The horrors of coerced sex reassignment of children

Mark D. White

The Week (courtesy of Brain Pickings) is reporting that young Indian girls are being given coerced genitoplasty (forming the female sex organs into their male counterparts) and hormone treatments in order to be the boys the parents want. This takes gender-based selective abortion (as detailed in Mara Hvistendahl's recent book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men) to an entirely new level; forcing a physical sex change on a child before she has a chance to realize her own gender is, to point out the obvious, inhumane. (There are, of course, links to female genital mutilation as well.)

We Should Not Celebrate the Death of Osama Bin Laden

I do not mourn the death of Osama bin Laden, but neither do I celebrate it. The impulse to cheer upon hearing the news of this man's death is understandable, but we as Americans can do better than flaunting our joy to the world. I would rather we acknowledge the work of our military in achieving it, and appreciate the fact that only a handful of others died in the operation. Justice was done, to be sure, but justice achieved in the context of an ongoing struggle is a solemn occasion, not a joyful one.

I remember being appalled and disgusted at the sight of bin Laden's supporters and admirers cheering the fall of the Twin Towers almost ten years ago. There is no moral equivalency between the deaths of thousands of innocent persons that day and the death of bin Laden now, but nonetheless the sight of Americans cheering in the streets this morning was unsettling to me. It will certainly embolden those who will continue his mission, but I'm more concerned with what it says about us.

For those of us too young to remember World War II, the events of 9/11 were our Pearl Harbor, made even more tragic by the fact that most of those who died were civilians. But bin Laden's death is not our V-Day; peace has not yet been achieved, our fighting men and women aren't all coming home, and the struggle continues. We should reserve our cheers and parades for when the fight is over—only then will we have something to celebrate.

I am very fortunate in that I lost no one close to me on 9/11, but I work with many who did. Staten Island is home to many of New York City's police officers and firefighters, and most everybody at my college who grew up here has a brother or cousin who was lost in the rescue efforts, as well as those who worked in the Towers themselves. On this occasion, let us not cheer the death of Osama bin Laden; even a death that is deserved and just does not merit celebration. Instead, let us honor those who gave their lives then and now, and those who continue to fight against his cause. Please remember those who died serving the cause of freedom, rather than a man worked to take it away.

The Ethical Dimensions of International Institutions (in Politics, Philosophy & Economics)

Mark D. White

A symposium in the new issue of Politics, Philosophy & Economics (10/1, February 2011) brings

together leading thinkers in political philosophy, international relations and political theory to engage in an empirically informed discussion of some basic ethical issues regarding international institutions. These papers represent some of the most cutting edge work on ethically relevant features of international institutions. The first two papers are on the legitimacy of international institutions while the third is concerned with the normative implications of the structure of the international institutions. (from editor Thomas Christiano's introduction, p.3)

The first paper, "Reciprocal legitimation: Reframing the problem of international legitimacy," is by Allen Buchanan:

Theorizing about the legitimacy of international institutions usually begins with a framing assumption according to which the legitimacy of the state is understood solely in terms of the relationship between the state and its citizens, without reference to the effects of state power on others. In contrast, this article argues that whether a state is legitimate vis-a-vis its own citizens depends upon whether its exercise of power respects the human rights of people in other states. The other main conclusions are as follows. First, a state’s participation in international institutions can contribute to its legitimacy in several ways. Second, when international institutions contribute to the legitimacy of states, their doing so can contribute to their own legitimacy. Third, a theory of international legitimacy ought to recognize reciprocal legitimation between states and international institutions.

The second paper, "Legitimacy, humanitarian intervention, and international institutions," is by Miles Kahler:

The legitimacy of humanitarian intervention has been contested for more than a century, yet pressure for such intervention persists. Normative evolution and institutional design have been closely linked since the first debates over humanitarian intervention more than a century ago. Three norms have competed in shaping state practice and the normative discourse: human rights, peace preservation, and sovereignty. The rebalancing of these norms over time, most recently as the state’s responsibility to protect, has reflected specific international institutional environments. The contemporary legitimacy of humanitarian intervention is based on UN Security Council authorization of the use of force. Although the Security Council is often viewed as representative of great-power influence, international acceptance of its role is based on the role of non-permanent members and their support for the sovereignty norm. The current rebalanced norms supporting humanitarian intervention, institutional bias that protects state sovereignty, and the changing character of mass violence may undermine the tenuous contemporary legitimacy of humanitarian intervention. Normative adjustments and new institutional designs are required to insure the legitimacy of international action that protects populations against mass violence.

The final paper, "The distributive justice of a global basic structure: A category mistake?" is by Andreas Follesdal:

The present article explores ‘anti-cosmopolitan’ arguments that shared institutions above the state, such as there are, are not of a kind that support or give rise to distributive claims beyond securing minimum needs. The upshot is to rebut certain of these ‘anti-cosmopolitan’ arguments. Section 1 asks under which conditions institutions are subject to distributive justice norms. That is, which sound reasons support claims to a relative share of the benefits of institutions that exist and apply to individuals? Such norms may require strict equality, Rawls’ Difference Principle, or other constraints on inequality. Section 2 considers, and rejects, several arguments why existing international institutions are not thought to meet these conditions.

The Moral Psychology of War (tpm's Idea of the Century #42)

Mark D. White

Sherman As Jonathan noted previously, the philosophers' magazine (tpm) has been running a series of the top 50 Ideas of the 21st Century, and today's entry, #42, is "The Moral Psychology of War" by one of my favorite philosophers, Nancy Sherman, author of The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers, Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind, Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue, and The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue.

From the article:

Going to war inevitably turns policymakers and academics to philosophical justifications of war and its conduct. And so, unsurprisingly, there has been a renaissance over the past ten years in just war theory. But what we need moral clarity about is not just whether a war or its prosecution is justified, but how soldiers bear the moral weight of war. Soldiers go to war to fight external enemies, in Iraq and Afghanistan today, or in Europe and the Pacific in my father’s era. But most, at least the honest among them, fight inner wars as well. They wrestle with the guilt of luck and accident, and the uneasy burden of killing and leaving the killing behind. For some, what weighs heavy is the sense of betrayal that is part of the moral shadowland of wartime interrogation – of building intimate rapport with a detainee only to exploit it. For others, the moral burden comes with killing civilians, as part of the permissible, but no less wrenching collateral damage of war.

Crush videos and obscenity: When is the nonsexual sexual?

Mark D. White

I discussed this matter to some extent in my crime and punishment seminar this semester, so it caught my eye: at Prawfsblawg, Bill Araiza discusses the recently signed Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 and whether the obscenity standard, which is defined to cover sexual material, can or should be applied to material from which only a small minority of persons derive sexual gratification. He concludes:

There's an obvious -- if ironic -- truth here: people who have majoritarian sexual stimulants -- call it "good looking people getting naked and acting sexually" -- can expect to have the most extreme versions of their sexual "fetishes" subject to regulation (at least at the margins), while people with distinctly minority tastes -- e.g., getting turned on by uniforms -- will usually have a protected supply of material.  Nobody would ever think of banning depictions of uniforms because some people find them a turn-on.  The interesting question arises when there are depictions of conduct -- such as crushing animals -- that presumably has, at best, miniscule social value, but that serves as a sexual fetish.  Can we appropriately think of that as obscenity?  Maybe we can, but it seems we'd have to alter not just the technical aspects of Miller's holding, but our entire conception of what it means for something to be sexually obscene.

Very interesting...

2011 ASSA Meetings: Interesting sessions of all kinds

Mark D. White

Now we come to the "miscellaneous" or "grab bag" section of my highlights from the preliminary program for the upcoming Allied Social Science Association meetings in Denver in early January. This should not be taken to imply that any of these sessions are frivolous (though one is, and delightfully so), but rather than each is unique, and therefore did not fit into any of the previous posts (economics and ethics, economics and religionrationality and choice, and the status of economics and economics education). (The sessions appear below the fold, and as before, I've omitted the names of chairs and discussants, which can found on the program.)

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Violence Is the Normal Order of Things?

Jonathan B.Wight

Violence In case you haven’t seen it, a (relatively) new book explores the fascinating intersection of morality, law, economics, and development:

Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge University Press 2009).

The book received rave reviews from luminaries (it’s on my list of summer reading). 

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:  “All societies must deal with the possibility of violence, and they do so in different ways. This book integrates the problem of violence into a larger social science and historical framework, showing how economic and political behavior are closely linked. Most societies, which we call natural states, limit violence by political manipulation of the economy to create privileged interests. These privileges limit the use of violence by powerful individuals, but doing so hinders both economic and political development. In contrast, modern societies create open access to economic and political organizations, fostering political and economic competition. The book provides a framework for understanding the two types of social orders, why open access societies are both politically and economically more developed, and how some 25 countries have made the transition between the two types.”