Deconstructing Sheri Tepper’s 2008 Interview with Strange Horizons

So, someone asked me what was so offensive about Tepper’s interview. After reading her comments, I’m convinced that it might actually be helpful to some people if I did a deconstruction. I don’t usually fisk things because it’s a format I usually find boring, but it seemed like the best way to come at this.

I’m posting excerpts here, but a detailed analysis of the entire interview is at my livejournal.

In sum: This is not a well-researched, annotated, considered response. This is off the cuff, based only on the information I have at hand to draw. I didn’t fact even fact check myself. But even if some points are weak or badly stated (quite possible), I think this establishes the rudimentary foundations for why I found Tepper’s argument so desperately offensive.

Any given one of these comments I’m criticizing may not be so bad. Certainly, some of them are much, much worse than others. Taken all together, they suggest a certain amount of authoritarianism and black and white thinking, ignorance of or willingness to ignore context & culture, and lots and lots of racism.


Was she ranting? I don’t know? Maybe she was ranting? I get ranting and, you know, if what she said wasn’t meant for a literal reading then yay?… but her books mirror these points of view and it’s clearly something she’s thought out so it’s not like “she got on a tear and just went with it.” If this is a recurring rant, even one not meant to be taken seriously, she should probably consider the ways in which ableism/etc are fundamentally integrated into it.

Mother Teresa would have done more for humanity by convincing the poor of India to use birth control than she did by being sainted.

So. Of course, this exists in a world in which the stuff Nicoll is talking about in the other thread (first comment) also exists. So, that’s point one. Basically point two is that westerners are extremely keen on telling brown people especially, and poor people generally, how many babies they should have because OTHERWISE DOOM. People from those populations push back at the idea by, you know, pointing out that the kind of ecological impact from an Indian child is nowhere like the kind of ecological impact from the average American child. We do not need to prevent brown people from having children in order to save the world; given the history of A) colonialism generally and B) white people attempting to prevent brown people from having children, the fact that this is a popular talking point solution is very disturbing. Additionally, research indicates that birth rates lower when women are given economic resources and education. The idea that one should take away options from women, rather than giving them options–all in order to achieve the same effect–is not awesome. Also, at one point, IIRC, (I don’t know if it’s still true), India had a number of political seats reserved for women (good) but whether or not women could access them was dependent on how many kids they’d had (not good), and Tepper’s comments exist in that world. (ETA: This is apparently incorrect–see also:–my apologies for the misinformation and for my misconception. Thanks to @jayaprakash) Tepper may not be aware of this shit, but at some point, if she’s advocating policies that require taking over the bodies of poor brown people, it sort of becomes her obligation to be aware.

and, they are tribal. Tribal religions, languages, and cultures are bad news. No one with any sense would ever start a war with a tribal country because you would never have any way of knowing who the enemy is at any given time. It took Bill Clinton a few short weeks to figure this out. Bush will never figure it out if he lives to be a hundred. You can conquer and dominate a tribal country, as “the Raj” did in India, but you cannot “work with it” to instill democracy or any other “-cracy.” And if you turn over a country to a tribal people, it turns overnight into a tyranny with one tribe dominant.

Ooooookay. So, religions that she detests have features in common. This could be not so racist; e.g. American Christianity could be one of those religions. But one of the features these religions share is being tribal, a word associated with brown people, and sure enough, they are immediately & directly put in contrast with white Americans. Then we have this interesting “you can’t work with tribal people” thing which puts them in contrast to white people who apparently can be worked with? India is not a democracy because it is a tyranny with a single dominant tribe? By the rules set out here, America ISN’T a tyranny with a single dominant tribe? You can’t “turn the country over” to brown people because they will run it wrong? Seriously?

Regarding the money quote:

Humans cannot purposefully injure others. They have to be capable, once adults, of controlling what they do. Persons who look human but who are uncontrollable or who habitually hurt other people will no longer be defined as human.

Okay. So. Humans who habitually hurt other people will no longer be defined as human. Someone said in your other thread that it must be very hard to see people as inherently good and realize, daily, that they aren’t. Sometimes people are complex. Sometimes humans habitually hurt people in some ways and do other stuff, too. So, let’s chalk this up to black and white thinking, but I’m going to basically give it to her with the assumption that if she was explicating, she would define what “habitually hurt” means (does colonialism count?)

Then there’s the whole “controlling what they do” thing. This is where the ableism/crazy bit comes in, esp because she later uses the word crazy in what appears to be an explication of what “can’t control yourself” means. A generous reading indicates that she means that she’s declassifying people who HURT OTHERS because they can’t control what they do, but that’s not exactly what she said. She said OR. I hope OR wasn’t what she meant. It probably wasn’t. Right? But invoking crazy people and then talking about eugenics (via forced sterilization) also invokes this lovely history America has of forcibly sterilizing people in institutions. Have you read WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME? I assume so? Classification of uncontrollable or crazy is influenced by cultural factors. See also: drapetomania. But more troubling is that the kind of walled city she later invokes reads like some of the abuses perpetuated (historically and contemporarily) by institutions. She’s advocating for the kind of cruel treatment crazy people already sometimes get. Again, maybe all this is unintentional, but when you’re making this argument, especially while taking on the mantle of advocating in the name of social justice, it’s sort of incumbent on you not to stomp on the necks of already oppressed groups, yeah?

Every person born of human parents is not necessarily human. Those born to other parents might be, however. Probably the bonobos are human.

…I expect this was just… a turn of phrase… but it does also suggest that she thinks of some humans (based on behavior) as lower than non-humans (who are not being judged by behavior). Race implications of saying humans one does not like are not people, particularly then going on to invoke ape imagery? And also in, as someone in your earlier thread said, the context of black men in prison populations like the proposed walled city? Like whoa. See also: PETA campaigns where slaves are compared to chickens; lynched men to hung meat; Jews to penned pigs.

The cities for nonhumans will not get overcrowded because the inhabitants will probably kill each other off fairly regularly.


Seriously, what the fuck? This is the logic that makes prison rape an ongoing nightmare. This is the logic that chains jailed women giving birth. This is the logic that feeds prisoners green meat. This is the logic that waterboards, that puts prisoners in stress positions, that pries off their fingernails, that presses them with weights, that carves out their organs before putting them in the fire.

And another thing. Look, if you’re a radical, then police brutality is something you should be fucking aware of. State abuses are something you should be aware of! Police killing black people on a regular basis and not being punished for it is something you should be aware of. I don’t know if I agree with the prison abolition argument, but it’s there; it’s this progressive idea that demands response when someone talking about social justice is making an argument about the awesomeness of deliberately violent prisons. Is the violence of the system really that much more awesome than the violence perpetuated by individuals?

Are all the arguments about the death penalty going out the window, too? The death penalty applies for everything? Really? Super really? And it’s just okay? And I don’t think judging fantasies by the real world is always awesome, but with all this other shit going on, too, I really have to ask–in this real world, wherein black people are imprisoned at enormous rates, wherein the apportionment of the death penalty is vastly influenced by race and class, wherein people who are determined to have significant cognitive impairments are killed… is it really a great idea to argue that whatever, it’s fine for anyone who contravenes Tepper law to just die?

Walled cities will be built in the wastelands and all nonhuman persons will be sterilized and sent to live there, together, raising their own food

Yay forcible sterilization. This might be less disturbing if so many of her books did not have “yay eugenics” themes. Just ranting? Maybe? But she rants like this a lot. And it’s somehow super easier for white, first world ladies to come back to the idea that “oh, eugenics could really work IF ONLY WE IMPLEMENTED IT CORRECTLY” than it is for people who, you know, MIGHT BE SUBJECTED TO IT.

There will be no chat about this sequestration being “inhumane,” because the persons so confined are not human by definition… The cities for nonhumans will not get overcrowded because the inhabitants will probably kill each other off fairly regularly.

As Heron said on my blog, “I’ve yet to see an exception to the rule that anyone who is willing to definite some adults as not-human &/or inherently deserving of exclusion or limited civil rights is not worth listening to.” And as Grace Annam said on Alas, “Every OTHER time in human history when we penned certain classes of people into concentration camps … excuse me, “walled cities”, it worked out so well. What could go wrong?”

Sorry, angry capital letters coming: IT IS NOT OKAY TO REDEFINE SOME PEOPLE AS NOT HUMAN AND THEN TAKE PLEASURE IN IMAGINING THEM SUBJECTED TO VIOLENCE. This is why the doctrine of hell is creepy as fuck! She says earlier in the interview that “We all see how the afterlife bit is playing out today”—well, what is this fantasy of walling people who hurt others off and letting them be tortured except what is, effectively, a veiled version of hell?

Just a rant? Maybe. Maybe just a rant. Certainly better if it’s a rant! But a rant that supports eugenics from a woman who writes books where eugenics is a solution that works. A rant that supports authoritarianism from a woman that claims to hate it. A rant about how some people aren’t really human from someone who claims to be interested in social justice. A rant that classifies addicts and the mentally ill as less than other people. A rant that, hey, revels in torture and pain because apparently Tepper finds imagining that satisfying.

Who’s going choosing to go to hell so they can revel in describing the awful?

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64 Responses to Deconstructing Sheri Tepper’s 2008 Interview with Strange Horizons

  1. 1
    Jadey says:

    Yes, the dehumanization is the key thing that underlies everything problematic in Tepper’s view. It ties into the ableism, racism, ethnocentrism, and so forth. In my view, once we start drawing a line called “humanity” and putting people on one side of it or the other, we open ourselves up to social stratification, hierarchy, and injustice.

    This isn’t new either – dehumanization has been theorized for quite some time now in various social science perspectives to underlie both problematic attitudes (e.g., racism) and behaviours (e.g., genocide), and there’s been some compelling research done in this area. (Not Yet Human is a particular favourite. I’m also intrigued by metaphor and discourse analysis on the subject.)

    Tepper’s reliance on dehumanization as a tool for social engineering is explicit and I reject that viewpoint utterly. I do not believe that people are inherently good or bad, but I do believe they are inherently people. I believe that systems of social stratification are antithetical to social justice and that is precisely what she is proposing.

    (I don’t believe people are inherently superior to other organisms, either, fwiw, though also not opposed to killing between species, which some would argue is hypocritical. Killing doesn’t have to be dehumanization and invalidating, however.)

  2. 2
    Grace Annam says:


    QFT, and also, it puts me in mind of another snippet:

    To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior “righteous indignation” — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.
    –Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

    I like Heron’s rule.

    Also, I would like to propose another rule: Be wary of the judgement of people who think it is possible to design utopia, especially a utopia running on only a few simple rules. It is a reliable indicator that they overestimate the human ability to predict consequences.


  3. 3
    Jenny says:

    Granted, Teresa did favor faith over actual solutions to poverty in general and was really neglectful:

    And the sterilization stuff isn’t helping matters, some leftists have turned on Planned Parenthood entirely:

  4. 4
    squirrel says:

    I find it really odd how she’s reversing the human/person distinction as used by personhood theory generally. It doesn’t really make sense reversed like this, human has been the word for the species and person the word for agents in the world for a long time now. (According to wikipedia, it looks like it came out of the early christian church.)

    It’s weird to me that she’d talk about Bonobos having personhood (not her words, but an equivalent statement maybe), but not know that tradition.

    Then again, her vision of it is so horrible maybe it’s best she’s far away from the people thinking seriously about these things?

  5. 5
    mythago says:

    Jenny @3: There’s a really huge difference between wanting to empower poor people so they can make choices about their family size and spacing of children, and “put them on the Pill so they stop breeding”.

    And the final link you provided is totally batshit.

  6. 6
    meerkat says:

    “There will be no chat about this sequestration being ‘inhumane,’ because the persons so confined are not human by definition”

    That doesn’t even follow. Non-human beings can still be treated humanely or inhumanely. That’s why we have Humane Societies for cats and dogs.

  7. 7
    meerkat says:

    Oh wait, I get it: The “non-humans” don’t have to take moral responsibility for killing each other because, not being human, they are not expected to be humane. (In the same way we can’t expect lions to be humane in their treatment of gazelles.) The humans who locked them up in there are not responsible in any way and there isn’t even any question whether that is a humane thing to do, because although the “non-humans” are not capable of being responsible for their actions, there is absolutely nowhere else to look for responsibility. Right? (I mean, still wrong obviously, but maybe this is what she was trying to say.)

  8. 8
    Dianne says:

    Humans cannot purposefully injure others.

    Tepper then goes on to gleefully describe how she would like to injure others. Thus, she has categorized herself as non-human. Though I somehow doubt she realizes that.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    This crazy person thanks you for writing this up. I was actually considering downloading one of Tepper’s books onto my Kindle before reading this. Now, definitely not. I have no desire to read a book written by someone who thinks I should be forcibly sterilized, deported to some walled city, and don’t even count as human.

  10. 10
    Nikki says:

    Cool. So, by this logic, half of my family (alcoholics, depressives, and the occasional aggressive drunk) would be sterilized and stuck in a concentration camp walled city where they can go kill each other. ‘Cause depression and other mental illnesses (anything where you can go “off your meds”, right!) are equivalent to murder.

    Well, I’d be sterilized and put in a walled city, but on the plus side about half the people I know would be there too.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    Are you sure you’re not giving this person way more attention than they deserve? Yes, she’s said some stupid stuff. But then there’s lots of people that say stupid stuff.

  12. 12
    RonF says:

    Not that I don’t applaud that leftist people recognize that they should condemn nutball commentary from the left as well as from the right. But you did a good job of it in the previous thread.

  13. 13
    Mandolin says:

    There was LJ drama… it ended up, basically, with someone I respect saying, “Can you please explain to me what was upsetting about this?” So, I figured I’d give it a shot.

    (Interestingly, this upset other people…? I’m a little baffled by that? Commonly people seem to be saying, “this was just a rant, she hasn’t thought it out,” but she’s on record from multiple sources as being in favor of eugenics…? So it seems like she has thought it out.)

    Anyway, yeah, I think it’s occupied enough of my brain space. I’ve probably read a dozen of her books, though.

  14. 14
    AMM says:

    Is there a URL for the interview itself?

    All the commentary seems to assume that everybody in the blogosphere has read/seen/heard/telepathed the interview.

    Also, from the title I would have assumed it was done in 2008 — if so, why is the controversy surfacing now? (Rather than 3 years ago.)

  15. 15
    Mandolin says:

    The interview is linked in my other post on it, but here’s the URL:

    It’s surfacing now because someone quoted it in an article on Tepper, and a well-read blogger quoted the quote in a “she said WHAT now” sort of way, and then I had to rant b/c wtf concentration camps + eugenics = spluh. Then there was blog drama. Because it’s the internet.

  16. 16
    Mandolin says:

    (Part of the blog drama was totally my fault.)

  17. 17
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    I find Tepper’s views as nearly as irritating as you, Mandolin; and with all due respect I use the qualifier nearly solely because whether I agree or not with anything she’s ever said or will say, within the confines of this interview and especially your quoted sections the one thing I recognize is her frustration.

    I am NOT saying I agree with it; but I recognize it and the questions it renders.

    For example: You cite (and rightly so) that studies show reproduction diminishes as opportunities increase. (For the record I understand this is only net-based conversation, not The Most Important Thing In the World.)

    Logically, this suggests that at the basest level of our humanity (the more common definition, not Tepper’s) we could educate ourselves out of difficulties; in this instance, over-population. And I think it’s a wonderful idea, should be implemented, MUST be implemented.

    But what about the interim? I’ll grant, it must begin somewhere, but that kind of change in thinking takes not just time but LOTS of time compared to the sort of gratification to which people are not only accustomed but in a way require precisely because the lifetime is finite. Most don’t have that kind of long-range vision and really don’t care because it will not only never show up in their lifetime, it won’t HELP them NOW.

    We could educate ourselves out of crime, poverty, violence. TRUE… sort of.

    It’s not eugenics but it IS a breeding program, one using humanity’s own tendencies. It offers opportunity and those capable of seizing that opportunity excel, succeed and ultimately propagate. Their children are born OF opportunity and reared WITH opportunity. They pursue this opportunity, succeed, have better mate-selection (though I doubt they’ll really pursue nobler things because let’s face it, them there kids love the sex), and their kids will do the same, and their kids, and someday down the line we’ll have…

    Well, pretty much what we have now, because what about those who don’t seize, or can’t — not thru lack of opportunity but sheer inability? Worse yet (and the thing about which many abhor even fleeting consideration) what about the incorrigible? It’s easy to say there are nonesuch but it’s not a leap of genius to take a look around and realize that yes, sometimes there ARE. You’re noble and wouldn’t behave thusly; I’m noble and wouldn’t behave thusly, and Little Johnny, well… he just needs the education to rise higher and not behave thusly. But there are some who, try as you might, explain, grant opportunities… they just don’t care — not because they’ve been so downtrodden for so long they “no longer care”; they just DON’T care.

    Some of it could very realistically be fixed with adequate education early; raise them right (but according to whose standards? the questions continue), teach them to care… but some of it cannot, could not.

    And they all keep breeding, too, because we realistically and morally can’t take that right.

    So everybody breeds, opportunity IS out there, and the strong/fast/smart still have the advantage and take that advantage, even in the scenario you propose.

    Don’t get me wrong; we MUST try and I agree with the proposed methodology of education. I’m just explaining why I think the short-sighted and less inclined toward altruism are often frustrated.

  18. 18
    Mandolin says:

    Well, sure, I think I’ve been susceptible to that kind of thinking. We all have our moments? I definitely get all fire-breathing and ranty from time to time.

    But this is actually a repeated claim of hers–not only appearing in the books and in this interview, but someone mentioned to me that it was the basis of her guest of honor speech at Wiscon 22. At which point, really, there are at least two major objections:

    1) The interrim for population control doesn’t have to happen on poor brown women. They are not the center of resource crises.

    2) Eugenics isn’t straightforward because genetics isn’t straightforward. Selecting against a given set of traits creates weird side effects which won’t be predictable unless we experiment with it. I mean, it’s not even “here is this horrible but effective solution which we must never implement, however tempting it may be to do so instead of educating people,” it’s “here is this horrible solution that wouldn’t work in the way we imagine it would.”

    (Yes, clearly, breeding programs on, e.g., dogs do work and can change personalities. I don’t mean to be all, “Evolution, it does not occur.” But breeding programs also change other things; I’m thinking of the study on domestication of foxes. Also, human culture is weird and complicated and while we know that genetic inclinations and culture are interacting on some level, we really don’t know how… at any rate, it throws a huge barrier in the path of “solve it with eugenics.”)

    As far as the other point:

    I have no idea what we do with “incorrigibles?” Or even how to define it? My general feeling is that people who kill or attempt to kill or severely harm other people, deliberately and on multiple occasions, qualify as incorrigible. I would like to see them sequestered from society, as humanely as possible, but permanently. I guess. I definitely would be open to other suggestions. I admit prison abolition and prison justice, etc., are areas with which I am only passingly familiar.

    I think L. Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan Cycle does a really good job of examining the complexities of creating a cooperative, anarchosocialist society and what that means in terms of dealing with violence.

  19. 19
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I had always thought of some of the population control issues as stemming from a different source:

    All other things being equal, it’s a lot easier to help X people than 2X people (feed the starving; resettle the refugees; educate the children; train the jobless; provide housing for the homeless; immunize everyone; raise the living standard of the poor; provide basic medical care for everyone; etc.) If you’re a resource-limited helper it is pretty common, I think, to occasionally wish that whatever group you are in the process of helping would stop growing.

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    G&W: Possible, but not (as far as I can tell) the stance of those who are arguing for population control as a way to help the environment… and I read Tepper as being in that group, though if I am wrong, then cheers.

  21. 21
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Hmm… Further thoughts:

    1) The interrim for population control doesn’t have to happen on poor brown women. They are not the center of resource crises.

    You’re right, it doesn’t have to happen on poor brown women; but the question arises — on whom? Because everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die.

    However, I was referring more to the chronological interim (as well as all contained therein) from starting any given “solution” including education all the way to the place where we spike the ball and high-five one another. You and I might throw the ball but our great, great grandchildren MIGHT be the ones spiking in a best-case scenario — and in the meantime lots and lots of people for whom even the best program imaginable, assuming tomorrow we all fell out in ranks and “spread the word”, would still be casualties and losses of earlier programming. Sad to use the word, but unsalvageable.

    This is, incidentally, why I referred to it as a breeding program; not because “we’re breeding bigger and better” but because we’d be guiding the young in the desired direction while patiently waiting for the old to die off or at least go find a nice ice floe and drift conveniently away.

    2) Eugenics… [etc.]

    Dude, you don’t have to sell me on it; I’ve thought all that through long ago and I’m right there with you. TOO many variables, TOO much room for error no matter which way we go, NO “right” way to do it, and to boot, who gets to decide, and will I be among the chosen, or chaff to be discarded?

    Everyone who proposes eugenics assumes they’ll be among the “superior”. It’s the nature of weltanschaaung to be egocentric, then ethnocentric, then regionalized, on up the scale. We’re not insects and folks willing to throw themselves on the grenade are few and far between.

    Never mind the impact economically AND socially; people THINK the two together but don’t really picture both, just one or the other.

    “We’ll have loads more resources!”
    “Sure, but ten times the labor intensity.”

    As for the incorrigibles… well, there’s the rub. They do exist, and often in far greater numbers than people imagine. So what to do?

    I’m not saying I have the answer, nor was I expecting one from you, in all fairness. My whole reason for mentioning them is that they ARE a factor in that particular grand vision, and they’re a factor no one ever seems to take into account. People assume if we simply reason then others will see the good in what we propose and cooperate. This kind of thinking is both good and bad, for on one hand it’s realistic while on the other it’s the sort of thinking that leads people to “save these poor brownies from themselves”.

  22. 22
    AMM says:

    Thanks for the URL!

    Now that I’ve read the interview, one thing that strikes me is that she’s someone who isn’t just upset about the bad things in the world, she’s also unwilling to accept that world is not going to fit her ideas of how it should be. I think that’s why she writes fiction: to create worlds where things come out the way she thinks they should be and where people are how she wants to imagine them to be. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t measure up. And people as they really are definitely don’t.

    IMHO, this is where totalitarianism and fanaticism start — with this Procrustean idea/feeling that things and people have to conform to your ideas of how they should be, and you’re going to do whatever it takes to make them do so. (Which is really a way of saying, I can’t deal with how messy and complicated reality really is.)

    I also now understand why I find her more recent books so unreadable and even her early books unsatisfying. She has images and scenes that are memorable, and the ideas are interesting, but the worlds and plots she creates have gotten less and less believable — or bearable. Her characters used to have at least periods where they were allowed to be human, but now they’re just puppets from page one on. I recently borrowed Six Moon Dancer, and I was very, very glad I had not paid good money for it — it clanked like a suit of armor.

  23. 23
    Dianne says:

    From what I’ve read, the best way to reduce population growth is to educate women (and to some extent men) and to reduce poverty. Well educated people who expect all their children to live don’t (usually) have 10 kids. They have 1-3 and stop. Lecturing them on the need to use birth control works less well.

  24. 24
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    Wow. After reading this, my initial reaction of thinking she was like Ayn Rand, but from the left, seems spot on. Both are seriously authoritarian, both are only willing to give the title of “human” to a limited number of humans, and both have extremely problematic issues with brown people (with regard to Ayn Rand, read her justifications of why it was okay for white people to conquer North America: short version: “they weren’t doing anything with it”)

    I just got done batting around a guy who was insisting that feminists were authoritarians, and explained as gently and patiently as my patience allowed (I did imply strongly that he was purposely misconstruing arguments) that feminism as a philosophy encourages autonomy and not authoritarianism.

    Sigh. I’ve seen authoritarian streaks in one or two other second wave feminists, but it’s not a thick streak. Sounds like she has a bad case. Ick. Sounds like she needs to excise it before it demolishes her career.

  25. 25
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    From what I’ve read, the best way to reduce population growth is to educate women (and to some extent men) and to reduce poverty. Well educated people who expect all their children to live don’t (usually) have 10 kids. They have 1-3 and stop. Lecturing them on the need to use birth control works less well.

    “…and to some extent men”…?

    Because only properly educating half the equation provides adequate solution?

  26. 26
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    I’m not speaking for Dianne, but I know there have been studies in third world countries that benefits given to men are generally distributed by the recipient in such a way as to only benefit the man, whereas benefits given to women tend to be distributed by the recipient in such a way as to benefit the family and community. Its one of the reasons that micro banking focuses on woman owned businesses.

    I’m sure such a study would be harder to get by a peer review board here in the west, but I wouldn’t be surprised if similar effects would be seen, especially given the rate at which low-earning men default on their child support obligations.

    I am not making a sweeping generalization that includes all men, I’m talking about statistical data in empirical studies. That means that if you are a low wage earning man that shares his bounty with his family, I’m not talking about you.

    What I am saying is that, statistically speaking, benefits that go directly to women have been shown to be more likely to be generalized into benefiting the family and the community more quickly. (Boy, that was a tough needle to thread)

  27. 27
    Mandolin says:

    Yeah, also I think the idea is that a differential already exists, with the men having somewhat more access to financial independence and education. As that gap narrows, and women are able to become more financially independent, they are also more able to decline pressure for sex or children.

    When I was in college, I met a woman who had gone to work teaching literacy in an African refugee camp. When she asked the women what they wanted to learn about, they said birth control. They didn’t have access to condoms or any of that stuff, but they didn’t eve know the basics about their cycles. The rhythm method wasn’t ideal, but at least it gave them some information. These women really already wanted to limit the number of babies they were having because they were living in cramped spaces, without enough resources to take care of their existing children. What they needed was tools, not force.

    Unfortunately, the cultural narrative that the husbands were entitled to their wives’ bodies at all times meant that when the women declined sex during their more fertile periods, they were often subjected to violence. Education is only one (important) part of the equation; they also have to have the financial independence so that they have the kinds of options that allow them to have power in the relationship. If she can leave, her “no” means more.

  28. 28
    Dianne says:

    “…and to some extent men”…?

    Educating men-that is, all men, not just an elite-is a good thing in and of itself. However, it doesn’t appear to be as tightly correlated with decreases in the birth rate. So if your agenda is simply to reduce the birth rate, educate women first and men second. Yes, that would be as unjust as only educating men is.

  29. 29
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    I always love stepping on stage pre-villainized.

    “No, I’m not talking about you, just about men.

    Indeed, indeed…

    Look, if you’re going to boil “education” down to financial advantage, then yes — there’s already a differential in most of these brown countries (and far, far less of one here than is the popularized view). However, if education is about promoting equality, broader thinking, birth control in order to diminish the birth rate — most especially in those cultures where men DO feel entitled to a woman’s body — is there seriously NO ONE here who thinks a little birth control education just might be in order for those men?

    Since we’re coming at this from the pre-villainized angle (you know, the one where men ONLY take care of themselves — yeah, that one, where society at large and the notion of community is somehow spawned only of things female, seriously I’ve NO idea how we manage not to just bludgeon one another and feast on the unleavened corpse-trail the victors leave behind in their Morlock pursuits), then MIGHT not those awful, selfish men who are forcing themselves on these brown women repeatedly be interested in getting their nookie on a more regular basis without the heinous risk of more girl-babies, as well as putting up with that disgusting lump in front of their bipedal masturbation piece?

    Just one approach, I’m thinking…

  30. 30
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    US, you came back with a chip on your shoulder. There is a big difference between saying “studies say that this is what is effective” and “all men don’t contribute”, as I was ultra clear and very careful to be clear in my post. So if you want to label yourself as a non contributing member of society, go ahead, but don’t hang that one on me.

    Nice straw man, though. Others also came in and said that education for men was ‘also’ important, but you seem to feel the need to emphasize that we should be considering the education of the men as of primary importance *even though* studies have shown that given limited resources, they are better spent directly on the women. It ain’t about you, so grow up.

  31. 31
    Mandolin says:

    then MIGHT not those awful, selfish men who are forcing themselves on these brown women repeatedly be interested in getting their nookie on a more regular basis without the heinous risk of more girl-babies, as well as putting up with that disgusting lump in front of their bipedal masturbation piece?


    No, generally not? Cultural factors in the region make it clear that his status increases when she produces children of any variety? & she is generally the one socially responsible for dealing with the day-to-day needs, from clean water to food distribution? In this region? So there [eta: are conflicting social pressures that put their interests in opposition, and actually provide] an incentive for him to have more kids?

    Constructs of masculinity and family are not the same everywhere? I think a lot (almost all?) of the “give resources to women” studies are coming out of sub-Saharan Africa where, granted that there is a lot of cultural variance, there are some predominating modes of gender relations that don’t mirror Western ones, particularly dealing with who has obligations to who and when?

    These men in the refugee camps, too, were super horribly traumatized by the violence that had gotten them there. Horrible, horrible shit. And one byproduct of this was that a lot of them felt their masculinity was questioned. Some of them had been forced to watch their wives raped. A lot had PTSD.

    Reclaiming their masculinity was important to them, and within the cultural constructs of the area, an important component of masculinity was unquestioned sexual access, so women refusing sex was an extra concern.

    I mean, I’m not sure why this is villainizing? I’m talking about an actual situation? One of the men bit off his wife’s nipple when she said “no.”

    The men had their own literacy groups, divided for local cultural reasons. They picked their own subjects to learn about. And, at least in this instance, the subjects they picked weren’t “birth control.” The culturally mitigated concerns of men and women in the region shaped what they saw as urgent priorities. I don’t know what the men’s priorities were; I only talked to someone who was working with the women. (Who was crying at the time because she couldn’t handle having seen the women come back to class, beaten, because of what she was teaching them. An established anthropologist had to calm her down by reminding her that the women had agency; they were making their choices; the fault didn’t lie with her for giving them tools they wanted.)

    Do you think I’m saying the men aren’t victims, too? Totally. Victims. Horrible, horrible violence. Horrible, horrible trauma. But the women had the same trauma, and also had to deal with some patriarchal shit on top of it?

    & you can’t really decouple education and financial opportunities? With FGS, for instance, in some countries, we’ve seen instances where more educated people try to move away from FGS, and their daughters end up having to submit to the surgery anyway since there are no options for them other than financial dependence, and they either need to find a path toward acceptance in the community (usually marriage) or deal with the dangers of involuntary prostitution?

    You’re not arguing that opportunities are equally distributed, so… you know that sociologically we consistently find that if we provide assistance X to a group that contains sociological majority A and sociological minority B, then majority A will get more benefit? If you provide the same assistance to poor white and black families in the U.S., for instance, you see a stronger benefit accruing to the poor white people because, while they suffer oppression on the one axis, their privilege on the other axis gives them other advantages? If you don’t compensate for that–e.g. by creating tailored educational or financial programs that take into account the cultural contexts of women–then you end up not usually helping the minority group very much.

    No one’s saying, I don’t think, that expanding education and access for everyone isn’t a good thing? But there are actual, documented studies (mostly, again, I think coming out of subSaharan Africa) that indicate how the effects of these things work within the current cultural contexts. & educating women in those contexts has a greater effect on stabilizing population growth (and also, reducing FGS, and improving nutrition and education of children) than educating men. That’s obviously not the ideal situation? & it doesn’t mean men don’t have other vital, pressing issues, especially ones who are at the axes of other kinds of oppression. But that seems to be the situation on the ground?

  32. 32
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    Mandolin, thank you for this last comment. My knowledge was much more general and third hand than yours. /bows

  33. 33
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Maureen, I’m quite cognizant it ain’t about me. I’m also quite cognizant that the results of “studies” tend to depend on both who is asking and who is funding the questions as well as how those questions are phrased.

    After all, weren’t studies done in the past demonstrating that women weren’t equipped to handle certain tasks, couldn’t handle money, etc., inherently flawed or even — Heaven forbid — openly mismanaged and stacked with bias, designed to clearly demonstrate misattributes of a thoroughly sexist nature?

    I might not be the one needing to mature the thinking here.

    As for your very clear statement — come on: Not ALL men do this, so if you’re one of the few who doesn’t, bully for you, but studies show this is PREDOMINANTLY male behaviour.

    If I came back with a chip on my shoulder I’m fairly sure you came in with delusions of moral grandeur bedecked with a flowery garland of victim status. Perhaps it’s just my chip versus your sexist prejudice.

    I know, I know: YOURS is backed by reliable studies from reputable sources.

    So, once upon a time, were tests and studies which showed women as inherently incompetent… and we know how THAT went, don’t we?

    It’s really no different than those pigs (my word, NOT yours, and I mean it) who actually believe what they’re saying when they explain in no small measure why women really are inferior, or bad for the environment, or the cause of societal ills at the root, et cetera, ad nauseum.

    Since ‘twixt the two of us you’re the one with the real plan, you might try and actually think about what your plan entails for long-term results.

  34. 34
    Mandolin says:

    That’s why science is continually studied and can be revised, you know. Also why it is peer reviewed. A perfect system? Of course not. But there are a number of checks, and if the information is wrong, then we can, should, and will compensate.

    What are you arguing exactly? Do you see all science as inherently inaccurate and therefore off-limits as a basis for real world action? What do you propose as the alternative?

  35. 35
    Ampersand says:

    US, are you saying that all studies should be ignored, because some studies in the past* were badly conducted?

    *And in the present as well, of course.

  36. 36
    Mandolin says:

    (There were indications that eugenics was bad science at the time, for the record. If you have equivalent evidence, I am genuinely interested in hearing it.)

  37. 37
    Urban Sasquatch says:


    Within the specific confines of the stuff you cite, then YES — because of cultural reasons the distribution of education has to be tempered differently. From an academic standpoint it makes sense in the immediate.

    From an anthropological standpoint it means changing a culture, which takes us back to the fine line we tread with regard to what we are and are not allowed to distribute and even enforce; more importantly, I’m NOT saying we shouldn’t try — but again, education about birth control among these men might not be just about showing up and saying “Listen, you need to stop having babies”, especially considering the presence of PTSD with regard to some of the things you described. Rather, presenting the burden of childbearing in a cultural light makes significantly more sense —

    …and once more leaves us with a socio-academic version of the “incorrigibility” mentioned earlier, or in your own example of women who made choices how to use the tools the woman had provided.

    I’m NOT saying “Oh, just do it RIGHT!” Rather, there has to be a better way and that way MUST involve education regarding birth control.

    Yet at the same time, on that ubiquitous other hand…

    Cultural sexual signals and advantages vary widely; and it’s quite difficult for us to come from one culture and actually determine what does and does not work for another culture, or an individual from that culture, with regard to long-term ability to prosper and/or procreate. Lord knows humans across the board make precious little sense sometimes, and what we see as a silly gesture of masculinity from our perspective may well have real, meaningful and lasting effect within the other culture’s ethnocentricity. What we deem “only practical” could actually mean — in a way we’re incapable of fathoming — the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a given individual’s opportunity to procreate at all, be that what makes a man desirable or what makes a woman desirable.

    It’s easy to speak about sacrifice in the name of the greater good, but it’s a telling characteristic of both individuals and groups that we believe in freedom and charity as long as I get mine. We don’t even need to look beyond our own culture to see this is so; but if we do, we’ll quickly realize it’s across the board.

    As for why the other thing was villainizing — it’s in the phrasing; it’s the difference between these men and men, specifics versus sweeping arm gestures… and maybe a bit of diplomacy and written articulation as well.

  38. 38
    Jeff Fecke says:


    This is perhaps the finest thread derail I’ve ever seen. And all because you’re too intent on proving everyone a secret misandrist to realize that when people say “educate women and birth rates fall,” it’s because of studies showing that when women are better educated, birth rates fall — and that these studies also tend to show that men’s education is not a factor in birth rates.

    As for the actual topic, I think that anyone capable of writing off a person as “non-human” is ipso facto non-human by the same standards; as for me, I may despise what the worst of humanity does, but they are most certainly a part of my species. And we do ourselves an injustice by trying to separate Them from Us.

  39. 39
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Ampersand and Mandolin,

    I’m NOT saying any such thing. I AM saying that when people are quick and eager to cite studies, ie., “studies have shown” (and we’re all guilty of this, myself included) we are selective in studies which support our views.

    No one but no one argues because they think they’re wrong; it’s rather a given. My point by mentioning the “studies which clearly show” is to indicate that virtually every study out there has a counter-study or one coming along somewhere, and that while we DO have to look at data gathered by ALL studies which come along, NO system is infallible; what a study “clearly shows” today is belied by later studies because they ask other questions along the same lines.

    Mandolin, you rightly pointed out — science IS self-correcting and further time reveals further things. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t question what’s before me NOW, because that questioning is the very stuff of that self-correcting science.

    I will admit — I may have gotten heated and failed to make myself clear. And I’ll also admit — I came back in with a chip on my shoulder after that. Just as many feminists are hyper-sensitized to any suggestion of female incompetence so that NO individual can be criticized without it automatically being reference to the gender at large, so I’ve become hyper-sensitized to the villainization of men over the last thirty years during which I’ve been conscious and observant of the male/female playing field.

    For that I DO apologize.

    If I really believed everyone was a secret misandrist here (good Lord, just given my short time here I’d NEVER apply such a thing to Mandolin, who has a habit of clarifying points and at least considering opposing ideas whether they are accepted or not) I’d not be wasting my time OR yours.

    But the catch-all verbal tomfoolery of suggesting I’m AGAINST studies and they should all be discounted?

    Ampersand, you cannot possibly have been serious with that question. That would be like saying we can cure disease by killing all the little white mice in which we keep finding them.

    My question was sincere because SINCE those men are half the problem, NOT educating them seems counter-productive, at least to me.

    I got some answer from Mandolin, and he narrowed it down to the being with regard to a particular cultural area — which as I already admitted, made more sense because it was specific rather than general.

    I also got some answer by observing/realizing that while some people were citing economics others were citing birth rates and/or birth control; some were citing social stigmas and expectations — and all in rather a mish-mash without delineation but speaking in terms of correlation.

    Perhaps you’re just all that darned spiffy-shiny-bright, but somewhere in there *I* missed that everyone was aware this was coming from a specific area about which specific studies showed specific things — because it looked to me more like we were just categorizing MEN that way. In fairness to myself, I think a couple of you were doing just that, but it’s neither here nor there.

    Again, I apologize for my part in having upset the turnip cart.

  40. 40
    Grace Annam says:

    I have no idea what we do with “incorrigibles?” Or even how to define it? My general feeling is that people who kill or attempt to kill or severely harm other people, deliberately and on multiple occasions, qualify as incorrigible. I would like to see them sequestered from society, as humanely as possible, but permanently. I guess. I definitely would be open to other suggestions. I admit prison abolition and prison justice, etc., are areas with which I am only passingly familiar.

    This is a difficult question with no easy answers. There is no denying that there are people too dangerous to be permitted into society at large, even if we define that group according to very selective criteria.

    One thing to bear in mind, when we speak of prisons (or “walled cities”) is that, at a bare minimum, the barriers must be maintained and watched (and in reality, surveilled from inside, else you are certain to be at war sooner or later). So, when we lock incorrigible people “away”, we are also condemning some of our best people to ensuring that the incorrigible people stay there. In the modern United States we call them corrections officers (or, if we wish to use an outdated term which they dislike, “prison guards”). I say “some of our best people”, because these people must maintain high ethical standards while doing a dirty, dangerous job for not as much pay as it’s worth. Such people are hard to find, but if you entrust the barriers to people without high ethical standards, you have no effective barrier at all.

    These corrections officers get exposed to Hepatitis and other diseases which are more common in our prison facilities. They are subject to death threats, bribes, and constant surveillance from inmates and supervisors and the public. Every year, many of them are injured on duty and some of them are killed on duty.

    So, it is well to remember that it is with humanity as it is with the environment: there is no “away”. There is only “somewhere other than here”, and the people we ask to assume the risks which make it so.

    This is something which I failed to appreciate until I had a discussion about the death penalty (which I oppose) with a fellow officer who works in corrections, who pointed out the human cost, on the corrections officers, of keeping live prisoners. I was ashamed to realize that I had not thought of it in that light before.

    I’m reasonably sure that Sheri Tepper, in inventing her utopia, has not considered the practical aspects of maintaining a sealed border around a large area. To appreciate some of the difficulties, we need look no farther than the US/Mexican border.

    I’m not meaning to lecture anyone. I’m just pointing out a cost which is easy to miss, and which anyone talking about utopias (on any side of the discussion) should be aware of. …and sometimes I do run on.


  41. 41
    Hugh says:

    Yes Grace, when considering the effective of coercive and dehumanising policies, we mustn’t forget how much the coercive dehumanisers suffer! It’s all too easy to get fixated on the people being ground under their boots, but hey, those boots don’t shine themselves, you know!

    This is rather akin to Robespierre claiming that the real tragedy of his ordering the execution of King Louis was not the King’s death but the fact that he, Robespierre, had to make a decision he felt bad about.

  42. 42
    Michael says:

    That’s pretty absolutist, Hugh, and NOT what she was saying. She didn’t PROMOTE the idea of putting people behind walls. Are you saying there’s no need for prison systems? After all, the only difference there (and NOT one she promoted) would be current prisons under virtually any scenario and the ULTIMATE prison system whereby people who were deemed no longer fit for society in any capacity would be permanently sequestered.

    People who say such things may have noble intention but they tend to forget the logistics which go into making any system work, actually WORK, and they forget that one of the sad, sad facts about recognizing those logistics is that not everyone can be saved.

    While the movie itself was ludicrous I was touched by one particular scene in 2012. It’s the scene where bad, bad, evil Oliver Platt is being angrily accused of favoritism when people who are clearly wealthy show up with favored places for the Arks. The “good guys” are disgusted with him and he turns and makes a VERY fine point: “HOW do you think we funded this little project?”

    People with not only grand ideas BUT unrealistic idealism tend to forget that gears must be greased. The underlying assumption is that everyone in the entire world will simply play along, play nice and be cooperative to their fullest extent, falling nicely in line so that each and every person is salvageable in toto, no exceptions.

    Idealism is good because it pushes us to strive for a higher standard; but every system has limits. In Grace’s example it was about prison guards, not about the specific guards on the futuristic prison, but the human cost involved from BOTH sides were such a dreadful thing to come to pass.

    Should our prisons NOT have guards? Should there not be prisons at all?

    Assuming you’re not saying there should be no prisons at all (for if you are, then you’ve NO right to ever call the police in the event you’re robbed, threatened, find your family slain, etc.), then what sort of risks do you suppose those guards undertake on a daily basis while maintaining order within those confines? I assure you both as a former soldier AND as a man with several acquaintances who work in the prison system, the risk is real and the job is not easy.

    In a terrible (and admittedly, inhumane by my standards but not by Tepper’s) system such as that Tepper proposed, while the purpose would not be to maintain order within those walls, it WOULD be to make sure that no one escaped to wreak havoc on the outside world and to ensure any concerted effort to break free (as would be inevitable without supplies, with the constant threat of danger/death hanging over them, and so on) failed.

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Jeff Fecke says:
    April 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm
    As for the actual topic, I think that anyone capable of writing off a person as “non-human” is ipso facto non-human by the same standards; as for me, I may despise what the worst of humanity does, but they are most certainly a part of my species. And we do ourselves an injustice by trying to separate Them from Us.

    Do you take a position on what someone here referred to as “incorrigibles?” I’ve argued before about the use of “dehumanizing” and i won’t rehash it here. But I’m curious to know how people would balance concepts of “dehumanization” with the concept of incorrigibility.

    Since most of us agree that we routinely violate “human rights” in order to punish criminals, and since some (most?) of us seem to agree that human rights are really a creation of society and social agreement, it seems that regarding someone as nonhuman is more of a statement that “this person is no longer eligible to receive socially-mandated human rights.” In that sense it reminds me a bit of the ancient concepts of exile and rejection from the community.

    And then I suppose my next question would be: is it more of a violation of humanity to put someone in a walled city than, say, to imprison them for life or to give them the death penalty? Because of course we do that now. Doesn’t that imply a rejection of their humanity?

  44. 44
    Lesley says:

    Oh, wow! I really enjoyed The Margarets, but the whole time I was reading it there was a mental undercurrent going on that felt something like this:

    Hmmm, this doesn’t feel good. No, that isn’t good at all. What? I’m getting a distinct feeling that the author thinks it is good. Surely I’m imagining things. She’s only writing rounded cultures rather than stereotypical heroes, right? She can’t really think this extremely not-good action is good? I’m just imagining things.

    I feel really vindicated right about now.

  45. 45
    mandolin says:

    I agree that being a prison guard probably does trauma to a person.

    I also agree that it’s a little creepy to consider executions b/c it would make things easier for prison guards. (I actually think the premise probably wouldn’t stand up to further examination either.)

    People who will repeatedly, predictably be violent in a way not easily? possibly? addressed… yes, I’m thinking of some canonical serial killers… well, they are a problem for a society that is too large for the method of dealing with them to be “everyone knows that guy is scary shit; shun him.” I don’t know if prison is the right answer or the only answer; I’m open to alternatives. Maybe the violence inherent in systems of incarceration and enforcement outweighs the violence committed by people who, by current medical standards, seem unlikely to be “reached.” But I’m also super dedicated to the idea that the prison–any prison–should be made, as much as possible, to preserve the human dignity and needs of the prison population.

    Again, I think Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan series is a nice, fictional examination of these complexities.

    At any rate, while I don’t know what the ultimate answer is regarding those kinds of questions, I do think that the prison abolition movement identifies real problems with the existing prison system. As far as current political reality goes, my goals basically align with theirs. In the event that we get close to a humane, limited prison system, maybe there will be more data for me to evaluate to see what I think the end-goal should be. In the meanwhile, I’m not going to worry about the perfect utopian solution (except perhaps in fiction).

    I’m probably not going to reply to the thread about prisons anymore. & it is my significant preference that this thread not become about definitions and/or the condensation of signifier and sign.

  46. 46
    Grace Annam says:

    Hugh wrote:

    Yes Grace, when considering the effective of coercive and dehumanising policies, we mustn’t forget how much the coercive dehumanisers suffer! It’s all too easy to get fixated on the people being ground under their boots, but hey, those boots don’t shine themselves, you know!

    This is rather akin to Robespierre claiming that the real tragedy of his ordering the execution of King Louis was not the King’s death but the fact that he, Robespierre, had to make a decision he felt bad about.

    It disturbs me that you equate corrections officers getting killed and injured with Robespierre feeling bad. The cases aren’t parallel.

    It offends me that you paint all corrections officers as “coercive dehumanizers”. I’m not a corrections officer, but I am a police officer, and I know and work with corrections officers. Consistent with everyone’s safety, I do my best to treat every prisoner with courtesy and human dignity. Sometimes they spit on me or threaten to shoot my wife in the forehead with a .30-30 (I’m thinking of a specific case), but I do my duty anyway, and to me, part of that duty is respecting the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.

    That’s something that Sheri Tepper is manifestly not doing when she proposes classifying a double-digit percentage minority of the entire human population as “non-human”. I could argue against her on philosophical grounds, but frankly, it’s a lot more concrete to argue on practical grounds: Sheri, your plan simply won’t work, and it will damage more people than it appears you have considered.

    Awhile back I attended a course on leadership in policework. Among other things, they taught us that when we were working on finding solutions to problems in a community, we should work with all of the stakeholders in the problem, that we should get input from all of the people who stand to gain or lose when we develop and implement policy, and think about the impact on those same people.

    In a prison situation, those stakeholders would include, among others, the prisoners, the members of the community at large which the prisoners are separated from, and yes, the people whose job it is to keep them safely segregated.

    Sheri Tepper would throw people overboard at an alarming rate in order to build her utopia. It’s worth noting that some of the people thus thrown would not be those we number among the worst “incorrigibles”.

    If you would like to reply sarcastically again instead of substantively, feel free. You have the right of free speech (at least if the moderators don’t tire of you) and I believe in that right deeply enough that I’ve spent my career working to defend it.


  47. 47
    Grace Annam says:

    Mandolin wrote:

    I also agree that it’s a little creepy to consider executions b/c it would make things easier for prison guards.

    Hm. If that is your reaction, I don’t think I expressed myself well. In the discussion I was referencing, people were already arguing about the death penalty. The corrections officer whose I was paraphrasing was pointing out that if we choose not to execute people, we are accepting the death of corrections officers at the hands of the people we chose to imprison for life rather than executing. So the question, from his perspective, is not really, “Should we execute people?”, it is “Given that someone is inevitably going to die in this situation, how should we balance our choice? How many dead officers are acceptable?”

    I certainly don’t want to derail this thread into a discussion of the death penalty. (Even after he made that point, I am still against it, for reasons I won’t go into here.) But I was thinking about how, as I’ve said before, Sheri Tepper’s vision is dangerously flawed, in ways which are plainly obvious to most people here, but also in ways which plainly aren’t. More broadly, this is an important point because I think that well-meaning people (including me) often advocate for things without measuring and weighing practical consequences.

    I think I did not express myself well. Or perhaps people like Hugh are sufficiently incensed at the notion of treating officers as humans that there was no way I could have spoken and not received his response, if not from him, then from someone like him.

    Anyway, I’ve said my piece. I’m going to try to go back to lurking. At least on this sub-thread.


  48. 48
    mandolin says:


    I think maybe I’m the one who misspoke (and also misread you). I value your contributions to the blog and I don’t feel like you’re derailing. Or, at any rate, I think the topic has probably moved on from the original.

    I do think I fall into an interstitial space where I respect individual police & corrections officers, but I really do worry about the way the system is set up. I’m sure you know more than I do.

    I really don’t know how many prison guards die every year or what the kinds of circumstances surround that…

    To the extent I was trying to close off conversational sub-threads it was G&W’s. I could have been more specific, but for some reason at the time I thought it would reduce the potential for conflict if I wasn’t.

    Hugh, are you an advocate for prison abolition? That’s a position I respect. If you’re not, do you see prison guards as inevitably violent and dehumanizing? I know, there’s the Stanford experiment, which suggests some severe personality effects from being either a prisoner or a prison guard (both of which I’d rate as traumatizing in the sense of damaging, though in ways that differ significantly, with obviously the lion’s share of suffering going to prisoners). But if we’re going to have that profession, what do we do to make it so that it’s humane to the people in it & doesn’t doom them to be shunned for being violent & dehumanizing?

  49. 49
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    “To the extent I was trying to close off conversational sub-threads it was G&W’s”
    You know, I was just about to post when I noticed this. Good thing, too: Consider it closed, but FYI I had absolutely no idea you were referring to me in #45.

  50. 50
    Grace Annam says:

    I think maybe I’m the one who misspoke (and also misread you). I value your contributions to the blog and I don’t feel like you’re derailing. Or, at any rate, I think the topic has probably moved on from the original.

    Thank you. Okay, if it’s okay in the thread them I’m happy to keep discussing it.

    I do think I fall into an interstitial space where I respect individual police & corrections officers, but I really do worry about the way the system is set up. I’m sure you know more than I do.

    I think there are a lot of officers with you in that space, including me. There are myriad problems inherent in the system. Many officers work hard to correct the problems they see, and the system is improving, but it’s nowhere near where we or society at large would like it to be. I could go on for hours. One of the major systemic problems, which is implicated in almost all of the others, is how to find, select and retain people who can and will do the job to the extremely high standard we want, while paying them less than they could make selling cars, supervising the local landfill, or running the local library (the last two are actual examples near me; I love libraries, I grew up hanging out in them, and I think librarians are the bees’ knees, but their profession doesn’t involve a lot of personal risk). And it’s a hard problem, because you can’t solve it just by throwing more money at it, even if there were more money to throw, which everyone, especially Republicans, tells us there isn’t, because police officers and police departments, apparently, are Small Enough to Fail.

    Lest I be accused of making it all about compensation or the poor officers, there’s also the problem, for instance, of the misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia in police organizations.

    And I could go on. And on. Lots of systemic flaws, yes.

    I really don’t know how many prison guards die every year or what the kinds of circumstances surround that…

    In the United States, it averages around 5 to 9 each year. About a quarter of those are stabbings from inmates, if memory serves. There are also about 7000 to 9000 assaults on officers each year, mostly by inmates. I don’t know what the numbers are on disabling injuries, as opposed to deaths. So if you squint carefully, the good news is that the success rate on murder attempts is about 0.08% (assuming each assault is a murder attempt, which is pretty unlikely).

    Trying desperately to maintain a tenuous connection to the original post, the fatality rate would be much higher on a walled border, and much, much higher for the people we asked to infiltrate the population we’ve sent to Coventry, in order to get us critical intel on insurrections before they happen. Because when we send 30% of the population “away”, a lot of intelligent, resourceful people will end up on the bad side of that wall, and many of those will get very angry and the rest of us, who put them there.

    Those darn utopias. Slippery like greased whippets. Almost got this one pinned down… whoops! There it goes. Now I’ll have the devil of a time catching it again…


  51. 51
    Jadey says:

    As far as protecting COs goes (which I agree is an important consideration – I think in my country they are better paid than in the US and working conditions aren’t as poor, but it’s definitely still a stressful, low prestige, under-appreciated job with attendant risks), I’m not sure how big of a dent executions would make – I’m pretty sure that not enough people are actually executed compared to the overall incarcerated population (Googling a quick stats check, I see that Texas has far and away the highest rate, with almost 500 in 2009, which is a drop in the bucket compared to 160,000+ incarcerated inmates). There are plenty of high risk, violent offenders who aren’t eligible for the death penalty based on their index offenses. A smaller, more manageable population would certainly be safer, but that’s not the purpose and probably not a latent function of executions – overall high incarceration and over-crowding trends in the US probably pose the greater risk to COs than a single death-sentenced offender.

    If you know of stats or research or other arguments that might persuade otherwise, I’d really honestly be interested.

    (I also kind of got the impression that Tepper thinks the walls would somehow be impervious to escape or something and that guards would be unnecessary. At least, she never mentioned them that I recall. I think she might think that her “non-humans” might be too stupid to escape, overthrow her nasty little system, etc. Right.)

  52. 52
    mythago says:

    Tepper is not talking about imprisoning “incorrigibles” for our safety; she is talking about declaring wide swaths of people not-human, sterilizing them, cutting them off from society and then permitting them to prey on the weaker among them.

  53. 53
    Grace Annam says:

    Jadey wrote:

    I’m pretty sure that not enough people are actually executed compared to the overall incarcerated population

    You’re right, and that’s one of the reasons his argument didn’t change my opinion.

    Also, I meant to qualify my earlier numbers by saying, “In the United States” or similar. I actually thought it, but apparently the thought didn’t make it to my fingers. So, apologies to all people from other countries who are sick of hearing Americans talk about themselves as if they’re the only people on the planet.

    On that note,

    I also kind of got the impression that Tepper thinks the walls would somehow be impervious to escape or something and that guards would be unnecessary.

    Right! Exactly! Like Alcatraz, from which no one ever escaped, or like Australia, which remains an effective and efficient penal colony to this very day… whew, good thing we’ve got an extra continent lying around with no one we would consider as human on it to worry about…

    That Sheri Tepper. She’s thought of everything!

    mythago wrote:

    and then permitting them to prey on the weaker among them.

    Silly mythago! That doesn’t count! Those weaker “people” aren’t human, either, or we wouldn’t have put them there. It’s survival of the fittest! It’s like evolution, but without all that messy reproduction! Just think of it as the biggest cage match in the world! We could fund it by selling tickets! Good heavens, it’s just so elegant! How could it fail?

    Okay, given “reality TV”, there’s enough truth in that last idea to sober me up…

    Grace, clearly feeling a little punchy…

  54. 54
    Grace Annam says:

    Also, mythago, in her mind, she is definitely imprisoning the “incorrigibles” for our safety, because she’s defining only the people who deliberately hurt other people as non-human. She clearly would disagree with Solzhenitsyn:

    How easy it would be if we could just identify the “good” and the “bad” people, then simply eliminate the “bad” people. However, the line separating good and evil runs through the heart of every man.

    …and woman, and other genders. We’re a messy bunch, we non-humans.


  55. 55
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    I note people keep putting incorrigibles in quotes, as though to separate it as a distasteful term — or maybe that’s not the reason why; can’t be certain. However, the reason I used that word at all is because with regard to so many topics (from corrections to child-rearing) people tend to disregard the concept of incorrigibility entirely. As I said earlier (for whatever reason my computer had wiped my name and I simply entered Michael rather than “Urban Sasquatch”), people tend to believe when they conceive of this stuff that everyone will, once a thing is adequately explained to them, agree with the proposed logic and play along nicely.

    I find myself wondering what Tepper’s utopia outside the prison walls is like, how everyone is reared with equal social and economic standing, how everyone is reared with a moral system adequately similar to maintain the standard required to remain human. Are they seized at birth and indoctrinated? It’s interesting to ask what kinds of things stop us from being human under her ministrations but I’m curious — how does one qualify AS human? Where is the cut-off? Is it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out system? Points? Does negligent homicide count IF I also evaded taxes last year?

    The immediate response would be a hearty NO; but systems aren’t static and the powers that be aren’t, either. The old saying that power corrupts is false; it’s rather than power tends to attract the corruptible, and therein lies yet further risk for any utopia.

  56. 56
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    …rather THAT, not rather THAN.


  57. 57
    Mandolin says:

    I think it’s just weird to find a name for the group of people you’re calling incorrigibles… I think there’s some discomfort about marking them out as a group, even a highly abstracted one, given the framing of the initial post and then also because the boundaries are so slippery. I think incorrigible gets the point across, which is IMO what’s necessary right now, but if I were quote marking it, I’d be doing so because I felt it wasn’t a totally perfect term.

  58. 58
    Mandolin says:

    by weird to find, I mean “a difficult task” not, like, you were being weird for trying to come up with one

  59. 59
    mythago says:

    Urban Sasquatch @55: False dilemma, as I’m sure you know. There is a lot of room between the hippy-dippy “everybody is nice deep down” caricature you present, and simply writing off people as ‘incorrigibles’ and ‘nonhumans’.

  60. 60
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Mandolin, given a moment of thought I’d say you’re right. It’s TOO broad an array of… let us say “potential candidates” to really assign a more specialized term. My reference to the quotes DID pick the most negative stance, although it’s notable that people use quotation marks for everything from actualy quotes to sarcasm to merely setting a thing aside from the rest of a given statement.

    Your point is well taken.

    Mythago: I’d appreciate a little clarification of your point there, because I’m looking over what I said and while I DID say “people tend” I didn’t see anywhere I suggested it as a hard, fast rule. If you’re suggesting that people simply AREN’T like that… well, I can’t very well argue with what you’ve observed or not observed within the scope of your life any more than you really can mine. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you; hence the request for clarification.

  61. 61
    mythago says:

    Urban Sasquatch @60: C’mon. “People tend” is not a hard, fast rule, but as you phrased it, you are certainly presenting the idea of “assuming everyone will play nice” is a widespread tendency that all, if not most, people subscribe to.

  62. 62
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Mythago, I’m not solving the world’s problems here, nor coming up with the proverbial “42” for all presentable questions.

    Nevertheless, I’m not talking about EVERYONE; rather, I’m talking about the kinds of people who crop up with so-called “solutions” of this nature or other absolutist notions, the folks who say “We should just [insert solution here].”

    I’ve certainly noticed one thing “people tend” to do, and that is to presume their own thinking is not only THE thinking that makes sense, but to presume their thinking is how others really think. That’s you, me and pretty much everyone; thus your argument is tail-chasing.

  63. 63
    mythago says:

    “People tend to think X….” is very different than “Those people who think X…”

    And do speak for yourself, please. Assuming “how I think is how everybody must think” is a characteristic of autistics and NYT style writers.

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