The Slow-Motion Mass Suicide Of American Neo-Conservatism

I’m sure you’ve heard the claim, “You’ll get more conservative as you get older.” Throughout the middle of the twentieth century, the reality was that our society was designed to kill anyone who wasn’t a conservative. In the last six months, this trend has reversed in a big way.

War and racism were the two most fundamental forces behind the creation of the “middle class” after World War 2. For the first time, the GI bill and FHA program handed trillions of dollars to white conservatives and funded the creation of the suburbs. “White flight” saw an enormous swathe of the urban tax base and white population leave to create new enclaves outside the cities. As an institution, the suburbs became an extension of the ideology of the class of people for whom they were created. Bans on ethnic minorities were common in these new white enclaves, and black people were specifically exempted from access to much of the government’s white-flight funding. Locally funded education in the new suburban enclaves meant white suburbanites withheld funding for urban communities; carefully denying access to quality education to entire generations of the urban minorities.

While that government money kept flowing, the suburbs continued to grow and prosper. At the same time, white flight flight meant the diverse urban landscapes continued to suffer. Since then, the Keynesian multiplier has been running its course in those suburban enclaves. Real estate markets still play a central role in recycling the trillions that were handed to white conservatives, with homes doubling or tripling in “value” and exchanging hands to fund small businesses and education, so the next generation of white conservatives can continue the work of cultivating their dystopian anti-community vision of a segregated, reactionary world.

For these reasons and many more, our society has long punished and systematically exterminated non-conservatives and especially non-whites. For example, there are significant differences in life expectancy between black and white people living in the same neighborhoods, even in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those differences are much more extreme in the more common highly-segregated neighborhoods in the bay area.

One side effect of the systematic extermination of non-whites and non-conservatives is the fact that white conservatives get to vote more times in their lives since they live longer. Also, because of gerrymandering and centuries of racial voter suppression efforts, white conservative voices in America count for more than black non-conservative voices.

All of that changed very suddenly in 2020. Let’s look at two graphs…

Ideological trends with generations

Coronavirus mortality rate by age

Statistically in America, the generations that are oldest right now are also the most conservative. Another thing that comes with age is risk of death from coronavirus. This connection alone is already enough to scare many pundits into fearing that the ongoing leftward demographic shifts will be dramatically accelerated by the effects of the pandemic. Some have gone so far as to speculate that the mass death forecast for the president’s core voter base could cost him the election.

It is perhaps ironic therefore that his strategy has been to do nothing and pretend it will go away. Maybe it’s ironic that the white conservative movement in America decided to achieve consensus on several salient points. These older white conservatives — the people most at risk — tend to think coronavirus is not real or exaggerated. The same people also refuse to take even the most basic health precautions.  This rejection of reality amplifies the potential impact of the pandemic.

For this reason, the long-standing trend of systematic extermination of non-conservatives has suddenly been reversed, as conservatives hoist themselves high on their own petards, committing this final act of mass suicide in defense of their core principle of rejecting evidence and focusing on ideological divisions instead.


“The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.”

The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.

Focusing just on drug use and not on the causes for addiction, I was struck by this line from Ethan Nadelmann’s Ted Talk. It reminded me of arguments made by founding Queer Theorist Michel Foucault in his landmark book Discipline and Punish. Foucault talks about the way that the early pandemic response in urban European environments was built around building a line separating the clean from the unclean and punishing the unclean. He went on to give us the idea of cultural expectations as a panopticon or a prison of identity where we as prisoners enforce the rules on one another. He also talked about the modern punishment being indefinite examination rather than drawing and quartering as was the case in ancient times. In particular, Foucault explores the idea of pathologized categorizations of certain kinds of people who are bad or sick or unhealthy based on seemingly irrelevant behaviors. This is essentially identical to the discourses around addiction in America, as well as many other modern cultural issues.

Do you choose to use adderall and ritalin, or rather the less legal forms of amphetamines?

Do you choose to use vicodin and norco, or rather the less legal forms of heroin?

What factors contribute to the decision on which of these a given person may choose to use, and why is it the decision between which forms of each drug that means a person should be treated as “sick” and punished?

Many of the texts and videos we went through in this unit make the same argument; that underprivileged people are given pathologized identities based on which drugs they choose to use, and then marginalized on that basis. There are many queer arguments to make about drug use, but I think this is the core one; pathologizing a given behavior — only when certain kinds of people have that behavior, and not for other groups — is merely an extension of the systemic oppression of racism, classism, and other forms of bigotry and prejudice.

Giovanni’s Room Refutes Sexual Orientation

CJ Trowbridge


English 16


Giovanni’s Room tells the story of a character struggling to fit simultaneously inside several contradictory identities, all of which fail to encompass the truth of his life. David is a straight man. David is also a gay man. David treats his multiple selves like characters to be played. He never reconciles the conflicts between these multiple selves, feeling that he has to choose one final self or jump back and forth between his disparate truths.

David is ostensibly a heterosexual man with a fiancé who he plans to eventually marry. He expresses constant conflict throughout the story about his future plans to marry Hella, even when he’s in bed with Giovanni. Marrying Hella is a sincere desire of David’s on one level. On another level, marrying Hella is fulfilling his father’s expectations for his life. There is also financial pressure for David to fulfill his heterosexual role; his father withholds support for him until he fulfills this part of his assigned identity.

David is also a gay man who has fallen in love with another gay man. It was almost love at first sight. There is no mistaking the deep connection between David and Giovanni. They shared passionate months together and even moved in together for most of the book. David describes the two of them walking through Paris at sunrise and expressing more wonder at one another than the surroundings. This is not a one-off relationship either, David has had many male and female sexual and romantic partners.

Because these conflicting ideas are never reconciled, David must bottle everything up until he loses control. He stumbles through life unable to take deliberate action precisely because he can not admit to the truth that many of his desires and experiences do not fit neatly into the categories he has given himself to choose between. Sociologists call this the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; people see the world in terms of the language and ideas they have. If they don’t have words or ideas for something, then they are unable to perceive it. In David’s case, he has these two people he is trying to be at the same time. He is unaware of the possibility of reconciling these people into a single unified and honest self. If he lived in modern day San Francisco, there would be nothing strange at all about the desires and experiences he has. He might call it something like polyamory or free love, and go about his life happily and well-integrated.

In an article called “What is Sexual Orientation,” published in Hypatia, Robin Dembroff argues that neither of the two popular ideas about what sexual orientation is, holds up to scrutiny. The behavioral perspective tries to classify people based on what physical characteristics their partners have. The second framework depends on classifying people based on the conditions under which they experience attraction. I think this is a very concise rebuttal of the idea that either perspective could reasonably hold up in this story. If we classify David by his behavior, he is neither homosexual nor heterosexual. Likewise, there are little to no similarities in the way he experiences attraction to Giovanni and Hella.

In Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, the author argues that implicit in the idea of categorizing people by their sexual behaviors is the argument that there is some essential core truth behind these categories.

The prevailing assumption of the ontological integrity of the subject before the law might be understood as the contemporary trace of the state of nature hypothesis, that foundationalist fable constitutive of the juridical structures of classical liberalism. The performative invocation of a nonhistorical “before” becomes the foundational premise that guarantees a presocial ontology of persons who freely consent to be governed and, thereby, constitute the legitimacy of the social contract

In reality, we know from the work of Kinsey in the early twentieth century, just a few years after sexual orientation was invented by Hirschfeld, that almost no one fits into the categories of “homosexual” or “heterosexual.” The reality is much more complex and much less categorical. This work by Kinsey lends credence to the claim by Butler that if there is some essential truth of people, sexual orientation is not a reflection of that truth. Instead, people experience conflict in trying to limit their behavior to fit whatever category they are supposed to be. The categories are not a reflection of the person; the person rather chooses to attempt to become a reflection of the category.

From this perspective, Giovanni’s Room is a classic Hegalian Dialectic. We start with the thesis that David is heterosexual, then the antithesis that David is actually a homosexual, then we reach the synthesis that neither of these fits. Perhaps something greater and broader is the real truth? Could it be that — as many queer theorists have argued — these identities do not reflect any essential truth about people, and rather people try to live in a way which reflects their assigned or chosen identity? If the queer theorists are right, then David is really just a person trying to fit himself into a bunch of made up categories and ideas about how he should live. In a more honest world, there would be no conflict between loving Giovanni and loving Hella. In the words of Dossie Easton, author of The Ethical Slut, “There is enough of everything for everyone.” Imagine how much differently the story would have played out it everyone had been honest with one another. Maybe David would choose at some point to shift the primary locus of his attention from Giovanni to Hella. If everyone had been more honest about what they were doing, there would be no cause for conflict and murder and heartbreak and resentment. If these characters were armed with a broader sexual lexicon that acknowledged more than two non-overlapping categories of sexual orientation and identity, none of the conflicts in this story would have happened. Sexual orientation does not fall neatly into the separate categories or “homosexual” and “heterosexual” because these ideas do not reflect the truth about how people exist in the world. This point is illustrated wonderfully in Giovanni’s Room.

Conversation with a Professor

This was in a lower division LGBT Studies class. We were discussing “Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock.


I really connected personally with the line “When I look back at my childhood, I often say I always knew I was a girl since the age of three or four, a time when I began cataloging memories. ”

Not because I felt the same way, but because I recall having a realization a the same age  that I was gay. At the time I knew there to be two options: straight or gay. I also knew that I had an interest in a guy, therefore obviously I was gay. It took half a decade before I acted on this conclusion. I’ve always wondered how my life and identity would have played out if I had a better understanding at the time of the broader range of options and the fact that these identities are socially constructed rather than reflecting some truth about people.

This is a deeply queer discourse. Queer Theorists like Foucault and Butler argue that identities are a prison that limit us to fit their boundaries while preventing exploration outside the boxes we choose to  put ourselves in.  Most people accept a limited range of options and choose to live within the artificial boundaries they are handed, rather than exploring their full selves. I can’t help but see this in my own experience and that of the author.


Do you see your identity purely as a social construction, or does it (also) reflect some essential truth about you? It seems like you’ve constructed another binary here, but I’m wondering how that accords with your lived experience? Is it possible that our identities exist along a spectrum of constructivism and essentialism? Apologies if you find these questions naive or unintelligible, but I ask them in earnest and out of a deep interest in the ontological and epistemological implications.


In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argues that many of the discourses of identity try and fail to establish themselves as prediscursive. There is an implicit and explicit argument in many cases that these categories are essential or that the identity reflects a truth, rather than the truth reflecting an identity. I like this quote from Chapter 1 of Gender Trouble;

The prevailing assumption of the ontological integrity of the subject before the law might be understood as the contemporary trace of the state of nature hypothesis, that foundationalist fable constitutive of the juridical structures of classical liberalism. The performative invocation of a nonhistorical “before” becomes the foundational premise that guarantees a presocial ontology of persons who freely consent to be governed and, thereby, constitute the legitimacy of the social contract.

Butler is arguing based on earlier work by De Beauvoir for anti-essentialism; that there is no true essence at the core of these identities. Obviously both Butler and De Beauvoir go into much deeper detail, but I think this excerpt is a good summary of the Queer perspective as put forward by Butler.

Coronavirus and The Environment

CJ Trowbridge

Environmental Problems & Solutions


Final Exam

In preparing for this essay, I looked back for evidence on my early personal response to coronavirus. I recall that early on, it seemed like a repeat of SARS-CoV-03. Since then, we have learned that though SARS-CoV-19 is much less lethal and contagious, the response has been bungled in epic fashion by our inept leadership, leading to much more widespread death and suffering compared to the previous SARS virus. My reaction to the ongoing chaos and lack of leadership was to launch several websites to allow people to track their local data. The first of these was called “Covid19 Progress” ( It allows people to see and compare data like percent infected, deaths, tests, etc for countries and states. This data is shown in tables as well as linear or logarithmic charts. People can also request further data or visualizations to help clarify and inform others. I later launched “Corona Country” ( which does essentially the same thing but by county in the US; so you can see the same data for your US county and the adjacent counties.

I see three problems with “going back to business as usual.” First, the situation before this crisis was not good and we should not want to go back to it. We were already well underway in our ongoing ecological collapse. Even with the dramatic reduction in CO2 as a result of the shutdown, the climate change situation is not significantly improved. (Lombrana) Secondly, the SBA and FEMA are projecting that up to 90% of businesses will never reopen (Access), and the current Federal Reserve unemployment projections are already double-digits higher than the peak of the great depression (Castro). There is no “business as usual” to go back to. Third, as evidenced in Appendix A, there are historical examples where relaxing restrictions during a pandemic immediately caused more than double the death and suffering that would have otherwise happened. This is to say nothing of the second and third waves as evidenced in Appendix B. In Texas, prematurely reopening led to an overnight tripling in new infections in the last week. (Wallace) The idea of going back to business as usual just doesn’t make any sense and is not possible.

Coronavirus has exposed the fact that there are fundamental problems with our current system. Not only is it incapable of addressing serious challenges and existential threats, but it isn’t even capable of acknowledging them. Many people have drawn parallels to the climate crisis which is not only much larger and more dangerous, but we are not on track to either acknowledge or address it on any level.

As a student, my personal experience of the pandemic has been a comfortable and unchallenging one. I left the bay area as soon as the lockdown happened, and went somewhere that I can essentially live for free indefinitely while still receiving scholarships, financial aid, pandemic unemployment assistance, and other financial help. I built a large garden and sewed a fruit orchard.

My experience reflects a broader trend where a great many people are having their first experiences with real reflective analysis of their lives. People are forced to confront the reality that they are not living like they want to. With conveniences like fast food and cafes taken away, people are forced to subsist on their own, and they are waking up to the fact that consumer culture is not healthy and not necessary. There has been a huge surge in gardening for example as people begin to consider the source of their food and their impact on their surroundings. (Mark) People are reconnecting with nature at the same time as asking themselves what kind of world we want to go back to. I predict that future historians will look back at this time as a critical moment when people started to ask important questions about our role in the world and the duty that our leaders have to represent our interests both in the short-term and the long-term. In many countries around the world, we are already seeing shifts in public policy towards divesting from harmful industries and investing in the green future. (Hutin)

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, but this crisis if also an opportunity to decide what kind of world we want to go back to. Confronting these issues is not optional since most of the world of yesteryear will never reopen. Whatever comes next, we will have to build starting now. This means now is the time to discuss what we want to build next. Maybe we will start to see real change on these important issues throughout the world. Maybe future historians will look back at this moment and say this was one of the few times humanity decided to take advantage of its opportunities rather than squandering them. Maybe this is our moment to shine.


Works Cited

Access. “Study: 40% of businesses fail to reopen after a disaster.” Accessed 2020-05-20.

Castro, Miguel. “Back-of-the-Envelope Estimates of Next Quarter’s Unemployment Rate.” The Federal Reserve. Published 2020-04-24. Accessed 2020-05-20.

Hutin, Clemence. “A green bailout must put Europe’s energy poor first”. Euractive. Published 2020-04-23. Accessed 2020-05-20.

Lombrana, Lauda Millan. “A Pandemic That Cleared Skies and Halted Cities Isn’t Slowing Global Warming.” Bloomberg. Published 2020-05-07. Accessed 2020-05-20.

Mark, Michelle.” People are rushing to plant ‘pandemic gardens’ and seed companies say they can’t keep up with the surge in demand.” Insider. Published 2020-04-14. Accessed 2020-05-20.

Wallace, Jeremy. “Texas reports massive jump in COVID-19 cases in single day.” Houston Chronicle. Published 2020-05-16. Accessed 2020-05-20.

Appendix A


Appendix B

The fact that housing is almost always only being built by investors means it’s not possible to have affordable housing for everyone.

CJ Trowbridge



Urban Studies GWAR Final

The fact that housing is almost always only being built by investors means it’s not possible to have affordable housing for everyone. In this paper I will show that when real estate investors act in their own rational self-interest, they harm everyone else. I will show that this is because affordable housing can’t be a good investment. As we will see, there are many non-profits struggling to develop and operate affordable housing, but there is not nearly enough funding available for them to meet the demand. Even before the current corona crisis, we were nowhere near on-track to meet our current housing needs. This problem has been getting worse for a long time; we used to have widespread public housing projects to fill unmet need. Finally, we will see how Crisis Theory explains the current crisis while also suggesting a solution.

Real estate investors who act in their own rational self-interest harm everyone else. Monopolistic practices prevent competition and artificially inflate prices because real estate investors collude to decrease supply. Height and bulk restrictions prevent housing from being built. Holding vacant property to deliberately drive up price. Delaying construction until prices go up. As a political and economic special interest class, real estate investors fight for interests that are exactly the opposite of the interests of the people. Adam Smith said as much in his book, The Wealth of Nations (Smith 43). Local governments are dominated by these special interest real estate investor groups. These groups work against the needs and interests of the broader population, purportedly in the public interest but actually only in the interest of the real estate investor class which they represent.

Affordable housing cannot currently be a good investment. The barriers and systems put in place to artificially inflate prices by preventing density from increasing and preventing new development makes it cost-prohibitive to build affordable housing (Hertz). By comparing income percentiles in every state to housing prices, my original research has shown that nowhere in the country is housing affordable, and in most states, it’s not affordable until you reach the 75th percentile in income. (Appendix 1) Efforts to incentivize for-profit investors to build at least some affordable units include trivially small “fines” in lieu of those units. The in-lieu fee in San Francisco is currently about $200 per square foot. Let’s consider an average apartment which in San Francisco is 747 square feet (Rent Cafe). This means an investor need only pay $150k in lieu of building an affordable unit. Building an affordable unit costs an average of $750k in San Francisco (Fuller). Now consider that the average market-rate rental price for that unit in San Francisco is $3,629 (Rent Cafe). This means that even at market rate, this unit does not break even for 17 years. At an affordable rate, it is not likely to ever break even at these prices. Therefore, for-profit real estate investment is focused on providing for the wealthy while increasing the prices paid, meanwhile the vast majority of people must go without any affordable housing options. This problem exists everywhere; San Francisco is easy to talk about because so much research has been done, but the same holds true in every state, as you can see in Appendix 1 where I compare these numbers across the country.

There are many non-profits developing and operating affordable housing, but there is not nearly enough funding to meet demand. Many of these focus on specific neighborhoods, for example the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation focuses protecting and developing affordable housing in the Tenderloin neighborhood while the Chinatown Community Development Center focuses on that neighborhood. Others focus on specific communities or causes. These include non-profit affordable housing for formerly unhoused people, people living with AIDS, seniors, and other groups. All of these nonprofits must compete for extremely tight funding. In the words of a development officer I interviewed at one of these organizations, the solutions they are able to build are not even a drop in the bucket towards solving the problem.

We used to have widespread public housing projects to fill unmet need. This gave us the ability to house everyone and provide enough supply to meet demand. During a period of extremely racist public policy, almost all public housing was demolished. 90% of that housing was never replaced, and this was almost forty years ago (Race, The Power of an Illusion).

Even before the current corona crisis, we were nowhere near on-track to meet our current needs. The San Francisco bay area’s official RHNA projections say some parts of the bay will not meet their 2016 housing needs until 2880 at the current pace (MTC). Housing is not affordable anywhere in the country unless it’s subsidized, and states are going bankrupt because of the current crisis. In a recent interview, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he expects unemployment to pass 25% in the coming weeks (Vanek-Smith). The broader global economy seems likely to suffer widespread collapse in the coming months and years. Housing will be hit hard, as more and more people fall from being unable to afford enough housing to being unable to afford any housing. We are likely to see a dramatic rise in homelessness and civil unrest.

Crisis Theory explains the current crisis while also suggesting a solution. The fundamental argument of Crisis Theory is that under capitalism, a moment inevitably comes when certain kinds of countervailing forces overpower the prevailing forces, causing a crisis. At this point, fundamental change is possible, or else we can face the long slog towards trying the same mistakes once again. In this case, one of the prevailing forces was the over-exploitation of housing. Instead of competing to provide enough housing to meet demand, players in the market colluded to eliminate housing while artificially inflating prices through anticompetitive oligopolistic practices as outlined above. The main countervailing force in this crisis could be seen as the under-exploitation of labor. 75% of Americans cannot afford housing despite having one or more jobs. This essay focuses on the housing issue, but similar issues affect labor in this country.

Because we have a crisis, we have the opportunity to create fundamental change. How do we do that? Affordable housing has become a condensing symbol in American culture. Everyone who hears the phrase understands the issue at least to some degree, if only through the personal experience of being one of the 75% of people who cannot afford housing. If we look at this issue through the lens of Kingdon’s Three Stream Model of policy change, this condensing symbol fulfils the requirements of the first stream; the troubling social condition has been clearly articulated with a condensing symbol and most people understand that there is a social problem around affordable housing (Kingdon). The second stream, policy, is also well developed; there is a clear policy framework in place for how to build affordable housing in the current set of conditions. Just look at the many nonprofits which are already doing that with the limited funding that’s available. The piece that’s missing is the politics around how much money needs to be spent on this issue by the government. Currently, the amount being invested is barely a drop in the bucket. All that’s required to solve this problem is for the streams to come together during the window of opportunity provided by this crisis and broaden the available funding to such a degree that enough housing can be built to make a meaningful impact on this issue. Hopefully at the same time, we can also address anticompetitive practices such as height and bulk restrictions which prevent new or denser housing from being built in many areas around the country.

Kingdon's Three Streams

We have spent over six trillion dollars on the “war on terror” (Zeballos-Roig). That’s a billion dollars A DAY for the last twenty years. How much different would our nation be today if we had spent that money on housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and small businesses? We’ve spent MORE than that in the last few weeks alone in response to coronavirus (Van Dam). A bill just passed the house to spend yet another three trillion on coronavirus (Shabad). The amount of money we spend on issues we take seriously is incredible, and yet we live in a country where 75% of people do not have access to housing they can afford. We have the tools, we have the organizations, we have the people in place, we understand the problem. Solving housing is not impossible, we just need the political will to accomplish the task. We face dark times, but we also have the rare opportunity to decide what kind of world we want to go back to when the global collapse is over. In conclusion, I believe that every community which can’t meet its housing needs should automatically get enough federally funded non-profit-administered high-density housing to fill all unmet housing needs.



Works Cited

Fuller, Thomas. “Why does it cost $750,000 to build affordable housing in San Francisco?” The New York Times. Published 2020-02-20. Accessed 2020-05-17.

Hertz, Daniel. City Observatory. “Housing can’t both be a good investment and be affordable.” Published 2018-10-30. Accessed 2020-05-17.

Kingdon, John. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

MTC. When Will Bay Area Cities Reach Plan Bay Area 2040 Housing Targets? Accessed 2020-02-11. plan-bay-area-2040-housing-targets

Race, The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel.  April 2003.

Rent Cafe. “San Francisco Rental Market Trends.” Accessed 2020-05-17.

San Francisco Planning. “Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program.” Accessed 2020-05-17.

Shabad, Rebecca. “House passes Democrats’ $3T coronavirus ‘HEROES’ aid: Stimulus checks, money for states, rent assistance.” NBC News. Published 2020-05-15. Accessed 2020-05-17.

Smith, Adam, and Edwin Cannan. The Wealth of Nations. New York, N.Y: Bantam Classic, 2003.

Van Dam, Andrew. “The U.S. has thrown more than $6 trillion at the coronavirus crisis. That number could grow.” The Washington Post. Published 2020-04-15. Accessed 2020-05-17

Vanek-Smith, Stacey. “Gov. Newsom On Reopening California” The Indicator. NPR. Published 2020-05-07.

Zeballos-Roig, Joseph. “The US has blown past $6 trillion in ‘war on terror’ spending since 2001 — and its cost to taxpayers will keep climbing for decades, study says.” Business Insider. Published 2020-11-21. Accessed 2020-05-17.



Appendix 1

Summary: Affordable rent is defined as 30% of income. Comparing income percentiles in every state to median rents, you can see that for most states, up to 75% of the population can not afford rent. This data is from before the pandemic and spiking unemployment rates, so these problems are likely far worse now, but it will take years to understand exactly how bad things currently are.

Housing Affordatbility by percentile by state

Sexual orientation is not a “real fact” about people.

CJ Trowbridge


Feminist Ethics

Final Essay

Sexual orientation is not a “real fact” about people. In “What is Sexual Orientation,” Robin Dembroff argues that neither of the two popular ideas about what sexual orientation is, holds up to scrutiny. The behavioral perspective tries to classify people based on what physical characteristics their partners have. The second framework depends on classifying people based on the conditions under which they experience attraction. She goes on to argue that by combining them into a new third idea, they suddenly work. She calls this middle-road Bidimensional Dispositionalism. Throughout the article, Dembroff also refers to sex as an objective classification of people, while referring to gender as socially constructed.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Rather than trying to reconcile two contradictory and failed ideas, Dembroff should have discarded both ideas and questioned the shared underlying assumption that there is a true foundation of gender and sex as real categories. Instead, Dembroff engages in mental gymnastics to try and fit these apples and oranges together into some twisted new kind of fruit.

Sex is just as made-up as gender. Human chromosomes can combine in at least six ways. There are over forty non-chromosomal ways that sex diverges from the two archaic religious categories. Beyond that, there are countless ways that a child’s diet, exercise, clothing, gender roles, and other factors will change the way their physical body forms to fit the ideals associated with their assigned or chosen sex and gender. Basing arguments on an objective classification of people by sex is transphobic. There is no true essence of the male and female sexes, just like there is no true essence of the man and woman genders. These check-boxes are socially constructed in both cases, and neither system accurately reflects the people being classified into them. It’s deeply problematic to assume that it’s possible to derive insight about individuals based on these deeply flawed underlying assumptions about the differences and similarities between groups that often overlap in complex and unpredictable ways.

The idea that sexual orientation is real is a very recent invention, created and popularized by psychologists like Herschel in order to pathologize deviant behavior and force people to be “more normal” in order to produce a less deviant and more pure society. This not only doesn’t work, but it harms people for no reason. There is no “normal” person, and trying to force everyone to be “normal” can only hurt everyone.

Claudia Card argues that institutions like motherhood are fundamentally misogynistic because they are roles of subjugation and unpaid work. Performing the role of a mother – in Card’s view — means taking care of children because that is the limit of your purpose and function. Card argues that you may do other things outside that role, but when you are being a mother, you are being an object with a purpose. In the same way, institutions like homosexuality are fundamentally homophobic because they assume all the harmful boundaries, internalized pathologies, and social deviance which is the reason they were created. In effect, our ability to explore new behaviors becomes limited, homophobia is necessarily internalized, we become identified as deviant and outside the norm, often subject to violence from people and governments.

Simone De Beauvoir said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” It is not the case that there is a natural category called woman. Woman is a human story which some people are compelled to perform. When they perform this story, they become this story, and they become evidence for others that the story is true. In her book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler said,

In effect, the law produces and then conceals the notion of “a subject before the law” in order to invoke that discursive formation as a naturalized foundational premise that subsequently legitimates that law’s own regulatory hegemony… The prevailing assumption of the ontological integrity of the subject before the law might be understood as the contemporary trace of the state of nature hypothesis, that foundationalist fable constitutive of the juridical structures of classical liberalism. The performative invocation of a nonhistorical “before” becomes the foundational premise that guarantees a presocial ontology of persons who freely consent to be governed and, thereby, constitute the legitimacy of the social contract.

Institutions of systemic oppression do not exist outside the context of oppression. To be a man is to be a gender oppressor. To be a woman is to be oppressed on the basis of gender. To be heterosexual is to be a sexual orientation oppressor. To be homosexual is to be oppressed on the basis of sexual orientation. These categories exist as roles which when performed either contribute to or suffer from that system which created them. The great lie of these categories is that they exist and have always existed. The truth is that these categories have existed only since they were created. The lie says that the categories reflect natural facts. In reality, these categories exist to create new social truths which do not reflect the world from before. Therefore performing one of these roles means bringing it into existence. From this perspective, there is no apolitical heterosexual, homosexual, man, or woman. Everyone who participates in these institutions is either choosing to steal power and resources, or vice versa.

Sexual orientation is like a character in a play. If we choose to read the lines and act out the part, then and only then does it become real, but it’s still only a temporary performance as opposed to a true fact about us. When we make the choice to perform, we are choosing to harm ourselves and others. (The same is true for gender as De Beauvoir and Butler point out.) I think this is a much better answer to the question of “What is sexual orientation.” I hope it inspires you to think critically about your identity and whether it’s something true that you learned about yourself, or whether it’s something someone gave you and you accepted in place of yourself.

Why does a latte cost so much? Where does all that money go?

CJ Trowbridge

Urban Studies 401G


Social Justice Essay: Final Draft

Why does a latte cost so much? Where does all that money go? Capitalism is the enemy of markets, where vampires suck the wealth out of the supply chain in order to get fat on the work of others. Kyriarchy is the enemy of progress, holding most people down while holding a privileged few up. A socially just city is one that rejects capitalist hegemony and kyriarchichal social order in order to make sure everyone gets their needs met.

In cities around the world today, capitalism reigns supreme. People live and die as cogs in a machine which only benefits a tiny number of people at the expense of the vast majority of people. Capitalism is different from mercantilism or markets. Mercantile markets are where things are bought and sold between actual people. Capitalism is about capital, not output.

Baristas have been described as the modern factory worker. They take raw materials like milk and coffee beans and add value to them, producing output like lattes. Somewhere in America, a barista is making a latte which a customer is buying; this is an example of a market. Elsewhere in the country, a speculator is making a bet on the future of lattes or perhaps the beans or milk. The bet they make is worth more than the barista will ever make in their life. Elsewhere yet, a fourth person is making a bet on the first speculator which is worth more than the first speculator will ever see in their life. This is what we call capitalism. It’s not about making things or doing things in the world. It’s about speculating on things, and often breaking them in the process.

Maybe a bet on milk is not going well, so speculators force the market to dump half the milk down the drain. (Exactly what’s happening during coronavirus quarantine.) Now the price of milk goes up, speculators have a great day, but the farmer and barista can’t pay their bills. The thing that’s actually happening in the real world – making a latte – is disrupted by the system of bets being placed on it; capitalism disrupts and harms markets. Capitalism is not about making lattes, it’s about making bets on lattes. We need more lattes and less bets on lattes. The same thing is true for housing, food, and everything else capitalism touches.

Adam Smith famously wrote The Wealth of Nations which is often cited as support for capitalism, but Smith was not a capitalist. Smith was a mercantilist. Smith said that the rights of landlords are rooted in robbery, and landlords try to reap what they did not sew. Smith is talking about the same problem. Capitalist oligarchs withhold the means of producing lattes in order to artificially inflate the prices and extract wealth from markets. Imagine lattes as the wealth of nations, and capitalists as vampires sucking the nations dry.

The unit cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks is about a quarter of a cent. The cup itself is about 10 cents. Workers are paid about 12 cents to grind, brew, and serve each cup of coffee. The coffee sells for about four dollars. The vast majority of the value created by the workers is extracted by capitalists on many levels between the farm and the customer. An honest and just alternative scenario might be the workers earning a much larger share of the value they create, or the customers paying a much lower price, with taxes being paid only on consumption rather than earnings and production. The end result being that the capitalist intermediaries who presently extract almost all the wealth bring produced by the workers (without contributing any valuable work to the products) receive a smaller share of the wealth being produced.

A socially just city is one that rejects kyriarchical social order. Remember our big-bets-speculator from before? Statistically speaking, he is a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, Christian, man and he lives in a big mansion on top of a hill. Kyriarchcial order means that some kinds of people are on top (literally) while other kinds of people are on the bottom (literally). Halfway down mansion hill, we find a suburb where our small bets speculator lives. Maybe he has a little more diversity, and he lives in a McMansion; it’s nice looking and completely identical to a hundred others in the same sprawling suburb. Everyone has the same grass lawns out front and the HOA comes by every week to measure the grass and make sure the suburbanites are following the rules. The rules are important because up the hill, our big-bets person has given loans to the suburbanites and Mr big bets wants to see a return on that investment. Finally, down in the valley we see our barista sharing an apartment with several friends. Here we finally see real diversity. Few if any white, cis-gender, heterosexual, Christian, men can be found. The appliances are broken, the building is falling apart, and the owner (who lives up the hill in the suburb) never gets around to fixing anything.

The problem with kyriarchy should be obvious. It’s not just the living situations of these people that are discordant, but their health outcomes, their access to education, and their potential for personal growth and lifetime potential. Maybe little Johnny in the suburbs wants to go to college and become a doctor. Well that’s easy to do up there, but good luck to a child born into the tenements in the valley below. It’s not just financially impossible, but it’s not something kids are even socialized to want or expect because their parents and grandparents grew up in the same situation lacking access to the same things.

Eliminating kyriarchy in the urban process means no single-family development, no residential height restrictions, and strong regulation on landlords forcing them to maintain their rental properties. It means no one should need a car to survive, and having a car should be inconvenient and expensive compared to taking transit. It means public transit should be available everywhere and free for everyone. It means building enough affordable housing for everyone, even if the developers and NIMBYs try to stand in the way. On all these issues, it comes down to the duty of a city to represent all its people, not just the wealthy. It means deciding as a community that we value our citizens and want to represent their interests. We decide that the common good means everyone gets access to food and healthcare and education; that everyone’s basic needs must be insured under the social contract that underlies the urban process.

We can change these broken systems because they are new. It wasn’t always like this and it won’t always be like this. A few more decades of the status quo will mean the extinction of humanity. One way or another, this system is going to end soon. Dismantling the vampire of capitalist hegemony which sucks the wealth out of workers will be challenging but possible. Eliminating kyriarchical barriers to progress will mean everyone can finally get healthy, get an education and pursue the lives they really want to be living, instead of fighting to subsist on the scraps of capitalists in this dystopian kyriarchical nightmare where we find ourselves.

The State of the Housing Crisis

The lack of affordable housing is a pervasive, escalating, global crisis driven in part by NIMBYism, speculative investments, and a lack of development. This is a social problem because the troubling social condition has been clearly outlined, and clear solutions exist for each underlying problem. NIMBYs use land use restrictions such as single-family zoning, height restrictions, and density restrictions to allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. An another front, speculators are holding vacant the very housing which is critically needed because they want to artificially inflate rent by reducing supply; there are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area, at just 28,000. (Anthony) Lastly, developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. For example, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City projects that it will meet its 2040 housing needs in 2880. (MTC)

The overarching problem of a lack of affordable housing is pervasive throughout the world, and it’s getting worse. Marginalized people are bearing the brunt of these problems across the globe, “While the advantaged members of the knowledge, professional, and creative class have enough money left over even after paying the cost of housing in these cities, it’s the less-well-paid members of the service and working classes who get the short of end of the stick, with not nearly enough left over to afford the basic necessities of life. They are either pushed to the periphery of these places or pushed out all together.” (Citylab)

Land use restrictions such as single-family zoning and height restrictions allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. In The Sunset district of San Francisco today, no one may build anything higher than fifty feet. (SF Gov) This means that despite the abundant availability of land, most of it is zoned for small, low density homes rather than large apartment buildings which could house many times more people.

All around the world, speculators make the housing problem worse. They buy distressed properties or even perfectly fine properties. They remove existing tenants and hold the property vacant. Eventually, they hope the demand will go up and cause the price to increase to the point where the speculator can make a significant profit from selling the property. This means that all they are doing for the community is raising prices on properties because of their personal greed. There is no benefit to anyone but themselves, and the people they removed from the property are now likely priced out of their own neighborhoods. In California, almost all homeless people are homeless in the same neighborhood they grew up in. (Marbut) There are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area. (Anthony) In many cases, homeless populations exist in those neighborhoods because speculators forced them out of their homes before inflating the prices and reselling the properties to wealthy new owners who vote to deny services to help the people whose houses they are now living in. In one recent example, a group of homeless mothers in Oakland occupied one of these vacant speculator-owned homes. With broad community support, they were eventually able to acquire legal ownership of the home! (Elassar)

During the progressive era, the government decided to give trillions of dollars to certain kinds of people to fund the construction of the suburbs. Programs like FHA and the GI bill gave trillions of dollars in loans to people who would never have been given loans in the past. This funded the creation of the suburbs by now-wealthy primarily white people. They left the cities in a period we now refer to as “white flight.” Despite the fact that the GI bill and FHA gave loans primarily to white people, the racism of the home loan programs was extended into a policy called redlining. Tracts were described by lenders on a scale of how many people of color lived in the tract. If there were too many people of color then the tract was outlined in red on the map. Redlining meant no loans would be offered there, or to people who lived there and wanted to leave. Predictably, this led to a long period of decline and decay in the inner cities, where the white people had trapped most of the people of color. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Never fear because Urban Renewal was here! In the mid twentieth century, redlining was banned, but the damage it had done to urban communities of color was intense and pervasive. The US government responded by allocating enormous amounts of money to bulldoze those neighborhoods and allow white people to build new homes there which could then be used to exclude people of color from their neighborhoods, or in some cases rented out to them so they could now rent where they had previously owned. At the same time, public housing was also being demolished and replaced with private for-profit housing. Today there is no public housing left in San Francisco. Throughout the country, 90% of the housing demolished during Urban Renewal was never rebuilt. Two third of those displaced were black or latino. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Today in San Francisco, there are many programs intended to create “Affordable housing” as an alternative to public housing. When the phrase “Affordable housing” is capitalized, it means there is a subsidy involved. Programs like HUD’s Section 8 will cover the cost of rent for a small number of very-low-income renters with certain characteristics. Other programs will cover part of the cost for certain kinds of renters. There are few to no “affordable housing” options for most people. When this phrase is not capitalized, it means housing which costs less than 30-50% of people’s income. San Francisco basically thinks about only two categories; market rate housing and subsidized housing. Market rate housing is when a two-bedroom apartment costs $4,520/month. (Rent Jungle) This is affordable only if someone is earning $108,480-$180,800. This means you have to earn in the 76th-90th percentile for market rate to be affordable. (DQYDG) This tells us that for the vast majority of people in the city, there are no affordable housing options.

Developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. Cities are required to work with the state to project their housing needs on a regular basis through a program called RHNA. Cities are not, however, required to actually make sure that amount of housing gets built. For example, according to SPUR, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City will meet its own projects for its 2040 housing needs in the year 2880. (MTC) If this sounds like a joke, it’s because this problem is so enormous and so out of control and so poorly managed by cities, that there is no longer any way to sugar coat these numbers.

Fixing this problem will take changes to land use restrictions which disempower NIMBYs and speculators while enabling massive redevelopment to take place. We need a lot more units, and we need them everywhere, not just in someone else’s backyard. We need units in EVERY back yard, and we need to replace single family homes with large high-density apartment buildings or we are going to continue to see enormous numbers of people on the streets and few to no affordable options available to most people. This crisis will continue to escalate until action on these points is forced down the throats of the people standing in the way. We can already see examples such as the one I mentioned in Oakland where people are beginning to rise up and demand change, even if it’s in violation of the unjust laws which allow a privileges few to perpetrate this crisis on the people.




Works Cited


Anthony, Kate et al. Homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area: The crisis and a path forward. McKinsey & Company. Accessed 2020-02-24. industries/public-sector/our-insights/homelessness-in-the-san-francisco-bay-area-the-crisis-and-a-path-forward

Citylab. The Global Housing Crisis. Accessed 2020-02-24. 04/the-global-housing-crisis/557639/

DQYDJ. Income Percentile by City Calculator in 2019.

Elassar, Alaa. “Homeless mothers with Oakland’s ‘Moms 4 Housing’ have been forcibly evicted from a vacant home they were occupying.” CSS. Published 2020-01-15.

Pena, Luz. ABC 7 News. There are an estimated 46,000 vacant homes in the Bay Area, but why? Accessed 2020-02-24.

Marbut, Robert. State of Homelessness. Presented 2015-04-07.

MTC. When Will Bay Area Cities Reach Plan Bay Area 2040 Housing Targets? Accessed 2020-02-11. plan-bay-area-2040-housing-targets

Race, The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel.  April 2003.

Rent Jungle. Rent trend data in San Francisco, California.

SF Gov. “Zoning Map – Height/Bulk Districts.” City and County of San Francisco. Accessed 2020-04-01.

Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

In this essay, I will argue that Kate Manne’s account of misogyny as the enforcement mechanism for systemic sexism is persuasive as a novel deontological framework for ameliorating the impact of sexism by changing the way we talk about it. To defend this claim, I will show that her argument overcomes one of the main challenges facing feminist ethical arguments by providing not just an epistemic system but a deontological system.

In her book Down Girl, Kate Manne argues for a prescriptive redefinition of misogyny under an ameliorative lens, “if we want to change the world, we may need to conceptualize it differently.” In the past, arguments about systemic sexism have focused on convincing people that it exists.  In these arguments, systemic sexism is typically presented in the form of disparate impact which is aligned with gender as a result of aggregated microaggressions. The impact is the focus rather than the microaggressions. There are several problems that emerge from what Manne calls this “naïve approach.” First, as an inductive argument, it’s easy to find anecdotes which purport to refute it. In reality this is not how to refute an inductive argument, but it convinces many people to accept their predetermined conclusion that systemic sexism is either not real, not important, or not their problem. Secondly, the attention is focused on the impact rather than on the microaggression that causes it. Manne’s argument moves the attention onto the microaggressions and into the deductive form which can not be refuted as easily.

Marilyn Frye’s Birdcage Theory says that systemic sexism is made up of lots of little pieces that come together to form a problematic system which works like a birdcage; no one wire is the one holding the bird down, it’s all of them working together. You could even remove a wire or two and the bird would not be free. It’s the cage that is the problem, not the individual wires. This is metaphor for many things in society which work together to keep women subjugated. The challenge in making arguments based on this theory is that they are inductive arguments. For example, “Trump is a sexist.” It’s easy to point to anecdotal counter-examples like his several female employees or his relationship with his daughter. These counter-examples don’t really disprove the claim but they muddy the waters enough to make further discussion difficult or impossible. This claim is unlikely to change minds.

Manne offers a radically different approach for how to think about the problem and how to articulate claims about the problem. She says that instead of making an inductive conclusion, we should make a deductive conclusion and instead of talking about disparate impact, we should about microaggressions which she calls down-girl moves. This simple deontological claim on Manne’s part has radically changed the way I think about social justice in general and I say that as someone who already a degree in that. Because this is such a fundamental paradigm shift, I have prepared a graph which explains how different this is from older ideas about how to talk about sexism. In logic, there are four types of arguments: A, E, I, O. The naïve approach uses forms I and O. The Ameliorative approach uses forms A and E; these forms are very different as we will see.

From my previous example, when I said “Trump is a sexist,” the stated premise breaks apart to include several implied premises;

  1. Trump has probably committed many sexist microaggressions
  2. The impact of systemic sexism on women is caused by the aggregated microaggressions.
  3. Therefore Trump is probably responsible for some portion of the impact of systemic sexism on women.

It’s easy to attack that claim from many angles, but the fundamental problem according to Manne is that we are saying probably. It’s too easy to attack an inductive or “probably” argument. Now imagine instead the claim, “Trump strangled his wife.” The stated premise and implied premise are reversed, and no rebuttal is possible. No matter how many women he has hired or what kind of relationship he has with his daughter, he still strangled his wife.

I feel like I have to include at least a little bit of queer theory in this essay and say that while all systems of oppression are different, they all work the same way. In the case of race, I think a good corollary to Manne’s ameliorative approach is Black Lives Matter. Instead of signs and posters reading, “Black people are disproportionately likely to be murdered by police,” the claim that black lives matter simply assumes that, and it’s much harder to credibly attack head-on.

Beyond just changing the form of arguments used, Manne says that we should talk about down-girl moves rather than talking just about impact of systemic sexism. As we can see in the previous example, this is a very effective way to prevent rebuttal while making essentially the same argument about Trump being a sexist. In Manne’s argument, a down-girl move is a microaggression which has the effect of subjugating or subordinating women. It’s not just about being a sexist; it’s also about putting women below men hierarchically. She argues that down-girl moves “will be such that all or most women are positioned as subordinate in relation to some man or men.” These moves do the work of enforcing patriarchy or the hierarchy of genders with men on top. She gives long lists of examples from things like strangulation to humiliation to threats of violence, especially when the aggressor jumps between universal and specific as ER did in his manifesto. “[Because some women are not attracted to me, I will punish all women by attacking some women.]” This move is more than just a sexist microaggression, it’s also a claim that women are below men hierarchically. She also argues that we should focus on the most egregious down-girl acts when making claims about bad actors. For someone like Trump who has strangled a wife, it might make less sense to focus on discussions of his diction or hiring practices, unless that’s specifically the context we’re talking about.

The strongest objection to the ameliorative approach would be epistemic sexism. If an opponent rejects the fundamental premises of feminism or accepts the gender hierarchy, then down-girl moves, sexism, and misogyny are good things. In these cases, the ameliorative claim, “Trump strangled his wife,” could simply be met with, “She probably deserved it.” In these cases, this person is someone who needs to be convinced of many fundamentals before they are ready to discuss why strangling one’s wife is problematic. If we assume that the ameliorative approach is intended to be used with people who believe women are people who deserve equal rights, then I think it stands up to this objection.

One of the main historical challenges facing feminist philosophers is the fact that it’s difficult to map discussions of systemic issues onto individual situations. For example, it’s easy to talk about how in the vast majority of domestic violence cases, men are the perpetrators. The response might be, “that’s other men, it’s not my problem, etc.” It’s hard to point to specific micro-scale things that should change in order to ameliorate the larger macro-scale claim. Outliers are often used wrongly as a rebuttal for arguments about the wage gap; “there are woman CEOs, therefore the wage gap is the fault of women who don’t earn higher wages by working harder.” An ameliorative response might be to fight for equal opportunity hiring practices in response to hiring managers choosing men instead of women. This would ameliorate the problem by removing the capacity for misogyny to impact the decision-making process. In Manne’s words, the ameliorative approach is about actually changing things and making conditions better for women. If we follow her advice and use better argument forms and focus on egregious cases, we are likely to see conditions improve, and that’s what it’s all about!