Stanley on political dishonesty

Jason Stanley has a really interesting piece in the NY Times on political dishonesty. He argues that public distrust of politicians is so strong that “it has undermined the possibility of straightforward communication in the public sphere. The expectation is that any statement made either by a politician or by a media outlet is a false ideological distortion. As a result, no one blames politicians for making false statements or statements that obviously contradict that politician’s beliefs.”

He moves on to make a very striking suggestion:

An assertion is an attempt to transfer one’s knowledge to one’s audience. It is clearly not true that Obama is seeking to undermine work requirements on welfare. Everyone either knows that it’s not true or can easily find it out by reading what independent fact checkers have said in easily available articles on the Internet. Furthermore, the Romney campaign knows this. So the Romney campaign is not intending to make an assertion. Given this, it’s unfair to accuse the campaign of lying. As I have argued before, it may not be possible to assert or lie anymore in a presidential campaign.

While I think this is really interesting and provocative, I don’t find myself in agreement. Some reasons:

1. We don’t treat the political arena in the way that we would if we thought politicians really weren’t in the business of making assertions. When politicians are fact-checked and their lies are pointed out, this isn’t treated as an error in the way that it would be if someone fact-checked an obviously fictional movie.

2. Political lies DO still cause widespread outrage. In fact, the political lies of the right cause outrage on the left. And the political lies of the left cause outrage on the right. Our reactions manifest a partisanship in terms of which lies we care about (or even acknowledge as lies). But for pretty much everyone paying attention to politics, there are some lies that they notice and care about. (And it’s clearly not true that NO ONE blames politicians for their lies. A quick glance at Jender-Mom’s FB updates during the Republican convention is enough to make that clear!)

A key point in Stanley’s argument is that the people cheering Ryan’s speech surely knew he was making speaking falsehoods, but they applauded nonetheless. But there are two possible explanations of this which Stanley doesn’t consider: that they were in fact quite ignorant, or that they enjoyed their guy’s lies. Personally, it seems to me the first is really quite likely given the many other falsehoods the Republican audience believes (e.g. about global warming).

Another key point for Stanley is the claim that the Romney campaign doesn’t mean their intended audience to believe what they’re saying. But I’m also unconvinced of this. Their main intended audience is surely undecided voters. And my impression is that undecided voters are also pretty poorly informed voters (how many people do you know who really follow politics and haven’t made up their minds?). There’s no reason to suppose these people will know that Ryan was lying.

So, I’m not sure I agree. But I am finding it really useful to think through this stuff.

Shulamith Firestone, 1945-2012

A radical feminist Marxist has died.  The author of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970) and a founding member of the New York Radical Women was found dead in her apartment on Tuesday.

I provide the following from her 1968 paper, “The Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S.: A New View:”

I would like to conclude from all this, that contrary to what most historians would have us believe, women’s rights were never won. The Women’s Rights Movement did not fold because it accomplished its objectives, but because it was essentially defeated and mischannelled. SEEMING freedoms appear to have been won


Is this what post-racism looks like?

White republicans throwing peanuts at a black CNN camera woman? “We know how to treat animals,” one report had a convention member say.

“I can’t change these people’s hearts and minds,” [Patricia]Carroll told Journal-isms. “No, it doesn’t feel good. But I know who I am. I’m a proud black woman. A lot of black people are upset. This should be a wake-up call to black people… . People were living in euphoria for a while. People think we’re gone further than we have.”

Carroll says she hopes the story goes away.

“I was hoping this story would go away,” she said. “I’m not interested in talking to any other media about this.”

In her interview with Journal-isms Carroll also thanked CNN for being “behind me 100 percent.”

And peanuts? I don’t want to go there.

More gendered marketing: A new take on “girl drinks”

Here’s a Guardian blog post about three “feminine” lagers being marketed by Molson Coors.  Feminine lagers? Sounds like a category mistake!  The beer for women will come in three vague and predictably ethereal sounding flavors: “clear filtered”, “crisp rosé” and “zesty lemon.” The post is pretty good on why such a beer is not needed and is basically nonsense.  The post closes however with a concession that there is a need for “breaking the boundaries between women and beer.”  Are there boundaries between women and beer?  My many years as a bartender tell me otherwise.  But even if these boundaries exist, is that really a problem?  Much more concerning are the boundaries between women and their rights to bodily integrity, reproductive freedom, freedom from violence, and equal pay.

The Buffy Effect

According to some interesting new research, the portrayal of strong female characters may be more important than plot content (including sex, violence, and even sexual violence) when it comes to shaping viewer attitudes to women.

Science codex reports:

Past research has been inconsistent regarding the effects of sexually violent media on viewer’s hostile attitudes toward women. Much of the previous literature has conflated possible variables such as sexually violent content with depictions of women as subservient

The submissive characters often reflect a negative gender bias that women and men find distasteful. This outweighed the sexual violence itself, giving credence to what Ferguson calls the “Buffy Effect”—named after the popular television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its strong lead female character.

“Although sexual and violent content tends to get a lot of attention, I was surprised by how little impact such content had on attitudes toward women. Instead it seems to be portrayals of women themselves, positive or negative that have the most impact, irrespective of objectionable content. In focusing so much on violence and sex, we may have been focusing on the wrong things,” Ferguson said.

“While it is commonly assumed that viewing sexually violent TV involving women causes men to think negatively of women, the results of this carefully designed study demonstrate that they do so only when women are portrayed as weak or submissive,” added Journal of Communication editor and University of Washington Professor Malcolm Parks. “Positive depictions of women challenge negative stereotypes even when the content includes sexuality and violence. In this way Ferguson reminds us that viewers often process popular media portrayals in more subtle ways than critics of all political stripes give them credit for.

Proving once again what we all (or at least all of us of a certain age) already knew: Buffy is so much more awesome than Twilight ever could be.

[Author’s note: It’s possible that the entire point of this post was just an excuse to put up Jo Chen’s Buffy Illustration. I’m okay with that.]

Memorial event for Ruth Barcan Marcus

Students, colleagues, friends and admirers of Ruth are warmly invited to join us for a celebration of the life of Ruth Barcan Marcus, Saturday afternoon, September 29, 2012, Yale University Campus.

Schedule of events:

2:00pm: A Celebration of the Life of Ruth Barcan Marcus, William L. Harkness (WLH) Hall Room 201(Sudler Recital Hall) — 100 Wall Street, New Haven, CT
4:00pm: A Reception in honor of Ruth Barcan Marcus, McDougal Center, Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) — 320 York Street, New Haven, CT
In order to have a sense of numbers, we respectfully request that if you are certain or likely to join us that you RSVP at (available responses include Yes, Maybe, No.) We would be grateful for your response by September 14.
Hotel rooms:

A block of rooms has been reserved at the Yale Marriott Courtyard Hotel ( Rooms are available on Sept 28 and 29 — you may book for one or both nights. The rate is $139. Call 1-800-321-2211 and ask for “Marcus Memorial” rates. The reservation block expires on September 14.
Online memorial album:

Remembrances and comments may be left at

Memorial contributions:

The Family of Ruth Barcan Marcus has established a fund to honor her legacy through the support of philosophical study. Memorial contributions may be sent to the following address:

Contribution Processing
Yale University
P.O. Box 2038
New Haven, CT 06521-2038
with a note or memo stating: “This gift is for the fund in memory of Ruth Barcan Marcus”

For more, go here.

No, it’s not fine

I’ve been puzzling today about Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC. Particularly, this:

And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more  than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?

It’s the moms who always  have to work a little harder, to make everything right.

It’s the  moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country  together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the  big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.

You  know it’s true, don’t you? You’re the ones who always have to do a little  more.

You know what it’s like to work a little harder during the  day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that  book report which just has to be done. You know what those late night phone  calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see  how they’re doing. You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and  which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.

You  know what it’s like to sit in that graduation ceremony and wonder how it was  that so many long days turned into years that went by so quickly.

You are the best of America. You are the hope of America. There would not be an  America without you.

Tonight, we salute you and sing your  praises.

I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t  think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our  own ways, we all know better!

And that’s fine. We don’t want easy.

It’s great to see an acknowledgement of feminist concerns in this venue–concerns that women are held to a higher standard, and take on certain responsibilities almost by default–but this is really not “fine” and it has nothing to do with wanting things “easy.” Wanting equality does not mean wanting to avoid responsibility, and accepting systematic and structural disadvantage should not be equated with being the “best.” Thoughts?

(Full transcript here.)