Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Miscellanea

The Supreme Court has ruled that California has to significantly reduce its prison population in order to prevent the routine violation of inmate rights due to the overcrowded conditions. Among other things, the prison system can't provide (and, let's be honest, doesn't give a flying fuck about providing) adequate medical care and secure living conditions while functioning with such high numbers of inmates in limited space. The ruling has led to much hand-wringing from social conservatives over the thought of all these violent thugs running the streets.

In reality, of course, mostly non-violent drug offenders will be released. Admittedly, these types are generally maladjusted and frequently lack a viable social network on the outside and the basic life skills needed to become a functioning and fulfilled member of society. In fact, they may have even picked up some violent and anti-social behaviors during their incarceration. But rather than addressing the issue of the personal and social impact of incarceration in our prison system, or the issues in these peoples lives that led to their incarceration to begin with, folks like Justice Scalia prefer to wallow in their fearful fantasies of all the "fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym" (the gym which ironically no longer contains any iron to be pumped, seeing as how it's packed to the gills with bunks). In Scalia's view, we as a society are better off disposing of this segment of the population by funneling them at an early age into a system that more or less guarantees their lifelong dysfunction and need for institutionalization. Cuz that's just worked so damn well, why would we change a system that's profoundly broken, classist, racist, etc that functions so well and meets all of our needs with such breathtaking efficiency? Why indeed?


In other news, the Environmental Working Group has released their 2011 guide to choosing a sunscreen that's both highly effective and nontoxic. If this year's guide is anything like last year's, I highly recommend it. It can be confusing and intimidating to sort through all the info available (and the corporate propaganda from cosmetic companies) about ingredients in skin care products and make a well-informed choice, and tools like this greatly simplify things. I also highly recommend the EWGs shopping guide for produce, which you can find here: The Dirty Dozen. Or if that's too analog for you, get the app. Whatevs.


Over at CNN, Dr Drew takes on the story of a family raising a gender-free child, pretends to explore the story in a neutral manner, and then goes on to defend our system of enforcing the sex and gender binary, and to freak out about the terrible social cost that this child will inevitably end up paying. His child psychologist guest concurs that the social cost to the child will most likely be unacceptable. Of course, neither Dr Drew nor his guest consider the social cost of the current system by which we socialize kids into gender roles, police their performance of gender, and box them into a neat binary system which turns out to be uncomfortable and restrictive for most, and downright catastrophic for some. No social cost there, of course. No, the real social cost is the bullying that this child will inevitably (rightfully?) receive from hir peers. Which is a serious issue, of course, but maybe the problem is not with this child or this family, but with a system that enables/encourages such bullying in the first place?

This story also left me wondering - why the child psychologist? From my understanding, psychologists do one thing - they focus on how well an individual functions in hir social context. By definition this precludes a questioning of that social context. Asking the bigger questions like "should we embrace/enforce our current gender system?" and "would we all benefit from a paradigm shift in this area?" don't really seem like the job of psychologists, so it seems like an odd choice to have a psychologist speak as the expert in a case like this. But more often than not, we do assume that psychologists are the experts and should have the final word in these situations. It reminds me of this one quote I've heard a few times: "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." Seems to me that a psychologist can tell you how to get along well in the society that you're born into, and that can be pretty damn helpful. But on a deeper level, what does that tell you about the society and it's practices? Nothing.


And finally, this week the New York Times has this interactive feature going that focuses on the experiences of young LGBT individuals. Seems pretty cool so far.


  1. diamondsforhorses5/25/2011

    I've been hoping that the current "fiscal crisis" will bring about sensible changes in our prison policy, and maybe this is a start.

  2. Shanigan5/25/2011

    Re your comments about psychology... two things.

    1) I think mainstream media turns to psychologists in cases like this because we tend to think of doctors (of any type) as godlike figures who can answer any question definitively. They're supposed to have some kind of final authority or something.
    2) Then there's the fact that you're asking these deeper, more big-picture questions. But most people aren't. Instead of asking what's wrong here that these kids feel it's OK to bully any kid who doesn't perform gender perfectly, most people just want to know "how can I keep my kid from getting bullied?" Which turns out to be a very victim-blaming persepctive, but that's what you get when you engage in shortterm thinking.

  3. Anonymous5/25/2011

    @ Shanigan

    You hit the nail on the head regarding victim-blaming and bullying. It so reminds me of this post: Don't get raped.

  4. And in my mind, we need to engage in both long term and short term thinking.

    Of course I don't want my kids to be targets for bullies, so I think discussing ways to respond to bullies is important. But I also don't want them to internalize these ideas about themselves that will be harmful or restrictive later in life. I want them to feel free to explore their own interests and talents without feeling that some of them are inappropriate for their gender. In the long term, they'll benefit from more fluidity, but so will future generations of children.