Again and again, I see the same tactics used to silence those who are earnestly trying to talk about issues that they clearly feel strongly about only for others to silence them in the most insulting ways possible.
A discussion on the prevalence of inappropriate/criminal behavior towards women is often interjected with the assertion that there are also male victims. You get the picture. These sort of interjections are meant to derail and dismiss. It also carries with it, the intention to accuse, to project the feeling of being wrong onto the other. This defensiveness also means that the point of discussion has been lost on them because they were more focused on thinking of things to say to protect themselves from the perceived accusation.
However, the reality is that there doesn’t need to be an entire demographic that participates in one behavior for the behavior to be extremely damaging. The hashtag #YesAllWomen highlight just how a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch. Secondly, the goal of the movement was never to accuse; rather, it was to educate and to reform. More people come forward today with their accounts and experiences because they were unable to before. God knows there are better ways to gain fame and recognition than to air your worst traumas in front of the infinite witnesses on the internet. There will always be people who take everything as a personal attack but as someone who is more self-aware, there should always be the second thought that the victims don’t have the luxury of trust and so their state of vigilance and distrust is entirely justified.
Besides, the point of these interjections isn’t to talk about men’s rights either. It’s to shut down the current discussion about women’s experiences. By saying this, it shits on the victims of both genders by using one and dismissing the other.
For this next segment, let’s look at the situation of Asian Americans.
In the later half of the 1900s, the myth of the model minority was pushed into the national psyche and it’s only rooted itself more firmly since. Like a lot of the more subtle manifestations of racism, this seemingly positive attitude towards Asians is still harming the population.
For one, this myth was first started as a way to free institutions and the wider white population from any responsibility to address racism because if Asians can make it in America, then black and brown people are just not working hard enough to be successful and racism/other inequities of the system aren’t to blame. This also drives a wedge between the Asian community and other minorities who are not included in this myth. It’s like your parent comparing you to a more successful sibling or a cousin; you tend to resent the person you’re compared to rather the person trying to manipulate you. Not only does this divide the two groups but it also downplays the other factors that have affected black and brown populations for centuries like the vestiges of slavery and segregation, just to name two.
Besides, Asia is an entire continent with thousands of ethnic groups each with thousands of year of history so it is inaccurate to generalise about such a large and diverse population. This has caused authorities to overlook Asian communities and their needs due to the myth and this has since caused a lack of representation for these communities. This leaves those that don’t have as strong of a background as, say, Japanese-Americans or Korean-Americans have to fall through the net and leave them under-served in their communities.
Furthermore, this has caused it to be more difficult to report incidents when Asian-Americans are targeted as a result of racism and xenophobia. The news often skips over these stories and it is often left out of conversations when people do talk about racism and discrimination. Since the population is held as the model of a hard worker and rule-follower, civil disobedience and any attempt to break out of the mold in a way that threatened the majority is strongly discouraged and deviators are punished. This also paints the population as being subordinate, robotic members of the community whose only aspiration is high grades and a good career.
These drawbacks from seemingly positive associations with your race aren’t very well-known but personally, it has made it hard to me to speak out about racial issues when it could be interpreted as lessening other’s experiences or if I express discomfort in getting these “compliments”, it’s seen as anti-social or ungrateful. This is a very specific example of how an elaborate social phenomenon has impacted every aspect of an entire race’s life.
These are only two scenarios where methods are used to derail and delegitimise a legitimate discussion. There are a lot of people that would rather stay in their safe bubble and not have to look at the uglier side of life as long as it benefits them and will try to throw off any meaningful discussion to maintain status quo. The world as it is with all its problems right now can’t afford to be less aware. To end, these are some of the more common logical fallacies to help you the next time you get the feeling that your interlocutor’s argument doesn’t quite hold water but you don’t know the word for it.
Like if you’ve enjoyed, and follow for more! This is Lieutenant out.
We look at economic prosperity in terms of GDP and other means of measuring material production and consumption but this economic production is reliant on a form of work that is invisible to the standards metrics of economic production: reproductive labor.
In “Our Mother’s Grief” by Bonnie Dill, she defines reproductive labor as labor done in the house associated with care-giving and domestic roles including cleaning, cooking, child care and other forms of domestic unpaid labor. On the other hand, there is productive labor that consists of work that one would do in return for a wage.
After WWII, it was found that women performed on average a month’s worth (~730 hours) of unpaid labor each year in addition to their professional careers. At the same time, real wages were falling (meaning inflation was increasing faster than wages), making it harder for single-earner households to make ends meet. . Around this time, women increasingly worked outside the home to compensate for the budget shortfall.
Today, over 75% of women are in the workforce. Needless to say, women’s roles have changed significantly since the days of the housewife acting as the nucleus to her family. However, men’s roles largely stayed the same. Women are expected to work a “second shift” at home after her day at work while the men can expect their after-work hours to be dedicated to leisure.
You know the scenario: both the mother and father come home from work, one having taken a detour to pick up their children from school and then the father kicks off his shoes, his loosens his tie and relaxes in front of the TV with a beer while the mom makes sure the kid(s) don’t bother their father and reminds them to do their homework and then starts on dinner.
During holidays, the same trend is seen across the extended family where the men and the boys sit and enjoy football while the women and girls gather in the kitchen and make sure the food is ready and everyone is fed. And we don’t need to ask why this is happening because we know: gender roles.
The term “second shift” is used to describe the unpaid labor that women perform in the form of household chores, child-rearing, etc., while also maintaining professional careers. In recent years, this disparity seems to be shrinking within younger couples. However, differences in expectations of what constitutes chores and childcare have kept this rift. For example,
“A father might feel that by taking his son to the baseball diamond three nights a week he is sharing in childcare. His wife, who spends much more time with their son than her husband, would probably not look at this so much as sharing as she would see it as a special outing and a time for father and son bonding.”
When women take care of children over a weekend while the husband is away on a business trip is unremarkable– it’s expected of her as a parent –but a father taking care of children while his wife is away on a business trip then becomes babysitting.
A husband might go buy groceries once a week, therefore thinking that he’s contributed his fair share to the household but he shops using a grocery list– a list his wife has compiled over the week, of her being aware of what’s left in the fridge and pantry, knowing what foods the kids like/dislike/are allergic to, what meals she wants to cook based on time and effort needed, the nutritional value to make a balanced diet, etc. Sure, he goes out and buys the food, but the thought behind it and the know-how of how to run the household is still entirely the wife’s job. She might as well have the groceries delivered by Instacart and ended up with the same result.
For men whose wives are frustrated with them for not being more proactive in family life, the issue isn’t that the men aren’t helping out at home, it’s that the women have to explicitly tell them to help out. Having to treat your adult partner like a child who can’t think for themselves is extremely frustrating, especially if you’re also working. Because then, it’s a lose-lose situation; if the wife keeps asking for the husband to do something, she’s a nag and he feels restricted but if she doesn’t, then she has to silently do all the work and either, the house is magically clean and dinner is miraculously ready by 6 pm every day or if she can’t keep up, then she’s burning herself out while feeling like she’s failing as the housemaker. In these cases, traditional gender roles work against women either way, hysterical for being upset and a bitch otherwise.
Fall from Grace: Feminization
Throughout history, women’s labor is seen as less valuable; you can see in the difference of compensation women receive for their work in comparison to men. Female-dominated professions (teachers, nurses, etc.) being seen as less “serious” or necessary than male-dominated fields(college professors, doctors, etc.).
There are two examples of this that I would like to talk about next: programmers and other CS-related jobs and teachers.
Working with computers on a large scale outside of experimental programs first started during WWII when they were used to compute things like ballistics trajectory in a much more rapidly and accurately fashion than human computers could. At that time, this job that involved working with these clunky machines and writing software and debugging them were conflated with women’s work and was thrown in with clerical work. This ensured that the job was low-prestige and low-paying.
Working in programming remained a women’s job for decades. Since the field was new and the men who came back from the war weren’t familiar with computers, women dominated the field until the 1980s. This shift was marked by the mass commercialization of personal computers. Now, everyone can have a computer at home! The marketing of these new computers favored boys and was seen as a boy’s toy, as many millennials and older Gen-Zers can relate to. They were marketed as a head start to a career as an astronaut or a scientist or a computer programmer. As more and more boys grew up pushed into this direction, the field slowly began to be more and more male-dominated. The narrative changed from programming being clerical work to something requiring intense logical and analytical skills which men are purported to naturally possess. As prestige went up due to this shift in perspective, so did the pay and here we are.
Teachers are vital to a functioning society. After all, knowledge is power. At the beginning of this country’s history, getting a formal education was a privilege reserved for the well-to-do. Back in colonial times, teaching in America was seen as a temporary job until the teachers could find something better. Teachers were originally male-only and schools were reserved for boys to teach them arithmetics and other academic subjects while the girls were expected to receive their education at home with their mothers, learning domestic tasks.
After public education became widespread in the mid-20th century, however, women started working as primary educators. Like with secretarial work, it was considered one of the only acceptable professions for a woman of the time. Since working with young children was and is still considered a woman’s job in this society, women now account for nearly all primary school educators. In fact, despite being the one occupation where all of the country’s children has to come into extensive contact with, a blogger recalls that when offered a job as a primary school teacher, his response was, “Is that a real job? Am I just going to be a glorified babysitter?” For a job so important, the fact that it’s seen as an “easy” job and associated with women has kept their salary and prestige low.
However, there is a huge shift once you get to college and beyond. Even in the minds of students, female instructors are seen as “teacher” while male instructors are seen as “professor”. In one study of a sample of sociology students, it was found that the
“…students misattribute in an upward direction the level of education actually attained by male graduate student instructors, while they misattribute in a downward direction the level of formal education attained by women, even when the female faculty member is a full professor.”
Studies find that although the percentage of female faculty on campuses has increased in recent years, they are concentrated in the lower rungs of the ladder to tenure. This means that either the women are either leaving before they’re able to get tenure or they just aren’t promoted. Both of these point more to a hostile environment rather than the actual deficits in the merit of the women in academia because in the past couple of decades, the gender gap in educational attainment has narrowed significantly and most recently, surpassed male educational attainment in all levels of education.
Master’s degrees earned in the United States by gender 1950-2019 (Cropped)
Counted in 1,000s. Females indicated by navy blue bars, males by light blue bars.
Published by Erin Duffin, Apr 23, 2020. In the academic year of 2019, it is expected that 489,000 female and 328,000 male students will earn a Master’s degree in the United States. These figures are a significant increase from the academic year of 1950 when 16,980 female students and 41,220 male students earned a Master’s degree.
Number of doctoral degrees earned in the United States from 1950 to 2019, by gender (Cropped)
Counted in 1,000s. Females indicated by navy blue bars, males by light blue bars.
In the academic year of 2016/17, about 84,650 male and 96,710 female students earned a doctoral degree in the United States.
Even those of us who aren’t in academia have at least some inkling of what women who aspire to high academics face; we may be guilty of some of these behaviors, too. For example, when we see the title Dr. in front of a person’s name, the assumption is more often than not, male but there’s no reason why to think that way; the data demonstrate that women are just as if not more capable of completing doctoral degrees than men. This brings us back to the thought that women are thought to inherently to be inferior and the work she does also suffer the same prejudice. As we’ll talk about in the next section, this is partially why there is still a gender wage gap despite women having caught up in qualifications.
Employment & Promotion
Today, increased access to education & expanding civil rights means that this gap is lessening. However, the old patterns still persists; employers are less likely to hire/promote women because they perceive women as not being as competent & dedicated to their jobs. This creates a cycle unto perpetuity where this preconception makes it less likely for women to be hired and promoted, therefore leading to the lack of women of prominence in the field which, in our pseudo-meritocratic society, is interpreted as women either not working hard enough or were just not suited for high-powered careers and then they don’t get hired and so, the cycle continues.
The persistence of gender roles of women being the primary homemaker means that women who want to start a family will often have to choose b/t career & family. After all, she doesn’t have much choice. If her partner doesn’t bother to be responsible for their half of the household, then her choices are to either let everything go to shit or to step up and shoulder it all herself.
The recent idea of a supermom who embodies the careerwoman/mother balance is not sustainable. It’s not healthy to expect someone to work during the day and then be the primary housemaker once she gets home. It’s doubly unfair that she has to shoulder this burden when there should be an equally responsible adult in the house. This disparity and subsequent choice of having to choose between family and career further perpetuate the chain of events that lead to women not being as likely to make it as far in their careers as men of equal qualifications. You can also see this historically where once working women got married, they were often let go because it is assumed that the woman would have to dedicate herself to the domestic sphere and would no longer serve as a good employee because of this split dedication. This sentiment has continued until today when women are face questions like, “Are you married?”, or “Do you have/plan to have children?”
Further exasperating this disparity, paid or even unpaid parental leave is seldom offered in the US. However, just the institution of mandatory maternity leave won’t be enough because it still suggests that women should be the primary caretakers of children. It will also incentivise employers to avoid hiring women. What countries like Iceland have done is to implement both a paid maternity and paternity leave, establishing that a father’s time at home and with his family should be just as normal and essential as the mother’s.
Another factor that we have yet to talk about is the threat of female encroachment into a traditionally male space. Fields like those in STEM are notoriously known for being “boys’ clubs” that are actively hostile to women. Studies have also shown that high-achieving women are penalised for their achievements because their ambition/accolades are seen as being negatively correlated with her “likeability”. Even if affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws even out the rate at which women get hired, the level of harassment she has to endure to stay in her job means that women rarely last long enough to be seen in the upper levels of these industries.
While there is no single easy answer to address all the manifestations of the lack of respect and importance placed on women’s labor, we are aware of the root causes. Of course, it’s not easy to change an entire country’s mind especially if there are powerful people who benefit from the status quo, but we are slowly making progress. Just by being aware of and able to educate others, this cycle can be pointed out and stopped.
I hope you guys learned something interesting today.
Leave a comment, like and follow for more! Let me know if you like these long-form papers and if you have any thoughts or burning questions. I’ll be back next month! See you then!
As a disclaimer because there’s bound to be people who take it personally: not all men are guilty of leaving their partners hanging and I certainly didn’t mention anything about any other types of relationships besides one of a married/living together heterosexual couple so it’s safe to assume that the contents of this article do not apply necessarily to those other relationships.
 Miller, J., & Chamberlin, M. (2000). Women Are Teachers, Men Are Professors: A Study of Student Perceptions. Teaching Sociology,28(4), 283-298. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/1318580
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people…We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt their communities.” – former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman
“So many aspects of the old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. And so it seems that in America we haven’t so much ended racial caste, but simply redesigned it.” – Michelle Alexander
“People say all the time, ‘well, I don’t understand how people could have tolerated slavery?’ ‘How could they have made peace with that?’ ‘How could people have gone to a lynching and participated in that?’ ‘That’s so crazy, if I was living at that time I would never have tolerated anything like that.’ And the truth is we are living in this time, and we are tolerating it.” -Bryan Stevenson.
Personally, few things are more infuriating when you can see that there is a problem and others can also see that there is a problem but the supervisor/teacher/parent/authority figure denies it or just claim not being aware of it. Sometimes, it’s laziness. Sometimes, it’s an “ignorance is bliss” defense but it is indefensible to those who are affected.
This is essentially what color-blind racism is. It boils down the present as to be just being the present with no historical, social or political influences taken into account and looking at an individual as having full agency instead of being one part of many within our society. None of us are truly self-made beings; our values and beliefs are shaped by the society we grow up in, our attitudes and behaviors are modelled by those we deem role models, and punishments and lessons teach us what’s right and wrong. It is not until we are at a significantly ripe age mentally that we are even able to self-reflect and see the effects of our environment and the people around us on our development and what we hold dear. However, these are just values and beliefs and behaviors that everyone is subjected to within a society. Other factors like gender, race, class, sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, etc. limit us in other ways.
Our societal systems ascribe certain essential attributions to groups of people under each of those categories and these attributions may come in the form of stereotypes but also manifest within our policies, our culture, how employers hire new employees, the production and consumption of media, and similarly pervades every other facet of society. There might be some inclination of guilt if one is privileged by such a system that disadvantages everyone else but again, the individual often has little to do with the power structure already in place so rather than a passive hopelessness and paralysing guilt, there needs to be a proactive effort to seek out the ways how this privilege manifests and to challenge it wherever it is seen in your life. As he does best, here’s James Baldwin on color-blindness in 1968:
Here’s a transcript for some of what he says that are particularly relevant today:
“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.
That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.
I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.
Now, this is the evidence– you want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”
**If you haven’t read or seen any of his work, I highly suggest checking them out.**
There are several examples I would like to look at within the context of this housing crisis. First, there is the invisibility of poverty that is relegating the homeless people of San Francisco to the sidelines and the physical fringes of society because people don’t want to see them and local governments take great pains to keep them out of public spaces. Then, there are the historical processes that started with slavery and continues today with redlining, income inequality and other everyday cases of racism that further push and keep minority populations down the socioeconomic ladder.
Then, there is the circular relationship between reality, perception and discrimination. There is a racist preconception existing in the American psyche that black men (especially those of lower socioeconomic status) are violent and a danger to society and themselves, that black women are nymphos that have kids from multiple men and live off of government welfare.
The perception of black people as being the majority of the homeless and the meritocratic assumption that people are homeless because they’re lazy and/or are drug addicts leads to less effort to support the homeless community and ignores existing racist institutional practices and historical maltreatment which does nothing to alleviate the problem and so the cycle continues.
News footage shows us the homeless population in these urban centers as being predominantly black, which is not reflected in the statistics (over 30% of the homeless population in SF are black while they make up less than 10% of the city’s overall population).
The statistics above show us two things: 1) African-Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population, 2)African-Americans are overrepresented in the media.
People naturally seek out what confirms their preconceptions (confirmation bias) and the media footage proves that. That confirmation strengthens the previous biases and justifies them. Meanwhile, the underlying reasons why this huge population of people are homeless remain untouched.
Why are there so many single mothers caught in the mass evictions in San Francisco? Does it have anything to do with the over-policing of black communities that often land black men in jail? Perhaps the lack of access to adequate education and the school-to-prison pipeline that lock members of the community out of a job market that increasingly sees a college education as a minimal requirement, therefore keeping them poor and uneducated? Is it the lack of good financing options/de facto segregation that pushes minority populations out of desirable housing markets and into situations where they’re more likely to default?
It’s all three and more. What mass incarceration is doing to the men of minority communities, eviction is doing to the women. It pushes the narrative of this dysfunctional community of thugs and loose morals and a regressive lifestyle. But hearing the news stories and seeing the pictures of homeless black women with their children don’t tend to evoke these discussions about how the system has consistently treated them as second-class citizens or why so many of the minority populations have ended up concentrated on the lower rungs of the social ladder.
Color-blindness ignores all context and points at an individual’s shortcomings to blame for their situation in life. Why are there so many single black mothers? Because the men were taken away to be locked in jail. Why were the men committing crimes? Crimes rates are higher in majority-minority communities and also for lower-income communities. Is it because these communities had more criminals or were there just more policing? In these communities and for those targeted as part of the “efforts to crack down on crime”, even (jay)walking can turn into tense, potentially life-threatening encounters.
However, even that is questionable because we’ve seen over and over again how the criminal justice system treats those who pass through it. As far as it goes, fraud and embezzlement are as much stealing as larceny or burglary and the former often involves far greater amounts of money but it’s easy to see how the treatment of those convicted of them differ vastly from each other. The way we see those crimes as a society and how they’re portrayed in the media are certainly different because it’s not that richer people don’t commit crimes, it’s that their crimes and their actions are afforded more privacy and, with more power and better lawyers, they can more often get out of convictions (just look at what’s come into light since #MeToo).
There are so many layers to how our society and its institutions consistently favor some over others and once you start looking, it never ends. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed. For example, social mobility in the US is minimal; very few actually move up the socioeconomic ladder. For a country where social mobility (i.e. The American Dream) is lauded as one of the nation’s great virtues, its social classes are remarkably stable. That’s because social and cultural capital figure into how many and what type of resources people have access to and the ways upwards are increasingly exclusive and hostile to those trying to move up.
Intergenerational wealth is also a huge factor; there is very little an individual can amass against the power and influence of a fortune that’s been accumulating for several centuries; even more so in a country with minorities like African-Americans who literally didn’t have any money for most of American history and were kept from any significant means of supporting themselves even after “liberation”.
Let’s talk about something else. Native American mascots:
I could only find partial clips on YouTube but the entire documentary is worth watching.
There is this notion that everyone is somehow “equal through consumption”. You can see it in how minority cultures are seen as things to be appropriated and gentrified. For example, black culture has long been commercialised to great success by celebrities and artists to be “edgy” and “counterculture” but the people that the cultural symbols came from whether it be the way they speak, the clothes they wear or the music they create, the original creators and holders of this culture are ridiculed and seen as uneducated, “ghetto” and a multitude of other stereotypes and slurs.
It is the same way with Native American mascots. We say, “What? It’s just a mascot. It’s not hurting anyone.” But it is. By commercialising and making a cultural symbol a commodity, a spectacle, it is the erasure of the original purpose and meaning of this symbol. It is the usurpation of what a community holds dear and is part of their identity. But it is not all abstract either. The reactions to abolishing Native American mascots are very real. Activists get attacked, spit on and receive death threats. If it is only a symbol, only for fun, as they say, then why such a hostile reaction to doing away with it?
Of course, this sort of casual comfort with disregarding the sanctity of others’ culture doesn’t limit itself to thoughts and “harmless” fun for sports games. Something else that Charlene Teters (the Native American woman speaking in the documentary) mentions later on is that the vestiges of Native American culture are doubly precious because its preservation has been fought for through bloodshed and struggle. To diminish that culture is to mock those ancestors who died being ripped from their homes, those that died fighting to protect their people and their lands, those initial Native Americans struck down by foreign disease and the Native children that were “re-educated” through Indian boarding schools.
That is what people don’t think about when talking about political correctness. That is what people don’t think about when they see paraphernalia for sports teams with Native mascots in gift shops. It should be. It’s not some abstract concept about what is an “appropriate” opinion in polite society. It affects real people. Looking at it from a colorblind stance where you only see the mascot as a harmless bit of fun during football halftimes is willful ignorance of a people’s heritage and history. A true understanding of the situation requires knowledge of history and an awareness of others and their perspectives.
Then, there are those like the Yale professor in the James Baldwin video above that was about to say “Not all white people are racist!” and more or less did complain about Baldwin “pulling the race card”. You might complain, “why does everything need to be political?” But you have to remember that politics is what gets to decide if you are counted as a person in this country. It decides your rights and your access to resources and public facilities. It decides whether the law will protect you or hang you out to dry.
Things like the Census are integral to this. For example, the first Census had three categories: free whites, all other free persons, slaves. Since it is a Census year in 2020, this is a reminder to take the Census seriously because it not only determines the distribution of representatives, it also determines the resources allocated to a population and if minorities are undercounted, as they likely will be, then the government funds set aside for our development won’t reach the communities that need it.
Only those who can live comfortably knowing that their government and elected officials will represent them and have their best interests at heart can afford to hold the worldview that the personal, the moral and the political can be separated. For the rest of us, colorblindness makes us invisible and that is deeply problematic where the visibility of a population dictates how kindly we are treated.
A cursory reading of national media seems to confirm this long-standing narrative of White, middle-class drug users as victims, not criminals. For example, the New York Times’ coverage of suburban drug users has invited sympathy and identification with the people in the stories, encouraging the reader to see themselves, their child, or someone they know in the stories of good people raised in loving families who became opiate addicts almost by accident. The accompanying pictures to these articles show white people hugging as they leave drug treatment and well-dressed parents looking at pictures of the son or daughter they’ve lost to heroin. Photos of attractive and smiling teenagers—someone’s children—remind us of the promise and potential extinguished by an overdose. And yet, the Times is also savvy enough to contextualize this new drug panic when they write, “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs” (Oct. 30, 2015). They subtly remind the reader that non-White addicts get punishment and harshness when they refer to the White opiate crisis as a “new era” characterized by “striking shifts… some local police departments have stopped punishing many heroin users.” It is only because the users are White that a redemptive narrative of families and police coming together to stop opiate use can gain traction in print and in legislative bodies.
“Heroin or nothing,” as Steven, a man I met at the syringe exchange, put it. Those were his options. He’d broken his back several years before, and opiates helped with the lasting pain as he continued in manual labor, working odd jobs and moving furniture. But treating the physical pain now meant dealing with the “pain in the ass” of the system, of the methadone treatment providers and probation officers. Steven was among the many people I encountered who had initially started using legally obtained opiates to treat pain from work-related injuries, only to find their access limited by increasingly stringent state prescribing regulations. People like Steven turned to heroin not because they preferred it, but because they could no longer get prescription painkillers.
Conversations with addiction medicine providers echo the judgment about which some of the drug users I’ve spoken with complain. In the New York Times’ coverage of the suburban opiate panic, doctors identify with their patients, perhaps even knowing them socially. This is not the case in Vermont, where the class divide between doctors and patients is wide. Even the most sympathetic physicians I spoke with endorsed monitoring and coerced treatment. One said that there was “no high-level thinking in Vermont” and “no one understands the medical piece.” When I asked about the best way to treat addiction, this doctor told me it was suboxone (buprenorphine) combined with “tight control… put an ankle bracelet on them and tightly monitor them… If you mess up, you go to jail. Folks do best when there are consequences.” Other medical providers were frustrated with their patients, viewing their poverty-related struggles such as lack of transportation or difficulty finding employment as “excuses” for not succeeding in recovery. Their patients’ continued smoking and poor eating habits are also a regular source of frustration. One doctor who called addiction a “disease” insists that the criminal justice oversight of a sick person is not a contradiction, but a mechanism to ensure sorely needed “accountability.”
“These people are so repressed,” Sarah laughs. “You just have to talk to them sometimes, and they’re shaking. I know as a black woman I am always going to be fetishised to an extent – and the darker you are, the more you are. “They think we are naturally very sensual, all of us are Rihanna.” She laughs at the absurdity. “They are very threatened but secretly, they want to be with us, they want to be like us, they want to taste us and touch us. If they could, they would have one of us in their houses in a room, just kept there, for when needed. That’s exactly what they did not that long ago! And they’d love it again.”
It’s strange to hear an educated British person speaking in such crude racial stereotypes, “us” as these forbidden black fruits that “they” are salivating over. But then sex and relationships are one of the last remaining bastions of unreconstructed racial prejudice.
**This was for my ARTI/PHIL/PSYC 3550 class as my final essay and in summary, this essay argues against the classical models of cognitive science where representation is seen as essential to artificial intelligence. Final grade was a B+, so there are points where there might be thin spots, but overall, if y’all have any thoughts or points of disagreements, leave’em in the comments below. :)**
Throughout much of our study and development of human cognition and its replication in the various forms of artificial intelligence, there has been an underlying assumption from which we have based our work on– that to replicate intelligent thought and intelligent behavior requires extensive representation. However, representation isn’t only unnecessary but that it would actually be detrimental to our efforts to create true artificial intelligence and our understanding of our own cognition if we keep the level of representation that we currently implement in our machines.
A key difference between us and the machines we create is in our embodiment. A machine can exist in an abstract plane where it can crunch numbers detached from the physical world. We, on the other hand, are enmeshed in it. Our bodies constantly feed us information about the environment and we have no way of disconnecting from it. Our cognition is fundamentally embodied and our bodies affect the way we think and vice versa.
This can be shown in our use of language. Language is a cognitive tool that both permits the expression of and the limitations of our cognition and how we use it tells us a lot about how we think. Since so much of our cognition is expressed and shaped within the constraints of our language, Language shows us just how much of our cognition is rooted in our bodies. For example, warmth is associated with affection (“warming up to someone”), weightiness is associated with value and importance, and exposure to immoral or unethical instances causes a feeling of uncleanliness . In these cases, it shows that there is a reciprocal relationship between our cognition and our physiological form.
This strong connection between body and mind means we often never have to completely hold our thought processes in our brains. For example, if we are working out a math problem, we can write it down and refer back to earlier steps to help complete later steps. This way, we only have to store the current step of the process in our brain, make the immediately relevant calculation and then the information can be stored and kept track of on an external medium. Since our brains are limited in its energy stores, it saves a lot of energy by processing information in small chunks and to externalise it like this. Rather than wasting time and energy replicating a model of the problem space internally to manipulate, we can just reference reality to inform us on what to do next. This ties back to cognitive technology  where external mediums can be used to bolster our cognitive processes and therefore, become an extension of our cognition. It makes sense, then, that since we can save energy, increase our cognitive abilities and make use of a body we were born with, a lower level of representation and a more embodied cognitive process will allow us to make better use of the body we possess and our energy resources and therefore, is a much more efficient way than the fully representational classical models. We will see how this need for efficiency means that, in our brains, just the minimal level of representation is used to allow us to “scrape by”.
The human brain and its mysterious inner workings that we try to replicate in artificial intelligence have been shown to use far less representation than we thought. We can see this in all the ways that the brain fails to notice what should have been significant details like in the famous Gorilla Experiment  where participants, upon being asked to watch a clip of a basketball game, fail to spot when a person in a gorilla suit walks through the middle of the game. If the brain used the same level of representation as our machines, then all the participants should have made a complete internal model of the basketball game and noticed the gorilla. Instead, it seems that the brain is selective in its attention and by doing so, restricts the amount of information it needs to process at one time and is, therefore, more efficient.
Besides incomplete representation, the brain is also prone to a phenomenon called gist memory where our memory can be, at times, approximative and at worst, unreliable. In a task where participants are asked to remember words with similar associations like “ice”, “snow”, and “winter” from a list, participants often say they remember a word, like “cold”, that wasn’t present on the list but also shared those associations. Other shortcomings like the notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony have further exposed just how little our brain represents from the world. Rather, it seems that, for the most part, our brains can get by with as little representation as possible to be functional and be generally correct when it comes to problem-solving.
However, we are not the only ones capable of exhibiting intelligent behavior. In fact, much of intelligent behavior doesn’t need a brain but rather an interlocking system of simple operations that, when viewed gestalt, suggest intelligence. Roboticist Rodney Brooks coined the term “subsumption architecture” to describe such a structure. We need to look no further than our own bodies for an example. Our immune system possesses remarkable adaptability and complexity that, if we didn’t know any better, we might have thought that the individual cells within our body possess their own intelligence. From the outside, the operations of the cells that make up our immune system seem to be a conscious, coordinated effort but each cell is actually just responding to certain stimuli released by other cells like proteins or hormones.
This sort of organisation can be seen in organisms like ants where they use very simple chemical markers that elicit simple behaviors that, when repeated within a colony of thousands or millions of members, can forage for food, wage war, maintain fungus farms and aphid herds, and build floating rafts to survive floods. Brooks himself built creatures based on crickets that showed how intelligent behavior like finding mates which require pathfinding and spatial reasoning can actually be the result of very simple physiochemical reactions within the body.
Therefore, not only is representation not needed at all for certain intelligent behaviors but even for the human brain, representation is only very minimally used. However, there is more to our intelligence than merely problem-solving and so far, it doesn’t seem like they’ve been accounted for.
Imagination, for one, hasn’t been accounted for. Imagination, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality”. This means that, necessarily, to be able to imagine means that the things we imagine must not already exist and therefore unable to be represented. It can be argued that our imagination is actually just a composite of previous experiences (representations) put together in novel ways to make something technically “new”. However, it must be considered that just because representations of something exists doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily real. For example, illusions and hallucinations causes a person to represent something that isn’t actually there. I am of the thought that the false representation of a non-actual object cannot be truly considered to be represented the same way we represent what’s real[see 7]. In the same vein, although I cannot yet explain the presence of these false representations, I argue that imagination, due to its focus on the non-actual, does not in fact rely on representations or at least, the type of representation as we currently understand it to be.
Second, our memory, it might seem, also depends on representations. After all, memory is formed through the encoding of past experiences. However, I argue for limited representation, not the total elimination of representation. It is true that a certain type of memory (fact-based, non-phenomenal memory) may be represented but it still doesn’t account for other types. Muscle memory, for example, is formed through repetition of a movement and once formed, is accessed without conscious effort. This is different from the explicit content that makes up represented memories. Similarly, ability-based memory also seems to lack representation. For example, when teaching another to drive, it is hard to articulate the feeling of the car, how to know how far to turn or how far the hood extends past the steering wheel. Perhaps a better example can be found in our use of language. We can usually go about our day and communicate with no problem but once we are forced to slow down and explain the finer details of grammar or convention, we are often stumped. We don’t know why it is so, it just feels right. Efficiency once again plays a role here. By cutting out the thinking part of certain operations like driving a car or figuring out grammar before speaking, the brain doesn’t need to waste resources “reinventing the wheel” and rather, just knows that certain stimuli should entail certain reactions. You don’t need to think, “the light is green and green means go” before pressing the gas pedal. You do it automatically. This way, the process cuts out thinking and representing entirely and can go straight from sensing to reacting.
It was given for a long time that the representational theory of mind would be the basis on which we can produce higher cognition in our own creations but now we know better than to let that be the end-all-be-all. With a better understanding of the reciprocal relationship between our bodies and our cognition, studies that reveal just how little our own brains rely on complete representation, and the fact that not everything that looks intelligent is intelligent, it seems that representation is actually a rather inefficient and insufficient explanation for all the miracles we are capable of.
 McNerney, Samuel. “A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, 4 Nov. 2011, blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/a-brief-guide-to-embodied-cognition-why-you-are-not-your-brain/.
 “Chapter 9: Extended Minds?” Mindware: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science, by Andy Clark, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 192–211.