Monday, July 28, 2008

Framing the Debate

I often get up on my soapbox to rant and rave about how if you want to accomplish anything, you need to frame the debate properly. I think the importance of this idea is particularly relevant today in general and particularly to the Presidential race. Several key issues have been framed improperly and as a result have been carried off downstream by both candidates, the media and the voting public. Thankfully, the timbre of the Iraq discussion is beginning to right itself, and moving away from bickering about who voted how and when, towards a more sane (though still fighty) discussion of what to do now that we're there. Several other issues, however, remain mired in poor terms that miss the point...rather than talking about alternative energy because smog is gross, we're fighting about whether or not global warming is real or even matters, for example. Rather than talking about spending federal funds intelligently as opposed to doing so in a manner that most closely resembles some kind of monetary ticker tape parade, we're talking about bailing out people who bought houses they couldn't afford to begin with.

We are not this dumb.

I refuse to believe that Americans are actually so stupid as to not understand the truth of issues so essential to their lives. I refuse to believe this because so many people in my everyday life disprove it. That being said, we're doing a damn good impression of being that dumb. My personal feeling is that much of the country, who either are naturally less considerate of politics or who simply do not have time to double- and triple-check the facts, have fallen into a certain kind of frog-in-boiling-water situation. Rather than there having been a massive and violent leap into completely mindless, inadequate news coverage (i.e. the frog being thrown into a pot of boiling water), the crap has snuck in slowly over time (water being boiled as frog sits in it, not noticing his impending watery crisis), while maintaining the facade of credible and deep news. That being said, my ability to understand how we got here does not excuse it, and Americans have got to wake up, or we're going to end up in a world of shit beyond our worst nightmares. I don't want to go all Second Amendment Means a Bunker in Montana on you here, but we have to be vigilant, and we have to watch the government.

To my mind, this must begin with a demand that political discourse in this country be set back on track, so that we're addressing the actual business of governance rather than engaging in political smoke-blowing contests. This is going to mean facing some hard truths if we demand it and mean it, amongst them a serious look at pork spending and earmarks and some adult conversation about how demographics should play in this country's political life.

The latter truth is of particular interest to me, and after being startlingly and kind of spectacularly ineloquent in explaining to a friend this past week why I don't like demographically-based programs, I've been thinking about it more than usual. The programs in this country that are meant to right prejudicial wrongs are all based in the best of intentions...Affirmative Action, for example, attempts to correct centuries of abuse of African-Americans that none but the most bigoted (and thus most easily ignored) can refute. America means well, and tries to do the right thing. On the face of it, Affirmative Action sounds like a great concept, right? Repressed population gets first crack at some stuff, and you're not allowed to discriminate. The problem is that you are fighting fire with fire here by FORCING race to remain an issue. If you have to have a certain number of black people on staff, you have to count them. You have to set them aside and think " my black people." That's just NICE racism. That's just discriminating without being a douche about it.

An additional issue with these kinds of programs is clearly visible in my mortal enemy, Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, and also called the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which I have always felt sounded like something you'd name a rec center or something, giving it a cute, Welcome-to-Pleasantville kind of feel. (I mean...Patsy. Come on! The Patsy T. Mink Rec Center for Young Adults. No?) Title IX reads thus:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Surprisingly, this is some of the least convoluted legislation-speak I've read since maybe ever. Unfortunately, it doesn't make it any less problematic. The difficulty here is that we have a mandate tied to financial assistance that is predicated on gender equity. Economics and social agendas can't mesh in this regard, because the Title only considers one half of the accounting ledger. Because of this oversight, all kinds of weird duct-tape-style solutions have sprung up in an attempt to resolve the gap between the two aspects of Title IX. Of course, the most visible attempts and failures have been in high school and college athletics.

The missing piece of the ledger is the income side, and this is where college sports, in particular, are most threatened, mostly because of high-expense sports like football and hockey. (NB: This is true of state schools, since the matter deals with federal funding. While this is less germane to the private-school-heavy Northeast, it factors in on a much greater scale with the more dominant state schools of the Midwest.) Those sports have expensive utilities to maintain and expensive equipment, and in football's case, a large roster to outfit. Now, that being said, college football is one of the biggest moneymakers in the country, bringing in millions from a wide variety of sources (tickets and merchandise, TV advertising, sponsorship, etc.), more than making up its maintenance costs. Title IX fails to take this income into consideration. As a result, the schools' intelligent financial decision to maintain a football team comes at the cost of other programs that are not as profitable but provide the obvious social and competitive benefits to athletes in those programs. Furthermore, the value of maintaining a successful football team hones the blunt male edge of the gender sword, causing more ancillary mens' sports to be cut as the school struggles to maintain the "correct" balance between mens' and womens' sports expenditures.

The infamous three-prong test of Title IX has caused further problems, particularly in the thorny realm of the third prong: "Full and effective accommodation of the interest and ability of underrepresented sex." This is where you get all kinds of weirdness, as women are allowed to try out for mens' teams (and occasionally but much less frequently, vice versa) in the hopes that those teams could then be counted for both genders. Regrettably, this is a logical flaw not only in the approach to nullifying the damaging effects of Title IX but in the arguments for the more extreme feminist views of today, as it assumes a physiological equality that simply does not exist. This is not to say that women are by nature unable to attain certain physical stature, but rather to say that it is extremely improbable that enough women can compete in certain sports to truly negate the forced gender-blindness Title IX seeks to impose. The basic biological differences between men and women translate into a smaller probability that AS many women will be able to truly excel at full-contact sports...we can see the liabilities of the female build in shorter average height, prevalence of problems with bone density and arthritis, and other common ailments that trend towards women instead of men. We are built differently - that is okay. What is not okay is the attempt to force an unnatural equality upon male and female athletes. The aim of Title IX (and more specifically of prong three) is ensuring that all athletes, regardless of gender, will have access to the sports they wish to play. That is a social issue, not a financial issue, yet Title IX attacks the problem as though it is simply a matter of dollars and cents.

This all comes back to the importance of framing our debates in a manner most likely to allow both intelligent discussion and practical solution. Government solutions to social problems, if rooted in the prejudices themselves, will never achieve the goals they set out for themselves. You cannot fight fire with cannot fight prejudice by basing programs on prejudice. We should talk about our social ills, and talk about what happened before, but when we try to bear up those less fortunate in our society, we must choose income-based programs. We have come to an unfortunate point in our political development where we think everything needs to be resolved through the government, when in reality, many of our social problems can only be exacerbated by memorializing them in non-adaptive, prejudicially oriented programs. Unless we are prepared to continually revisit these types of programs and adjust them to fit the times as their effect is felt, they simply become a detriment to the repair of social rifts. For instance, Title IX was published in 1972...Billie Jean King faced Bobby Riggs in 1973. Manon Rheaume hit NHL ice in 1992. Brandi Chastain lost her damn mind in 1999. The WNBA was founded in 1996. Title IX still presumes that women are being locked out of sports. This is simply not true. Attitudes have changed.

We are a capitalist country. There's considerable evidence that the Founding Fathers actually wanted to ensure that this was the case, though the reasons they wanted it to be so are up for debate. My feeling is that they wanted the riffraff to stay occupied with work so they would leave the politics to the professionals, which in turn raises the question of whether we are currently staring down the logical end of the Framers' work, i.e. low voter turnout and high factional engagement (Et tu, Madison? Was all that evil faction talk just a ploy to get on the good side of political science teachers?), but THAT is about...eight more posts and maybe a small novel, so I'll let you mull that one over on your own time. The problem is that our well-intentioned social programs do not match our capitalist leanings. While race and gender may contribute to our historical misfortune, we all deal in the same currency. In these days we should be discussing the social problems around us in order to root out the insensitivity and inappropriate prejudices still perpetrated, but federal aid should stem from economic standing. Level the playing field that way. Talk out the rest.

I should not end without mentioning the damaging effects of the coddling provided by political correctness and the abovementioned programs. We have become so unbelievably thin-skinned as a result of our unwillingness to approach social ills on an adult level that we now are almost completely unable to be rational. I will certainly not pull the words-are-just-words line out here, because we have no better defense against the mess we find ourselves in but the English language, but we need to be able to accept some basic realities about ourselves and the state of our discourse before putting the first foot forward. I know this will be surprising, but...there are assholes in the world. Sometimes, they don't even know they ARE assholes. They just grew up in bad environments, with crappy role models, and no direction, being encouraged to play a proscribed role, be it one of dominance or of victimization. There is no asshole-free Utopia out there. The sooner we can all accept that, the closer we will be to a better social climate.


  1. sounds pretty rational to me! I remember when I was in high school we had to argue for and against Title IX, and I was on the opposing side. Everything I have ever read about it makes it seem like you're putting a band aid on a severed head and calling it fine and dandy.

    From what I know, it will actually take funding away from traditionally popular women's sports like Softball, so that the women could have their separate basketball/volleyball/football/basketweaving team, when the desire for such all-women teams fell way short of the coed teams that were becoming more and more popular.

    Also, we totally have become a nation of politically correct faggots who scream at the tiniest social injustice. All the political action groups like "Focus on the Family" are the assholes that scream every time something even slightly offensive creeps out of the media; what's more is that they base it on some friviolous religious platform, like Jesus is offended that you would show blood on TV at 10PM on a Wednesday night. This is reprehensible and offensive and we need it taken down!

    Anyway, good rant.

  2. Justin-

    You don't have to have a corresponding team for every sport. i.e. a women's football team. The idea is that you have to have the same amount of available sports even if they aren't the same sport.