Monday, November 28, 2016

If the Electoral College can contradict the popular vote sometimes, why would it be wrong for them to do it every single time? [Ask a Philosopher]

Today we have a question that makes me think of the current attempt to get electors to abandon Donald Trump and vote for Hillary Clinton.

A reader writes:
Long before the election, my class was discussing the Electoral College, and one student opined that it should be kept because the popular vote doesn't accord with the electoral vote only some of the time. This got me thinking, "Would we find it acceptable if the popular vote never matched the electoral vote?" It would seem that whatever makes it acceptable to have the popular vote not match the electoral vote in some instances, would also make such an outcome acceptable in every instance. Or, conversely, whatever makes it unacceptable to have the popular vote not match the electoral vote in every instance, would also make such an outcome unacceptable in each instance. But perhaps I'm missing something, so I thought I'd see what you have to say in regard to the argumentation.

This is a good, interesting, and relevant question. Let me put it another way: if it is okay for the Electoral College to contradict the popular vote once in a while, why isn’t it okay for it to do so all the time? How can opposing the popular vote be right only some of the time?

I think there are two possible options, depending on what we regard the purpose of the Electoral College to be. Is its purpose insurance or to be a representative body?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A reporter wrote an article about me and got an antisemitic email in response.

Today, the Grand Forks Herald, published an article about my inclusion in The Professor Watch List. It is a thoughtful piece. You can read it here.

Buried in the 18th paragraph is a mention about the antisemitic letter I received last week, the one I wrote the blog entry about. It was in no way, the subject of the article. It was just an aside emphasizing how these sorts of attacks make people feel vulnerable.

Within a few hours, the journalist herself got her own antisemitic rant. It read:

you do know you cannot have antisemitism without semitism right ??
I'm sure you are a college grad and do know the jews have been kicked out of 89 countries 109 times right ? You do know that.....? Right ?.
If this guy has his way you will not be able to have a gun in this country.........

I know about the letter because the journalist sent it to me. She didn’t understand one of the references and sought to know more. I have nothing but respect for this. As a Jew and a teacher, I can think of nothing nobler than asking to learn more, especially about a paniful and complex topic like antisemitism. I wish more journalists were as conscientious as she is.

I wrote her a detailed line-by-line historical explanation of the email; I won’t repost it here. But just in case others have a difficult time deciphering the sentence fragments, I will reprint my plain-English summary.

No, students who sought counseling after the recent presidential election are not "precious snowflakes."

This picture was used here to ridicule the crying student.
I believe her emotional reaction to losing is a badge of honor.

Over the last couple of weeks, pundits have publicly attacked university students for being whiny, coddled crybabies in the face of the presidential election. Following others (see here, here, and here), Rob Port a local Republican blogger attacked a neighboring university, North Dakota State University, for sending out an email informing its students that counseling services were available to anyone who was having trouble dealing with the results. This student weakness was so horrifying to a a local letter writer, that she felt the need to both describe her own time as a college student as strong and noble, and then to tell students who need someone to talk to to “get a grip” and "find God."

Even if only a small  numbers of students actually sought counseling, these attacks are dangerous and ignorant. They are based on the outdated premise that asking for psychological help is a form of weakness. It is not. Asking for help requires great strength and it is noble for anyone to act to improve his or her own well-being. Part of what makes human beings special is our desire and ability to improve ourselves. Part of what makes us fragile is that our idea of what improvement is, is often distorted by, at best, imperfect, and at worst, destructive experiences. A good therapist can help people overcome a difficult childhood, trauma, poor judgment and self-centered blinders. Personal improvement is hard that takes much more than personal reflection. Shouldn't we encourage people to work on themselves?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The author of this blog has just been put on a watch list for having “anti-American values.” Here is how you can help.

It has been a heck of a week here at PQED and Why? Radio.

We had to cancel our planned guest on Why? Radio and reran our interview with Daniel Goldhagen called “How to Think About Antisemitism.”

Two days later, our host, Jack Russell Weinstein received an antisemitic screed via email. He responded on this blog in, in the words of one religion scholar, an “amazing calm” and “powerful” way.

It took a lot out of him.

Then yesterday, the world found out that Jack is the only North Dakotan listed on Professor Watch List, a website dedicated to surveilling professors who, they say, “promote anti-American values:”

We feel a little exposed right now. We are looking over our shoulders a lot.
But we will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Molli Bernstein died this weekend. (Death in the age of Facebook.)

Molli Bernstein died of a drug overdose this weekend; I didn’t really know her. She was one of the hundreds of Facebook friends I have acquired because of my radio show and blog. I was first connected to her via a mutual acquaintance—a young photographer—when they both started complaining about Facebook censoring their pictures.

Molli was a fashion model and she had posed for some test nudes, helping an inexperienced photographer-friend as they both learned their trade. She posted them on a blog, shared them on Facebook, someone complained about the nudity, Facebook took the link down, and eventually, I wrote a post exploring the tension between the idea of “art” and the pragmatic practice of labelling images Not Safe for Work. It was a totally unnecessary chain of events.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The antisemitic email I just got and my response to it.

So, here's a problem: what image do I use here that doesn't make things worse? What can I do that doesn't exploit the history of antisemitism just to get attention? I don't want to equate this email to any real atrocity, but I'm backed into a corner. I have to have some kind of illustration here.  This is another way in which antisemitism traps Jews. Even the mere act of deciding what picture to use to begin a blog post is fraught with danger. Whatever I use, I can be accused of taking advantage of other people's suffering for my own personal publicity. 

This past weekend we broadcasted a Why? Radio rerun, an interview with Danial Jonah Goldhagen called “How to think about antisemitism.” I had my reservations about running it again because the first time we did, we lost a bunch of listeners. People who regularly wrote to the show sent emails in advance, asking why Israel was evil and other questions that were, at minimum, phrased problematically. The guest and I discussed them, addressing, in particular, the accusation that Jews all think that criticizing Israel is itself anti-Semitic. (Goldhagen’s answer was, first, that most Jews do not think this and second, that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. What is, he argued, is holding Israel to a different standard than anyone else. We’ll come back to that at the end of this discussion.)

During the show I mentions that as a host, I was scared because although I wanted to address listeners’ questions, some of the replies were going to be critical and I didn’t want to alienate a loyal audience. This turned out to be prescient. I never heard from some of them again.

But, politics being what it is, I thought it was an important episode to rebroadcast. Plus, I think it’s a really good episode, one of our best, most compelling, and most sophisticated ones. So I reran it and, predictably, today (11/16/2016) at 7:12 pm, I got the following message via my personal website.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Telling people to just chill-out about Trump and love one another, is bad advice and philosophically incoherent

This photo is courtesy of the LA Times.

Post-election discussion on social media has reached the phase in which large numbers of people are telling others to calm down. Demands for people to “chill out,” “love one another,” and “agree to disagree” are all over the place, as are testimonies that the poster will never unfriend someone because they voted differently. In some cases, the last kind of remark is a direct rebuke to my previous post declaring that I could never stay friends with someone who voted for Donald Trump.

The idea behind these love-promoting messages is that angry political debate should always be contained, and that people will be better off if they just find common ground and push the conflict aside. There may be times when this is a suitable response. Now is not one of them.

The election of Donald Trump has terrified and angered an impressive amount of people. It strikes at the core of people’s most cherished beliefs, of their vision of what America is and ought to be, and, in many cases, of their own identities. Many LGBTQ people, for example, were just starting to feel secure as a result of the legalization of gay marriage. Now the rug is being pulled out from under them. They and their loved ones have every reason to be furious.

Monday, November 7, 2016

My Final Statement on Donald Trump

I would like to post a very personal reflection on tomorrow's election and a message to Donald Trump supporters. Because of its partisan nature and how intimate this particular essay is, I am including it as an embed rather than as a post. Once again, I need to make the distinction between Jack the person and philosopher, and Jack the Director of IPPL.

Please read this and consider sharing it on FB or anywhere else.


Follow the author on Twitter: @jackrweinstein

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

[PSA] Yelling is not an argument; insults are not evidence.

Anytime someone responds to an internet post by yelling, insulting someone, or being a complete jackass, send them a link to this post and save yourself some time.

A few days ago, I posted a partisan essay about the recent election. It was strong, but it was a proper argument with evidence and elaboration. I did not expect everyone to accept it, but I wasn’t quite expecting the volume of obscene, sexist, anti-Semitic, and completely ineffective responses on the thread. Part of me wanted to answer all of them personally, but I knew that it would be both aggravating and a waste of time. It would also probably have escalated the insults. Instead, I offer this generic response. I hope others will find this useful.

1. Yelling is not an argument; it is a form of violence. Socrates made this point in the very beginning of Plato’s Apology when he urged his audience not to shout him down while he spoke. It is a form of force and violence because its goal is to make someone else submit against their will. It is an attempt to drown them out and shield everyone from what they want to say. While it is true that some people are perfectly fine with using force in the face of argument—some people, such as internet Trolls, enjoy it—yelling at someone has never made anyone change their mind. In fact, it usually only confirms their suspicion that the person yelling doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

Ultimately, yelling in response to arguments is a sign of weakness. It has no staying power and only stops discussion while the yelling takes place. Force is only effective while the force exists. It has no lasting impact.