Talking Points for One Particular Left-Leaning Liberal

First of all, I guess you could get kind of crazy debating terms like “leftist,” “socialist,” “liberal,” “classical liberal,” and so on. And because of the risk of getting kind of crazy, I have no inclination to debate these terms. Let’s just say I believe in trying to make the world better by supporting things like accessible healthcare, accessible education, public libraries, maintained infrastructure, a habitable planet, and things of that nature. I try not to get freaked out by all the names thrown at people like me, and I try not to waste too much time trying to find the label that best fits.

But anyone would agree that I am not right-wing, conservative, alt-right, or any of that. So I think you’d say I’m on “the left” or “left of center.” What’s more, there are a few things I don’t like about the way other people on the left frame their debates. I wouldn’t dream of telling other people how to describe their own ideas, but I do dream of telling people how I like to describe my ideas, so here you go.

Free stuff—I don’t like all the talk about free stuff, whether it is education, healthcare, fire services, police protection, freeways, libraries, or air. Nothing is free, and we should all be able to agree on that. What I want is an equitable form of cost sharing. We all share the cost so that no one is left out. Why do I want my neighbor’s kids to get a free education, even if I don’t think I benefit directly? Because I want to live in a society where people are educated and empowered to share in the promotion of a functioning society. And I want their education to be useful beyond making them good employees.

Wealth distribution—Let’s face it, wealth is distributed. If wealth is going to exist at all, it will be distributed in some sort of pattern. It is absolutely pointless to say you are opposed to a patterned distribution of wealth. So you’re saying you’re actually just opposed to wealth re-distribution, which you imagine is a very different animal. You just don’t want your hard-earned money taken away through taxes to make someone better off. You can’t imagine that anyone else has done anything to make you better off, because you do not want to imagine that. Unlike some people on the left, I’m not saying rich people shouldn’t exist. I’m only saying that if rich people exist, poor people should not.

Market solutions—Some people anthropomorphize capital markets and claim they can fix all our problems. Sometimes entrepreneurs come up with some pretty good ideas, and that’s fine and dandy, but the people had good ideas, not the markets. Also, no markets are free. All markets are the products of the specific agreements various humans have put in place. Those agreements are constantly in flux and are subject to negotiation. “Free” markets do not exist. You will never find a market running wild in nature. I guess this is as good a place as any to say that I see no reason to completely eliminate private health insurance companies. It is only necessary to ensure that no one needs private health insurance.

Rights—to say everyone has a right to free speech is only to say I think society functions better when the government does not restrict speech in most cases. While some people believe “rights” come from God or nature or someplace else, you don’t have to believe that to use the word. It may annoy philosophers and political scientists, but a right is something someone thinks people should have. A “legal right” or “guaranteed right” is just something that was popular enough with people to be written in to law. Of course, it’s your right to believe whatever you want.

You might be thinking I should have some sort of summary conclusion or something, but I can assure you that I do not, so that’s that.

Meandering Metaphors as Rivers (#poem)

brown boat
Photo by Jennifer Hubacher on Pexels.com

The Mississippi River is a metaphor for life,
Mostly because Samuel Clemens made it so.
At least that’s what you would’ve learned
In your literature class—that a huge, meandering
River held the secrets of innocence, knowledge,

Guilt, and wisdom. So much is hidden under
The surface, see, and so much changes as you
Drift along. You may start your journey with
A piece of property and end it with a human being.
Not everyone learns to feel. Not everyone feels shame.

Mark Twain sort of got that, but some people pretty
Much think he dropped the ball at the end there,
And it is hard to see why Huck couldn’t have
Ended up being a slightly better person than
He ended up being. Everyone is disappointed

The novel ended the way it did, instead
Of some other way, but it’s what Clemens wanted.
It may be that ol’ Mark Twain ended up no more
Developed than his young creation, or maybe he just
Wanted us to take the next step ourselves.

 

Democracy Died (#poem)

woman holding protest sign
Photo by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels.com

Democracy died in the Senate chamber
When Supreme Court justice was never heard
Through a guileless force of legal obstruction.
Respect for law fell like old holiday garland.
A complacent nation did not demur,
Thinking true fascism could not recur,
Power transferred to a political poseur.
A complacent nation watched it’s legal destruction
And Democracy died.
They quickly forgot what they once were,
A nation of laws designed to deter
A tyrant seeking freedom’s complete destruction.
As the confident joked about his linguistic aberrations,
They let the unthinkable occur
And Democracy died.

Quaker Eugenics: Antinomies and Paradoxes

Some of history’s most famous and infamous hereditarians were Quakers: Samuel Morton, Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, Daniel Garrison Brinton, and Henry Herbert Goddard. In varying degrees, they exhibited a passion for knowledge and scientific research, concern for the improvement of society, and social action. How their association with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) influenced their scientific and social undertakings is a matter of some speculation, but an examination of Quaker values and historical trends may shed some light on their endeavours.

The history of the Quaker religions is relatively short, only appearing in England in the 1650s and in America shortly after that. Early Quakers in England, most notably George Fox, opposed the authority of the Church of England and embraced the idea of personal religious authority. In fact, the early Quakers challenged all authority, refusing to doff their hats for anyone and insisting on using the informal pronouns ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. Quakers asserted that God is within every person and that honesty and simplicity were required of a religious life. Quakers were seekers of knowledge and truth and were suspicious of wisdom received by others.

Whilst their views may not seem surprisingly radical in the twenty-first century, it caused a multitude of problems in the seventeenth century. Quakers frequently encountered conflict with authorities and endured lengthy confinement in prison and even executions. Partly as a result of this history, it would seem, Quakers often took up the cause of prison reform and were (and are) adamantly opposed to the death penalty. They opposed violent conflict of any kind. Their belief that God is within every person led them to accept women as spiritual and political leaders. For the same reason, Quakers opposed slavery early in their history. It is surprising, then, that so many famous hereditarians and even outright eugenicists were Quakers. A brief overview of some prominent individuals and institutions in Quaker history may help unravel the paradoxes of Quaker history.

One of the earliest Quakers, Mary Dyer, was herself accused of producing undesirable offspring. First an Antinomian and later a Quaker, she first appears in the public record in 1637 after becoming the mother to a ‘monstrous birth’. Antinomians preceded Quakers slightly in history, arising in the early seventeenth century. Antinomians were also slightly more radical, rejecting all authority to the point that by today’s standards they might be considered anarchists. Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop wrote tracts connecting Antinomian women and monstrous births, especially Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson. After attention came to the birth, the baby was exhumed and Anne Hutchinson was identified as one of the midwives. Winthrop wrote, ‘Then [Hutchinson] confessed all, yet for further assurance, the childe was taken up, and though it was much corrupted, yet the horns, and claws, and holes in the back, and some scales, &c. were found and seen of above a hundred persons’.[i] For Winthrop and others, ‘monstrous’ births were evidence of God’s intent to expose Antinomian heresy. Giving birth to a monster was equated with actually being a monster. Dyer would not become a Quaker until the 1650s, and the idea that sins are passed from parent to child is as old as Christian theology, of course, but Dyer’s experiences set an interesting precedent for the future of Quakers and inherited defects.

Dyer became a Quaker whilst in England. She had gone to England with her husband, who was on an embassy to Parliament. Quaker men and women often took a missionary role and endured long prison sentences as a result. Dyer returned to America in 1657 only to be arrested with two other Quaker missionaries, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson. She was released briefly to Rhode Island but was again arrested when she returned to visit Robinson and Stephenson. They were banished but chose to challenge the law and were eventually sentenced to death. Dyer was forced to witness the hanging of her friends and prepared for execution, but she was given a reprieve at the last moment. She refused to step down from the scaffold and was forcibly removed and banished once again. After being again sentenced to death, she wrote to the Massachusetts General Court, ‘In Love and Spirit of Meekness I again beseech you, for I have no Enmity to the Persons of any; but you shall know, That God shall not be mocked’.[ii] On June 1, 1660, Mary Dyer became the only woman ever executed as a Quaker.[iii] Mary Dyer is now being recognised in the history of feminism. Anne G. Myles says, ‘Mary Dyer and other early Quaker women are at once the great inheritors and progenitors of women’s resistance—resistance to unjust laws and the manifest institutions of power, to that power as it is mediated through the policing of gender norms, and to both of these factors’ capacity to silence women who step out of bounds’.[iv]

In England, both Quakers and Puritans opposed the authority of the Church of England, but in America they opposed each other. The Quaker belief that God was in everyone combined with extreme pacifism and righteous indignation with those who disagreed caused them many problems. Early Quakers opposed war and defended the rights of slaves, women, and the mentally ill. Partly as a consequence of their own oppression and imprisonment, Quakers resisted harsh, dehumanizing, and demeaning punishments.

The Religious Society of Friends arose in the years of 1652–1656 in England, but Quakers began meeting in America at about the same time. These new Friends would sometimes tremble with fervor and became known as Quakers. In early Quaker gatherings, men and women would sit in silence to wait upon the Lord for spiritual guidance and revelation from the light within. The light is sometimes referred to as the Light of Christ or the Light of God. Quakers rejected the idea that a religious authority was necessary to interpret the Bible or spiritual leadings of God. At these meetings, George Fox emerged as a leader of the Quaker movement. Becoming a Quaker required at first to become ‘convinced’ of the truth of Quaker beliefs followed by a slower conversion to a life of inward discipline. Quaker values included pacifism, simplicity, and integrity.[v]

Given the quality of the Quaker values, it is not surprising that the first opposition to slavery in America came from Quakers. In 1688, Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania spoke out against the evils of slavery.[vi] David Lovejoy notes that Quaker opposition to slavery increased during the eighteenth century based on Quaker values of equality. He says, ‘For each and every man, regardless of race, was capable of receiving the light if he would but give himself over to it. Religiously, then, Quakers had an inbred sense of equality which, by the middle of the eighteenth century, they brought to bear upon several social problems about them’.[vii] Given the egalitarian nature of Quaker values, the strong opposition to slavery seems unavoidable. The surprise is that later Quakers would become known as the first ‘racial’ scientists.

Among the most influential Quakers in America was William Penn, who had friendships with both George Fox and John Locke. Penn attempted a bold experiment and set out to create a society that embodied the Quaker values and followed the blueprint of a Lockean democracy. When Penn encountered Native Americans in Pennsylvania, he wrote, ‘The worst is that they are the worse for the Christians, who have propagated their vices and yielded them tradition for ill and not for good things’.[viii] Describing Penn’s field report on Native Americans, Frederick Tolles and Gordon Alderfer write:

What is impressive about Penn’s field report on American Indians is the same thing that was exceptional about his practical relations with them—his freedom from the prejudice against ‘savagism’ that colored most 17th century accounts of Native Americans. Because he took them for what they were—no less human, no less endowed with Inward Light than white men—he was able to appreciate and understand their culture in something of the spirit of the modern anthropologist.[ix]

Penn was aware of the negative effects Christian settlers had on natives of America. He attempted to establish a social system that would ameliorate these effects and establish an order of respect for the worth and necessary freedom of all. His Quaker ideals may not have been fully realised, and we will see that Quaker efforts often have unintended consequences and apparent contradictions.

John Howard, for example, was a Quaker prison reformer in England who died in 1790. He testified before the House of Commons in 1774, and many of his recommended reforms had been instituted in England’s jails. Howard was a supporter of providing separate cells for prisoners and providing them with ‘silence, solitude, and meditation’. In other words, he brought solitary confinement to England’s prisons.[x] On his use of solitary confinement, Janet Whitney says,

He practiced them with disastrous effects on his only son. He left them as a terrible legacy to the boys of Christ’s Hospital whose solitary punishment dungeons, instigated by him, were responsible for more than one case of hysteria and insanity. And we see Howard’s system of solitary confinement as one of the most dreaded and dehumanizing agencies in the run of British prisons today.[xi]

That Howard practiced such confinement on his only son indicates that it was not a lack of compassion that guided him, but a lack of foresight of the consequences of his theory. This phenomenon is not unique to Quakers, of course, but the history of Quakers and the treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill shows many well intentioned errors of judgment.

In 1796, English Quakers began a more successful experiment in the treatment of mental illness that continues today. After visiting a Friend who was in the York Asylum, concerned Friends enlisted the help of William Tuke, a Quaker tea merchant, to raise funds for an alternative asylum. The result was The Retreat, a mental hospital that emphasised humane treatment of patients, providing useful occupation, resocialization, and a harmonious environment. The hospital remains a Quaker ministry and now has 160 beds.[xii]

In 1813, Quakers in the United States followed the lead of their English counterparts and opened the Friends Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason. Before Friends Hospital, as it is now called, opened, Philadelphians could pay a shilling to see men and women chained in the dank basement of Pennsylvania Hospital. The Quakers were outraged and wanted to provide ‘moral treatment’ for the mentally ill. The Quakers insisted that patients be given private rooms with windows, compassion, conversation, and the opportunity to walk about the grounds. The Quaker model was adopted by the State Lunatic Asylum at Harrisburg when it opened in 1851. The Friends hospital itself was based on The Retreat in England after Thomas Scattergood, a Philadelphia tanner, visited the hospital at York. The Friends hospital still operates on the model of ‘moral treatment’. Dr. James M. Delaplane, director of the hospital, said, ‘The Quakers did not believe that you should hurt people to make them behave in certain ways and neither do we today’.[xiii]

Although Quaker Elizabeth Fry does not appear to have known John Howard, she was his immediate successor in prison reform in England, though with less disastrous effects. One major difference between Fry and her predecessor is that she was concerned only with female prisoners. She felt female prisoners needed a separate prison staffed by female wards. She managed to gain approval for an experimental prison at Newgate. Of her success, she said:

Our rules have certainly been broken, but very seldom. . . . I think I may say we have full power amongst them [the women] for one of the said it was more terrible to be brought up before me than before the judge, though we use nothing but kindness. I have never punished a woman during the whole time, or even proposed a punishment to them; and yet I think it is impossible, in a well-regulated house, to have rules more strictly attended to.[xiv]

Fry’s success at Newgate expanded her views on the role of women both as prison reformers and as social activists. She encouraged better treatment in prisons, hospitals, lunatic asylums, and workhouses. She encouraged women to move beyond the domestic sphere to help bring about much needed reform. She also exhorted women to visit women incarcerated in all the above institutions, saying, ‘Were ladies to make a practice of regularly visiting them, a most important check would be obtained on a variety of abuses’.[xv] Elizabeth Fry is remembered for her strong advocacy for women and Quaker values. Concern for prisoners and the mentally ill is consistent in Quaker history, sometimes bringing improved conditions and sometimes having less desirable effects.

Abby Hopper Gibbons was an American prison reformer and social activist in the late nineteenth century. She worked with Josephine Shaw Lowell to improve condition of inmates at asylums and prison with particular attention to the women. One of Gibbons’ goals was to have women supervise female inmates.[xvi] In a letter to New York Governor Samuel Tildon in 1882, she appealed to her experience as a Quaker in confronting social problems, saying:

A Friend by birth and education, my path in life has been of a character so practical as to leave no doubt as to the feasibility of selecting women of known capacity and sound common sense. In the sect or out of it we claim no superiority on any ground nor do we confine our experience to a limited class. Largely associated with both men and women in charitable work, I have seen the advantage of cooperation and have noted progress in the internal management of the affairs and institutions. This is conceded by our best men who are glad to have women share the responsibilities and active service for which they are especially fitted. And after all, why should it be more difficult to find women than men?[xvii]

In addition to her work in the prisons and mental institutions, she was also concerned with other women’s issues, including prostitution. She was appalled by the moral double standard imposed on women when it came to vice. As a leader of the moral purity movement, she opposed legislation intended to regulate prostitution and reduce disease. Abby Gibbons argued forcefully for the protection of prostitutes, but her solution may have been to provide more harsh punishment than what already existed. She advocated reformatories to help educate prostitutes in better means of employment (better as defined by the moral purity movement leaders). Margaret Hope Bacon makes this comment on Gibbons’ plan:

These reformatories had been advances over the jails of the period, but the staff treated the inmates as tractable children to be trained and urged indefinite sentences in which this training could take place. Thus, prostitutes arrested and sent to reformatories would actually be deprived of their liberty more harshly than men picked up on any comparable charge.[xviii]

Once again, the effort to care for others and give solutions to their problems can easily become an effort to control others. The liberator sometimes becomes an oppressor. The belief that God is in every woman might mean that every woman’s life must be respected, but Quakers often believe the light of God must be nurtured even when such nurturance takes some amount of involuntary loss of liberty.

Josephine Shaw Lowell worked with many Quakers and was a philanthropist and reformer as well. According to Nicole Hahn Rafter, Lowell is not referred to as a eugenicist in most biographies. Rafter suggests this may be because Lowell died in 1905 before the term ‘eugenics’ became popular. Nonetheless, Rafter credits Lowell and her collaborators with starting eugenic criminology at the Newark Custodial Asylum for Feeble-minded Women. Lowell wanted both to improve conditions for those in asylums and to prevent the need for asylums in the future. She advocated a strong program of eugenics to prevent degeneracy.[xix]

Samuel Morton spent a good deal of time in the nineteenth century measuring skulls for cranial capacity. He believed that brain size was a good predictor of intelligence. He did not appear, however, to have an active political agenda. As a Quaker, he was opposed to slavery, but he did not believe all humans to be of equal intelligence. Despite his apolitical approach, his contemporaries used his research to political ends. One such contemporary was the openly racist phrenologist Charles Cauldwell, and another was Morton’s colleague Josiah Nott, a physician in the state of Alabama.[xx]

Francis Galton is often considered to be the father of British eugenics. Galton was born in a Quaker family, though this fact is often obscured in descriptions of his life. One might think his Quaker heritage was not important to either Galton or his collaborators, but Karl Pearson, another British hereditarian following in Galton’s footsteps, placed much importance on Galton’s heritage. Pearson, also a Quaker, credited Galton’s Quaker heritage for his brilliance. He said, ‘Not only did the Society of Friends unite men religiously but it produced special temperaments genetically . . . Almost a biological type’.[xxi] One must wonder whether Pearson was being intentionally ironic by labelling members of a particular religion as a biological type. Although Galton is considered the father of eugenics and given some measure of blame for the eventual racist and fascist aims of many eugenicists by many, Daniel Kevles claims that Galton was no more racist than most Victorians in England. Kevles claims that British eugenics had more to do with class than race.[xxii]

Galton sought to regulate marriage according to the quality of potential parents. Galton, like Morton, felt that intelligence could be measured by measuring the size of one’s head. He also felt that other traits, such as a strong work ethic, were heritable. When his cousin, Charles Darwin, told him that he had previously thought that men were roughly equal in intellect but differed only in ‘zeal and hard work,’ Galton replied that ‘character, including the aptitude for hard work, is heritable like every other faculty’.[xxiii]       One might think that Galton’s work has now been relegated to the historical record, but he is still seen as a creditable scientist by many, just as he was in his own time. The August/September 2008 issue of Scientific American Minds says of Galton,

In 1883 English anthropologist and polymath Sir Francis Galton dubbed intelligence an inherited feature of an efficiently functioning central nervous system. Since then, neuroscientists have garnered support for this hypothesis using modern neuroimaging techniques.[xxiv]

It is hard to see how neuroimaging could verify the results Galton discovered by measuring the circumference of skulls, but this passage serves to highlight the place of distinction Galton held and still holds. Galton’s advocacy for restricting marriage and family size again seems to be counter to his Quaker heritage. Contrary to Pearson’s comments on Galton’s Quaker heritage, it does not appear that his theories or the practices he advocated were based on Quaker teachings. Pearson’s comments seem to claim that Quaker families are ‘good’ in the sense of being respectable rather than of being moral. By the nineteenth century Quakers had gone from being outsiders always in conflict with the law to being respectable and affluent members of society. It was Galton’s affluence that enabled him to pursue his research, after all, more than his dedication.[xxv]

Galton’s immediate successor was Karl Pearson, a British socialist and Quaker. Pearson, though, had doubts whilst still at King’s College and later whilst studying in Germany. By the time he returned to England, he had become more of an agnostic and an adherent of Spinoza’s philosophy, which proved the existence of God but equated God more with the universe than the spiritual power most Christians worship. Whilst in Germany, Pearson was contemptuous of students studying Darwin’s evolution looking for solutions to social ills. He was instead attracted to German idealism and historicism. Following the ideas of Hegel and Fichte, he believed that moral and social progress was best expressed through the state. In the late 1880s, Pearson changed his mind on Darwin when he came in to contact with social Darwinism that replaced competition among individuals with competition among groups.[xxvi] Pearson did not advocate radical direct action to bring about a socialist state. Rather, he felt a socialist state should emerge slowly following the work of intellectuals. He felt it was up to the ‘power intellectual’ to guide society.[xxvii]

Pearson headed the Galton Eugenics Laboratory in Britain, but he ‘refused to join the Eugenics Education Society, to participate in political activity, or to make available his institutional resources and expertise for the support of legislative measures’.[xxviii] Pearson was intent on establishing eugenics as an academic discipline, and he felt that the social activists associated with the eugenics movement were doing it harm in that area. Pearson did not like to be involved in political activity and preferred to promulgate his research through academic journals and learned talks and activities. He was a racist who disparaged both Jews and Blacks, but he took pleasure in shocking a Newcastle cleric by saying that Adam, the source of all humans, must certainly have been ‘Negroid’.[xxix] It is tempting to say that Pearson’s temperament may have resulted from his Quaker upbringing, which was stern, especially from his father, but that his theories had little to do with Quakerism. His comments on Galton’s Quakerism show that he admired Quakers generally, though, so he was not completely divorced from its ideas. Many Quakers of his time had moved toward socialism of varying sorts. Nonetheless, Pearson did not seem to be following Quaker faith. Instead, he appeared to be following intellectual trends of his time rather than the much older teachings of his religion.

Born of Quaker descent, Daniel Garrison Brinton was a leading American ethnologist who produced prolific publications on race and, more specifically, race inferiority. He divided races into categories ranging from savage to half-cultured to enlightened. He argued that Africans, Native Americans, and Chinese had failed to produce ‘empires’ for want of developed minds. Brinton was adamant that there must be no mixing of the Caucasian race with other races. He said that miscegenation would bring ‘indelible degradation’ to the descendents of the white partner. He put the burden of keeping society stable on the shoulders of white women. He said that only the woman could preserve the ‘purity of the type’. His pronouncement simultaneously established the superiority of the white man whilst relieving him of any responsibility for preserving social order.[xxx] The original tenets of the Quaker heritage appear to have been lost in the mind of Brinton. Lee Baker says of him:

Although his Quaker background and these obituaries raise some intriguing questions, they demonstrate how deeply ingrained notions of white supremacy were even among putative radical scholars and activists, how accepted notions of racial evolutionism were among the intelligentsia regardless of political orientation, and how integral notions of racial hierarchies were to anarchist ideology during the last decade of the nineteenth century.[xxxi]

In short, views on racial inferiority seemed to override egalitarian concerns that are a part of Quaker faith.

Henry Herbert Goddard was reared as a Quaker, and he never abandoned his faith, even if he seemed to have gone far afield of the idea of equal human worth. He was taught Darwinian evolution in school at Providence as a matter of fact. A classmate of Goddard’s said that the instruction enabled Quakers to follow scientific debate without any ‘wreckage of faith’.[xxxii] Though they seem contradictory, Goddard never lost his faith as Pearson had done. Indeed, Goddard seemed to feel his efforts in eugenics would help society by creating more individuals of moral worth such as Quakers. In his study of the ‘Kallikak’ family, he overtly equates ‘Quaker family’ with ‘good family’. Goddard’s steadfast faith, indeed, may have helped him be less steadfast with his intellectual theories.

Goddard conducted a study of the ‘Kallikak’ family in a classic study of hereditary feeble-mindedness. In his study, he asserted that Martin Sr. had two lines of descendents, one beginning with a feeble-minded woman named Deborah and another with a good Quaker woman. He describes the two lines of descent from Martin as follows:

The Kallikak family presents a natural experiment in heredity. A young man of good [Quaker] family becomes through two different women the ancestor of two lines of descendents: the one characterised by thoroughly good, respectable, normal citizenship, with almost no exceptions; the other being equally characterised by mental defect in every generation.[xxxiii]

To solve the problem of inherited degeneracy, Goddard proposes a system of segregation and colonization for the feeble-minded. He sees this as the best way to improve conditions for society. His plan of action is bold, direct, and full of latent prejudice. Goddard’s conclusions would seem to go against the belief that all have God within them, but Goddard’s continued faith in Quakerism, at least nominally, is reflected in how he describes Martin’s courtship of his wife. He says:

During the summer of enforced idleness he wooed and won the heart of a young woman of good Quaker family. Her shrewd old father, however, refused to give his consent. To his objections, based on the ground that Martin did not own enough of the world’s goods, the young man is recorded as saying, “Never mind, I will own more land than ever thou did, before I die,” which promise he made true.[xxxiv]

Goddard seems to view Quakerism as a sign of moral goodness, but he does not, at this time of his life, seem to equate Quakerism with any particular social obligation. He was perhaps too caught up with his research or too impressed by the exciting developments in science to recognise his own prejudice and the negative consequences of prevailing attitudes and practices.

In later life, Henry Herbert Goddard, who had advocated strict eugenic laws, always felt obligated to social commitment. He attempted to follow Quaker values throughout his life, but his later life seems to have had greater humility and sincere devotion. Of his later life, Leila Zenderland says, ‘He committed himself to various causes, sending not only money but also letters containing advice or expressing ‘a concern’ – as we Quakers say’.[xxxv] He supported Einstein’s Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which opposed the use of nuclear weapons. He would not support the Committee on United Europe because it took a hard line with Stalin, and he said, ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath’.[xxxvi] In these later years, Goddard championed gentle parenting and a peaceful demeanor. On intelligence, he decided that there was not enough information about genes to say that intelligence was inherited. He said only that ‘we know enough to safely conclude that the possibilities of variation are great’.[xxxvii] When he was nearly eighty, he sent a Christmas letter, and Deborah Kallikak was among the recipients. Helen Reeves, one of Deborah’s teachers, said that Deborah’s reaction was to say, ‘The nicest thing about it . . . is that he thought I had the brains to understand it which of course I do’.[xxxviii]

Another prominent Quaker of the twentieth century, Jean Toomer, stands in contrast to judgmental theorist such as Goddard. Toomer was a prominent author during the Harlem Renaissance. He was born in 1894 and did not become a Quaker until 1940 after attending meetings for about five years. During his years as a Quaker, he became a sought after speaker and leader with special interest in teaching young people. Rather than social activism, he advocated inward change. He wrote, ‘If we are to consider politics, then surely it should be our aim to come nearer to the Politics of Eternity rather than express views about the politics of our time’.[xxxix] But in 1947 he expressed himself a little differently on the need for inward development and social change: ‘The truth is that both approaches are needed. I have stressed the necessity of inward change because it is relatively neglected in our day’.[xl] Toomer judged himself to be somewhere between one-eighth and one-sixteenth black. He lived among Blacks, whites, and Jews. Perhaps as a result of his own mixed heritage, he opposed attempts at racial categorization. He saw racial purity as a myth and felt that rejection of the idea of race could help to unite individuals as part of the human race.[xli] He said, ‘Human blood is human blood. Human beings are human beings. . . . No racial or social factors can adequately account for the uniqueness of each—or for the individual differences which people display concurrently with basic commonality’.[xlii] Toomer returned to the original Quaker ideal that God is within each person.

Lancelot Hogben lived from 1895–1975 and was a biologist who held, among other positions, a chair in social biology at the London School of Economics. He was a humanist and social radical. He sought the development of a rationally ordered society but opposed the efforts of eugenicists. Although he later described himself as an atheist, he practiced Quaker ethics for his entire life.[xliii] This is not inconsistent with Quaker practice. Many Quakers, especially liberal Quakers of the twentieth century and later, define God in abstract terms, even embracing atheism and defining God as the universe. But even in 1648, Quaker Gerrard Winstanley declared that Christ ‘is not a single man at a distance from you but the indwelling power of reason’.[xliv] This may help to reconcile Hogben’s Quakerism with his exclamation, quoted by Daniel Kevles, ‘I’m an atheist, thank God’.[xlv] Kevles also credits Hogben with convincing Julian Huxley that his views on the unemployed would only help foster Nazism.[xlvi] Hobgen rejected eugenics and favored instead humanistic socialism, hoping always to help bring about an ordered world free from war and poverty.

Whilst Quaker history is filled with people in all periods who resolutely defended the worth of each individual with an egalitarian zeal, a number of changes took place in the nineteenth century. Between 1860 and 1880, the Society of Friends in the United States experienced a revival. After a decline in the numbers of Quakers in the United States in the early part of the nineteenth century, large tent meetings spread to both coasts in the latter part.[xlvii] This is somewhat misleading, however, as it obscures the growing schisms within the Quaker community, which was no longer a single community. Indeed, Quakers in the later nineteenth century divided into factions so different that an outsider would probably not recognise that they were of the same faith tradition. Quaker historian Howard Brinton says,

There were then in the second half of the nineteenth century in America three kinds of Quakers designated by the names of three persons. The Hicksites represented the more mystical, liberal, noncreedal branch; the Gurneyites, the more evangelical, authoritarian and theologically conservative branch; and the Wilburites, a branch whose position was between the other two.[xlviii]

The Hicksites were the most liberal of the three groups both socially and politically. The Hicksites would continue to fight racism, oppose war, and insist on each individuals right and responsibility to seek meaning and follow his or her conscience. The other branches were more conservative socially and maintained the severity of their Quaker forbears, continuing to stress a devotion to religious life and Christ. The conservative branches also established creeds, whilst the liberal branch remained without creed or doctrine. The creeds stressed justification and sanctification and resembled mainline protestant religions more than early Quaker religions. Both Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers, and it seems impossible they could be of the same faith as Jean Toomer and Lancelot Hogben, but the branches are so different that it is consistent with modern Quakerism to produce such diverse individuals.

The apparent paradoxes in the actions of Quakers stemmed partly from changes in the religion, partly in changes in society, and, occasionally, simply from changes in individuals. The early Quaker religion was a religion of radical outsiders who were treated as an underclass both in England and America. These radicals had to fight for the right to even exist, and they were forced at every turn to demand humane treatment. For these Quakers, it was impossible to imagine a loving God that would tolerate inhumane treatment of anyone. They recognised God in every individual and felt that the abuse of anyone was an abuse of God. For this reason, they opposed harsh treatment of criminals, especially the death penalty, and fiercely resisted war in all its forms. These Quakers recognised the equality of races and the rights of women and children. It is no surprise, then, that early Quakers would oppose slavery and the harsh treatment of the mentally ill and prisoners.

By the later nineteenth century, though, Quakers had become more established. Many were now affluent, and Quakers such as William Tuke and Johns Hopkins could afford to donate large sums of moneys to fund institutions. Other Quakers, such as Francis Galton and Karl Pearson could afford to travel the world and attend the best schools. Rather than being outsiders, Quakers could now affect social policy and legislation. Of course, some Quakers would want to enforce their religious severity on others. For many, what might now be called ‘clean living’ was an obvious solution to social problems. Abby Hopper Gibbons would support the moral purity movements. Quakers of this period were likely to believe they had achieved their status in society through purity and religious rigor. The compassion that drove early Quakers to seek freedom for slaves and prisoners now translated into a desire to care for others by exerting some control over their choices.

The nineteenth century also showed shifts in scientific thinking, especially after Darwin’s work became widely known. As mentioned above, many Quakers of this period could afford to attend leading universities in the United States and Europe. The basic tenets of genetic determinism and social Darwinism were presented to many students as facts just as they are today. Quakers concerned with improving society would of course turn to the latest theories from leading scientist of the time. Indeed, it is not surprising that Quakers joined progressive movements and sometimes embraced socialism of varying sorts. The later nineteenth century was a turning point for Quakers as it was for society writ large. Quakers divided into many factions depending on which Quaker values seemed of greatest importance to them. In the ensuing decades, the liberal branch of Quakerism is the only one to remain without a creed in the United States. Hicksites are now members of the Friends General Conference (FGC), which still opposes discrimination, harsh punishments, and war. The modern FGC is also tolerant of universalism (the belief in universal salvation or universal worth) and even atheism or agnosticism. The past involvement of Quakers in eugenics and racial purity movements should serve as a reminder to contemporary Quakers that moral hazards are always present.

 

            [i] Anne G. Myles. ‘From Monster to Martyr: Re-Presenting Mary Dyer’. Early American Literature. 36:1, 2001, 3.

            [ii] Myles, 3-7.

            [iii] Myles, 3-7.

            [iv] Myles, 18.

            [v] Brinton, 1-15.

            [vi] David S. Lovejoy, ‘Samuel Hopkins: Religion Slavery, and the Revolution,’ The New England Quarterly, 40:2, 1967, 228.

            [vii] Lovejoy, 229.

            [viii] Frederick B. Tolles and E. Gordon Alderfer, The Witness of William Penn (New York: Octagon Books, 1980), 125.

            [ix] Tolles and Alderfer, 124.

            [x] Janet Whitney, Elizabeth Fry: Quaker Heroine (Boston, Little Brown, 1940), 227-228.

            [xi] Whitney, 228.

            [xii] Quaker Tour of England, The Retreat Mental Hospital. www.quakerinfo.com/qt_retr.shtml, accessed July 31, 2008.

            [xiii] Debbie M. Price, ‘For 175 Years: Treating Mentally Ill With Dignity,’ The New York Times. April 7, 1988.

            [xiv] Price, 229.

            [xv] Price, 255.

            [xvi] Margaret Hope Bacon, Abby Hopper Gibbons: Prison Reformer and Social Activist (New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), 145 – 160.

            [xvii] Bacon, 156.

            [xviii] Bacon, 155.

            [xix] Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 35-50.

            [xx] Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari, Race and Human Evolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 89.

            [xxi] Gerald Sweeny, ‘Fighting for the Good Cause: Reflections on Francis Galton’s Legacy to American Heriditarian Psychology,’ Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 91:2, 2001, 29.

            [xxii] Kevles, 76.

            [xxiii] Stephen J. Gould, Mismeasure of Man, (New York: W. Norton & Co., 1996), 108-109.

            [xxiv] Christian Hoppe and Jelena Stojanovic, ‘High-Aptitude Minds,’ Scientific American Minds, August/September 2008, 61.

            [xxv] Gould, 107.

            [xxvi] Kevles, 23.

            [xxvii] Kevles, 24.

            [xxviii] Kevles, 104.

            [xxix] Kevles, 76.

            [xxx] John S. Haller, ‘Race and the Concept of Progress in Nineteenth Century American Ethnology,’ American Anthropolgist, New Series, 73:3, 719 – 721.

            [xxxi] Lee D. Baker, ‘Daniel G. Brinton’s Success on the Road to Obscurity, 1890 – 99,’ Cultural Anthropology, 15:3, 412.

            [xxxii] Zenderland, 31.

            [xxxiii] Henry Herbert Goddard, The Kallikak Family (New York: Arno Press, 1973), 116.

            [xxxiv] Goddard, 99-100.

            [xxxv] Zenderland, 337.

            [xxxvi] Zenderland, 337-338.

            [xxxvii] Zenderland, 338.

            [xxxviii] Zenderland, 338-339.

            [xxxix] Kerman and Eldridge, 267.

            [xl] Kerman and Eldridge, 267.

            [xli] Kerman and Eldridge, 341-342.

            [xlii] Kerman and Eldridge, 342.

            [xliii] Max Perutz, ‘Friendly Way to Science,’ Times Higher Education. www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, accessed August 4, 2008.

            [xliv] Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism, ed. David Boulton (Dent, Cumbria: Dales Historical Monographs, n.d.), 88.

            [xlv] Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 124.

            [xlvi] Kevles, 127.

            [xlvii] Zenderland, 18.

            [xlviii] Brinton, 234.

Support the Troops (Remembrance Day Poem)

A farmer working in a field with his children formed

A bucolic scene in the countryside, maybe.Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 06.23.15

An older man crashed his bicycle and

Injured his leg, or so it would seem.

 

On the first tour, these scenes did not

Seem so ambiguous. The world

Had not given over to chaos then.

A soldier might still pass with a sense of purpose.

 

On the second tour, doubt set in,

And the soldiers sometimes faltered

In indecision–perhaps the wedding

Party was filled with combatants.

 

On the third tour, everyone is

A combatant. Everyone must die.

The universe is infinite and absolute

Hostility, death the only possible escape.

 

He asked whether I thought US soldiers

May have committed atrocities.

I asked whether he had support

For his mental health needs.

 

He answered only with

A desperate, pleading smile.

 

Illness as Financial Ruin (US only)

Every human who has drawn a breath has faced illness, injury, and death. The universal experience of illness creates vulnerability, loss of identity, anxiety, diminished autonomy, and fear. The inescapable battle between health and illness defines human experience and shapes our personalities, our worldviews, and spiritual depth.

For most of the developed world, though, it does not mean financial ruin. In the United States, alone among developed nations, even a relatively minor injury such as broken bones or illness requiring a brief hospital stay can lead to economic disaster. As a result, when we in the US get sick, we don’t think about how we can recover, how we can endure the pain, or the spiritual significance of our pain; rather, we think of how we will pay for our bills.

poorunclesam-800pxAs we face our anxiety over possible diagnoses, we must constantly be prepared to battle with insurance companies, aggressive hospital billing agents, and doctors exhausted from dealing with insurance paperwork. Few things in life create as much anxiety as financial insecurity, and illness always brings the threat of insecurity to US residents. When people have serious accidents, they balk at calling an ambulance because they fear the bills—they worry over whether the ride will be covered and whether the ambulance will take them to a hospital that is in-network. As a result, many people suffering medical emergencies drive themselves to the hospital.

When it isn’t an emergency, Americans often forgo treatment altogether. A Gallup poll in 2014 found that one-third of Americans skip needed medical treatment because of cost concerns, even when they have insurance.  According to the report, “Some 34% of Americans with private health insurance say they’ve skipped out on care because it was too expensive, up from 25% last year. Additionally, 28% of households that earn $75,000 or more report that family members have delayed care, up from just 17% last year.” The Affordable Care Act succeeded in insuring more people, but it also created greater financial burdens for middle-income families through higher deductibles and co-pays. Many people who have been accustomed to being able to afford healthcare now find that it is out of reach.

While healthcare inflation has slowed a bit in recent years,  catastrophic medical events put the costs incurred out of the reach of most of us. The United States alone finds medical fundraisers to be normal and routine. According to an article in Journal News, the number of GoFundMe contributions for medical expenses “was up more than 293 percent in 2014, when more than 600,000 medical campaigns were launched, compared to just over 158,000 in 2013.”  Families with or without insurance cannot afford their medical bills. A serious accident or illness such as cancer creates an existential crisis while forcing people suffering from illness and their families to scramble to avoid destitution.

I don’t write this impersonally, my wife and I buy our insurance through the healthcare exchanges. We pay $682 per month ($8,184 per year) with a $4,000 deductible per person. The out-of-pocket limit on expenses is $13,700 per year. Balance-billed charges do not apply to the out-of-pocket limits, so there really is no upper limit to possible charges. Ignoring balance billing, my costs could easily exceed $20,000 per year.

I often hear the argument that universal healthcare coverage is too expensive and will require raising taxes on the middle class. As I see it, I would still benefit from a tax rise of $15,000 or even $20,000 each year. It is true that others are not in my position, but all Americans should realize they are at risk. No one stays young and healthy. Eventually, everyone will be at greater risk for catastrophic illness, but even those who are currently young and healthy can face illness and injury, though we may not like to think about it. Further, everyone’s income is subject to great variability. Those who have employer-provided health insurance may not want to pay in to a national system, but employer-provided insurance is never guaranteed. Employers may cut benefits, employees lose jobs through layoffs and termination, or illness can end employees’ ability to work.

The same is true for business owners. The tides of fortune shift. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Mary Brown brought a lawsuit against it, saying she did not want to be compelled to purchase health insurance. Mary Brown owned an auto repair shop that went under due to the pressure of economic recession and the Gulf oil spill in 2010. Of note, her bankruptcy filing listed “among the couple’s unsecured creditors several providers of medical care – a hospital and a physician group in Florida; an anesthesiology group based in Mississippi; and an eye care center in Alabama.” https://newrepublic.com/article/98145/affordable-care-act-mandate-lawsuit-nfib-mary-brown-bankruptcy-court-standing

Like many people, when she was doing well, Mary Brown thought that guaranteed universal access to healthcare was something the government was providing to other people. It didn’t occur to her that she might ever be in a position where she could not pay for her own medical care, but that is exactly what happened. I recently had the opportunity to speak to a Swedish citizen about Sweden’s healthcare system. He was a middle-aged man who explained that healthcare was paid through higher taxes. He said he didn’t mind the taxes, though, because you never know when you will be the one needing care.

It seems many Americans are not able to make this basic calculation of risk. Most people, even those who consider themselves well off, are not immune from the financial ruin that illness and injury can bring. Once people realize their own vulnerability, they support universal coverage for healthcare. The time for a more sober and accurate assessment of risk is well past due. We must wake up to the fact that the US healthcare system is not sustainable, that it leaves us at risk of financial failure, that it makes the experience of illness exponentially more stressful, and that we can do better.

It will not be easy. The US spends far more than other developed nations on healthcare. Each excess dollar we spend is profit for an insurance company, hospital, testing facility, pharmaceutical company, biotechnology company, or other player in the healthcare industry. Many people profit from the dangerous, expensive, and inefficient system we have in the United States. Every reduction in healthcare spending will be a reduction in profit for someone, and each person (or business) facing a loss of income will argue vehemently and vociferously that such a loss of income is a horrible tragedy and an impossible feat.

We will be told that reducing healthcare spending will reduce the quality of care. We will be told it will reduce our choices and control. We will be told it is impossible. We already have little choice or control, and we already have higher mortality rates than the rest of the industrialized world, so we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We have plenty of ideas on how to improve the system. What we lack is political will, but I think the will is growing. If we want universal coverage, we must demand it, and the time to demand it is now.

 

Suffragette, Slavery, and the Appropriation of Suffering

Controversy erupted recently over a photo shoot in which the stars of the movie, Suffragette, wore t-shirts that said, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” A group of white women wearing a shirt with a message comparing themselves to slaves was a problem to begin with, but people familiar with the fact that southern defenders of slavery in the US are known as Rebels only made things worse.

Defenders of the movie, the photo shoot, and the quote said the outrage was based on a misunderstanding of the quote, which comes from a speech by the British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, rallying women to free themselves from the oppression of patriarchy. In the United States, abolitionists and suffragettes were sometimes, though not nearly always, the same people. The comparison of slavery to women’s oppression was noted by many, including former slave Frederick Douglas, who wrote, “In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women.”

In the UK, people are less sensitive to comments about slavery and rebels. Some have suggested that the UK did not have slaves and that the quote is therefore not offensive. Time Out London, which published the photos, said in a statement: “Time Out published the original feature online and in print in the UK a week ago. The context of the photoshoot and the feature were absolutely clear to readers who read the piece. It has been read by at least half a million people in the UK and we have received no complaints.”

The UK does have a history with slavery, though. Unlike the US, Britain did not have a large workforce of slaves, but that doesn’t mean the UK had no involvement in slavery. Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833 by the Slavery Abolition Act, which ended slavery throughout the British Empire with the exception of territories under control of the East India Company, Ceylon, and the island of Saint Helena. The exceptions were eliminated in 1843. In the US, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Having been neither a woman nor a slave, I hesitate to comment on the controversy of the use of the Emmeline Pankhurst quote, but it turns out that philosopher Elizabeth Spelman made an insightful and relevant commentary on the issue in her 1997 book, Fruits of Sorrow: Framing Our Attention to Suffering. In the first place, she points out that phrases such as “women and minorities” excludes and ignores the existence of minority women. Comparisons to slavery are a case in point. She says,  “Consider the talk about women being treated like slaves. Whenever we talk that way we are not only making clear that the ‘women’ we’re referring to aren’t themselves slaves; we’re making it impossible to talk about how the women who weren’t slaves treated those who were.” When a white woman suffragette declared her preference for rebellion over slavery, was she honoring the suffering of slave women or, indeed, setting herself apart from them?

Drawing on the work of Jean Fagan Yellins, Spelman continues, “The female slave is made to disappear from view. Although presumably it was the female slave’s experience that originally was the focus of concern, the other women’s experiences were made the focus.” Somehow, white women made use of the suffering of slaves without experiencing the actual realities of slavery, even if the oppression of white women was intolerable, it was not an experience shared with actual slave women.

When this relationship between white suffragettes and slaves is exposed an analyzed, of course white women will want to deny their privilege and insist that they were only honoring their sisters. They can say this with great honesty, because they are not aware of their privileged status. Further, Spelman says, “The deeper privilege goes, the less self-conscious people are of the extent to which their being who they are, in their own eyes as well as the eyes of others, is dependent upon the exploitation or degradation or disadvantage of others.”

When privilege is pointed out, it makes us uncomfortable. As a result, our reaction is motivated by shame. Self-awareness is necessary to effect change, but it is also painful. Spelman says, “Seeing oneself as deeply disfigured by privilege, and desiring to do something about it, may be impossible without feeling shame.” The shame provokes a defensive reaction, but it can also help to facilitate healing and solidarity–in some cases, anyway.

With the Emmeline Pankhurst quote used by the magazine, we can see the defensive reaction. Many people defended the quote as being taken out of context, as being somehow separate from slavery because it was British, or being a victim of PC culture gone mad. In the end, though, the outrage at the use of the quote helped spark a conversation about the suffragette movement, Britain’s role in slavery, and sensitivity to women whose experiences lie outside the realm of so-called “white feminism.”

From Xu Mu to Donald Trump: Do We Need An Ethics Just For Women?

In the second GOP debate, candidates were asked an inconsequential question about what woman they would want to see on the $10 bill. Three mentioned family members who were caregivers and one mentioned Mother Theresa. Other candidates did mention women who were political leaders, but it is worth noting how difficult it is for some to imagine, even now, a great woman who is not caring for others. Rather, it is still hard for too many people to imagine that leading and fighting for justice and rights is a form of caring for women that is worthy of admiration.

The idea that women should be good, as women, but not in the same way that men might be good, is about as old as civilization. Men have placed women in an impossible bind forever. For striving to be the best person possible, they are often denounced, attacked, or even murdered for stepping above their station. In the seventh century BCE, Chinese poet and princess, Xu Mu found herself in a position where she felt she must defend her kingdom (Wei) against the Di people (see Barbara Bennett Peterson’s essay about dutiful daughters of ancient China here). She successfully rallied her brothers and friends from neighboring kingdoms to preserve their home.

A man in her position would simply luxuriate in the waves of honor and gratitude flowing over him, but Xu’s position was more complicated. She is remembered for her chinese poetaccomplishments, but she also faced the wrath of the men in her community. She recorded her mixed experiences and feeling in a poem, “Speeding Away”:

Harshly though you may judge me,
From my course I will not veer.
Compared to your limited vision,
Do I not see far and clear?

Harshly though you may judge me,
My steps you never can stay.
Compared to your limited vision,
Am I not wise in my way?

I’ve climbed the heights of A Qiu,
Gathered herbs on the slope alone.
All women are prone to sorrow,
Each follows a path of her own.
The people of Xu still blame me,
Such ignorance has never been known.

Out of necessity, she stepped out of the role of good wife, daughter, and mother to save her homeland only to be criticized, but she didn’t accept the criticism. She said, “O listen, ye lords and nobles, Blame not my stubbornness so,” but she was denied the opportunity to emerge as an unvarnished hero. If she had been a man, she would have been good, but she could not be considered a good woman without qualifications. Her society had two concepts of virtue: one for men, and one for women.

A couple of centuries later, Plato advocated for a single measure of virtue and goodness. He felt that the ideal form of the good was universal, so it wouldn’t make sense for some people to aim at one ideal and others at another ideal, as there can only be one ideal. Consequently, women and men should aim at the same ideal, and men, just by chance, seem to have an easier time getting close to it. In Plato’s Republic, women would be trained and educated in the manner of men in hopes of achieving their highest possibilities of human perfection. Women who succeeded in being the most like the best men would be the best women. Men who resembled women, on the other hand, were the worst of men. In Plato’s world, then, Xu Mu might be admired for embodying the virtues of men, but she may still be censured for failing in the virtues of womanhood.

Plato’s unusual conception of a single standard for virtue for men and women didn’t last long. His student, Aristotle, found insistence on a single standard for goodness unnatural and unfair. Men and women, being different, should strive for different ideals. A woman should be a good woman and a man should be a good man. To judge a woman on her ability to be like a “good man” would be as absurd as judging a musician on his ability to make good shoes. Women should do what is right and natural for them, he believed. Under Aristotle’s guidance, Xu Mu would do better to leave saving the kingdom to the men, who would be more rational and better prepared for war.

Those who feel women have different strengths than men will insist that they are not misogynistic. No, they love women for the things women do best. These men (and women) say that women have civilized men, make peace in families, and rear children for greatness. They love their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters as they make it possible for men to achieve greatness in war, politics, business, science, and philosophy. For example. Ronald Reagan explained his high regard for women by saying, “If it wasn’t for women, us men would still be walking around in skin suits carrying clubs.”  The problem is that the things these men suppose women excel at doing are also denigrated by society precisely because women do them, which means that women are devalued as well. In the third century BCE, another Chinese poet, Fu Xuan, summed up the problem nicely:

How sad it is to be a woman!!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boys stand leaning at the door
Like Gods fallen out of Heaven.
Their hearts brave the Four Oceans,
The wind and dust of a thousand miles.
No one is glad when a girl is born:
By her the family sets no store.

By this measure, to be the best woman possible is still to be something inferior to even a mediocre man. Women may not attain the highest levels of virtue.

Upon reading the works of many men claiming that women are inferior at birth, Christine Pisan, wrote a rhetorical query to God in 1405 CE:

“Alas, God, why did You not let me be born in the world as a man, so that all my inclinations would be to serve You better, and so that I would not stray in anything and would be as perfect as a man is said to be? But since Your kindness has not been extended to me, then forgive my negligence in Your service, most fair Lord God, and may it not displease You, for the servant who receives fewer gifts from his lord is less obliged in his service.”

Trapped in a paradox, extreme virtue is demanded of women while it is simultaneously denied them. By asking God to resolve the paradox, Pisan brilliantly illustrates that it is men, not God, who created the paradox, for no God would be so irrational. The binary is not only absurd; it is impossible.

In 1694 CE, Mary Astell eschewed literary maneuvers and stated directly that men are to blame for the situation of women. In her Serious Proposal to the Ladies, she remarked, “That therefore Women are unprofitable to most, and a plague and dishonour to some Men is not much to be regretted on account of the Men, because ’tis the product of their own folly, in denying them the benefits of an ingenuous and liberal Education, the most effectual means to direct them into, and to secure their progress in the way of Vertue.”  She goes on to say, “For since God has given Women as well as Men intelligent Souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them?” Astell issued a call to arms for women. Many have responded, and continue to respond.

In the late 19th century, Mary Wollstonecraft repeated the call: “To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different character: or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue.”  Wollstonecraft argued that two standards of virtue only serve to cement the power of men over women. A single standard will liberate both.

Simply choosing between a singular or dual ethics does not resolve the problem of misogyny, masculine power, or the systematic devaluing of anything “feminine.” If we choose to embrace a single ethics, the default position is to embrace the ethics previously associated with “masculine” virtue. To do so, women must themselves then disparage “feminine” virtues, which will mean debasing the activities traditionally associated with women. Thus, both women and men engaged in such pursuits are permanent held in reduced stature.

On the other hand, to embrace a dual system of ethics is to preserve the status quo. The male system of ethics continues to be the good and noble ethics while the female ethics is valued only for its contributions to maintaining the power and worth of male activities.

A single ethics that values all virtues and activities that are, in fact, valuable demands a complete deconstruction of gender and power so that it can be replaced with a non-binary system that embraces and venerates all activities that aid human flourishing. If nurturing children is a good, then it is good for both men and women. Such a system can have no concept of “women’s work” or “men’s work.” The idea that activities or dispositions (caring, assertive, protective, sensitive) are “masculine” or “feminine” must become a foreign idea. This will require radical resistance. Xu Mu and others like her began this battle nearly 3,000 years ago. After watching the second GOP debate, I believe it may take another 3,000 years to finish the war.

Medicare at 50: Our Moral Imperative

Last year, on the 49th anniversary of Medicare, I wrote a post advocating the expansion of Medicare to ensure that everyone in the United States can have access to basic healthcare. In the past year, I have read and heard many arguments against the expansion of Medicare and, in fact, single-payer systems in general. As I read the arguments, I realize that in a sense “Medicare for All” and “single-payer” have become a shorthand way of saying we need to guarantee “universal access to healthcare,” but I still think Medicare for All is the way to go in the United States.

I happily admit, though, that my commitment is to universal access to healthcare, not Medicare. The first step, in my opinion, is to declare that we will provide access to medicare for allhealthcare to all United States citizens. Take this simple idea, and make it law: We will provide healthcare to every citizen of the United States. Once that law is passed, we can have extended debates about whether Medicare can fulfill the purpose of guaranteeing that all citizens will have access to healthcare (my repetition is intentional).

Here are some of the objections I’ve heard and read to expanding Medicare along with my replies:

I don’t want to pay for healthcare for people who are too lazy to work.

Many people I talk to are extremely optimistic about their ability to pay for their healthcare in the case of extreme illness or injury. The fact that you’ve made it so far only means you’ve been lucky, not self-sufficient. Mary Brown, who sued the government over the Affordable Care Act because she didn’t want to purchase insurance, went bankrupt and was unable to pay her bills. In response to her own bankruptcy, Brown reportedly said, “”I believe that anyone has unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control.”  Yes, and the Affordable Care Act was designed to reduce the impact of unforeseen illness and injury. Unlike Mary Brown, many people who become medically bankrupt had insurance but weren’t able to cover their medical bills, anyway. A study in 2007 found that three-fourths of people who were medially bankrupt had insurance.  A study by NerdWallet Health found in 2013 that “Despite having year-round insurance coverage, 10 million insured Americans ages 19-64 will face bills they are unable to pay.”

For people who do have insurance, most get it through their employers. Too many people seem to forget that when they face unforeseen illness or injury, they will also be unable to work and are likely to lose their employer-provided insurance. If not immediately, it will happen sometime further down the road. Whether the road is long or short, it leads to bankruptcy. While some are rich enough to be impervious to mounting medical debt, most of us are not. A few hundred thousand dollars may sound like a safe cushion against medical disaster, but many life-saving treatments exceed that amount quickly. Selling your house and other assets to pay your medical bills may not be a solution. In fact it probably is not a solution.

The fact is that supporting a national program to guarantee access to healthcare free from the risk of burdensome medical debt is not something you should do only for other people. It is something you should do for yourself. And it is something we should do for our country.

As a nation, we share many burdens: national defense, national safety, public health, personal security. Like infrastructure and security, we are not talking about items we can choose to forgo in leaner times. These are basic human needs. Any society that does not meet the basic needs of its citizens will falter. If we can share the cost of providing a strong military, food inspectors, fire fighters, and police, we can share the cost of providing health services. The financial life you save may be your own.

Most countries don’t have a true single-payer system.

The argument here is that many countries that do guarantee universal access to healthcare do not use a “true” single-payer system. I am willing to concede that even Medicare for All might technically require the use of more than one payer. What is important, really, is that the payers are not invested in fleecing their clients, which often seems to be the case with for-profit insurance companies. In fact, if we had a single for-profit insurance monopoly, we might find our processes somewhat more efficient but not beneficial for consumers, so it matters who the single payer is as well. Just to repeat: we must have a system that guarantees access to healthcare without the risk of bankruptcy.

Medicare is fraught with fraud and abuse.

No one can deny that fraud and abuse exist within the current Medicare system. We need greater transparency, oversight, and regulation of the system and of the providers. Also, Medicare must have the ability to negotiate prices, unlike the disastrous Medicare Part D that currently exists for prescription drugs.

Corporations will game the system.

It is true that for-profit providers, whether they are pharmaceutical companies, for-profit hospitals, biotechnology companies, medical equipment suppliers or food vendors, will strive to earn as much profit as is humanly possible. This is why we need a system that empowers taxpayers to hold bad actors accountable and demand transparency regarding pricing and profit. Corporations will serve the common good only when common people demand that they do. Fatalism is an excuse to avoid the hard work of diligence.

We need price controls.

Again, simply removing all but one payer will not, on its own, lower prices. If Medicare simply sent checks to providers for whatever charges they submitted, the United States would continue to have the costliest healthcare system in the world. Medicare must have the ability to negotiate prices and set limits on unchecked profits.

We must limit unnecessary tests and treatments.

In a pay-for-service system, hospitals, labs, equipment manufacturers, and others make money every time someone is tested or treated for anything at all. More and more studies are finding that many tests lead to unnecessary treatment, waste money, and (even worse) cause more injury and death than they prevent. Unfortunately, limiting the number of tests and treatments available to patients is likely to be perceived as (shriek) rationing.

With our current system, we trust insurance companies to refuse payments for useless or harmful tests and treatments, but we know this does not always happen. When it does, clients fear they are being denied necessary tests and treatments. They fear this largely because it is sometimes true. Whether Medicare is expanded or not, we need better ways to evaluate what tests and treatments are beneficial, and we need better ways of educating patients on what is and is not beneficial.

Movements toward paying providers for results, not services, may reduce unnecessary and harmful services greatly. It may also force patients to become more responsible for their own health.

Finally

The only real imperative here is that we, as a nation, must decide whether we will provide access to healthcare for all our citizens. Once we agree that we will, we can begin to work out the most efficient and cost-effective means for achieving our goals. Almost no one in the United States is immune from the possibility of medical disaster and bankruptcy. This is a matter of caring for our fellow citizens, but it is also a matter of caring for ourselves.

On the 50th anniversary of Medicare, take a stand for healthcare justice.

Slaying monsters: Ethics as a Matter of Opinion

I have the distinct pleasure of teaching ethics to many students who, frankly, do not believe the study of ethics is of any benefit to them or anyone else. From time to time, usually near the beginning of the semester, a student will express frustration that a required ethics class seems a colossal waste of time, as ethics is “just a matter of opinion.” People have to make up their own minds about what is right and wrong, and one opinion is as valid as another.

I challenge this as most ethics teachers challenge it: “So,” I say, “If someone were to kill someone, no one has any moral authority to challenge that person’s opinion that such behavior is perfectly moral.” Students will often then say, “Well, it depends.” I will then assert that whatever it depends on is the fulcrum of the student’s own moral theory—it is a creepcore moral value. With a little engagement, we usually get around to a fairly simple statement of what I do take to be a near universal moral value. It is okay for people to have their own moral opinions and to make their own decisions about their behavior so long as they are not hurting anyone.

Of course, we do hurt people. We execute people. We put people in jail. We take scissors away from running toddlers who would rather play with the scissors. We hurt people in many ways. Most students will agree that it is acceptable to hurt someone with some greater good in mind—or, for some students, it is acceptable to hurt someone as punishment. It hurts to give a child a vaccination, but the purpose is to protect the child and society from disease. It hurts to kill someone who has broken into your home to murder you, but killing the guilty to protect the innocent is considered a good by almost everyone, even as we acknowledge pacifism and non-violent resistance. This being the case, most students will agree that it is wrong to harm someone who is innocent, unless that harm is aimed at a greater good (e.g., I may violently knock someone to the ground to prevent her from falling thousands of feet to her death or give a child a vaccination to protect her from disease).

When we accept that it is wrong, generally, to hurt innocent people, we are left with two questions: 1. What constitutes harm? 2. What is a person? The first question seems easy until we try to answer it. When some information will be extremely painful to someone (say, some embarrassing photos and personal information of someone are posted in an office he is completely unaware of unlikely to ever know about), is it more harmful to tell the truth or to keep a secret? Is failing to prevent a harm the same, morally, as harming someone? Many moral dilemmas revolve around just such questions. Even with these difficulties, though, I don’t think the question of harm is what derails morality. Reasonable people with good intentions can have productive discussions about harm, even if they don’t always arrive at consensus on what harms are or are not justified.

It is the second question that effectively ends progress of moral conversation. We want to say everyone deserves equal protection from harm, but we don’t always agree on who “everyone” is. The founders of the United States purportedly believed “all men” are created equal. Women, slaves, other minorities, and children did not fall under the umbrella of “all men” in either policy or practice. Everyone should be treated equally under the law, but some of us have a fairly narrow view of who “everyone” is.

Some people want only to protect rational beings, which would seem to indicate adult humans, while others want to protect, seemingly, all living things. I spend perhaps too much time trying to understand how people who seem to want to be moral can justify slavery, torture, sexual abuse, or even genocide. In most cases, the people guilty of the horrendous crimes are not amoral; they simply have a morality that does not recognize the rights of their victims. By one way or another, they have come to view their victims as less than human.

Thus, police may view those suspected of crimes as being beneath them and undeserving of respect and thoroughly devoid of dignity. People may view those of other races as being subhuman or animalistic. In the same way, too many people compare sexual minorities with animal behavior or will even refer to “those people” as animals. Women are often viewed, depicted and described as animals or even inanimate objects. The poor, too, are often described as vermin or even rubbish. People often deny the worth and dignity of many classes of people. Though we all come from the same creator (your choice who the creator is: evolution, God, spirits, or whatever), some of us manage to ignore the worth of others in our community.

Religious Friends, Quakers, have the idea that we should always recognize “that of God in everyone.” Even if you don’t believe in God, this idea is a powerful way to examine what others deserve our respect. We all share the same ancestors. We all share the same emotions. None of us is perfect, and no one is without worth. Even for those who have done the worst, dictators, terrorist, and so on, we must remember that they, too, are made of the same flesh.

It is through empathy and compassion that we can better understand our enemies. I am not saying there can never be a justification for punishment or even some defensive acts of violence, but I am saying these acts must be carried out with the full recognition of our own flaws and the humanity of our enemies, opponents, and, yes, friends.

You are not perfect. Try to love another imperfect person today. And tomorrow.