Why and How to Build a Fiber Foamie

During covid, I built a fully solar-powered off-grid micro-camper called a squaredrop. I designed it to tow behind my Honda Civic. I traveled over 22,000 miles to 35 national parks in 28 states. You can see the whole adventure at movingcabin.com.

What’s a Squaredrop?

A squaredrop is sort of like a teardrop trailer but more square. This means more room inside as well as more room outside for solar panels. The impact on towing efficiency is very small as long as the camper is not wider or taller than the tow vehicle.

I did design my camper to charge an electric vehicle, the Sondors Metacycle which I originally intended to buy. But a lot happened at home and I decided to postpone the rest of the national parks until after grad school and spend some time with my family.

Moving On Up

Since then, I traded in my Honda Civic and bought an electric car (The Chevy Bolt) which can tow and has great range!

@cjtrowbridgeI got a solar powered electric vehicle! ⚡♬ original sound – CJ Trowbridge

What’s Wrong With The First One?

My first-gen squaredrop camper is great but not perfect. It’s very overengineered. I built it to be extremely durable. It is made of 3/4 inch pressure treated plywood over a 2×6 deckboard frame and insulated with one inch polyisocyanurate foam, and then it’s painted with white flex seal.  On top of that, every joint is steel bracketed. So it’s fire proof, water proof, and it would probably survive a highway-speed rollover. But it’s also very heavy and too maximalistic.

So I decided to build something extremely light and extremely minimal that can still charge an electric vehicle. Another thing I wanted to improve on was the hubs and tires. The first-gen squaredrop has a top speed of 60mph which is super not ideal for transcontinental jaunts.

What’s A Foamie?

A foamie is a camper that’s built from foam instead of wood, and then it’s wrapped in something like fiberglass or more often “poor man’s fiberglass.” The construction technique is called composite core construction.

Here’s a really good and comprehensive explanation of the composite core construction technique…

Basically if you take a foam structure and wrap it in something stronger like fiberglass, then the whole structure acts like a solid piece of fiberglass. It’s a super cheap and very strong construction technique.

A foamie is just a camper that is made from this technique. Here’s an example timelapse of the construction process for a foamie…

What To Wrap It With?

The most popular way to wrap a foamie is with what’s called “poor man’s fiberglass.” This is what’s demonstrated in the video just above. Basically you wrap the foamie in canvas that’s been saturated in wood glue. Once it dries, it’s extremely strong. And then you can simply paint over it and you have a good looking and highly durable foamie camper.

I want to use carbon fiber instead. This is much lighter, much stronger, and much sexier. The technique is very similar, and the composite core construction video above explains the technique and best practices for doing something like carbon fiber or even fiberglass instead of the “poor man’s fiberglass.”

Design Inspirations

I almost feel like this motorcycle camper trailer is too big.

 

This is actually a carbon fiber teardrop, and it’s cute but the pure teardrop shape is boring because you can’t really put solar on it. Also the dark color means it will be extremely hot inside all the time.

 

I really like the angles on this one, and the styling on the side with the panels. I think this would be a good general aesthetic, but again the dark color means it will always be hot inside. And instead of a roof rack, I would put as much solar as I can fit.

 

This is basically perfect except it needs solar, and I’d definitely paint the ugly red trailer.  Also, it looks a little tall. I happen to know that this trailer frame is the 4×8 harbor freight frame. It looks like the trailer is five feet tall or more. I would want it to be a little shorter so that it is more efficient to tow.

 

This is a project I volunteered on earlier this year. I really like the way the structure is not tall enough to stand up in; the design forces you to spend at least some time outside, but provides shelter when it’s necessary.

 

On that note, I am interested in designing something similar to a single cell from a capsule hotel. It should have a bed, some basic lights, HVAC, and that’s basically it. I don’t need the full kitchen which I included in the first generation but almost never really used. The car has lots of space in the back for my bear-proof cooler if I feel the need to bring cold things.

round robin ipfs over http

a web gateway protocol that automatically fetches the DNSLink for any c-name pointed at the server and then locally replicates that site and serves it when requested

these could easily be round robined by adding redundant c-names to different gateways for your domain.

The protocol could be limited to file types like html, css, js, jpeg, gif, png, etc. And it could have limited file sizes so that people are really using it just for their personal sites and profiles without trying to host apps on it or something like that. Larger files like mp4, mkv, etc could simply link to a public ipfs gateway instead of hosting locally.

This is a good early-stage strategy for our-space which would make it fast and easy to access profiles without needing lots of bandwidth.

Collective Ownership is Key

CJ Trowbridge

2021-07-03

USP 560 – Urban Poverty

Final

            I have spent a lot of time this year traveling to radically sustainable experimental communities across the country and asking countless questions about infrastructure, ownership models, and governance models and now I’d like to propose a solution to urban poverty.

The Community Development Corporation model is an exciting alternative model for housing development, ownership, and administration. This special kind of non-profit community-ownership model is motivated not by maximizing shareholder profit or as a meager form of public relations for a large corporation, but rather as a serious attempt to solve the problem. Legally, a CDC makes decisions on the basis of actually building and providing affordable housing to the community and facilitating community development rather than maximizing profit for the small, elite class of capitalists in the community.

In San Francisco there are two CDCs with many more on the way. In the Tenderloin and Chinatown, the CDCs have made incredible progress in dramatically increasing the available affordable housing inventory while also making sure that housing goes to those people who actually need it. Meanwhile the corporate PR housing projects from Mercy Housing, and those projects from private developers, have tended to either have no impact at all or — more often – actually make the problem worse.

I have spent much of this year meeting with the arts districts of San Francisco to help them launch CDCs in all the districts, so that every neighborhood in the city can seize control of the housing and wrest it away from greedy and exploitative capitalist landlords. Today housing is a commodity to be invested in with a goal of maximizing return. Tomorrow, with the help of CDCs, housing can transition back to being a basic human right that everyone has access to.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think CDCs are a great solution for cities like San Francisco which by any social problems measure is arguably the worst city in the world, but I think where CDCs really shine is in new community development. I visited a new community being built in rural Tennessee around permaculture, collective ownership, mutual aid, and egalitarianism. They’re part of a larger network called the Permaculture Mutual Aid Network. They are on a project of acquiring land all over the country to create new communities focused on teaching people how to live sustainably while also providing for the needs of the surrounding population, be that through mutual aid, growing food, or however else they can help. These amazing new communities allow anyone to just show up and live there for free. It’s very exciting because they are being very conscious of sustainable development and especially conscious of equity and inclusion. They already have solved for the basic needs of everyone in the community. Everyone gets housing, everyone gets water, everyone gets food, everyone gets community, and no one has to pay for anything.

One of the most exciting challenges facing these new communities is defining their collective ownership model. Other networks of permaculture communities, such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, use Land Trust to put their land into a collective ownership model. The problem I see with land trust is that it’s not a legal entity. It can’t execute contracts or qualify for grants or funding.

Compare The Permaculture Mutual Aid Network therefore to Arcosanti, a non-profit-owned community very much like a CDC but much older than the CDC model. Everyone who works there gets housing, food, water, power, etc but they often have to pay for some or all of these things. The community makes decisions together about what to do with the land and the resources. They are also able to take on new projects as a legal entity which can commission construction, maintenance, etc.

Personally, I think that the nonprofit model is a better approach to collective ownership of communities than the land trust model. In a hypothetical new permaculture community, a nonprofit model would be able to get government grants and special dispensation to experiment and conduct research on urban issues relating especially to infrastructure and poverty. I see this as a very exciting potential project for our generation. We have been left with a world full of problems, and poverty is at the heart of those problems. It’s clear to almost everyone under the age of forty that more capitalism is not going to fix capitalism. It’s also very hard to see an alternative, but I think this example shows that there is an alternative.

We’ve all read the horror stories of the company towns (like Pullman). These towns were owned by a company that would deduct your rent and groceries from your paycheck so that you often ended up owing them money to live there and work in their factory. But I also had a different takeaway from those stories; a town full of workers was exploited by a company, and that company thrived on what it stole from them. Imagine the same scenario only without the factory and without the capitalism. Imagine a nonprofit company-town whose only goal is to be a good place for people to live. That’s really exactly what Arcosanti is, and they’ve been doing it half a century. Clearly it can work.

The world bank says we can expect 140 million climate refugees within the next twenty years. (World Bank) Crop failures are already widespread in America due to zone changes. (New York Times) This year alone is likely to be the worst fire year in history. (New York Magazine.) The American power grid was built seventy years ago with a fifty-year lifespan and it’s been running past 100% for decades. (Popular Science) For all these reasons and more, it’s more critical than ever that we act now to create resilient communities where people can survive what’s coming. I am convinced that this nonprofit collective ownership model is the best way to make that happen.

 

Works Cited

New York Magazine. (2021, June 16). California’s Last Fire Season Was a Historic Disaster. This One Could Be Worse. Intelligencer. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/06/why-2021-could-be-californias-worst-fire-season-ever.html.

New York Times. (2021, April 1). What’s Going On in This Graph? | Growing Zones. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/learning/whats-going-on-in-this-graph-growing-zones.html.

Popular Science. Ula Chrobak. August 17, 2020. (2021, April 26). The US has more power outages than any other developed country. Here’s why. Popular Science. https://www.popsci.com/story/environment/why-us-lose-power-storms/.

World Bank. Climate Change Could Force Over 140 Million to Migrate Within Countries by 2050: World Bank Report. (n.d.). https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/03/19/climate-change-could-force-over-140-million-to-migrate-within-countries-by-2050-world-bank-report.

Seize Housing Now

CJ Trowbridge

2021-07-02

USP 580 Housing Policy & Planning

Term Paper

The solution to the housing problem in San Francisco (And beyond) is the Community Development Corporation model, and the newly created arts districts are the perfect lever to make that happen. I spent much of the pandemic meeting with the boards of the arts districts to discuss this proposition, and they all already agreed before I first met with them. Based on the great success of the examples of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation and the Chinatown Community Development Center, the other districts now see this model as an ideal solution to bypass many of the barriers to constructing affordable housing, and to empower the community to seize ownership and development of their housing from exploitative landlords and corrupt for-profit developers. This is also widely seen as a way for ordinary people to unionize as a community and exert power over those few local capitalists who historically weald unbridled authority over local policy. This has exciting implications for housing and beyond.

Like most urban policy processes, the arts districts – though new – see few people attending public meetings to discuss the important issues affecting our community today. I saw these new institutions as potential Archimedes levers for the cause of the CDC model so I began attending their public meetings. I was surprised to often find myself the only one attending. I was also surprised to find that they were all already very excited about the potential for launching CDCs in all the districts that don’t already have one. In fact, it was typically the number one priority on the agenda. A common secondary priority was to reopen the now shuttered sex clubs that once dotted all over the city. More on that later.

The reason the Community Development Corporation model is so exciting as an alternative model for housing development, ownership, and administration is that it is a special kind of community-ownership model which is motivated not by maximizing shareholder profit or as a meager form of public relations for a large corporation, but rather as a serious attempt to solve the problem. Legally, a CDC makes decisions on the basis of actually building and providing affordable housing to the community.

Mercy housing in contrast is technically a nonprofit but does very little actual work in the community. I asked the COO if she feels like they are having an impact on the problem. She said, “No, not at all.” Contrast that to the TNDC COO who said, “Yes, absolutely,” and you will immediately see the difference between housing projects as corporate PR versus housing projects intended to actually solve the problem. Other examples like Hope SF or Hope VI are ostensibly nonprofits focused on building housing, but only when it is built on demolished former minority neighborhoods. These non-CDC examples arguably do more harm than good because they legitimize the terrible capitalist housing system while also erasing minorities from the city and having almost no impact on actually solving the problem.

In contrast, TNDC and CCDC have had great success in building lots of affordable units and renting them out to the people who actually need them. That’s why the other districts now see this model as an ideal solution. It also allows them to bypass many of the barriers to constructing housing. One example is that CDCs have first right of refusal for any residential real estate transactions. It is now commonplace to see projects in the Mission where a private developer demolishes a historic building to construct luxury condos instead. Let’s call these types of projects “Gentrification Centers.” The Mission currently has no CDC, and so there is no nonprofit with first right of refusal that can step in and say, “No, actually we don’t want a Gentrification Center, we will take that land instead and build affordable housing.” This is why these models are so attractive to communities plagued by Gentrification Centers.

CDCs also have access to exciting funding sources such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit which, while limited, does offer a great deal of funding for these projects as well as empowering CDCs to discriminate against wealthy people. This means they are not just empowered but required to provide affordable housing to those who actually need it, rather than to tech bros and other gentrifiers.

One of the things I’ve been pitching all year is that CDCs should also be selling “housing credits” just like carbon credits, except to offset the cost of housing. They could create a market to allow big tech companies to claim they are “housing neutral” just like they currently claim to be carbon neutral. There are many historically good actors like Marc Benioff, Frieda Kapoor, Merritt Capital, and others who seem likely to want to fund projects this way or even through more traditional debt instruments or via venture philanthropy. The city itself would have a hard time explaining to constituents why it wouldn’t fund these new CDCs directly. I think it would even make sense for them to sue any corporations that are bad actors, requiring them to pay for housing credits if their employees have had a particularly harmful effect on a given community.

Funding CDCs could also become a major strategic part of project proposals. Just imagine if a company like Twitter had been required to offset its impact on the local housing inventory when it moved its headquarters to the Market-Octavia district. Instead, the surrounding community was demolished and replaced with some of the most expensive housing in the world. If there was a Market-Octavia CDC, this would likely have played out very differently.

The really exciting thing about CDCs for all the districts is the fact that they allow a community to seize control of its housing and wrest that housing from greedy capitalists and slum lords. Currently, we have a housing system that pits the wealthy against the workers and treats workers as a resource to be exploited. Landlords try to extract the maximum amount of value out of workers in order to avoid doing any work themselves. A CDC on the other hand is not trying to make a profit, they are trying to do the right thing. This means that they are charging rates people can actually afford and providing affordable housing only to those who actually need it. It’s a radical change from a deeply corrupt and immoral system to a deeply moral alternative.

It also wrests political power away from local merchant associations and other capitalist groups whose aims do not align with the best interests of the people. For example, there is a battle happening right now between the Castro Merchants Association and the Castro Cultural District over whether or not the new racially inclusive pride flags should replace the incumbent flags, or be placed in “separate but equal” locations. I’ll let you guess which group is on which side of this issue. This is emblematic of many of the issues that CDCs will empower communities to confront together. Community development is not about making more money for a few capitalists; it’s about embracing the broader community and doing what the community feels is right for the community. This is supposed to be the role of politics, but sadly we live in a world where money is speech and so politics is owned by the capitalists. In this world of deeply corrupt politics for business, the CDC presents an opportunity to revisit a classic solution to this very problem, the union. I think it’s useful to consider a CDC as a sort of labor union for a neighborhood which can serve as a platform to solve many community development issues beyond just housing.

This is a big part of why the SoMa District and the Castro District both listed reopening the sex clubs as their number two priority after establishing local CDCs, because these historical community institutions were sacrificed on the altar of capitalism by people who wanted to “clean up” the neighborhood and make more money on housing as an investment and more traditional business as an investment. Instead of allowing business to decide what the neighborhood looks like, the community is coming together to tell business what they want the neighborhood to look like.

CDCs have exciting implications for housing and beyond. The reason I came to San Francisco to learn about problems in cities is because though these issues exist everywhere, there is nowhere in world worse than San Francisco. This means that while many things have been tried here, and many of those things might work elsewhere, the solutions we find that do work here will almost certainly work elsewhere. I see Community Development Corporation as the best of these solutions; a really powerful tool that communities everywhere could use to take control not just of housing but also of local business and politics in order to force incumbent political and mercantile institutions to behave in a pro-social way that actually benefits a thriving community rather than displacing and erasing the community to turn a neighborhood into a sterile investment rather than the living, thriving thing it ought to be.

Urban poverty is Not an Accident

CJ Trowbridge

2021-06-30

USP 560 Urban Poverty

Term Paper

It’s no mistake that there has never been a capitalist city without poverty. In his essay, “The Urban Process Under Capitalism,” David Harvey explains that cities are a process, not a place. Cities under capitalism – by definition – serve to extract labor and resources from the masses and deliver those resources to the wealthy and powerful. Equality in capitalist cities is impossible by definition. Systems that facilitate the asymmetric flow of power and resources to privileged groups at the expense of everyone else are called systems of oppression. Seen through this lens, a city is an engine which produces poverty in order to create a small, wealthy ruling class. There is no ameliorating this fundamental purpose and function of cities under capitalism. Urban poverty is a feature, not a bug.

If inequality, poverty, and the structural denial of people’s basic needs are bad things, then look at the housing market in San Francisco and you will see perhaps the worst city in the world. According to original research I did in the GWAR class, you have to be in the 78th percentile for income to afford a median-rate apartment in San Francisco. This research took place before covid, and while we don’t know how bad it is now, it seems unlikely that covid made this better. That means four out of five working people are denied access to housing. This is simply untenable. This widespread denial of such a basic need for the vast majority of people is the result of many things, but in part it’s because of BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) and NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard).

One of the most widely accepted political projects of the residents of San Francisco for decades has been working to prevent any new housing from being built anywhere, with a few trivial exceptions. And that project has succeeded. Housing prices have been artificially inflated to astronomical levels seen nowhere else in the world. People are moving to Manhattan, “because it’s cheaper.” I was recently in Manhattan and talking about housing with people who flat out did not believe me about the median rates in San Francisco.

Are there feasible alternatives to the current model of housing development? One intrinsically related problem to solve is the model of housing ownership. San Francisco is a deeply ideological city. It is committed to implementing only neoliberal solutions to all problems. Neoliberalism and its approach to solving problems could be defined as, “more capitalism is actually somehow the solution to the problems caused by capitalism.” This is why these two issues are so closely related. Because high density urban housing projects in San Francisco today are exclusively private. There is no public housing anywhere in San Francisco. There are only for-profit and non-profit housing projects. These all exist under a legal framework which requires them to make decisions based on a fiduciary responsibility. Even a nonprofit has to make a profit, they just can’t take it home at the end of the day.

One example is Hope VI and its local version Hope SF. These programs are publicly funded but they are extremely limited. They also target minority neighborhoods for forced redevelopment. This does not mean increasing the density of housing in those neighborhoods. It just means replacing existing housing with new housing at about the same density or even less in some cases. This means demolishing minority neighborhoods and forcing those minority groups to leave the city while new housing is built. Theoretically there is outreach to get those same people to come back and live in the new units. But according to one developer I talked to who works on Hope SF projects, almost no one ever comes back. Therefore the real impact of these programs is simply to accelerate the erasure of ethnic minorities in the city without adding any new housing inventory.

Another issue is the public opposition to any new housing development. A lot of neoliberals respond to this by working hard on crafting the thousandth version of the perfect argument that will finally convince the NIMBYs and BANANAs to allow housing to be built in the city. Maybe that will work, but I see a better way.

The Tenderloin and Chinatown have seized control of their housing from the free market through the use of community development corporations. A community development corporation is a special type of nonprofit whose mission is to build affordable housing in a particular geographic area. They also have special powers such as first right of refusal for any residential real estate transactions. So if there was a community development corporation for the mission, and some private developer wanted to build a gentrification center, the Mission District Community Development Corporation would have the power to step in and take that land from the private developer to use for affordable housing instead.

One of the main barriers to the construction of affordable housing is the fact that the cost per unit to build affordable housing in San Francisco is higher than the ten-year return on investment. There is no incentive for a private developer to build new units because their investment horizon is legally limited to that ten-year period. If they can’t make a profit by then, then legally they can’t do the project. They have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder profit. Legally they can not do the right thing and build affordable housing, they can only build luxury condos for tech bros.

There are lots of special funding sources that community development corporations can use to build affordable housing including federal, state, and local grants and tax credits. Since it’s a nonprofit, people can also leave their real estate to the community development corporation in their will. I also think it would make sense for them to sell “housing credits” like we currently have carbon credits, creating a market where companies can choose to donate directly to offsetting the cost of housing construction in particular neighborhoods.

Many companies currently brag about being “carbon-neutral” or even “carbon-negative.” It’s easy to see a future where large corporations are forced to pay to offset their impacts on housing prices. This could also become an auxiliary function of Community Development Corporations; to sue for the funds to reconstitute stolen housing in their communities. It’s easy to see a campaign by the combined CDCs for the districts of San Francisco to sue the tech giants for the funds to build housing to replace all that the tech bros have taken.

Another exciting thing about Community Development Corporations is that they are allowed, and even mandated to discriminate. For example, some of the federal housing grants require income restrictions on who is allowed to live in the housing. This is a great way to make sure that those new housing projects don’t just go to the same tech bros, but rather go to the minority groups, artists and hourly workers in the city who actually need that housing.

Because Community Development Corporations are not working on a short horizon, they can build projects around a longer timescale. If your goal is to maximize affordable housing in a geographic area rather than to maximize shareholder profit, then you can legally do lots of things that those private developers can not. For example, charging significantly lower rents means it will take a lot longer to recoup an investment. And if you’re working on a short horizon, then that means your rent has to be high enough to cover your investment cost within that horizon. A Community Development Corporation works on a virtually infinite timescale, meaning it can access different funding instruments to work on that longer timescale and charge significantly lower rents.

There are some other proposed alternatives such as Land Trust. The problem with Land Trust is that it’s not an entity, it’s just an agreement about how the land will be used. A land trust can’t build a high rise or even hire an electrician. All of that still falls to whoever actually owns the land being used under trust. This is why I think the Community Development Corporation model is a better option.

It’s one thing to try to fix San Francisco, but that’s not why I came to the worst city in the world to study its problems. I came here to learn about this because a lot of things have been tried here, and since the problems here are worse than anywhere else, the solutions that work here will likely work even better everywhere else. To that end, I spent much of the year traveling to different experimental communities around the country and learning and studying and discussing infrastructure and ownership models. There are a lot of things being tried out there. This brings me to the last major problem with providing affordable housing, the border fiscalization effect.

Emeryville sits right next to Berkeley. They make most of their income by simply legalizing whatever things Berkeley bans, from box stores to gas stations. This has the net effect that every policy Berkeley sets is utterly meaningless and merely shifts those land uses a few feet to the south where Emeryville welcomes them with open arms. If you look at the Market-Octavia District and the absurd glass towers of luxury condos with their token alleyway poor doors for the non-rich, you can immediately see the problem with building affordable housing anywhere near there. It’s even more expensive because so much of the land has been excluded for luxury development.

That’s why I think this model would work even better in a small town, or a new town. Arcosanti is a good example of a community done right. They bought hundreds of acres abutting a national monument and built a very small, very high-density housing project with workshops for industry and commerce. Cars are banned, and no one can build anything within miles of the community because they own all that land. This is all owned by one nonprofit which decides how the land is used. It’s also incorporated as something like a town meaning outside politicians can’t impose codes and laws on them. Most people there live for free as part of their pay for whatever work they’re doing. This is the Community Development Corporation model taken to the best-case scenario, and it happened half a century ago.

I see a huge opportunity for cities like San Francisco to implement Community Development Corporations for all the districts. This would really improve things with regard to housing which is fundamental to urban poverty, but it also creates a natural union of the people to fight together for the political needs of the people rather than the corporations which currently run the city. Community Development Corporations are corporations in the classical sense, people coming together for a common purpose. They are fundamentally anti-capitalist because they seize assets and distribute them to those who need them rather than empowering the wealthy elite to accumulate those assets and deprive the people who actually need them.

I think the larger opportunity is to launch Community Development Corporations everywhere. I think of them as sort of the opposite of a Homeowners Association. The purpose of an HOA is to treat housing as an investment and to maximize the return on that investment. This is necessarily contractionary and anti-affordability; it deliberately reduces the supply in order to artificially inflate prices. The alternative Community Development Corporation model does just the opposite. It treats housing as a basic right, and it works to build as much as possible and provide to those who really need it. This would be a perfect way for small towns everywhere, or even new towns, to seize control from the capricious free market which only want to deny their needs in order to facilitate the higher prices and scarcity that are necessary for inflating the wealth of the ruling class.

Fake News?

I think in many cases there are fundamental epistemic differences between people of different ideologies, and we need to learn to distinguish those kinds of claims from bad faith claims. Like if a trump supporter says he’s coming back in August, they really believe that to be true. And that’s different from Putin’s fake newspapers putting out stories that no one believes in. The far right often acts in what they see as good faith based on their assumptions about reality. I think it is a failure of discourse to dismiss their fundamental beliefs about reality as equivalent to news sources which have been deliberately constructed to push a narrative which its own authors regard to be false.

Morality of Agency and Objectification

CJ Trowbridge

2021-06-28

PHIL 455 Sex and the Law

Term Paper

 

Everybody thinks pedophilia is bad, right? There is widespread consensus about that, right? Maybe not. I think this popular misunderstanding of the nature of ongoing support for pedophilia is one of the main reasons it has not been meaningfully addressed, particularly in contemporary queer culture and especially in affluent white cis male gay (AWCMG) culture. I will be comparing and contrasting the way these two groups affect and are affected by the contemporary discourses around pedophilia, particularly from the legal and moral perspective. I will also offer a solution to the problem I describe. Comparing and contrasting these groups is useful for reasons that will soon become obvious.

One of the main problems with confronting this issue within both the broader contemporary queer culture and specifically the AWCMG culture is the lack of a shared epistemology and ethical framework for making persuasive moral arguments about behavior. This is thanks, in large part, to the fact that American culture tends to delegate its moral reasoning to increasingly reactionary and esoteric forms of evangelical protestant Christianity. It becomes a problem because most Queer/AWCMG people tend to rightly reject religion as a valid foundation for any moral truth, and therefore the community shares a vision of rejecting the idea of moral truth rather than developing it together.

There is an old saying, “be gay do crime.” Historically, it has been illegal throughout most of American history for people to be gay in the verb sense rather than the adjective sense. This has led people to think of their sexual identities as a character they might sometimes or someday play, rather than a set of behaviors they regularly engage in; as an adjective rather than a verb. This is why there is a long history of strong relationships between Queer/AWCMG groups and organized crime which facilitates spaces and services for these illegal identities.

Stonewall was a mafia club. The reason there was a riot is that the police wanted to be paid off a second time in the same night. This is why Sylvia Rivera (who was there) explains that it started with patrons throwing dimes at the cops. (Guardian) The popular myth of Martha P Johnson throwing a brick distracts from this deeper truth. The riot started because corrupt police wanted a second bribe from the mafia which owned the illegal gay bar. This was long before the word trans(gender) was popularized, and in the words of Rivera, Stonewall was a bar for what we would today call the AWCGM community. Rivera said Stonewall did not generally allow “drag queens” like her and Marsha to enter, and that she was the only one there that night. (Guardian) Marsha later agreed with Rivera, saying in her own words that she was not even there. (New York Times 2:55-3:18) The story of Stonewall has transformed into a story of trans women of color standing up to police who were persecuting them for being trans women of color. In reality, Stonewall was a mafia club that generally only allowed white cis men. The riot started because the police wanted a second bribe in the same night. The modern myth of Stonewall is something that is meaningful for a lot of people but the truth is more interesting than the myth as we will see…

This historic relationship between organized crime and the Queer/AWCGM community is the first of two pieces of the core problem I want to address. The people in the community were forced to reject a society which rejected them. It was illegal for them to exist, so they embraced organized crime and were embraced by it. The zeitgeist of the community has always rightly been that legal definitions are explicitly invalid, that legal bans on a behavior should be interpreted as an intrinsically positive thing about the thing being banned, and that legal endorsements of a behavior should be seen as damning.

Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The heroic men of the AWCGM movement were no exception. The visceral hatred between the leaders of the cis white gay men and everyone else who wasn’t quite society’s ideal but wasn’t an affluent cis white male gay culminated in 1971 when Del Martin wrote her infamous open letter called “Goodbye, My Alienated Brothers.” Martin was a lesbian quaker who had started hundreds of activist nonprofits including underground news networks to spread information and connect people together. In her open letter, she wrote about how the luminary gay leaders like Harry Hay had repeatedly told the lesbians that their place in the movement was in the kitchen, that they had done the same to essentially everyone who wasn’t an affluent white cis male gay. She wished them well and she left with her hundreds of nonprofits and international network of followers to build a new separate movement away from the AWCGMs.

Harry Hay was the founder of the Mattachine Society. There is some debate about whether or not it was the world’s first gay rights organization. They were certainly among the first and most influential in the early campaign for rights and equality for gay people. They even earned their own FBI COINTELPRO task force which eventually dismantled Mattachine (Cohen). Hay went on to found the radical faeries which is still one of the largest and most active primarily-AWCGM organizations in the world with chapters everywhere. He deliberately designed it as something that would be hard to dismantle in the same way Mattachine had been dismantled. Rather than building a nonprofit with a board, he built a loosely affiliated international network of anarcho-communist houses and sanctuaries where drug-fueled orgies combine with alternative spirituality to create a community that isn’t really possible for an FBI agent to infiltrate. Hay went on to spend essentially all of his adult life campaigning for the legalization of pedophilia. He protested against gay pride parades across the country – up until the day he died — because they refused to include pedophilia as a legitimate part of the gay community. (Regent University Law Review) He wrote for the NAMBLA newspaper, spoke at their conferences, wrote forewords for their books, and posed for cover photos for their promotional material. (Bronski) These claims are not controversial, but aside from the Regent University Law Review article, there are few remaining primary source documents accessible online. Even NAMBLA’s own website has been scrubbed of its extensive gratitude to Hay for his decades of work. I will include a list of links in Appendix A for the remaining sources I was able to find.

It is extremely difficult to find any extant primary sources discussing Hay’s lifelong crusade for the legalization of pedophilia. This is precisely because the people in the Queer/AWCGM lack the epistemic and moral framework to address an issue like this, and often try to cover it up or silence discussion of what can understandably seem like a bad faith attack on a great hero of the movement. It’s true that these facts about Hay are often used by reactionaries to attack the entire Queer/AWCMG movement, but in general, the critique seems more true of the AWCMG slice of the spectrum, than the rest, the Queers. This is precisely for the reasons I have outlined above. First, because the AWCMG community explicitly rejects religious arguments for right and wrong, and rightly so. Second because religious arguments are essentially the only moral arguments given in American culture. Third, because the community explicitly rejects legalistic perspectives on moral truth, since legalistic perspectives have historically rejected the community. Fourth, because the luminaries in the community historically have explicitly and emphatically endorsed pedophilia.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis from sociology argues that people are only able to approach and understand the world within the context of the ideas and words and concepts and language they have with which to do so. So if you reject most or all religious morality and reject most or all laws as a valid source of truth and justice, then how do you argue that anything is bad? If we look around at the response and the reckoning that hasn’t happened on this issue, we might be tempted to say, “you cant.” But I think there is a way. We can look to Del Martin and the argument she made in that famous open letter half a century ago. And we can draw a line from there straight to today’s feminist ethicists to see exactly how to make a strong moral argument on this topic that holds up even within the context of the Queer/AWCMG worldview.

In her book “Down Girl: the logic of Misogyny,” author Kate Manne makes the argument that misogyny, like all forms of structural injustice, is wrong because of a fundamental moral truth. It is wrong to rob people of agency by objectifying them. To deprive someone of agency is to destroy them as a person and recreate them as an object to be used. Fundamental to Critical Theory and Conflict Theory is the idea that systems of oppression are made up of aggregated microaggressions. Manne argues that there are different kinds of microaggressions which do slightly different things within that larger set of aggregated microaggressions. One specific type of microaggression which she calls a “down-move” is an act or statement intended simply to claim that the other person is lesser, is an object, does not deserve agency. She argues that this type of microaggression is the enforcement mechanism for the social norms and acts of theft of power and agency. So by her argument a down-girl move is a misogynistic act, a down-black move is racist act, etc.

Did you know that it’s perfectly legal for police to rape their prisoners in the United States as long as the officer claims it was consensual at the time? (USA Today) What’s the core moral problem here? I would argue it’s the same thing Manne and Martin are arguing, that they are robbing their prisoners of agency and using them as objects instead of treating them as people. This is always the core moral issue with sexual assault, and Manne does use many examples of sexual assault to illustrate her larger argument, but she argues that it extends basically to everything. A core problem of structural injustice whether it’s rape or wage slavery is that it robs individuals of agency and destroys them as people in order to recreate them as objects to be used by people in power for the benefit of people in power at the cost of people without power.

Consider the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. Was it consensual? Is it possible to consent across an incredible gap in power and agency? In Lewinsky’s own words, “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)” (Vazquez)

What defines consent? Legally, the age of consent has changed radically and is not the same everywhere. This makes the legal definition seem capricious and arbitrary. For most of American history, the age of consent was 10-12 years old. Today it’s mostly 18 (except with parental permission), though in Europe it’s mostly 16. In some places around the world, it’s still much younger than that. (Fradella 44)

Consider two examples within the context of the arbitrary and capricious legal definition of consent based on age. Imagine an otherwise consensual relationship between two unmarried people who are a day apart in age, where one happens to be over eighteen; this is statutory rape regardless of their willingness and enthusiasm to be together. Now consider another example. A 12-year-old — with parental permission — marries 87-year-old pedophilia-activist Harry Hay. This is perfectly legal and morally just, according to the American legal system, as well as in many other places around the world. (Reiss) I hope these examples illustrate the fundamental problem with using our deeply problematic legal system as an authority for moral truth.

Instead consider whether a 12-year-old can really exercise agency and give consent to an 87-year-old. And then consider whether a 17-year-old can exercise agency and give consent to an 18-year -old. In the first case, it seems clear to me that a child of twelve can likely not exercise the agency to give consent to an elderly pedophile. In the second case it seems clear that someone who is a day away from being a legal adult is not lacking any critical faculty that they will develop in the next 24 hours which precludes them from exercising the agency to give consent.

The arbitrary lines we draw at certain ages don’t make any sense and they change radically from place to place and over time. A better approach is to take the advice of Kate Manne and Del Martin and treat people as subjects rather than objects; to restrain ourselves and others from robbing them of agency over their own lives and actions.

I recall listening to an argument being made by someone in a radical faerie space that there is a system of injustice through which young people structurally deny sex to old people; that for young people to not give sex to old people is actually a microaggression. In that moment I knew I needed to someday write this essay. But it took a long time for me to put the pieces together. As Amber Chiacchieri argues in her essay “Sexual Violation, Feminism, and Foucault: Against a Confessional Politics of Truth,” neoclassicalism has appropriated many of the discourses of post-structuralism to extend systems of injustice rather than subverting them. She argues for a back-to-roots examination of contemporary post-structuralist discourses through the lens of Critical Theory. The claims of post-structuralism can be difficult to judge or grapple with as valid or invalid. The argument that young people are structurally denying sex to old people is not a logically self-contradictory claim, so how to refute it? Well according to Chiacchieri, examine it through Critical Theory. A system of oppression exists to facilitate the flow of power and resources from people without privilege to people with privilege. How does that apply to the example of this pro-pedophilia argument? Clearly old people have more power in society than young people. Clearly old people in society have more agency than young people. Clearly old people in society have more resources than young people. QED, the argument is not valid, and it is a good example of Chiacchieri’s claim that neoclassicalism tries to appropriate the discourses of post-structuralist liberation to extend injustice rather than subverting and dismantling injustice. I agree with her argument that Critical Theory is a perfect lens to examine these kinds of claims through, and Critical Theory is the very foundation of Manne’s argument that robbing people of agency and objectifying them is the fundamental method at the heart of systems of injustice. This argument for pedophilia therefore turns inside out through the Critical Gender Theory lens, and reveals why pedophilia is morally wrong, because it defines young people as objects to be used by old people, and defines old people as entitled to access to sex from young people, without any regard for the agency of the young, and for what they actually want.

I recently attended a Q&A discussion panel at SFSU where the members of the panel were all non-white QTBIPOC. The topic of the discussion was objectification. Every single member of the panel talked about how normal it was for white people, and in particular AWCMG people to objectify them in very specific ways. Everyone on the panel had examples of being compared to food or other objects by AWCMGs. This argument is bigger than pedophilia; it’s the very core of social justice. Robbing people of agency and objectifying them is why racism is wrong, and why misogyny is wrong, and why capitalism is wrong, and why every other system of injustice is wrong.

No one can consent to a boss who controls their livelihood. No one can consent to a cop who is legally entitled to rape and even kill them. No one can consent under the threat of violence or the fear of starvation or deprivation. Whenever there is a significant gap in power and resources between individuals, there can not be consent. This is the core moral truth that explains exactly why pedophilia is wrong and explains how to argue about it with people who rightly reject religion and the law as valid sources of moral truth.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bronski, M. (n.d.). News and Features: The real Harry Hay. News and Features | The real Harry Hay. https://web.archive.org/web/20090530123601/http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/documents/02511115.htm.

Chiacchieri, Amber M., “Sexual Violation, Feminism, and Foucault: Against a Confessional Politics of Truth” (2019). CUNY Academic Works. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/3206

Fisher, S. (n.d.). valence issue. Oxford Reference. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803115048341.

Fradella, H. F., & Sumner, J. M. (2016). Sex, sexuality, law, and (in)justice. Routledge.

Guardian News and Media. (2019, June 23). ‘I have to go off’: activist Sylvia Rivera on choosing to riot at Stonewall. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/23/i-have-to-go-off-activist-sylvia-rivera-on-choosing-to-riot-at-stonewall.

USA Today. Link, D. (2020, July 9). Fact check: Sex between police officers and their detainees isn’t illegal in many states. (I cited it this way because readers thought this author’s name “Link” was a note to myself to find a source for this claim.) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/07/09/fact-check-police-detainee-sex-not-illegal-many-states/5383769002/.

Manne, K. (2019). Down girl: the logic of misogyny. Penguin Books.

The New York Times. (2019, May 31). The Stonewall You Know Is a Myth. And That’s O.K. | NYT Celebrating Pride. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7jnzOMxb14.

ReduxPictures. (2012, October 15). Pay It No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjN9W2KstqE.

Reiss, F. (2019, March 1). Perspective | Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States? The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/02/10/why-does-the-united-states-still-let-12-year-old-girls-get-married/.

Regent University Law Review. Child Molestation and the Homosexual Movement. Published 2001. Accessed 2021-06-08.

Steve Cohen, opinion contributor. (2021, May 9). Shining a light on COINTELPRO’s dangerous legacy. The Hill. https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/552552-shining-a-light-on-cointelpros-wrong-headed-and-dangerous.

Vazquez, M. (2018, February 26). Lewinsky sees ‘problematic’ issue of consent in Clinton affair | CNN Politics. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/26/politics/monica-lewinsky-me-too/index.html.

 

 

 

Appendix A

Harry Hay’s blurb and cover photos for the NAMBLA book “A Witchhunt Foiled;”

http://www.zombietime.com/zomblog/?p=1152

 

KeyWiki article with many live and some now-dead links to sources covering many examples of Hay’s pedophilia activism;

https://keywiki.org/Harry_Hay#Support_for_Pedophilia

 

 

Does post-structuralism merely extend the hegemony of neoclassicalism?

As a queer nonbinary person who is wrestling with whether or not to embrace post-structuralism, it’s been very interesting over the years to hear so many arguments from fans of queer theory against things like hate crimes legislation or even marriage equality. One of the more obvious arguments has been the fact that marriage equality is essentially just the legislation of homonormativity or the way a certain class of affluent, able, cis, white, gay men try very hard to be just like affluent, able, cis, white, straight men; forsaking the duties their privileged identities confer on them.

They argue that marriage is not something we should want to earn through sufficient assimilation, but rather something to reject as fundamental to the cisheteropatriarchal hegemony we are ostensibly interested in dismantling. It’s sort of the same argument against second-wave feminism and its “Equality for White Women” mantra, or against groups like the Human Rights Campaign or the NAMES project which fired all the activists at some point and became bootlicker shills for neoliberal capitalism and actively worked against the interests of the groups they originally identified as fighting for.

On the other hand, I’ve heard critical theorists and utopian intentionalists alike argue that post-structuralism itself is merely acting in service of neoclassicalism by infinitely dividing classes that could otherwise stand together to oppose the cisheteropatriarchal hegemony of neoclassicalism.

My Kayaking Setup

I’ve been doing a lot of kayaking since age ten, just over two decades now. I’ve tried a lot of different gear and here’s my current setup based on all my lessons learned.

Kayaking

(I’m in the back)

The kayak is my absolute favorite kayak. The Intex Challenger K1 (Second-Generation). These kayaks are really great for either whitewater or calm water. They have a large detachable skeg which really goes a long way towards helping them track in a straight line. It’s super easy to keep them from turning at high speed. The detachable skeg is a huge improvement over the first generation because the longer you used them, the less straight the skegs would be, since you have to roll them up every time for storage.

These kayaks are actually surprisingly cheap and they come with a pump and an adjustable-angle paddle. My friend in the middle is using the paddle that comes with the kayaks.

I really really hate those paddles that come with these kayaks so I upgraded to the Adventure Technology Carbon Fiber Geronimo kayak paddle. This is 10/10. I really really like how light it is, and the shape and surface area are perfect. It works really well for a light slow paddle or a heavy intense paddle. You can get a lot of power out of this paddle, and it’s light as a feather.

I’m using the Astral Ringo Life Jacket/ PFD  which is rated for whitewater and sea kayaking. Notice how it rides kind of high compared to my friend’s wakeboarding jacket? That way if you are knocked unconscious, it will keep your head above water. This style of PFD is an absolute must for any kind of whitewater kayaking.

I also have a WRSI Current Kayak Helmet. I can’t find this online so it might be discontinued. I would recommend going to a whitewater shop to get fitted for a good helmet because the sizes do not seem very standardized in my experience.