A glossy folder for jj-spouse just came through my mailbox with the following note on it:
Because of your active membership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Subaru marketing affiliate, you may be eligible to participate in the VIP Partners Program.
And get a Subaru for less.
Being an active researcher myself, I googled for some information about this surprising role for the AAAS, having first ascertained from jj-spouse that it was indeed surprising. I found that Subaru is now the Premier Automotive Sponsor of the AAAS. And, in addition to giving members of AAAS up to 3k off of new cars, Subaru now sponsors all sorts of prizes for students, school teachers, books and films. All for K-12, but still a really good thing.
So just imagine if the American Philosophical Association got some corporate sponsor. Who would it be and what could we get? I don’t know that my imagination is up to it, but I can try to start it off:
Fox News is now the Premier News Network of the American Philosophical Association. It will sponsor research on favorite philosophical topics such as the merits of upholding traditional values over attempts to introduce diversity. Special funds will be available for conferences featuring all white male keynote speakers. Free advertisement for all male departments will be carried on the network.
The words are from Caster Semenya, who is the topic of an article by Ariel Levy, in the New Yorker, Nov. 30, 2009. The article places the questioning of Caster Semenya’s sex in a complex context. The article opens with the poverty of the region CS grew up in:
The land is webbed with brambles, and the thorns are a serious problem for the athletes, who train barefoot. “They run on loose stones, scraping them, making a wound, making a scar,” Sako, a tall, bald man with rheumy eyes and a big gap between his two front teeth, said. “We can’t stop and say we don’t have running shoes, because we don’t have money. The parents don’t have money. So what must we do? We just go on.”
Another factor in the picture is the enforced categorizations from the colonizers:
South Africans have been appalled by the idea of a person who thinks she is one thing suddenly being told that she is something else. The classification and reclassification of human beings has a haunted history in this country … Taxonomy is an acutely sensitive subject, and its history is probably one of the reasons that South Africans—particularly black South Africans—have rallied behind their runner with such fervor. The government has decreed that Semenya can continue running with women in her own country, regardless of what the I.A.A.F. decides.
Another comes from the dehumanizing curiosity of the European look:
South Africans have compared the worldwide fascination with Semenya’s gender to the dubious fame of another South African woman whose body captivated Europeans: Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus. Baartman, an orphan born on the rural Eastern Cape, was the servant of Dutch farmers near Cape Town. In 1810, they sent her to Europe to be exhibited in front of painters, naturalists, and oglers, who were fascinated by her unusually large buttocks and had heard rumors of her long labia … Many South Africans feel that white foreigners are yet again scrutinizing a black female body as though it did not contain a human being.
In addition, the article picks up on the immense complexity of the biology of sex and secondary sexual characteristics. The facts make it clear that it is hardly likely for there to be some simple texts for sex; Ann Fausto-Sterling’s words on natural kinds are made especially relevant. That is in contrast to the role of gender duality:
There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married? (Currently, the United States government recognizes the marriage of a woman to a female-to-male transsexual who has had a double mastectomy and takes testosterone tablets but still has a vagina, but not to a woman who hasn’t done those things.) We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.
And there are still other issues: the politics of sports organizations, the way CS, a child, was poked and prodded without any parental consent, and more. And, finally, the impact of it all on the child, who has decided she can only walk away.
Addition: Here’s a link to a piece on Caster Semenya by Judith Butler. Do note that Butler’s piece is more an opinion piece; she is not trying to get the details of the biology right, and that’s one of several respects in which the much longer NYorker article has more information. In particular, levels of testosterone do not necessarily tell us whether the hormone can be used; some intersexed people may have higher than average (for females) levels of the hormone without being able to use them. (Thanks to Rob.)
The first St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality (SLACRR, pronounced (slăk΄ r)) will take place May 23-25, 2010 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The conference is designed to provide a forum for new work on practical and theoretical reason, broadly construed. Please submit an abstract of 500-1000 words by December 31, 2009 to SLACRR@gmail.com. (In writing your abstract, please bear in mind that full papers should be suitable for a 30 minute presentation.) We are also interested in finding commentators for papers, so please let us know if you would have an interest in commenting.
The Conference will include papers in ethics, epistemology, and other areas of philosophy that deal with reasons, reasoning, or rationality. For instance, we would be interested in papers exploring such questions as:
• What is the relation between reasons for actions and reasons for beliefs?
• What are the sources of our reasons for belief?
• How are features of one’s psychology (desires, intentions, etc.) relevant to reasons?
• What is the relation between reasons and what we ought to do (or believe)?
• What is the relation between reasons and value?
• Are the requirements of practical and theoretical rationality normative?
• What is the relation between individual rationality and collective rationality?
Of course, this is just a small sample of questions; we hope to include a wide variety of papers on the Conference Program that deal in some way with reasons, reasoning or rationality. Further questions can also be directed to either John Brunero (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eric Wiland (email@example.com).