Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


May I use your phone?

“So … one hundred percent of the female gender has felt unsafe or harassed while taking public transit, and that’s garbage.” – rough quote from Mr. Jackson, in response to class discussion a few weeks ago about how different genders experience taking public transit



life without a phone is very… windy

I travelled alone to Victoria on Sunday, January 18 for a day trip to visit my boyfriend. Unluckily, in a rush to catch the ferry in the morning, I left my phone wedged in the seat pocket of my mom’s car. Because I’m pretty terrible at directions, my method for getting places is to screenshoot (it should be a word) transit routes from looking them up on Google Maps. I panicked for a little while. Although I knew that I could just ask my transit-savvy boyfriend how to get back, I still had a deep-seated feeling that timing the route back to the ferry would be tricky.

Having enjoyed my day without much worry, at the end of it, I decided the safest option was to go to the bus station on the UVic campus at around the same time that I did the previous time I went from Victoria back to Vancouver. There were two buses that were pulling up, and I took the first one. For an hour, I rode on the bus to where I thought would be the ferry terminal, except something was wrong. This was not the familiarly-lit road to Swartz Bay… Instead, this road was getting rapidly darker. In addition, I was one of the only passengers still on the bus, trying my hardest to prevent the panic from exploding.

I got off at the next available stop, a metal bus-shelter, which I might add was the only source of light on the road for almost as far as my eye could see: it was also somewhat secluded by a rock hill and some trees. What reels through my head?

Something bad is going to happen to me and nobody will be around to witness it.

Obviously not the exact bus stop I waited at, but this is just to get a feel for how isolated it was. The sky was darker than this one. Think about your overall fright level while looking at this picture.

Even worse, I absolutely had to find someone with a phone to tell my ride not to come on time (because I was going to have to miss the ferry I wanted to take). The situation was becoming desperate. I don’t think I had ever been so scared to walk alone in the dark, and I was a perfect victim, according to some of those articles: it was near-pitch-dark, I sure as hell was nervous if one could have seen me clearly, and I was in an unfamiliar location. Thankfully, it wasn’t far before I arrived at a checkpoint for a military base, and hoped that there was someone inside. The person inside was a woman. It was as if I relaxed by pure instinct. She let me use her phone, and my innate response was that because she was a woman, I was able to normalize my panic level quite a lot and ask her calmly if I could use her phone.

The rest of the story concludes with my taking the bus downtown and transferring to a different one that got me safely to the ferry terminal. I ended up taking the 9:00 ferry to Vancouver without a problem.

I thank my lucky stars, because it could have been so much worse. Pun intended.

The most intriguing part of this story that strongly relates to this issue is this: the person who let me use her phone in an emergency situation was a woman, and this was relieving to me.

If a man and a woman, both strangers with a cell phone, were equal distances away, who would I choose to help me in my state of emergency?

  • Utilitarianism: I would choose the woman. It is good for a woman to be my aide because it would cause me pain to ask an unknown man for his cell phone, whereas to ask a woman for her cell phone would cause me less pain. Therefore, the more pleasurable option is to ask a woman.
  • Categorical Imperative: I would not choose either, as, according to Kant, it is unacceptable to ever use human beings as means even in dire situations.
  • Behind the Veil of Ignorance: It would not matter who I choose. Ultimately, they both have a phone and are the same distance away from where I am.

As you can see from the multi-hyperlinked sentence, I was alone in the dark and I am not alone in my fear of what could be in it. Society is solving this issue by educating the female gender on how to stay safe when alone. The best defense that women have for being alone at night is, in most cases, just to avoid doing that! It’s sad, but society seems to have succumbed to that all women are targets.

Yes, I know it was pretty dumb of me to not double-check that I had my phone with me before leaving the car, but do you have any other opinions on anything I’ve said? I’m very curious to know: how would you have felt if you were me (retaining the gender you currently are) on the night of January 18th?



Systemic Misogyny or Over-sensitivity?

Screenshot courtesy of the Halifax Journal

Noted copy-paste journalist Margaret Wente has an article this week delving into recent events at Dalhousie’s Dental School, allowing us to return to our discussion from last Friday. Wente takes aim at the notion of “rape culture,” and puts the onus for progress squarely on women’s perceived sense of threat:

How did that happen? How did we create an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, microaggressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden-variety misdemeanours of boys and men, who have been behaving badly since time began despite our many efforts (most quite successful) to civilize them?

Well, you know the answer. The universities are hothouses for a grievance culture that sees racism, sexism and misogyny under every rug. Many of the faculty derive their livelihoods from it. These institutions have constructed increasingly elaborate codes of conduct and large administrative apparatuses to detect and uproot these evils, however subtle and invisible they may be to ordinary people.

In Macleans, Anne Kingston musters a brief but thorough critique of Wente’s dismissal:

Protecting those accused of abusive behaviour is a hallmark of rape culture. So is dismissal of those subject to abuse. We saw it in the hand-wringing after the 2013 conviction  of two teenagers for brutally raping a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio.CNN, for one, fretted how the young men “had such promising futures, star football players, very good students,” not for a moment considering how the assaults might affect the victim’s future. In a similar vein, Wente praised the dentistry students who joked about drugging and sexually assaulting women as “decent people.” If she had a daughter in the class, she writes, the first thing she’d ask her was: “What are these guys like in person? Are they disrespectful pigs or are they decent people? (The answer, evidently, is that they are decent people.)” What evidence she marshalled to conclude the group is anything but “disrespectful pigs” is unclear. The fact they’re enrolled in a professional school? The fact they knew their posts were offensive, and then scrambled to cover up when they were about to be exposed? Equally unclear is why their actions in private shouldn’t be a more significant marker of character than their public personae—a lesson learned in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.  If these students were decent people, they would come forward with an abject apology. They haven’t. Which means that if anyone needs a retrograde lecture on how to “man up,” it’s them.

Whether you are swayed by either of the pieces, they can be seen to broadly sketch out two fundamental planks of the argument over systemic misogyny and the ‘rape culture’ we discussed last week.

Based on the above readings, a few questions:

  • What do you feel are the merits of these two arguments?
  • Similarly, where do you feel that either of the arguments is vulnerable or weakly articulated?
  • Have you seen others make either case better?
  • Are there further perspectives that these two essays may be leaving out?

As ever, I’d be curious to hear from you in the comments.



Part of the Problem: Talking about Systemic Oppression

Cartoon via Amptoons.com

Yesterday I shared the following quote with the face-to-face Philosophy 12 group:

Relationships between groups and relationships between groups and social categories, should not be confused with the oppressive behaviour of individuals. A white man may not himself actively participate in oppressive behaviour directed at blacks or women, for example, but he nonetheless benefits from the general oppression of black and women simply because he is a white man. In this sense, all members of dominant and subordinate categories participate in social oppression regardless of their individual attitudes or behaviour. Social oppression becomes institutionalized when its enforcement is so of social life that it is not easily identified as oppression and does not require conscious prejudice or overt acts of discrimination.

As we have recently begun to define the notion of Justice in class as the pursuit of a society that seeks to eliminate discrimination, the above definition provides a troubling circumstance to extricate ourselves from as a society, whether we find ourselves as part of the oppressor or oppressed class. A question resulting from our reading and discussion yesterday that deserves further reflection during our unit may be

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of [racial minorities, other genders, classes, regions, religions] and not be deemed responsible for such oppression? If it is possible to be ‘innocent’ in such a case, under what conditions does such innocence exist?

These are difficult questions to confront, perhaps even moreso in an affluent suburb with many of the advantages that we enjoy here in North America. However, as events involving police brutality in the United States (something some would argue that we have little right to feel smug about in Canada), or recent revelations about CBC darling Jian Ghomeshi, or at Dalhousie University’s dental school may attest, we can be seen to exist within a violently oppressive culture.

This is a contentious point to make, I realize, and smacks something of the question of how does one convince a fish that it is swimming in water if it is all the fish has ever known? But I would hope that these recent events, and the provocative questions raised by reflecting on institutional oppression create a space to debate and discuss the ramifications of these realities, supposing we can accept that these are in fact realities.

To that end, do you (participant, commenter, or reader of this blog and post) feel that this is in fact a reality? Why or why not?

If you do see this/these events as part of a system of oppression and violence, how ought we proceed toward that “just” life? And is it possible for the beneficiaries of various forms of oppression to fight for not only their own innocence, but the equality and freedom from discrimination of all peoples?

For your further consideration, the original definition of institutional oppression comes from a  longer piece rebutting the contention that “not all men” are responsible for violent manifestations of the patriarchy, by Michael Laxer. You can read that article here.



I’m Hilarious- Julie

I’m hilarious, and I refuse to believe otherwise; however, it seems I’m not very good at selecting jokes to steal. Like this one…

“My puns are just bad, they’re tear-able.” *rips piece of paper with the word pun written on it*
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIyrjdkQRKU Bo Burnham)

However, the one that comes under most scrutiny is from a Bo Burnham song called “Men and Women.”

“Women are like puzzles because prior to 1920, neither had the right to vote. Puzzles still don’t”

I find this joke hilarious, but I finally figured out why people never laugh at this joke through the use of syllogistic logic.

No women can vote prior to 1920
No puzzles can vote prior to 1920
Therefore some women are puzzles


All women can vote post 1920
No puzzles can vote post 1920
Therefore no women are puzzles

“No A can B
No C can B
Therefore some A can be C

All A can X
No C can X
Therefore no A can be C”

Premises: all true in regards to voting regulations

Conclusions: Understanding this, we can identify the direct correlation between women’s suffrage and the ability to be a puzzle. Before 1920, some women were puzzles; not all but some. Therefore some women had the ability and possibility to be puzzles. However, after the acceptance of women’s suffrage in 1920, all women were given the right to vote, but no puzzles were given the right to vote. Since all women can vote, but no puzzles can vote; no women can be puzzles as they retain the right to vote, but puzzles do not. As women are given the right to vote, they are removed from their ability and possibility to be a puzzle.

There is indeed validity and soundness to both these individual arguments; however, what these two arguments reveal is MUCH more important. Why this joke is not hilarious.

Historical photograph prior to 1920. two women: one feminine and one masculine, highlight the present view of women (objectification of their bodies), to the desired view and role of women (value of their mind). The one one the left is in traditional female garb: dress, hair, make-up, while the one on the right is wearing a suit, displaying the traditional dress of a man: suit, jacket, and tie. Little did they know obtaining the vote would disable their famed ability of being a puzzle. http://imgfave.com/view/2642612

This does not receive any response not due to the face that it’s not funny. It’s simply Bo Burnham illuminates this correlation upsetting feminists and suffragists, because they realized although they gained the right to vote, they lost the ability and possibility to be a puzzle. Women have lost the mystique and allure they once possessed prior to 1920. We have lost the right to be puzzles. It’s very upsetting, the loss of women’s rights, any rights. How does this correlation work, and how can we reverse it if we so choose?

It couldn’t possibly be that I’m not funny. I’m obviously hilarious.