Uterus? You Hardly Know Us!

Let’s face it: the GOP has some problems with understanding science. It probably comes from embracing creationism, or their refusal to listen to those dread agents of the government, teachers. But whatever the cause, Republicans tend to react to discussions of scientific fact by covering their ears, shouting “LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU!”, and asserting that several lobbyists have assured them that the Sun does too orbit the Earth, and that there’s no such thing as “water,” and that contraceptives actually increase the likelihood of pregnancy when they’re not causing abortions.

Still, while I’m used to Republicans boiling all arguments down beyond reductio ad absurdum, they still have the capacity to surprise me. Take the Florida Republicans, please:

At one point [Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando] suggested that his wife “incorporate her uterus” to stop Republicans from pushing measures that would restrict abortions. Republicans, after all, wouldn’t want to further regulate a Florida business.

Apparently the GOP leadership of the House didn’t like the one-liner.

They told Democrats that Randolph is not to discuss body parts on the House floor.

“The point was that Republicans are always talking about deregulation and big government,” Randolph said Thursday. “And I always say their philosophy is small government for the big guy and big government for the little guy. And so, if my wife’s uterus was incorporated or my friend’s bedroom was incorporated, maybe they (Republicans) would be talking about deregulating.

“It’s not like I used slang,” said Randolph, who actually got the line from his wife.

First, it is a good line. Randolph has a smart wife. Second, “uterus?” Really, you can’t mention body parts on the floor of the Florida House?

Hell no you can’t!

…the Speaker believes it is important for all Members to be mindful of and respectful to visitors and guests, particularly the young pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates. In the past, if the debate is going to contain language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests, the Speaker will make an announcement in advance, asking children and others who may be uncomfortable with the subject matter to leave the floor and gallery.

Yes, uterus, a word so scandalous that 17-year-old pages will faint in horror at the very sound! I mean, sure, it is the scientific term for the organ in female mammals where fetuses gestate prior to birth, and sure, it’s really no more horrific a term than heart or prostate or pyloric sphincter. But still, that’s God’s EZ-Bake Oven! You can’t just mention it on the floor of the House, like half of humans have one!

Of course, the real reason the GOP objects to the use of the term is not because they’re horrified at it, but because mentioning uteri is a reminder that fetuses are not abstract sparks of life floating free in the universe, but actual things created by actual biological processes and dependent on actual women for their existence.  If we acknowledge that uteri exist, next we might have to acknowledge that women exist — and that they themselves are living creatures who (in contrast to fetuses and embryos) have fully-developed brains capable of making decisions. And if we acknowledge that, we might have to acknowledge that denying those women the right to choose their reproductive destiny does tremendous injury to their liberty.

So it’s much better that we just ban words. That way, we can go on pretending that abortion bans don’t affect anyone. The only alternative is to listen to science. And that is something Republican’s don’t do.

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88 Responses to Uterus? You Hardly Know Us!

  1. 1
    Clarissa says:

    Brilliant post. The sheer ridiculousness of the Republican stance on anything that has to do with reproductive organs has reached incredible proportions.

  2. 2
    Palaverer says:

    Not only was this a great post, but that is the cutest uterus ever. Want!

  3. 3
    Dianne says:

    Am I the only one who read about this and wondered if Florida was in the habit of electing time travelers from the Victorian era to their legislature? Will they ban the words “hand” and “foot” next?

  4. And do they drape the legs of their pianos and other furniture?

  5. 5
    Redisca says:

    From one of my favorite books of all time, The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hacek (Czech Republic, 1921):

    Where it is necessary to use a strong expression which was actually said, I am not ashamed of reproducing it exactly as it was. I regard the use of polite circumlocutions or asterisks as the stupidest form of sham. The same words are used in parliament too. [Not in Florida, they ain’t!

    It was once said, and very rightly, that a man who is well brought-up may read anything. The only people who boggle at what is perfectly natural are those who are the worst swine and the finest experts in filth. In their utterly contemptible pseudo-morality they ignore the contents and madly attack individual words.

    Years ago, I read a criticism of a novelette, in which the critic was furious because the author had written: “He blew his nose and wiped it.” He said it went against everything beautiful and exalted which literature should give the nation. This is only a small illustration of what bloody fools are born under the sun.

    Those who boggle at strong language are cowards, because it is real life that is shocking them, and weaklings like that are the very people who cause most harm to culture and character. They would like to see a nation grow up into a group of over-sensitive little people — mastrubators of false culture of the type of St. Aloysius, of whom it is said in the book of the monk Eustachius that when he heard a man breaking wind with deafening noise he immediately burst into tears and could only be consoled by prayers.

    People like that proclaim their indignation in public put take unusual pleasure in going to public lavatories to read obscene expressions on the walls.

    Some things never change.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    What I want to know is, where does one buy a stuffed uterus such as the one in the picture?

    And if we acknowledge that, we might have to acknowledge that denying those women the right to choose their reproductive destiny does tremendous injury to their liberty.

    That’s one argument. One can also argue that denying a fetus it’s reproductive destiny does rather more injury to their liberty. Not an argument I expect to win over many converts here, of course.

    I’m glad to join in with deploring the Florida State legislatures’ GOP leadership’s scruples against using the word “uterus” on the floor of the Florida House. The logical path to a claim that it shows an anti-science bias on their part or that it shows that they don’t understand or wish to acknowledge the facts of human reproduction is not demonstrated from what I can see, though.

    Redisca, thanks much for that cite. I’ll use it the next time that I get taken to task here on terms and language that I use.

  7. 7
    Redisca says:

    The logical path to a claim that it shows an anti-science bias on their part or that it shows that they don’t understand or wish to acknowledge the facts of human reproduction is not demonstrated from what I can see, though.

    GOP’s hostility to science and education is well-known, RonF. With respect to human reproduction, statements made by many pro-life advocates do make me wonder about the extent to which they are familiar with how human reproduction works or what organs are involved. Moreover, the reaction of these individuals to what is, after all, merely the proper medical term for a female reproductive organ strongly suggests that they consider even medical literature on human reproduction “filthy” and thus don’t read it and don’t let their children read it. It stands to reason that if there ever is a debate in the legislature about abortion or health funding, literature that illuminates the subject will be banned from the discussion and actual medical experts will be severely limited in how they testify. A productive discussion of anything is impossible unless the participants are free to actually name the things involved by their proper names instead of using hints or imprecise and silly euphemisms.

    As for the cite: I highly recommend the book. And be cautioned: in another passage Hasek points out that throwing shit left and right isn’t a kind of argument a thoughtful person would employ. So it seems to me that while he was highly critical of those who attack individual words without considering the substance, he took an equally dim view of those who employ inflammatory language gratuitously.

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    the Florida State legislatures’ GOP leadership’s scruples against using the word “uterus” on the floor of the Florida House. The logical path …that they don’t …wish to acknowledge the facts of human reproduction is not demonstrated from what I can see, though.

    Not demonstrated? It’s IN YOUR QUOTE.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    If my daughter starts yelling “cunt! cunt! cunt!” at Burger King, I am going to make her stop. This does not mean I don’t acknowledge human reproduction; it means there is a standard of decorum that I’m attempting to preserve.

    It seems fairly obvious that there is no attempt here to play Victorian and plug ears to avoid the awful word “uterus”; instead, there is a dispute between petty political figures who are playing bullshit power games. The situation has very little to say about the parties’ and their attitudes towards science and/or human sexuality.

  10. 10
    Denise says:

    The word “uterus” is not comparable to the word “cunt”.

    Furthermore, how is one supposed to fairly discuss laws about abortion without discussing what’s happening in the body of the woman involved? That pregnancies take place in a woman’s uterus over which the woman should have control is the whole crux of the pro-choice argument! If Republicans don’t want to talk about dirty nasty obscene reproduction, then perhaps they should stop introducing bills about it?

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    GOP’s hostility to science and education is well-known, RonF.

    I wouldn’t say so. It depends on what you think is necessary for education. For example, there are people in the GOP who are hostile towards Federal control over education and teachers’ unions – but that doesn’t make them hostile towards education, just how it is controlled.

    he took an equally dim view of those who employ inflammatory language gratuitously.

    A view to which I also subscribe. It is sufficient to me to call a spade a spade. I don’t need to call it a f**king shovel simply to inflame people.

  12. 12
    Dianne says:

    It seems fairly obvious that there is no attempt here to play Victorian and plug ears to avoid the awful word “uterus”; instead, there is a dispute between petty political figures who are playing bullshit power games.

    While I agree that the chances that the Republicans were truly shocked is virtually nil, it is interesting that they focused on the word “uterus” to attempt to chastise their foe. They didn’t say “comparing an organ to a corporation is ridiculous” or “we’d regulate business in a minute to save a life and we believe that the fetus is a human life” or any number of other things. But they didn’t. Instead they focused on the word “uterus”. Why? Presumably because they thought that they could score political points on the argument that the word “uterus” was too shocking to be said in public before children. So if they’re not victorians, they certainly believe that their constituents are.

    If my daughter starts yelling “cunt! cunt! cunt!” at Burger King, I am going to make her stop.

    As already pointed out, “uterus” is not “cunt”. And giving a speech in a setting where people come to hear you speak is not yelling in a restaurant. If my daughter and I are quietly having a conversation about, say, fetal development, and the people at the next table object to her saying “uterus” I’m going to tell them to mind their own business and stop eavesdropping.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    GiW, the fact that someone foolishly has a problem with the use of the word “uterus” in a particular context doesn’t logically mean that they don’t acknowledge the facts of human reproduction.

  14. 14
    chingona says:

    I’ve been embarrassed when my 5-year-old has used the perfectly correct word for certain body parts, but in an inappropriate situation. However, that word and that body part wasn’t “uterus.” If saying uterus is ever inappropriate when discussing reproduction, then we’re in “When a mommy loves a daddy very much” territory.

    Meanwhile, in Ohio, when one of the fetuses called to “testify” in their “Heartbeat Bill” refused to cooperate, the woman doing the demonstration made sure to mention that she could definitely find a heartbeat if they did a transvaginal ultrasound, but didn’t think that would be appropriate for the general assembly. LOLZ! At least they can say the names of body parts there, I guess.

  15. 15
    Robert says:

    The point is that the guy could have been saying “ham sandwich”, in which case the Speaker would have warned him about alienating our Jewish and Muslim friends. It’s about a dick fight; the symbols deployed are irrelevant.

  16. 16
    chingona says:

    Using an example of someone (A child, no less!) yelling cunt in a restaurant is a poor way to make that point.

  17. 17
    lauren says:

    I suppose it is easy to claim that the symbols are irrelevant when they have no personal meaning to you.

    As a person who has an uterus, the fact that people are claiming “uterus” is an inapproriate word (implying a dirty meaning) is not irrelevant. Claiming that specific bodyparts, which are only possessed by a group of people whose rights to make their own choices about that body part are constantly under attack, there is nothing irrelevant about what they chose to declare a dirty word.

    Just because it might not have meant anything to the people who decided to focus on it (and I say might, there is absolutely no evidence that there wasn’t a specific intent), doesn’t mean it is meaningless to everybody.

    Also, if the GOP used bogus claimes of supposed offence against jews and muslims, I wouldn’t approve of them appropriating the oppression of non-christians as a means to attack someone else either.

    The words we chose matter. The fights we pick matter. And how we chose to fight those fights matters.

    Maybe they just wanted to shut him up in any way possible. That doesn’t change the fact that the way they chose to go about it was by declaring a medical term for a body part that only women and trans*men have a dirty, inappropriate word.

  18. 18
    Ledasmom says:

    I wouldn’t say so. It depends on what you think is necessary for education. For example, there are people in the GOP who are hostile towards Federal control over education and teachers’ unions – but that doesn’t make them hostile towards education, just how it is controlled.

    You’re talking about a party that allies itself with people who are unwilling to accept evolution; in doing so, they have essentially said that the scientific method is invalid and there’s no such thing as supportable fact, only opinion. They have redefined facts into matters of belief. That is pretty much the definition of anti-science, right there.

  19. 19
    Robert says:

    Both political parties are allied with people who are unwilling to accept evolution. One party is more commonly allied to the people who reject it as a description of history; the other is more commonly allied to the people who reject it as useful for describing the current status quo.

  20. 20
    Bear says:

    I’m not sure that makes much sense, Robert, you may have to explain what you are referring to.

  21. 21
    Jake Squid says:

    I think he means that the group that isn’t made up of creationists is the group that is, by and large, extremely skeptical of evo-psych.

  22. 22
    Robert says:

    Broadly, yes, Jake. Not so much skeptical of evo-psych per se (there’s a lot to be skeptical about), as skeptical that the discipline could have anything valid to say. (Obviously I am painting with a broad brush here.)

    The quantity of people who both believe evolution is the correct theory, and who are also willing to have the chips fall wherever they may have fallen, seems fairly small.

    (In observing some of the school board shenanigans about evolution in the last few decades, my observation has been that we have two sides: one that says evolution never happened, and another that says it totally happened but that it doesn’t apply to human beings.)

    I myself am modestly skeptical on both accounts, from a non-expert viewpoint. The theory seems to have some holes in it, and the expressed applications to human beans seems a bit patchy as well.

  23. 23
    chingona says:

    I’d have less of a problem with evo-psych if its practitioners did something more rigorous than fabricate just-so stories to explain how all of human history led how any efforts to change from that particular microsecond are doomed to failure so we might as well give up.

    Laughing at 95 percent of evo-psych doesn’t mean I don’t think evolution applies to human beings.

    Also, plenty of Democrats are just fine with evo-psych. The commenting communities of progressive blogs are a minority of the Democratic Party.

  24. 24
    Robert says:

    Young-earth Creationists are a minority of the Republican party. And genuine evo-skeptics would have less of a problem with evolution if its adherents were more forthcoming about the things that we just don’t know, instead of shoehorning everything into a model that clearly has great explanatory power but also leaves some major questions unanswered. All of which is totally immaterial.

    The point is that this:
    “They have redefined facts into matters of belief. That is pretty much the definition of anti-science, right there.”

    is a description of probably 95% of humanity, not a partisan distinction.

  25. 25
    Ledasmom says:

    The point is that this:
    “They have redefined facts into matters of belief. That is pretty much the definition of anti-science, right there.”

    is a description of probably 95% of humanity, not a partisan distinction

    Don’t be disingenuous. It’s not a matter of whether more Republicans are creationists than not (and I don’t make a distinction between young-earth creationists and others: same bullshit, made slightly more palatable for consumption by those who don’t choose to think about it much); it’s a matter of the party deliberately courting the willfully-ignorant. Anybody who says that creationism of whatever stripe and whatever degree should ever appear in a science course anywhere is saying that scientific thinking is not important. Anybody who supports a law allowing such nonsense is contributing to the decline in scientific knowledge in this country.

    The quantity of people who both believe evolution is the correct theory, and who are also willing to have the chips fall wherever they may have fallen, seems fairly small

    “Willing to have the chips fall wherever they may have fallen”? Meaning, this is what (x group) has become due to evolutionary pressures? There’s never been a study comparing any two human groups (of which I am aware, at least) that made the intergroup variation greater than the intragroup variation; nor is there any great evidence for genetically driven variation that’s greater than variation due to non-genetic factors (if we are talking about behavior rather than, say, height). We don’t know where the chips have fallen; we are hardly capable of defining a chip.
    Evolutionary psychology is an excellent concept that is too often referenced as if it were prescriptive (also as if averages derived from large groups ought then to apply to individual members of that group).
    I note that the Florida legislature has made it impossible to discuss scientifically the reproductive system of the human female or, indeed, of any mammalian female, on the House floor. The difference between this and Robert’s “ham sandwich” example is that around half of all people on this planet are wantonly toting around their very own uteruses. It’s actually, you know, part of their body. The Organ That Shall Not Be Named. It has medical issues and so forth, but the Florida state legislature somehow finds all of this just too much to deal with.
    Seriously, what’s more anti-science than banning the very words one uses to do science? If the shell-like ears of the state legislature must be protected from “uterus”, does this mean that Florida sex education is going to leave an awfully big gap between the ovaries and the vagina?

  26. 26
    JutGory says:

    While I think the objection to the use of the word, “uterus,” is silly, I did not like its use either.

    I have several reasons. First, it was a crass objectification of a body part. Incorporating a body part? What type of business was going to be conducted in this uterus. Is the representatives wife a prostitute? Boy, the jokes can just start flowing from there!

    Also, it was not a serious comment. It is not like the politician was talking about the science of reproduction. He was taking cheap shots at the opponents. Because, yeah, pro-lifers would really go for the killing of fetuses if it was part of a business (oh, except for that whole Planned Parenthood business). He was making a caricature of his opponents and they did not like it.

    (And, yes, for what it is worth, had the response to Mr. Randolph been to lick someone’s “testicles,” I would have objected to the use of that scientific term, as well, and not because I want to oppress men or am anti-science.)

    Let’s not pretend his remark was any more scientific than it was.

    -Jut

  27. 27
    Jeff Fecke says:

    @JutGory -

    Except the point was quite valid; Randolph was talking about “incorporating his wife’s uterus” as a way of saying that Republicans in Florida are very much in favor of “freedom” for corporations, but not so much for women. And that if his wife’s uterus was a company, maybe then Republicans would stop trying to legislate what she was allowed to do with it.

    If he’d been called out of order for showing a lack of respect for other members, it might have been different. But he was called out specifically for using the word uterus, because that word was offensive. And yes, that’s a profoundly anti-science stance.

    (The statement “Lick my testicles” would, of course, be completely out of order in any parliamentary body, because such a statement would be a clear and obvious breach of decorum. Of course, so would “stuff it,” “so’s your old man,” and “you and what army?” Direct, personal insults are always out of order — which is why “You lie” was so offensive.)

  28. 28
    Jeff Fecke says:

    @Robert –

    You’ll find precious few Democrats who will argue that people did not evolve, or that evolution did not shape human cognition. Our objections to EvPsych are, in fact, based on science, and on the argument that the pop analysis of EvPsych rarely squares with what data shows. (PZ Myers, no wild-eyed anti-science fool he, loves to tear EvPsych apart.) For my money, I’ll start believing EvPsych pronouncements when they start describing the world of 100,000 years ago, rather than the world of 1953.

    Meanwhile, Tennessee is trying to allow teachers not to teach evolution. I have yet to see any Democratic bills dealing with evolutionary psychology.

  29. 29
    JutGory says:

    Jeff:

    And that if his wife’s uterus was a company, maybe then Republicans would stop trying to legislate what she was allowed to do with it.

    Yes, and my point is that this is not a serious argument. Let me be more direct: it is a stupid argument and should not have been taken seriously.

    If he’d been called out of order for showing a lack of respect for other members, it might have been different. But he was called out specifically for using the word uterus, because that word was offensive. And yes, that’s a profoundly anti-science stance.

    Yes, as I said before, I think it was silly to object to the use of the word, when the far more objectionable aspect of his remark is that he called his wife a prostitute and apparently wanted to make an argument for legalizing prostitution during a debate of a bill about abortion.

    And, your point is well-taken regarding decorum, but I still disagree with you that this proves (or is an example of) Republicans’ being anti-science. A far more likely explanation is that they are generally more modest (prudish?) when it comes to issues of sexuallity than liberals (libertines?) and did not like the gratuitous uterus talk.

    But one more point on decorum: take a different example. For a Republican to say that business regulation is a pain in the butt (no decorum issues here, right?), would he/she have to say it is a pain in the “buttocks,” “anus,” “rectum,” or “gluteus maximus” in order to prove to you that his or her objection to business regulation is not based upon a hatred of science? Of course, a Republican would never say that business regulation was a “pain in the ass” because (apart from being accused of hating science, they would also have to deal with accusations from PETA that Republicans love the abuse of animals.

    -Jut

  30. 30
    chingona says:

    JutGory … I’m not sure how you do it, but I’m pretty sure most prostitutes don’t use their uteruses on the job.

  31. 31
    Ledasmom says:

    “Gratuitous uterus talk”? Really? The Republican’s delicate sensibilities couldn’t handle the use of the proper scientific name for an internal organ? Well, spleens to them, I say.
    I wonder how JutGory thinks the congressman in question was comparing his wife to a prostitute. That doesn’t appear to make any sense in light of what he actually said, nevermind that he got the line from his wife in the first place.

  32. And of course there is no place for sarcasm or satire in politic debate, right?

  33. 33
    Jake Squid says:

    Prostitute, Surrogate Mother, what’s the difference says Jut.

  34. 34
    Brandon Berg says:

    There’s never been a study comparing any two human groups (of which I am aware, at least) that made the intergroup variation greater than the intragroup variation

    This is beside the point. The idea of two nonoverlapping distributions is a strawman. What matters is that the distributions are different. Even if there’s a great deal of overlap and their medians are quite close together, this can be significant.

    For example, using your logic, we shouldn’t really be concerned about the male-female wage gap, because there’s so much more variation within sexes than between them.

  35. 35
    Brandon Berg says:

    Richard:

    And of course there is no place for sarcasm or satire in politic debate, right?

    Well, one would hope that it would at least be good sarcasm or satire—the kind that makes a valid point. But I suppose that’s a bit much to expect from a politician. It’s a good sound bite, as long as you don’t actually think it through.

  36. 36
    Erl says:

    Other people have touched on this, but as a pro-science liberal, I’d like to provide my metaphor for my attitude vis-a-vis evo-psych.

    I think about evo-psych the way I think about astrology. I have no doubt that celestial bodies exist. I have no doubt that at least some of them influence human life, in complex and meaningful ways.

    But the mechanisms and specific predictions of astrology strike me as a product of magical thinking rather than truly scientific conclusions. I deny astrology; I deny its conclusions. I do not deny the planets. (It helps, of course, that we have a more mature science of stars.)

    I think similarly about evo-psych. Humans evolved; no doubt that process of evolution has impacted how we think.* But when we talk about the conclusions of evo-psych, it seems to me to combine actual results about modern societies with just-so stories about how humans behaved 10K years ago. These stories are criticized by authors like PZ Myers for lacking basic biological rigor.

    So no, the equivalence fails entirely. It’s possible to sensibly critique those conclusions referred to as “evo-psych” without being anti-science. But those who deny evolution altogether ARE anti-science.

    *A simple example: anyone who takes a psychoactive medication that was first tested on animals relies indirectly on actual knowledge about the evolution of the brain and mind.

  37. 37
    Brandon Berg says:

    I would be inclined to take left-wing critics of evolutionary psychology more seriously if they held their own just-so stories to the same high standard of evidence.

  38. 38
    Erl says:

    I would be inclined to take left-wing critics of evolutionary psychology more seriously if they held their own just-so stories to the same high standard of evidence.

    I’m willing to bite and ask about these just-so stories. I’ll try to demonstrate that at least this leftist critic of evolutionary psychology tries to adhere to high standards of evidence.

    (That said, I maintain my contention that evolutionary psychology, particularly of the sort used to oppose leftist conclusions, is not a strong, evidence-based scientific discipline.)

  39. 39
    Bear says:

    @35, Brandon, I thought the sarcasm was quite good and made a valid point. That point has been stated more than once in this thread. In what way do you think that the point doesn’t hold up?

  40. 40
    Lucy says:

    Erl, as another pro-science liberal who completely agrees with you about evo-psych but has also studied astrology for a long time, I don’t think your comparison is totally appropriate. While there are elements of astrology that are certainly predictive, it’s definitely not prescriptive. That is to say, no decent astrologer will tell you that any one aspect or transit has to have the same connotation all the time. Sure, there’s certain jargon associated with certain common themes, and if you use it to look at historical trends in conjunction with certain planetary movements you can definitely see repetitive patterns and use that to make inferences about the future. But these observations are not value judgments, nor are they just-so stories. They take into account that people and societies change, and as such, the meanings and implications of astrological phenomena can’t stay static. Further, astrologers as well as scientists know that correlation doesn’t imply causation, and to say that astronomy is more “mature” than astrology is just flat-out wrong; they’re different, the way psychodynamic theory is different from cognitive-behavioral theory. Point being, astrology, psychology, metaphysics, whatever, actually does embrace flux. Evo-psych, on the other hand, seems to be based on the premise that because people acquired certain behaviors as a result of evolution, these behaviors are fixed and static, and should not change. (And curiously, as others have mentioned, seem to reflect a very specific time period in which these apparently fixed and static behaviors conferred the most benefit to very specific groups.) And as we discover more about the human brain and body and behavior and how they’re constantly changing in conjunction with the world changing, it’s a little, I dunno, misguided to posit that there are things about the way we operate that should remain absolute for the sake of a just-so explanation, even as we’re continuing to evolve.

    I apologize for the potential derail, but I just had to clarify, because the two things are quite, quite ideologically different.

  41. 41
    Mandolin says:

    Do you have any links to scientific studies indicating that astrology is any more predictive than chance?

    ETA: Non-discredited ones would be nice.

  42. 42
    JutGory says:

    Ledasmom:

    “Gratuitous uterus talk”? Really?

    Yes, really. I liked the sound of it. I should probably leave it at that, though, because any further explanation would likely be deemed crude.

    -Jut

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Mandolin says:
    April 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Do you have any links to scientific studies indicating that astrology is any more predictive than chance?

    If you are born when the North Star is high in the sky, you are more likely to freeze to death.

    So there.

    ;)

  44. 44
    elissa says:

    Evo-psych, on the other hand, seems to be based on the premise that because people acquired certain behaviors as a result of evolution, these behaviors are fixed and static, and should not change.

    The key issue with Evo-Psych, is that some, such as yourself, do not understand it well enough. Your own quoted understanding below demonstrated that to a tee.

    Nobody in the field believes what you think they believe below. Nobody. Critics rely on other critics for information, who rely on other critics for their information…which then ends up on a blog, comparing the field with astrology.

    Giants such as Wallace, Haldane, Price, Wilson – who are on the same level of Einstein, Plank, Currie in their field, now get lumped in with the discipline of astrology, for Christ sakes.

    North Americans as so deeply illiterate on the subject of evolution, and its mechanisms, that I’m starting to believe they just may be the exception to evolution.

  45. 45
    Mandolin says:

    Yeah, well. At least she didn’t borf blockquotes.

    If you’d like to contribute something slightly more meaningful in favor of evo-psych than insults, please feel free. Please also feel free to incorporate the critiques coming from other disciplines, like, say, those provided by some anthropologists, perhaps even some who might be giants in their field on the same level as Einstein, Board, and Madame Curry. I mean, Plank and Currie. Or, possibly, Planck and Curie.

    (No, I would not generally complain about minor misspellings of proper nouns. I am aware this makes me vulnerable to Muphry’s law. It’s just, you know, irritating to have allegations of horrible ignorance leveled at one by a person who doesn’t even spell them right.)

  46. 46
    Ampersand says:

    Elissa, regarding “the exception to evolution,” please try to make your points without “witty” insults of the other comment-writers here. Thanks.

    [Cross-posted with Mandolin's comment.]

  47. 47
    Ledasmom says:

    I should probably leave it at that, though, because any further explanation would likely be deemed crude

    I don’t see how it could possibly be cruder than your statement that the congressman called his wife a prostitute, so have at it.

  48. 48
    Jake Squid says:

    Please don’t encourage him. I’m not sure my delicate sensibilities can tolerate a discussion of the horror that is surrogate motherhood.

  49. 49
    Ledasmom says:

    Can I at least say “uterus” gratuitously (I note that “uterus gratuitously” is kind of hard to say)?

  50. 50
    Austin Nedved says:

    I wonder if it’s possible to ever just take idiocy at face value. Don’t mock it, don’t try to find some sort of deeper meaning to it, just accept that someone said something so utterly foolish and ridiculous that it is, at every level, one hundred percent inexplicable.

  51. 51
    Mythago says:

    @Robert, both/and, dude. It was a dick fight, but the objecting legislator almost certainly WAS offended by the term ‘uterus’. Not because it is a vulgar term, but because there are people so fucking dumb they think that children, until they are adults and preferably on the eve before their weddings, ought to believe babies are brought by the stork.

  52. 52
    Brandon Berg says:

    Erl:
    The left-wing just-so stories I’m referring to are the social/cultural explanations for the phenomena whose evo-psych explanations they reject. The reasoning seems to go something like this: “This evo-psych explanation is not 100% proven, so it must be false. Therefore the social/cultural explanation I favor must be true. I demand that we implement draconian regulations and expensive government programs based on this premise.” Never mind that the social/cultural explanation is not 100% proven, or even clearly more plausible.

    Bear:
    It doesn’t make a valid point. It’s simply not true that Republicans generally want to allow corporations to do things that they wouldn’t also allow individuals to do. When Republicans oppose specific regulations, it’s because they don’t think the activities in question should be regulated, period, not because they think that corporations specifically should get a pass.

    Democrats, however, are quite heavily biased against corporations, businesses in general, and/or large employers, favoring all kinds of regulations that apply to them but not to individuals or other types of organizations.

    So what would happen if his wife incorporated her uterus? Then no one but the libertarians would want to allow her to have an abortion.

  53. 53
    Brandon Berg says:

    Austin:
    It’s possible, certainly, but Hanlon’s razor seems to operate in reverse around these parts.

  54. 54
    mythago says:

    Brandon @52: Hate to give you an obvious counterexample, but many Republicans feel that corporations – but not individuals – should get to use the court system to enforce their rights. That’s what the US Chamber of Commerce and ‘tort reform’ are all about.

  55. 55
    The Ghost of Victor Lustig says:

    This evo-psych explanation is not 100% proven, so it must be false. Therefore the social/cultural explanation I favor must be true. I demand that we implement draconian regulations and expensive government programs based on this premise

    This is quite the misrepresentation.

    Us left-wingers don’t say this at all. We are more accurately saying that regardless of the roots of inequalities (whether biological or environmental) those inequalities can be softened or partly eliminated through social and political action. Yes, women and men are biologically different but that doesn’t mean that politically one or the other should be treated as less of a person. And certainly rights should not be curtailed because one or the other gender has a supposed biological weakness (though to say something is a weakness is to impart a bit of a judgement which is not my intent, often what one person sees as weakness another sees as strength–my only intent here is to speak in terms of a larger cultural–not biological–judgement).

    And that’s really the difference between a just-so story of ev-psych which seeks to explain inequality as a naturally occuring inborn phenomena and socio-political critiques of inequality as a choice we as a society (or as individuals) make. Us Lefties don’t deny biological explanations if they make sense and are supported by evidence. On the contrary, we are more likely than righties right now (at least in the mainstream) to accept scientifically derived information about the world. But politically and socially we take the next step and say that biologically imposed boundaries do not translate into socially or politically imposed limits.

  56. 56
    The Ghost of Victor Lustig says:

    Democrats, however, are quite heavily biased against corporations, businesses in general, and/or large employers

    This is not borne out by actual events. Kevin Drum recently wrote a Mother Jones cover story about how increasingly as labor has faltered the Democrats have turned towards corporations and big business for funding with the resultant opposite phenomena that you cite here.

  57. 57
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The Ghost of Victor Lustig says:
    April 5, 2011 at 12:29 am
    Yes, women and men are biologically different but that doesn’t mean that politically one or the other should be treated as less of a person.

    I have to ask WTF does this even mean? Is there any agreement on this blog?

    I see “not a person” and “dehumanized” and “not treating as human” pop up all the time and as far as I can tell it is a bizarre catch phrase, which is almost equivalent to “not in compliance with whatever my own set of beliefs is.”

    What, exactly, do you mean by that? What is the minimum definition of treating someone like a person?

  58. 58
    Myca says:

    as far as I can tell it is a bizarre catch phrase, which is almost equivalent to “not in compliance with whatever my own set of beliefs is.”

    I have always understood it not as a statement of political preference (though if you understand it that way, you have my sympathy, as it would make comprehending many arguments here frustrating and confusing), but as a more Kantian statement, meaning something along the lines of, “treating someone as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.”

    Things like, “keeping women or gay people out of combat so as to avoid discomfiting the straight men who currently serve,” is treating women and gay people as means to the end of, “not troubling straight male soldiers.”

    In this case in particular, the use of an anatomical term to refer to a part of women’s bodies, in a discussion of a medical procedure concerning that part was called a breach of decorum because it upset male legislators and might have been shocking to pages. This is a breach of Kant’s categorical imperative because it subordinates women’s health issues to the delicate aural sensibilities of men, in a way that almost certainly wouldn’t have applied if they’d been discussing, say, testicular cancer.

    —Myca

  59. 59
    Robert says:

    Ah, so “charging rich people a higher tax rate so as to pay for the social programs I like” is treating rich men and women as means to the end of “not having to pay for my preferences myself”?

  60. 60
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Just in case it isn’t crystal clear, BTW, I am 100% opposed to uterine regulation.

    But to respond:
    “treating someone as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves” is, like “dehumanizing,” one of those terms which conveniently adopts the definition of the person using it. As a thought experiment: is it really so difficult to frame the pro-life position as humanizing, rather than the reverse? Statements which have equal use by both sides (right to life! right to abort! right to make choices that alter the long and short term outcomes of unwanted pregnancy! right to restrict your partner’s ability to make choices that alter their long and short term outcomes and burdens of unwanted pregnancy! etc.) don’t really have a lot of validity IMO.

    Also, as a practical matter this is basically a restatement of a belief that a certain thing is a human right, and/or a necessary component of humanity. IOW, if you’re using “dehumanizing” references w/r/t your opponents requires an underlying assertion that you believe the foundation of their position to violate a fundamental human right.

    But–and I am probably in the minority here–who the freak cares cares whether you think something is a fundamental human right or not? It’s patently obvious that humanity is in vast disagreement about what those fundamental human rights are (or should be), and it’s arguably still an issue about whether there is any agreement that even extremely basic rights (like the right to not be killed) exist, at all.

    And if you ARE trying to debate something as major as fundamental human rights… well, why obscure that debate by burying it in the context of a subargument? Just out and say it: “I think ___ is a fundamental human right. This affects/degrades/cancels _____. Therefore it is invalid.”

    But what I can’t stand is the obscurity. Hell, if you* think something is a fundamental human right then why the freak are you wasting everyone’s time pretending to debate? You’re not obviously going to agree to or even consider agreeing to something that violates a fundamental right. Arguing with those folks is entirely pointless, but they deliberately hide the fact until we’ve wasted an hour. It’s maddening.

    *Global example, not you personally

  61. 61
    Myca says:

    Ah, so “charging rich people a higher tax rate so as to pay for the social programs I like” is treating rich men and women as means to the end of “not having to pay for my preferences myself”?

    Well, Kant, who was a hypocritical conservative fuck, might well agree.

    Rawls, who outlined a social-democratic structure build on a Kantian foundation would probably disagree.

    For me, I don’t think that it’s a violation of the categorical imperative to allow people to voluntarily join a wealth-creation club which pro-rates its membership fee so that you only end up paying it if the cub’s methods work out for you. Which is what America is, really. I do think it’s a violation of the categorical imperative to take advantage of the infrastructure and security that the club provides and then refuse to pay your membership fee once you’ve become successful.

    That’s becoming a free rider and turning everyone else into a means to your end.

    Which, I guess is the modern conservative modus operandi, so … whatever.

    I’m not much of a Kantian myself, and I’m not arguing in defense of his ideas, so much as trying to explain how I’ve always understood “treating someone as less of a person” to be used.

    —Myca

  62. 62
    Myca says:

    “treating someone as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves” is, like “dehumanizing,” one of those terms which conveniently adopts the definition of the person using it.

    Yes and no.

    Kant’s use of it is inconsistent (which is one reason I’m not a Kantian), but not so broad as, “debating fundamental human rights,” is, and he offers several other formulations of the categorical imperative for illustrative purposes.

    It’s an unclear term in a lot of ways, but it is most certainly not just “whatever you want it to mean.” The fact that something can be argued over does not mean that it is meaning-null. And once again, I say this as someone who is not a Kantian by any means.

    —Myca

  63. 63
    Robert says:

    Well then we’re back to square one; what does it mean to treat someone like a person? If the political implications of a particular type of treatment turn out to be relevant after all, then G&W’s confusion is perfectly valid, and your “no wonder you’re confused poor duckling” statement is disingenuous; it DOES matter what the politics of the question are.

  64. 64
    Myca says:

    If the political implications of a particular type of treatment turn out to be relevant after all, then G&W’s confusion is perfectly valid

    There is a strong (and obvious) difference between “the political implications of a particular type of treatment are relevant” and “obviously this just means ‘not in compliance with whatever my own set of beliefs is.’”

    Of course political implications of a particular type of treatment are relevant. Of course I’m not giving you a easy, clear-cut answer for every case in which the categorical imperative might be applied… people have been arguing about this for 300 years.

    Another part of Kant’s categorical imperative (which he says is the same as the means/end part, and is just a rephrasing or further explanation), is the universality clause … “whenever you take an action, you must be able to simultaneously will that this action become universal law,” without any modifiers or extenuating circumstances.

    So being a free rider is immoral because if everyone was a free rider, the framework which exists to allow you to amass wealth in the first place wouldn’t be there. It’s a contradiction.

    Similarly, paying someone less for the same amount and quality of work violates the categorical imperative because you wouldn’t want to be paid less for your work.

    So there’s an element of broadly expected equality of treatment.

    I’d agree that there are both pro-choice and anti-abortion arguments based in Kantian ethics (generally proceeding from different base assumptions). Like I said, I’m not a giant fan of Kant … but his stuff doesn’t mean, “whatever you want it to,” any more than the Bible means whatever you want it to because both Pope Benedict and Osama bin Laden claim the old testament.

    There are easier cases and harder cases, as there are in biblical scholarship. The existence of harder cases doesn’t mean there are no easy cases.

    —Myca

  65. 65
    Robert says:

    OK. But I’m not suggesting that rich people should be free riders; I’m suggesting that everyone should pay the same tax rate. That would seem to comply with the universal-law portion of the Mycanian Imperative better than your own position.

  66. 66
    Myca says:

    That would seem to comply with the universal-law portion of the Mycanian Imperative better than your own position.

    Equally well, I think.

    This is one of the places where Kant gets a little wibbly. He says that circumstances don’t matter, and he says that so that people can’t go about explaining why it was okay to lie this time. On the other hand, he believed in a difference between killing in the military or killing as part of carrying out a judicial sentence and killing for fun or profit, so clearly circumstances matter some. This is specifically where I have a lot of problems with Kant, so I’m not going to try to justify him.

    I think as far as taxation goes, I think he’d be okay with differing tax rates as long as they were applied universally. That is, it’s not okay to tax someone differently based on an immutable characteristic like race or gender, but taxing at a different rate based on income would be fine as long as long as everyone with that income had that rate of taxation.

    So it would be universal that everyone who made 10,000 a year paid very little, everyone who made 45,000 paid more, and everyone who made 500,000 paid a lot, if that makes sense.

    It’s entirely possible to have several different real-world scenarios which are mutually exclusive and both satisfy the categorical imperative. There’s more than one way to do right, and more than one way to do wrong.

    —Myca

  67. 67
    Simple Truth says:

    Everyone can have the same tax rate, as long as they are actually paying that much. Since corporations count as people, that’s going to require some change in accounting practices.

    Seriously though, since when is uterus a bad word? Personally, I think the Rep’s wife has a great sense of humor.

  68. 68
    Brandon Berg says:

    Mythago:

    Hate to give you an obvious counterexample…

    Then you’ll be glad to know that you haven’t.

    …but many Republicans feel that corporations – but not individuals – should get to use the court system to enforce their rights.

    The fallacy is that you’re equivocating on “enforce their rights.” The right to file the kinds of lawsuits and win the kinds of awards tort reform is intended to address is not the same as the right to be protected from those kinds of lawsuits and awards. You’re talking about two completely different things.

    I don’t know which specific proposal you’re talking about, but broadly speaking tort reform is about strengthening the latter right and weakening the former, regardless of who the defendant and plaintiff are.

    Now, in practice, corporations are far more likely to be defendants than individuals are, because the vast majority of individuals don’t have enough money to be worth suing, especially when the merits of the case are questionable enough that you need a really big payoff to get a decent expected value out of it. But to say on these grounds that tort reform is about giving special privileges to corporations is like saying that cutting everyone’s taxes by 5% across the board is about giving special privileges to the rich because they’re the only ones who pay enough in taxes for that to be significant.

    <crickets/>

    I guess reductio ad absurdum falls flat when your audience fails to reject the absurdum. Let me try that again: It’s like saying that Democrats want to privilege women over men by legalizing abortion.

  69. 69
    mythago says:

    Brandon Berg @68: Indeed, you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    The idea that corporations are more likely to be defendants is nonsense. You’re falling into the corporatist mentality that corporations do not sue one another. Indeed they do, and they have no real interest in curtailing lawsuits that they, themselves, may wish to file. That is why tort-reform proposals are geared towards, say, medical malpractice lawsuits, but not towards capping intellectual-property or breach of contract awards, even though the latter may dwarf the former. That is why it is called “tort reform” and not “lawsuit reform” or “damages reform”.

    Tort reform is intended to protect tortfeasors from the consequences of their actions. Forget reducing awards; you’re not thinking big enough. The goal is to make certain lawsuits uncertain and costly enough to file – regardless of merit – that they won’t happen in the first place.

    Your analogies make no sense because, well, they make no sense. If it makes you feel better to throw in ‘crickets’ to pretend that you’ve made such a devastating argument that your opponents are dumbstruck, well, I can’t stop you. But you’ll probably find it less tiresome and more rewarding to direct those arguments to a mirror.

  70. 70
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Myca says:
    April 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

    “treating someone as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves” is, like “dehumanizing,” one of those terms which conveniently adopts the definition of the person using it.

    Yes and no.

    Kant’s use of it is inconsistent (which is one reason I’m not a Kantian), but not so broad as, “debating fundamental human rights,” is, and he offers several other formulations of the categorical imperative for illustrative purposes.

    It’s an unclear term in a lot of ways, but it is most certainly not just “whatever you want it to mean.”

    I agree that there are some kantian things which are clear. But there are many issues for which the kantian view can be phrased as supporting either side, and in those circumstances it’s pretty darn close to “whatever…” status.

    The fact that something can be argued over does not mean that it is meaning-null.

    It has no meaning in the limited context of its inability to have relevance in the argument at hand.

    “Dehumanizing” has no relevance in an abortion debate unless the parties have some agreement about what it means, or have some agreement about what to do about it, or–at the least–can agree that it perhaps adds some viewpoint, or something else.

    Unless something can help the discussion (by facts, or meaning, or classification, or viewpoint, etc.) then what meaning can it carry in the context of that discussion? Absent meaning, “dehumanizing” is not much more valuable than “JAHFGDIFZZ.”

    Things can still have meaning if they don’t have agreement, but only if they are up for debate. But postulate an argument in which the prolife folks are never in agreement taht they are dehumanizing women; the prochoice folks are never in agreement that women are NOT dehumanized; and everyone uses contradictory definitions for it anyway. If the dehumanizing issue is off the table, and holds no common ground, and doesn’t define anything of value, where is the meaning in it?

  71. 71
    Brandon Berg says:

    Mythago:
    The <crickets/> was in reference to my suspicion that most readers of this blog would respond to my analogy with, “Well, yeah. An across-the-board tax cut is a giveaway to the rich.” Hence the part about the audience failing to reject the absurdum in the reductio ad absurdum.

    Medical malpractice reform is an interesting choice for an example of how Republicans are trying to privilege corporations over individuals. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my impression that many (most?) doctors aren’t employed by corporations. Yes, the malpractice settlements and awards are ostensibly paid by insurance companies, but obviously any changes in the actuarial cost of coverage are going to show up in the rates doctors pay, and likely be at least partially passed through to patients.

    Yes, I’m aware that corporations sue each other. Nothing in my original comment implied otherwise.

    That is why tort-reform proposals are geared towards, say, medical malpractice lawsuits, but not towards capping intellectual-property or breach of contract awards, even though the latter may dwarf the former.

    Or it could be the fact that the issues that tort reform is intended to address aren’t relevant to those kinds of cases. For example, caps on non-economic damages. Can non-economic damages even be awarded for IP infringement or breach of contract?

    Now, I’m open to the idea that Republicans are simply wrong about this stuff, that malpractice premiums and frivolous lawsuits just aren’t that big a deal. But is it really that hard to believe that what’s really going on some entrepreneurial politicians capitalizing on hysteria over a few exceptional and/or overhyped cases so that they can be seen “doing something” about rising medical costs? Wouldn’t be the first law to get started that way.

    You can have the last word. I’ll come back to read your response, but I think I’m done commenting here at Alas. It’s been fun, but arguing politics on the Internet doesn’t have quite the same appeal to me that it used to. Best wishes to all—in all your non-political endeavors, anyway.

  72. 72
    Ampersand says:

    I’ll come back to read your response, but I think I’m done commenting here at Alas. It’s been fun, but arguing politics on the Internet doesn’t have quite the same appeal to me that it used to. Best wishes to all—in all your non-political endeavors, anyway.

    Thanks, and best wishes to you, as well!

  73. 73
    Erl says:

    An across-the-board tax cut is a giveaway to the rich.

    It may be unsporting of me to reply to this after you’ve announced your departure, but I’m proud of the next line, and so I think I shall.

    Across which board? When politicians have discussed “across-the-board” tax cuts in recent years, they’ve tended to refer to income rather than payroll taxes. Since the income tax is primarily onerous for the rich, and the payroll tax is primarily onerous for the poor, an across-the-board tax cut represents an overall shift of the tax burden from rich to poor.

    Similarly, expenses targeted by politicians who make sweeping claims about spending cuts (i.e., republicans) are not normally those expenses which primarily benefit the rich. (Expenses like the mortgage deduction, certain tax structures regarding corporate profits nominally created overseas, the rarefied heights of the military-industrial complex.) Instead, the expenses targeted are government programs, which primarily benefit the poor.

    So I think it’s fair to say that when politicians describe an “across the board” tax cut, they mean to shift the average tax burden down the scale; similarly, when they describe an “across the board” spending cut, the mean to shift the average government dollar to someone rather richer. So, yes, “across the board” tax cuts are regressive actions, more inflammatorily described as “giveaways to the rich.”

    Best of luck in your future endeavors, including political! I tend to disagree with what you write, but you’ve been quite polite and thoughtful in presenting your case; I don’t see how any personal political success you achieve could be a bad thing. (I’m afraid to say that I hope that all your policies will be politely ushered to the cocktail party of obsolescence, however.)

  74. 74
    mythago says:

    Since the income tax is primarily onerous for the rich

    Er, what? You seem to be confusing this with the capital-gains tax.

  75. 75
    mythago says:

    Brandon @71: Malpractice costs are not “ostensibly” paid by insurance companies; they are actually paid by insurance companies. That is who tort reform in all areas is intended to benefit, and that’s why the big national “tort reform” groups are heavily funded and run by insurance-company interests. Those interests hide behind individuals – like doctors – who aren’t savvy enough to notice that their premiums don’t automagically go down when insurance profits go up (or even when tort-reform laws are passed).

    Or it could be the fact that the issues that tort reform is intended to address aren’t relevant to those kinds of cases.

    Exactly my point. The issues it’s intended to address are not really runaway juries, or frivolous lawsuits, or onerous costs to businesses, which are the pretend reasons; “tort reform” is intended to protect tortfeasors, and shift the costs of their wrongdoing to others (e.g., taxpayers).

  76. 76
    Robert says:

    Er, what? You seem to be confusing this with the capital-gains tax.

    Nope. Income taxes are fairly progressive in the US. Payroll taxes are quite regressive. So the income tax is more onerous to rich folks (top 1% of taxpayers pay 40% of income tax), while the payroll tax is quite onerous to poor folks. Having been both, I know exactly how this feels; my payroll taxes these days I barely notice, while my income tax is brutal. In my 20s, the payroll taxes were a horrible burden (or so it seemed) while income tax was usually a refund.

    Malpractice costs are not “ostensibly” paid by insurance companies; they are actually paid by insurance companies.

    No, they aren’t. Like every other expense that a corporation incurs, they are paid by the customers of the corporation.

  77. 77
    Brandon Berg says:

    Erl:
    On the contrary, it would be rather unsporting of me to announce my departure and then demand that you let my final comment go unchallenged.

    I’m afraid to say that I hope that all your policies will be politely ushered to the cocktail party of obsolescence, however.

    Yes, that’s more or less what I meant.

  78. 78
    Erl says:

    @Brandon:

    On the contrary, it would be rather unsporting of me to announce my departure and then demand that you let my final comment go unchallenged.

    Well, I’m glad we were able to resolve this blog etiquette question by reference to virtues that have been archaic since Victoria died! (I actually am quite charmed; I have a soft spot for outmoded virtues.)

    Yes, that’s more or less what I meant.

    Yeah, I thought so. I just wanted to emphasize my personal respect in contrast to my policy disagreement. Plus, I got to use the phrase “cocktail party of obsolescence,” and that was fun.

  79. 79
    Elusis says:

    top 1% of taxpayers pay 40% of income tax

    Nevermind that the top 1% of taxpayers make 53% of the income, last stat I saw….

  80. 81
    Erl says:

    But Robert, that stat is from the worst point in the recession for the top 1%.* They were dragged back down, proportionally, and have bounced up substantially relative to other earners. So that’s probably a depressed stat. Further, the Tax Foundation cannot be considered a disinterested group.

    *”incomes reported by tax returns at the high end of the income spectrum plummeted from 2007 to 2008, as did their share of the nation’s income and income taxes paid.”

  81. 82
    Robert says:

    They are presenting IRS data in an unedited table. Unless you’re alleging fraud, their preferences are immaterial. The IRS *is* disinterested.

    In the modern era (after the definition of AGI stabilized) from 1987 on, share of gross income has bounced around from 12% to 23%. Share of income tax paid has bounced around from 24% to 40%. The correlation each year is pretty tight; the top 1% pay around twice their share of the income. 40 and 20 are recent figures; they are also perfectly representative of the general rule.

    In the US, income tax is progressive and payroll tax is regressive. The net system is slightly progressive, but not very. This gets argued on Alas about three or four times a year. The outcome is the same every time, because the data is the same, every time. Something in the progressive informational regime got stuck in the early 1980s on “the income tax system is flat and needs to be more progressive”, which at the time was true. The system has changed. Please make a note of it.

  82. 83
    mythago says:

    Robert @76: Customers pay for the insurance. Insurance pays for the judgments. That’s the point of having malpractice insurance in the first place.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘income tax was usually a refund’. If you’re getting a refund that suggests you planned your taxes incorrectly.

  83. 84
    Ruchama says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘income tax was usually a refund’. If you’re getting a refund that suggests you planned your taxes incorrectly.

    I always get a refund on my taxes. I’m not sure what planning is involved — I’m single, no dependents, and I input all my numbers into the tax software at the end of the year, and it tells me I’m getting back $3000 or so. (Well, this year, at first it told me that I was getting back $20,000, which was nearly all the income I’d made last year, but then I figured out that I’d input a number wrong. Curiously, the software ran all of the error check stuff and saw no problem with a tax refund doubling my income.)

  84. 85
    mythago says:

    Ruchama, what I mean is that if you get a refund, it’s because you overpaid the amount of taxes you owe. In the context of payroll taxes, this probably means you got the withholding wrong, and in the context of other income may mean that you planned or estimated your taxes incorrectly.

  85. 86
    Robert says:

    Ruchama, what I mean is that if you get a refund, it’s because you overpaid the amount of taxes you owe. In the context of payroll taxes, this probably means you got the withholding wrong, and in the context of other income may mean that you planned or estimated your taxes incorrectly.

    Nearly everyone in the lower tax brackets gets a refund, and it’s not because they plan or estimate their taxes incorrectly; it’s because the tax accounting at nearly all employers is set up to minimize the chance that low-income workers will end up owing taxes on April 15. There are pretty much only two variables under the control of a low-income tax filer: the number of dependents they put down on their W-4 form, and a line entry for additional withholding that they can ask to have held back from each check. The *only* way to reduce the amount of tax that is withheld is to put a fictitiously large number of dependents on the W-4; you can get away with that at a large employer where they don’t know you, but small employers are very reluctant to allow W-4 inflation.

    Young workers often feel like this is all done as part of an enormous conspiracy between the employer and the IRS to screw them out of money on their paycheck, but in fact it’s part of an enormous conspiracy to prevent the low-income workers from screwing themselves and ending up in big trouble on tax day.

    In roughly 20 years of filing taxes based on full-time employment at someone else’s business, I got refunds 19 times out of the 20. I forget what happened the one year that I ended up owing money on 4/15; I think I changed jobs multiple times in the year. My experience is completely typical.

  86. 87
    Dianne says:

    Young workers often feel like this is all done as part of an enormous conspiracy between the employer and the IRS to screw them out of money on their paycheck, but in fact it’s part of an enormous conspiracy to prevent the low-income workers from screwing themselves and ending up in big trouble on tax day.

    I can’t comment on the intent, but the effect is to give the IRS an interest free loan.

  87. 88
    mythago says:

    Robert, that’s true, if you’re making little enough income you can qualify for an earned-income credit and get a ‘refund’. But re the W-4, I haven’t noticed that employers are particularly fussy about how you set up your W-4 as long as they don’t think you’re out-and-out lying about, say, the number of kids you have.