Monday, May 30, 2016

Transparency Good and Bad (Some Semi-Scholarly Dystopian Kvetching)

 Transparent: adjective
1. having the property of transmitting rays of light through its substance so that
bodies situated beyond or behind can be distinctly seen. [***].
4. easily seen through, recognized, or detected […]
5. manifest; obvious […] || 6. open; frank; candid […]
7. Computers. (of a process or software)
operating in such a way as to not be perceived by users.

[…N]owhere is there any license to waste time, […] to evade work —
no wine shop, no alehouse, no brothel anywhere, no opportunity
for corruption […] no secret meeting place. On the contrary,
being under the eyes of all, people are bound either to be performing
the usual labor or to be enjoying their leisure in a fashion
not without decency. — Utopia, quoted by Harold Bloom, who added the
emphasis and a note referencing Zamyatin's We and Orwell's 1984.

Secrets are Lies. / Caring Is Sharing. / Privacy Is Theft.
— Dave Eggers, The Circle (2013)

            Some four centuries and more before we seriously got around to open-meetings laws in the American Republic, Sir Thomas More of emphatically unrepublican, undemocratic Tudor England imagined a Utopia where any "question affecting the general public" must be discussed by officials in public and with plenty of time for at least some of the public to observe the proceedings. Highly important matters go to an assembly of representatives — called District Controllers in modern Utopian — who go back to their Districts and explain the issues to their households before any action is taken. Relevant here: "It's a capital crime" — one of the relatively few in Utopia — "to discuss such questions anywhere except in the Council or the Assembly" (Turner trans. 74; early in Bk. 2).
            Now, death is a harsh penalty for private meetings, but Utopos the conqueror of what became Utopia, and his more democratic successors, were on the right track and instituted a highly positive form of transparency: public business done in public, with no literal or figurative walls concealing that work; only the transparent air stands between the Utopians and their officials.
            There is another side to Utopian transparency, though, as Harold Bloom recognized. The Utopians have plenty of everything they need or think to desire, plus admirable leisure time because all Utopians work: indeed, "[…] wherever you are, you always have to work," in part because there are no distractions of boozing or sex, and in larger part from social and what amounts to police pressure: there's nowhere to hide from work or Utopian norms, "no secret meeting places" and "Everyone has his eye on you" (Turner 84).
            Utopia is a total society, and in many of its aspects totalitarian. "The personal is the political" in a very literal sense there, and society claims the right to regulate all things political; so "transparency" is a figure of speech with several meanings, not all of which are good, and certainly not eutopian.
            Most citizens want to know what officials of our various governments are up to; we're less keen that those officials know what we're up to — or that our bosses know or the neighbors or the general public or, sometimes, our parents or spouses. We don't want Big Brother spying on us, or, sometimes, even "little brother": some kid with a smart phone, some punk hacker.
            Indeed, "transparency" is made literal and horrific in dystopias stressing surveillance, most especially in what is arguably the first of the great dystopian novels of the 20th century, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1921/24). Zamyatin is very direct: in the One State of We, apartment buildings are made of glass: transparent glass with coverings that can be used only during regulated sexual hours (any privacy for toilet functions is less clear). In addition to the "Guardians" — the secret police — "Everyone has his eye on you," or might have his, or her, eye on you, just by looking.
            In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, there are the ever-present telescreens, and they are the main reason "You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized." Still, however much the protagonist, Winston Smith, dismisses all powers in his world except the Though Police, we do perceive through him another potential threat: "In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away […]. It was the Police Patrol snooping into people's windows" (6-7; I.1). In the 1984 film version, a helicopter snooping at Winston Smith's window makes for a powerful image of the danger of that sort of windowpane transparency.
            In the science-fictional, Pomo world of the 21st century, there is still the threat of fascistic "ethno-nationalism" of the Donald Trumpian variety, but in terms of surveillance, government action is only one threat.
            In the United States, we still have to negotiate fitting cops up with body cameras in such a way as to avoid dangerous precedents of on-the-job surveillance, plus renegotiate surveillance deals of the past and try to anticipate applying high-tech innovations in the future.
            I want cops filmed going into armed confrontations, especially armed confrontations where they might shoot young males of color. And I want some guarantee that cops don't shackle someone and put him in the back of a van with no seat belt and then take him for a deadly ride. On the other hand, I don't want cops surveilled every minute they're on duty: for practical reasons of data overload and expense, but also because of the precedent. If cops have to put up with constant surveillance, why shouldn't ___________ also? (Fill in the blank, possibly with people working at your job.)
            There is also here the sense of "transparent" as a process "operating in such a way as to not be perceived." This can refer to people getting so used to invasions of privacy that as a practical, political matter they're invisible.
            Legacies of "The War on Drugs" should come to mind immediately here, as in your Little-Brother employer insisting that you urinate into a cup for testing to ensure you're not zonked on the job. Well, if you're zonked on the job and some supervisor doesn't notice, there's a problem right there, to say nothing of the problem of people having to work at jobs so mindless they can be done while zonked. Or when the doctrine of "Extraordinary measures to meet extraordinary dangers" justifies checkpoints at airports and such — and then the results of extraordinary searches (as in examining everybody's luggage) are used to arrest and prosecute such ordinary criminals as drug smugglers.
            "Do you want to fly next to drug smugglers or a murderer?!" Actually, yeah, probably; there's a good chance they'll remain sober and quiet and not draw attention to themselves. And looking just for weapons and explosives and ignoring a couple kilos of whatever should speed up the TSA lines.
            For the very-near future, there's the Silicon-Valley style gentle totalitarianism warned against in Dave Eggers's The Circle. It will soon be possible to produce relatively cheaply something like "SeeChange," which the Wikipedia entry on The Circle correctly describes as "light, portable cameras that can provide real-time video with minimal efforts. Eventually, SeeChange cameras are worn all day long by politicians wishing to be 'transparent', allowing the public to see what they are seeing at all times." And if that degree of "transparency" seems extreme, check out the TV commercials and on-line ads for electronic devices allowing parents to track their teens' (or others') mobile phones, and their teens' (or others') actions: figurative "helicopter parents" replacing the helicopters of Orwell's Police Patrols.
            There may be a kind of Karmic justice in the use of mobile phones to spy on young people. Much good has come from using the cameras on smart phones to get out to the public instances of police brutality and other crimes that until recently would have gone unreported and unpunished, however much police criminality still goes unpunished. But "kids with cameras" — camera phones — and older people who should know better have contributed to making surveillance transparent in that sense of not being really perceived, not being thought about, until, not long from now, people in high-tech societies will "live, from habit that became instinct […] in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."


Works Mentioned Without Citation or Link in Text

More, Sir Thomas. Utopia (initial publ. 1516). Trans. and introd. Paul Turner. London, UK: Penguin, 1965.

Orwell, George (pseud. for Eric Blair). Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1949. Rpt. 1984. New York: Signet, 1961. 
       I give citations to this edition followed by section number in Roman and subsection in Arabic 
       numerals (Signet uses Roman for both).

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Capping Speakers' Honoraria

I write toward the end of the season of commencements and at a time when Hillary (and Bill) Clinton's income for speeches remains a political issue. So I'm going to recycle an old story and some proposals for capping payments to speakers at colleges and universities.

The story goes like this. 

A couple or three or more decades back, anyway, back when ten thousand dollars was a lot of money, the people who ran the major lecture series for Miami University came to Miami's Student Affairs Council with a request to shift money around so they could bring in Henry Kissinger for ten grand. We had an interesting debate, with a student member of Council of the new-style conservative persuasion insisting that we should put up $10K for so famous and noncontroversial a speaker as Mr. Kissinger, and a faculty representative of old-style conservative persuasion informing the students that Henry Kissinger could legitimately be called many things, but "noncontroversial" wasn't among them. Beneath the surface of the debate might've been a liberal-pinko-peacenik desire to silence Kissinger, but it wouldn't have been much: anything that got debate going at Miami U was good for the Left, and a Kissinger visit would be a fine opportunity to have a high-profile demonstration.

Nah, opposition came from faculty, and what was at stake was the money. Not too long before, as a "Merit Instructor" at the University of Illinois (Urbana), I made six thousand dollars for a year of full-time teaching; and Kissinger was demanding — and in many places getting — ten thousand for one night's work delivering a canned speech, probably the same canned speech he'd give a couple days later in Cincinnati or Dayton, or both.

I forget whether or not Kissinger gave the speech (I think he went only to Cincy), but I do remember submitting guidelines for remuneration of speakers at Miami U, which I felt would be applicable for colleges and universities generally. I immodestly list them below.

      (1) Null case: Graduations are for the graduates and their families, and they habitually run way too long. Unless you can get something like Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, commencement addresses should be limited to a few words by the class valedictorian or other representative, as was done at Cornell prior to 1968. 
      (2) No speaker should be paid for a campus visit more than the lowest compensated full-time university employee receives in take-home pay for a year's work. 
     (3) Any speaker paid the same as or more than half of what the lowest compensated full-time university employee receives in take-home pay for a year's work is writing for hire. 
                  • The speech is to be a speech, of appropriate length but at least twenty minutes, with written copy to be submitted prior to delivery.
                         No "rapping with the group," the way Nat Hentoff did for the speech I hired him for.
                         No ad lib journey down memory lane, as ex-Senator Sam Ervin did at Miami.
                 • The speech is to be a relatively original work, not canned, and not delivered elsewhere one week prior through one week after delivery at (in this case) Miami University.
                 • The speech becomes the property of the university (etc.) for one year, with the university's agreeing to its being delivered elsewhere, outside of the two-week moratorium mentioned above, for payment of one dollar (US$1.00) to the university for each repetition.
       (4) Speakers receiving substantial remuneration should be required to mix a bit with the campus community for a day or so, interviewing with the local media, talking to a class, eating with some of the peasants — and so forth: not a "bim-bam-thank you man, or ma'am," quickie. 

If this means the college or university can't bring in A-List speakers, that may be just as well. My experience was that speakers lower down the food-chain took their gigs more seriously and delivered better speeches. Indeed, the best address given in a lecture series I ran was by a guy who wasn't paid much and who'd forgotten that he'd be paid at all. Moreover, a university with a decent faculty and robust relations with nearby schools should be able to bring in local experts cheaply and frequently.

The one apparent exception during my Miami years was a highly impressive address by Mikhail Sergeyevich GorbachevGeneral Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, sponsored by, of all groups, Miami's business school. The exception was only apparent, however, since the direct cost of the speech to Miami University was zip (zero dollars, nada); the b-school organizers of the event raised the money from private sources. I'm sure Mr. Gorbachev made a lot of capitalist money for his work, but whoever paid got value for that money: the speech was both scholarly and from a literally unique and privileged perspective. 

Okay, and there was Art Buchwald's commencement address, which started out reminding graduates that we, the older generation, had left them a perfect world and they damn well shouldn't screw it up. But Buchwald I would've paid to hear in an entertainment series, and I'll stick with the principle that at graduation we should hear a graduate speak (briefly, for God's sake briefly!).

Colleges and universities paying for big-name speakers are engaging in competitive Public Relations, and that's fine so long as really famous and already-wealthy speakers join the game and speak for free: not donating their fees back to the school but free. Big spenders bringing in big-time politicians are purchasing access and good will: low-key bribery; that needs regulation rather more complicated than what I recommended for Miami U, best dang school in the Miami Valley, but not a major player in US politics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sexual Choice(s)

Adults choose who to have sex with, how to have sex, where 
they have sex, and the frequency with which they have sex. 
Libidinal desires may exist beyond our control, but we do very 
much have control how we act upon those desires externally
 in the world with other people. To put it personally: “I just 
don’t fall into a vagina and stay there,” is how I jokingly explain 
my belief that sexuality is a choice. I am drawn to women 
and will happily talk about scissoring and other e
xquisite lesbian stereotypes, for sure, but there’s not an inescapable 
magnetism forcing me to leech onto women. 
— Marcie Bianco, "Yes, my sexuality is a choice: 


       Marcie Bianco is correct to stress human choice with sex, but we need to note more carefully how that choice is conditioned and restrained. So let's review some basics.
       Phenotype is all that can be observed about an organism, including in animals our behavior. In good materialist mode, and remembering Karl Marx's admiration for the work of Charles Darwin — and oversimplifying — phenotype is the product of the interaction of genotype with the environment over time, with the environment for humans starting in the womb and most immediately including the language and culture in which one grows up. Possibly flipping from materialist mode (for a moment) most of us would recognize the possibility of adding free will to the equation, and I'm very glad the article uses the idea of free will and choice and the positive sense of agency. (The negative sense is what Stanley Milgram talks about as "the agentic state": when one feels oneself totally the agent of another or others, thereby lacking positive agency.)
       In non-mystic, materialist mode, if a member of the human species does something, whatever that something is has its roots in the human organism's biology. Given the huge number of possible genotypes and indefinitely humongous possibilities for environmental (cultural, linguistic, personal) histories, human phenotypes will fall into a broad and dynamic range, including sexual desire and even more so including sexual behavior. A. C. Clarke suggested an axis for homo/hetersex with relatively few humans at either extreme. So long as we recognize other possibilities besides homosex and hetero-, Clarke is correct.  
       Given our desires, I'll get both mystic and rigorously empirical and say I feel free and believe in choice. Given the desires that have developed in us as we've developed from conception on, we're free to act on them. With no exceptions I can think of offhand, those of us with sexual desires want to act on them, whether trying to get sex with everything that breathes and moves (and a few things that don't) to the "null case" of no sex asexuality. And we legitimately feel socially constrained if forbidden to act on our desires. The question then becomes what the State, culture, society, and/or family can and should do to limit acting on desires, however we got them. What may we be justly told we may want to do but damn well should not do? 
       If heterosexuals were told that they may've been born that way or had developed that way by a young age but should not act upon their desires — see Joe Haldeman's Forever War for a thought experiment on that subject — heterosexuals might very well feel imposed upon and victims of injustice. Ditto for other varieties of desire. We might very well tell pederasts, however, that nah, however you folk got that way, going after little children is unjust exploitation and you should choose not to do so; and if you do you'll face really strong "negative reinforcement" from their societies and the State. (I use the old Behaviorist "negative reinforcement" so people can agree with this conclusion even if they reject the idea of free will.)

       I don't think we choose our most basic desires or our underlying orientations — or who our parents were or when and where we were born; so in many respects our various ways of life are constrained. However, there are lifestyles and style definitely implies choices.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trumpism, Truthiness, and NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four while I was in high school but not in high school, not for a class. I read it for the "hot spots" and because many of the other kids were reading it. So I wasn't tempted to purge it from my mental files as a lot of American do who had Orwell's dystopia shoved down their throats as a classic. And every now and then we need to return to it for "back to basics," and in that spirit (and claiming fair use), I'm going to copy and paste some of the non-sexual "hot spots" that, unfortunately, are becoming increasingly, screamingly relevant. So here's some of Orwell on Doublethink and the other mental gymnastics necessary to surrender oneself properly to Big Brother, the Party, and, in the fairly recent past, the totalitarian mindset.

CRIMESTOP means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [Party ideology], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. CRIMESTOP, in short, means protective stupidity. But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one’s own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society [in one of the three totalitarian states that control Earth] rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is BLACKWHITE. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak [English as purged by the Party] as DOUBLETHINK.

The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc [English Socialism, in Newspeak via Doublethink]. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it. It also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance. For when it has been recreated in whatever shape is needed at the moment, then this new version IS the past, and no different past can ever have existed. This holds good even when, as often happens, the same event has to be altered out of recognition several times in the course of a year. At all times the Party is in possession of absolute truth, and clearly the absolute can never have been different from what it is now. It will be seen that the control of the past depends above all on the training of memory. To make sure that all written records agree with the orthodoxy of the moment is merely a mechanical act. But it is also necessary to REMEMBER that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to rearrange one’s memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to FORGET that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak [English before the Party gets through with it] it is called, quite frankly, ‘reality control’. In Newspeak it is called DOUBLETHINK, though DOUBLETHINK comprises much else as well.
        DOUBLETHINK means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of DOUBLETHINK he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. DOUBLETHINK lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word DOUBLETHINK it is necessary to exercise DOUBLETHINK. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of DOUBLETHINK one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. 

This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even when there is no practical reason for them. Thus, the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism. It preaches a contempt for the working class unexampled for centuries past, and it dresses its members in a uniform which was at one time peculiar to manual workers and was adopted for that reason. It systematically undermines the solidarity of the family, and it calls its leader by a name which is a direct appeal to the sentiment of family loyalty. Even the names of the four Ministries by which we are governed exhibit a sort of impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in DOUBLETHINK. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

We do not live in the age of Big Brother, but we do live in a time and culture in which facts have been denigrated by intellectuals and in which one can graduate high school without a grasp of what a logical contradiction might mean — and not really have to care. We live in a time when history doesn't have to be altered because not all that many people know much history or take it seriously.

That whirling mass around Donald Trump is a whole lot of chickens flying home to roost. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Men's, Women's, Boys'/Girls', Transgender, Faculty, Executive … Toilets

            It was the mid-1960s, and I was finishing up my undergraduate work and preparing to move out of the Midwest to the wilds of upstate New York. "You'll have to establish credit," my father said to me. "I know you," he went on, "and I'm sure you pay cash for everything." I did pay cash, in part because my father had been in credit clothing when I was a child, and I had a very strong first impression of buying on credit: avoid it. Also, I was a War baby and not cheap but tight: I had a mild horror of waste —"Children in Europe are starving!!" — and considered it a waste of money to pay interest; unless desperate, one saved up for purchases by putting money in a bank account and received interest; you didn't pay interest and give extra money to strangers just because just wanted something now.
            Now my father used to say, "You never listen to me," which was inexact. I always listened to his advice; I just didn't always choose to do what he advised: that's the difference between "advice" and "orders." Establishing credit was good advice, so I opened an account at a local men's clothing shop in Champaign, Illinois — which I'll call "Schumacher's" — and walked in to buy something, charge it, pay off what I owed, and then repeat the process a few times to show the world I could incur modest debts and pay them.
            I entered Schumacher's wearing a cashmere V-neck sweater-vest I'd received as a present and looked around for a crew-neck long-sleeve sweater. Seeing none, I asked the clerk — a guy about my age — if they had any in stock. He looked down in my direction and said unto me, "We at Schumacher's like to think our patrons are two years ahead of fashion, not two years behind. We do not stock crewnecks …. However, I could get you a V-neck such as you're wearing." To which I replied, "You at Schumacher's do not carry goods of the quality of the sweater I am wearing," and left to charge something elsewhere.
            A few months later, of course, the Great Wheel of Fashion turned and crew-necks were again "in" —there are only so many variations on the theme of "sweater" and the essence of fashion is trivial change — and I probably went and charged a V-neck at Schumacher's.
            Anyway, I am used to being out of sync, and in matters more important than clothing fashions.
            For example, American public bathrooms were part of the desegregation battles of "the long 1950s" into the also-long 1960s, but the toilet issue (and much else) had moved into the background during the early 1970s as racial conflicts became more intense and US military adventures in Vietnam continued into our longest war until Afghanistan.
            Not for the religious right, however: bathrooms were big for them in the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment for women, or "the 'Common Toilet Law,'" as they saw it; and without my looking for this particular windmill to joust at, public toilets became important for me. In 1969-70 (or so), I fought small battles over johns at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and similarly in the early 1970s at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
            At the U of IL, the initial battle was over the few toilets in the massive stacks of the massive main library. The single-toilet, lockable bathrooms in the stacks were gendered "MEN" or "WOMEN," with a single toilet on each level of the stacks, alternating male and female. At the time, there were considerably more male graduate students and faculty than women at the U of I, so toilet-access was more of a problem for men than for women, but finding a relatively close, unoccupied toilet was a unisex hassle that could be easily ameliorated by labeling the toilet unisex, as in "TOILET." The objection from the Lord of the Libraries was that Illini women wanted tampon dispensers in their toilet rooms, and Illini men couldn't handle the presence of tampon dispensers. (Nowadays I'd resolve the issue by having compact dispensers in all unisex TOILETs for [a] tampons and [b] condoms — but that suggestion wouldn't have gone far at ca. 1969.) In today's terms, the library johns raised issues of Gender Politics.
            Later at the University of Illinois, I wanted the remaining Faculty Only bathrooms — most persistently at the Law School it turned out — opened to the general public of women and men, or what in 2016 I'll call the two modal sexual dimorphisms: Most people are "cisgender," identifying socially and culturally with their biological sex (genetically — generally — XX folk and XY, although that can get complicated). The special faculty johns were an enforcer of something like class and definitely a preserver of status in the Great Chain of Academic Being. A U of I professor of law might bring a lawsuit to mandate Black and White together at Old Confederacy urinals, but heaven forfend he — pretty much always he back then — heaven forfend he would have to piss in the company of law students.
            At Miami University, I got into trouble with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences ("Liberal" was conspicuously absent from the College name) for getting a motion passed at Miami's Student Affairs Council to desegregate Faculty johns, including the Executive Toilets in the Biz School building. In B-School gendering, there were MEN and WOMEN and — at some expense to build and maintain — also FACULTY MEN and FACULTY WOMEN. (I'm not sure B-school administrators urinate or defecate.) I thought the vote of Student Affairs Council relatively minor, but the debate on The Executive Toilet at the B-School made it up to the cabinet of the President of Miami U. The upshot was the signs on the B-school Executive toilets were indeed removed, but the toilets were then locked; the Chosen were issued keys; and the johns were informally re-named "the Erlichs," which I took as a compliment.
            In the building I first worked in at Miami, I later discovered, the toilets were labeled MEN, WOMEN, and, for one toilet, an asexual FACULTY, which I declined to take as a compliment.
            Toilets are serious business with more people than I had thought, and who pisses and shits where and with whom nearby seems almost as important with humans as it is with our furry (and territorial and hierarchical) friends: dogs and cats. Status and power were the crucial things in dealing with faculty johns of the "Executive Toilet" persuasion, and a crucial part of bathrooms (water fountains, swimming pools, schools, jobs, etc.) segregated by race. Something else was going on with racial segregation, however, and that "something else" is a set of fears central to the current argument over which toilets transsexuals should use.
            I'll identify the set with the title of a book by Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1966).
            To paraphrase and oversimplify, and ignore Douglas's revising some of her views later in her career — The idea I'll use here is that early men in patriarchal societies had only recently gotten the world organized and categorized in their minds and felt danger in the transgressing of the boundaries of categories. So along with the Great Commandments of loving your neighbor as yourself, and foreigners as if they were neighbors (Leviticus 19.18, 19.33-34), we get the injunction in the Holiness Code, "You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff" (Leviticus 19.19, RSV). To keep categories firm and, well, categorical, they must be kept pure.  
            Hence, there is a strong philosophical/psychological motivation for purity of categories, especially when it came to sex and gender issues, where male fears of undermined categories were justified: if you're enjoying male privilege in a world that wasn't all that great even for men, anything that undermines the category "man" is a threat to one's status and advantages.
            And so we get the surprisingly strong injunction in Deuteronomy, "A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God" (Deut. 22.5). And along with forbidding screwing the livestock, we get the prohibition, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18.22).
            Now prohibitions against male homosexuality make sense in terms of a set of pronatalist injunctions and prohibitions — down to forbidding male masturbation in later misreadings of the Onan story (Genesis 38.8-10) — that encourage reproduction by channeling sex into reproductive sex between people married and therefore probably in a relationship stable enough to raise kids. Still, such prohibitions will be much more effective if public policy considerations like encouraging reproduction are reinforced with a deep fear of transgression, including transgression of category boundaries.
            And before you think that such fears died out a couple centuries back with the Enlightenment, consider the various things that scare people in movies like the Alien(s) series and David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986). Part of the creepiness of the Alien in Alien(s) is his/her/its gender complexity, plus its combination of the organic and mechanical; part of the horror of The Fly is the final combination of human, fly, and machine.
            Some people are more upset than others by boundary transgression, and conservative, orthodox folk in the Abrahamic traditions — e.g., in America, fundamentalist Christians — are likely to be very upset by "trans" people whose mere existence undermines man/woman as an absolute category. Now if an anatomically male XY person enters a bathroom with women, or an anatomically female XX person enters a bathroom with men, that "trans" existence is put into action in the world and is going to be difficult to ignore. Combine that with traditional fears of "the rape of our women" and cultural-feminist prioritizing concerns with rape, and we will see a continuing argument on bathroom signage: what signs go on what toilets regulating use by sex and/or gender.
            Personally, I'd like to see some numbers in the transgender debate, and I'd like to see more common sense. "Man" and "Woman," male and female human, are not absolute types, but the "modal phenotype" for human beings is sexual dimorphic: carefully throw a paper airplane at a crowd of human adults and the people you're likely to hit will be "cisgendered" and either men or women. My guess is that there are relatively few transgendered people, and however significant they are philosophically, theologically, ideologically, politically, and symbolically, as a practical matter their legitimate needs can be met pretty easily.
            In 1979, I attended a conference on "Narrative" at the University of Chicago and stayed with my nephew in a university dorm with unisex group bathrooms of the old-fashioned non-luxury variety. There seemed to be a few simple rules including no nudity in the public areas, and "Guys: Put it away and zip up before turning around at the urinals." There also seemed to be no problems.
            I doubt most American will be able to carry off bathroom mixing of sexes and genders with quite the aplomb of U of Chicago students in 1979. Still, if men can get used to invasive music in bathrooms featuring female vocalists, we can share bathrooms with XX people who experience themselves as men — and can even have tampon dispensers for them, preferably next to ubiquitous condom machines. And if the biggest threat to American genetically female women becomes genetically male people who experience themselves as women, then we've taken a large step toward a crime-free America; anyway, if bathroom attacks by males masquerading as females become a problem, then legislators and other authorities — and the women immediately threatened (vigilante style, if necessary, on occasion) — can deal with it.
            With some sensible actions — starting with more unisex signs on washrooms and common sense and common decency — trans folk can get recognition; women can have shorter lines to get to a toilet; and men can finally get bathrooms a little cleaner and a little fancier, like women get at upscale restaurants.
            And this round of The Great Toilet Debate, those of us in faith traditions can recognize that God gave us, not absolute categories, but evolved populations with variation. Old theologians called it God's "plenitude" and celebrated the variety. We, today, can use categories when they're useful, but try more to think statistically — and accommodate variety in our abstract ideologies and in such mundane activities as "hitting the head."

            And since the Trans Movement will force us to deal with bathrooms anyway, let's pass already the ERA amendment to the US Constitution and at least guarantee on paper or parchment equal rights for women, and, in the classic formulation of the amendment, for everybody.