This is understandable, since we are so used to a system making such a difference, and most of us have never had any reason for pondering why such a system is applied – it's just there. This lack of clarity as to the fundamental ideological difference between having such a system for purely pragmatic reasons and having it for nationist reasons can and has indeed been exploited politically by the new racism. For what happens when we do not see the difference clearly is that we are unable to wield the simple and devastating counter-argument to the new racist suggestions that, obviously, the fact whether a person meets ICC or not is not a valid reason as such for less favorable treatment. In particular, established political parties can't say that, since that would imply that they propose that any rules for awarding citizenship that make a difference between people meeting ICC and those that do not are unjustified. And, needless to say, that is not their position and, I take it, not the position taken by most voters. Thus, the fact that the water demarcating the notion of having a system making such a difference for pragmatic reasons and the nationist position has been muddled is of tremendous importance for explaining from the point of view of ideology the recent success of the new European political racism. By exploiting this seemingly grey area, they have been able to whitewash an idea that, when seen clearly, is obviously as implausible as more traditional forms of racism.

Now, nationism is such an obviously implausible idea – as implausible as the idea that your physical or cultural characteristics can by themselves motivate that other people are allowed to treat you less good than others. Morally, nationism is clearly on the same team as the more traditional forms of racism. For this reason, quite a few of the people who have been voting for the new racists in recent elections do probably actually not endorse nationism. One may hope, therefore, that the role of nationism is spotted more clearly and widely (one purpose of this blog post is, of course, to make a contribution to such a development). What is then left for the new racists is to take half a step back to the ethno-racist ideas, but this time without any connection to nationism. What this implies will be the subject of part 2 of this series.

Monday, 4 October 2010

RIP Philippa Foot (1920-2010)

The news just reached me that Philippa Foot passed away yesterday, 90 years old. Reportedly, death was peaceful and the upshot of a series of serious health problems. The blog world has so far relayed the news here, here, here, here, here and here.

Being, in Brian Leiter's words, "one of the towering figures of post-WWII Anglophone moral philosophy", my own relation to Professor Foot has always been that of an inspiring opponent at a distance. Having never met her in person, her work on non-consequentialist ethics has given me many a good kick in the backside in my struggles with my essentially consequentialist moral intuitions. My first encounter was with her analyses of and critical inquiries into the doctrine of the double effect and, subsequently, the doing/making – allowing distinction (where she "invented" the Trolley problem). She also made essential contributions to metaethical discussion, launching a sort of neo-humean position which, in lack of better words, might be described as an objectivist social constructivism (the idea of moral norms as institutions or institutional spin-offs). That's only a taster of Professor Foot's work, though, as this dip into The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy demonstrates.

Although an English speaking philosopher, Professor Foot early transcended crude characterizations in terms of "Analytic philosophy". In my book, she stands tall in the so far short history of what Derek Parfit has described as non-religious, systematic ethics.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Uterus transplantation: ethics and pragmatics

Today, Swedish media report (here, here, here, here, here, just to name a few) on plans of a group of researchers at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the University of Gothenburg, to conduct the world's first ever transplantation of a human uterus. After successful experiments on rats (and a number of other animals), the team – headed by professor Mats Brännström at the unit of obsterics and gynecology – is now working on baboons in order to secure a basis of results that could motivate a move into the actual human clinical trials. The research is held out as a prospect for certain infertile couples and an alternative to surrogacy, adoption and similar methods currently used to overcome the problems faced by this group of people.

Needless to say, the research raises a number of ethical questions, something at least partly recognized by the researchers when they write in their online presentation of the research: "We think that it is necessary to look closely into these aspects of uterine transplantation before it can be developed and used in the human". This alludes primarily to the need to secure the efficacy and safety of the method before attempting to use it clinically, which is, of course, a priority. However, already this obvious issue will undoubtedly raise more subtle issues.

One of these connect to the rather sad track record of reproductive medicine when it comes to moderating its drive towards applying new ideas and technologies in light of safety and others ethics considerations. Sterilization policies and the early history of IVF continues to be a moral backpack that needs to be carried by contemporary researchers and clinicians in reproductive medicine (just as in genetics). The critical outlook from a feminist perspective by such commentators as Christine Overall and Gene Corea, to name two of the more prominent, have pointed out the dangers of reproductive technology to transform women into mere means for the production of offspring in a social context dominated by mechanisms and cultural patterns aiming at a patriarchal control of reproduction. While the influence of this tendency is hard to argue with (the fate of women have indeed been a secondary consideration in many cases of reproductive technological advances), at the same time, there are also sides to the developments that arguably are to the benefit of women as well as other groups that are or have been systematically marginalised. In as much as individuals, couples and whatever other groupings that wish to transform themselves into a reproducing family are able to overcome oppressive socio-cultural structures, the technological advances do produce new options. The threat of these options being unduly pressed on people (especially women) or used for oppressive purposes in other ways has to be recognized, of course, but you would need to be a very hard-nosed structuralist indeed to claim that the individual can never utilize available options to their own advantage. In fact, one of the main points of the high priestess of queer theory, Judith Butler, seems to be that such utilization is one of the primary roads towards overthrowing oppressive sexual structures – social, cultural and conceptual.

Having said that, the idea behind the uterus transplantation project seems, however, to present a bit of a problem from the just outlined perspective. One of the prime rationales behind the research held out in today's press reports is that the options currently faced by women facing the sort of problems that may actualize a uterus transplantation – adoption or surrogacy – are hard, burdensome or impossible to access. In Sweden, surrogacy is not legally available (except, of course off shore) and adoption is a difficult, lengthy and costly process. In other nations, surrogacy may be available, making it possible for Swedish women with the personal and financial resources required to go there for such arrangements, but not for less fortunate women. In light of this, the researchers claim, uterus transplantation carries a liberating prospect by making available a procedure that may facilitate having children for those of these women who so wish. But what this means seems to be that the situation is exactly of the sort that the feminist critics of reproductive technology have pointed out as problematic. Women who suffer the sort of physical dysfunction we are talking about will not be in a position to freely choose uterus transplantation as the preferred solution to their problem compared to other feasible options. Rather, their freedom of choice will be heavily constrained by socio-cultural-economic factors. Put in another way: the source of the problem to be solved by uterus transplantation seems to be primarily about the oppressive effects of current legislation, economic arrangements and cultural preconceptions. It could, apparently, be solved just as well by making surrogacy and adoption more available.

But of course, such changes may not in fact be forthcoming. The rationale of the researchers may then be turned into one of simple pragmatics. They can say: "we would simply love it if the socio-economic patterns oppressing our patients were to change for the better, but until then we have reason to work on our research". The critic following the sort of lines sketched above would then have to resort to the structuralist mantra of negative feedback loops; the dogma that whatever is done to help people in oppressive circumstances will sustain the oppression. Besides being a corner impossible to get out of, such an argument would need the support of convincing empirical evidence in the area of reproduction, e.g., regarding contraceptives, legal abortion, freedom to marry and divorce, etcetera.

Thus, ethics in this area teaches us to be mindful about the effects of social structures and cultural contexts, so that we are not trapped by blind spots and prejudgments. But the presence of such structures and contexts does not by itself constitute a knock-down argument. History can teach us a great deal about that, as can ethics research and experience from other cases of reproductive technology. The worry I am nurturing rather concerns if the researchers involved have secured  access to the resources and competence needed for living up to that, which takes me back to where I began; the evaluation of risks and benefits when (a) deciding whether or not to take the step over to clinical trial, (b) conducting such a trial, (c) deciding on basis of the trial whether or not to offer to the procedure, on what conditions and to whom. And, of course, in light of what has been said, the overarching evaluation in terms of fairness and cost-benefit, whether this is where the resources for liberating and helping the group of patients concerned are best spent. Once a procedure is (ethically and medically) ready for clinical use (i.e. if not the results of the trials are too poor), this last issue will undoubtedly step forward as a primary one in critical discussion.