Kim Davis, Ron Swanson, bureaucratic discretion, and civil disobedience

I think the cynical bits of the world predicting that Kim Davis will do just fine cashing in on her jail time are probably right, but I still think it’s unfortunate that she is in jail. One point of clarification is simply that she is in jail not because of her refusal to issue the licenses to same-sex couples, but because she refused to do so after a judge ordered her to. The actual charge is contempt of court. She isn’t in “Jail for Christians.” She’s in jail because she refused to do what a judge told her to. I couldn’t figure out whether she is appointed or elected.

As a result, she exists in a strange situation for those of us who study government-y things. . As either an appointed or elected clerk, she is not strictly a professional bureaucrat, but many of her functions concern the day-to-day legal transactions of local, state, and federal codes. The breadth of the duties of an average county clerk, particularly in a place like Rowan County, can be pretty large. This is one reason why the sitnexttoKimDavis on Twitter is very funny: it takes the pathos of Parks and Rec–the decidedly tedious aspects of public administration–and laughs at it under the national gaze of Kim Davis’ actions:

Sitnexto Kim Davis nexttokimdavis Twitter

The Parks and Rec reference has a point: there’s Ron Swanson, great champion of small government, and he’s….yeah.

That whipsaw between what one believes is right and what one does for a job or a role comes into play all the time within organizations and communities, and it always brings back Hirschmann’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty or questions about individuals should do when vis-a-vis orders to do something they personally think is wrong.

Normally, what I’d prefer to see in cases like Ms. Davis’ is to simply find some reasonable accommodation around it. Think about this way: if the federal government had outsourced document issuance to a private employer, and Ms. Davis were employed by MegaDocuCorp, it would be reasonable, if she has a religious objection to issuing licenses to same-sex couples, that perhaps she just takes some other role at the counter. Or something that wouldn’t involve forcing the issue when her faith stands in conflict with her job role. MegaDocuCorp cannot take the position that it’s not going to issue those licenses, but as long as they have somebody at that counter doing the job, there is no reason why Ms. Davis would have to be the person to do it.

But we can’t really do that here. She has a very specific public role and is a public official, and she doesn’t have discretion on the legal code because she was superseded by a judge. Now, the issue is not necessarily settled forever; Plessy v. Ferguson stood for nearly 100 years and was finally overturned. I think there’s a snowball’s chance of that happening here, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that in the future, the court will reverse recent decisions. But right now, the essence of her role is to check IDs and issue public documents, and those public documents now include licenses to same-sex couples. Even if she refused to hand somebody a license, as county clerk, the license goes out under her stamp. She can’t abide that, and thus, refuses to have the licenses issued at all.

Discretion is always contested terrain because bureaucrats;, judges, and everybody else who has it in a legal context are human beings interpreting their jobs. And while it would be nice if the Law were the Law and utterly objective, it’s not. It’s always, always subject to interpretation. Only in her case, she’s got a ruling.

As to the conservative gloat floating about how “liberals”/progressives love civil disobedience until a conservative does it, well, ok, but there’s shoes for other feet there, too: I remember lots of conservative hissy fits during Occupy for vague reasons that, when pressed, boiled down to ” I’m mad those people are getting attention and have iPhones.” The bottom line is that conservatives disagreed with Occupy, and so they didn’t respect the protests, and now liberals don’t respect Ms. Davis’ position and don’t respect her civil disobedience, either. Pointing out hypocrisy is one of the easiest sports in politics, both sides do it, and it’s never convincing because of both those reasons and the impossibility of having a perfectly coherent set of positions on every issue that arises.

Ultimately, I’m less bothered by recent court decisions than most people seem to be. I thought the Hobby Lobby decision was fine, and while I am sorry Ms. Davis is jail and can’t just be moved to another role, she’s refused to do her sworn duty. She wants to use the power granted her a public official to enforce her own religious beliefs, and I’m sorry, Christians of the world, but many, many of us who are happy to share a political community with you, draw the line at letting you rule by the standards of a faith we do not share. That’s not required of religious toleration by any measure.

A short reading list for Kim Davis; understanding law, justice, and religious liberty

By now the internet has had quite a time discussing Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. I always feel sorry for the people who wind up in Kim Davis’s position, though I am sure part of her probably enjoys the attention for what she perceives to be a heroic stance against what she considers to be an immoral law.

This question–should you obey laws that you don’t agree with–is an oldie and a goodie in political theory and philosophy, where people make a distinction between law and justice for good reasons. What is lawful may not be just, and what is just may not, currently, be lawful. But the absence of any sense of justice in the law robs the law of its moral legitimacy, or why people will go along with the laws in the first place.

I’ve always maintained that the point of theory is to help people empathize with different ways of thinking about the world, particularly ways that differ quite a bit from their own. Towards that end, I put together a little reading list for students who want to think about Ms. Davis and her problem, which is: she believes same-sex marriage violates natural (divine) law (physis), but her professional legal role in enforcing man’s law (nomos). (My computer seems to want to insist on turning nomos to gnomes. What the actual hell? Does the word gnomes come up more often than the concept of nomos? Really??)

Laws and Justice, on the duty to obey laws, or not, and sublimation of the self to political community in classical studies:

Plato: Apology
Plato: Crito
Plato: Phaedo
Cicero: On Duties
Augustine: City of God
Aquinas: Selections from the Summa–get a reader that curates for you
Areopagitica by John Milton
Machiavelli: The Prince; The Discourses
Hobbes, Leviathan
Locke, First Treatise of Civil Government
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws
Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation
Burke, Empire, Liberty, and Reform
Marx, On the Jewish Question (this one right here, if you can read no other; this is why conservatives should read Marx).
Mill, On Liberty
Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

I’ve got to run off to class but I will come back later in the week with some contemporary writers and thinkers who have been riffing off the concepts from the classics, but you can’t actually get at an answer for any of this without Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Antonio Gramsci, and some of the writings of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ptolemy Grey, physician-assisted suicide, and the Kantian question of the future

Yesterday we had our Bedrosian Center book group discussion of the Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. I am a great fan of Mosley’s writing in general, and this book has become one of my favorites. It is a very difficult book because of its complexity and tone, which is sad.

I brought up what I considered to be the central policy issue in the book–there are many–and I was surprised to discover that I was the only reader who viewed the central decision in the book to be about physician-assisted suicide. In short: Mr. Grey is 91 years old at the start of the book, and he is confused. He has been suffering dementia for some time, and he is living in squalor, among things he inexplicably hoards. He can’t seem to understand much of what is going on around him, but he does understand that his grand-nephew Reggie, who looked after him, has been murdered. And he wants to know who did it, and he wants to right that wrong. He’s got several wrongs to right, but that one is most pressing.

He is recruited by a shady social worker into a drug trial for a dementia medicine that will give him his mind back, but is also almost to kill him within a few months, if he is fortunate. If he is unfortunate, he will die right away. Thus for all practical purposes, the drug trial is a form of physician-assisted suicide.

Bioethicists and health policy folks will readily recognize the issues in play, and they are apparent here, except for the whole “Death Panels” –a master stroke of framing that prematurely ended the national discussion about physician assisted suicide as part of national health legislation. I’ll cover a couple of things first, before I get there.

My colleagues were on Ptolemy’s side, and it would have been a short book if he hadn’t agreed to the drug; I was the only hold-out because I’m just not sure what I would do myself in that situation. It’s one thing to think about the issue in the abstract. It’s another when you are actually staring at the gun, as it were. In any case, we did cover some of the problems for Ptolemy and the decision to undertake physician-assisted suicide:

1. He’s not really in any shape to truly be giving consent. He’s confused, but he’s not fool, but it’s not clear what consent means when a patient is as confused as Mr. Grey is. Taking away the decision is awful and paternalistic. Pressing the decision is also awful and paternalistic.

2. He does not have relatives who are disinterested in his death, who might be there to support him through the decision, granted his confusion. Now that Reggie is gone, his relations pretty much see him as a pathetic old man they don’t really know what to do with, who isn’t doing anybody any good, including himself, and so why shouldn’t he just die and let them have what money he has? They don’t even know about his big cache; if they knew about that, his exit would be all the more appealing to them.

He does have Robyn, who is also not disinterested; but she does try to point out the consequences of the choice. He knows, and she knows, that she could stop him if she really wanted to, but she also doesn’t seem to want to override his own choice. One of Robyn’s best qualities is that she respects Ptolemy’s manhood–genuinely–at an age where much can emasculate. There is something decent and humane in the mutual understanding and other regard between them.

3. He also has, in his current condition, very little dignity or quality of life. These are two factors that I think have to be absolutely central to the public ethics of social policy, and they are not. They should be–I repeat.

So we have a bunch of conflicting principles there, and how you weight them will lead you in different directions. Mr. Grey’s family does not strike me as exceptional; I think lots of people are just waiting to clear out their parents’ or grandparents’ homes and sell them. It would be nice if people were better, but we do have a goodly bit of evidence that, sometimes, they are not.

Finally, and this is the part we don’t deal with in Ptolemy Grey, we have

4. Medical businesses and insurers also are not disinterested financially in ending lives. And that is one reason why the ‘death panels’ discussion turned south so quickly. For those of us who think about these issues, the “death panels” discussions were exasperating, like, “Geez, America, this is why we can’t have nice things.” But on reflection, I do understand it better: many HMOs treat people pretty badly. I’ve had one uncaring, indifferent, robot of a doctor after another act like I was a waste of his 7 minutes. There are great doctors out there, just like there are great professors, but there are also real jerks in both games, and thinking about the HMOs and the way medical services are delivered in this country, I can’t blame people for worrying about handing over ANY decisions about the end of life to that industry.

We still made a mistake not having a much more serious discussion about dignity and the end of life during the ACA debates, but still. I get it. I do.

The reason why I am a little on the fence in Ptolemy Grey’s case, and my own, comes back to the little core of Kantianism that tends to guide my intuitions about “the future.” With his tricky “lying to the murderer” scenario, he turns us inside out, on ourselves, and confronts us with the reality of the future rather than our perceptions of power and control surrounding it, and that is a bitter bill for Americans, particularly American progressives, who think you control your future. If you eat healthy, you’ll live longer. Sure, in some instances. In others you still get cancer or squished by a car or gunned down. If you save your money, you will retire in wealth and get to golf all day. If you are fortunate. Alternatively, you will get wiped out by one stock shock after another, or conned by somebody like Madoff, or you die before you use it.

The future is a problem for Kant, and it’s a problem that planners like me spend a good deal of time thinking they can influence, and they do, but not as much as we’d like, and that’s a problem, too. So some planning things to turn out really nice, and others do not. Because that mix may actually be, as Kant notes, in the nature of the future.

For ending our lives, how exactly do we decide when “there is no hope” for a person? I agree, there is little dignity in a long, awful, pain-filled death at the hospital when most people would rather die at home, with the chance to say goodbye to their families. It’s wrong to make medical professionals like nurses effectively torture patients with treatments that have virtually no chance of working, instead of letting the individual carry himself off gently while surrounded by his friends and family.

But in Ptolemy’s case, his body was pretty healthy save for the dementia. With Robyn in his life, he was being cared for. It is possible that given a year or two more, treatments for dementia could prove out. We’re not talking about intense suffering and short timeline when breakthroughs are pie in the sky. Mr. Grey might have had some years yet. And I hesitate to conclude that even in his confused state, those years could not have had value to him, even if he is confused. The young think that aging is terrible, and it is, but youth, too, has its terrors.

The Ring of Gyges

John Holbo over at Crooked Timber has a post up asking some questions about what is going on with Glaucon and Plato as they discuss the Ring of Gyges in The Republic. Contemporary movie-goers will recognize the Ring of Gyges as the One Ring from Tolkein, for all practical purposes, a ring that allows the wearer to become invisible and do what he likes. The results are, according to Herodotus, that Gyges doesn’t behave himself particularly well, killing a king and taking his wife. Holbo asks about the dramatic incidentals in the story, and I admit I got nothing–I don’t understand them either.

Just a note about Tolkein: Tolkein borrowed from many places, and I doubt he used the ring in the central way he did believing that he was going to get away with something and that nobody would recognize it as the ring of Gyges. Instead, I think he counted on people recognizing his morality tale as an extended riff on accountability, power, and goodness contained in the original myth around Gyges. I think he expected his reading audience, unlike ours, to not only have read the Republic and Herodotus, but probably read both in Greek; he couldn’t have known about the collapse of the western cannon or what Peter Jackson would do with the book (nobody ever really knows what impact their act is going to have), in taking his books to people who have never and are likely to never have read The Republic.

My planning ethics syllabus

PPD 599
Professional Planning Ethics
Instructor: Lisa Schweitzer
Office hours: 1- 3 Tuesday or by appointment

Planning is a normative profession, and its practitioners seek to explore, define, and implement change in urban settings based, at least in part, on values and preferences. But to affect change in the city, you have to have some idea what is good change, what is not, what kind of conduct towards achieving those outcomes is acceptable. The assessments of what is good or bad in cities, as you can imagine, is political at every level that planners encounter.

Being a professional in that political context presents individuals with some tough choices about their own conduct as they work within and outside planning institutions. What types of moral discretion do planners have in practice, and what type should they have, if they work with a public agency? A nonprofit? What is the difference between professional discretion and cutting corners? What is the line between effective advocacy—the noble argument for desired ends—and straight-up lying for self-interested gain? These questions appear everywhere in planning and public life. Along with this responsibility go the questions: when you have reached your limit, when should you blow the whistle, exit the organization quietly, or go along with your peers and the institution on the chance they are right and you are wrong?

Feminist scholars often criticize standard ethical approaches for putting job-related concerns over family and other important relationships. If a person is the only source of income for a dependent family, flouncing out of a job simply because you do not agree with an agency’s action may not be any more ethical than tolerating it, when viewed through this ethical lens.

This class will focus on professional ethics in planning. Our major goals for the class are to

1. Understand the models, frameworks, and theoretical perspectives under which professionals can assess ethical problems in planning;
2. Evaluate the most important emerging ethical trends and controversies in planning, such as ethical uses of the conventional and new media to market projects and ideas;

3. Identify the scope and power of professional roles within various institutions;

4. Track the interdependence between political, social, economic, and technological variables in planning ethics; and

5. Gain skills in reasoning through, resolving, and explaining ethical problems both verbally and in writing.

Class 1: January 16: What is moral reasoning in professional life?
This week’s concepts: normative ethics, metaethics, duty ethics, egoism, virtue ethics, deontology, social contract theory, teleology, consequentialism, obligations, virtues, natural law and divine command, relativism, intuition, emotivism, hedonism, narrative and situational ethics.

Frankena, W. 1988. Ethics. Second Edition. “Introduction” New York: Pearson.
(Available via BBoard.) pp. 1-17. (On BBoard)

Thacher, David. 2004. “The Casuistical Turn in Planning Ethics”, The Journal of Planning Education and Research. (On BBoard)

American Institute of Planners Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
(Keep this website bookmarked: we’ll go back to it again and again.)

Class 2: January 23: Role Ethics I
What are roles? Why are they so important? What are the duties and protections that a professional role conveys?

Sanson, Charles-Henri. “The Executioner of Paris.” (On BBoard)

Quinlan, M. “Ethics in the Public Service,” Governance 6, No. 4 (October 1993): 538-544. (BBoard.)

Arthur Applbaum,“Professional Detachment: The Executioner of Paris,” 15-42;
in Ethics for Adversaries. (On BBoard)

“Ex-Virginia Executioner opposes the death penalty.” In the Washington Post (

Case 1: The Expo Line and the art of the deal
Expo Line Exec Rick Thorpe has been, throughout his career, a bit of darling in transit circles, branding himself as the go-to guy for managing transit projects and commanding a very high salary as he does so. His strategies for the Expo Line have drawn public criticism for conflict of interests among his various hats and roles. You are a consultant to AICP and APTA, and your job is to see whether the material uncovered in the LA Weekly story comprises something that requires further investigation—or simple management mistakes that could happen to anybody heading up such a large project.

LA Weekly:

My fast-and-dirty starting point: (

Movies, Media (optional): The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Isuguro’s novel is a truly amazing book. The movie is also well worth watching.

Class 3: January 30: Role Ethics II
Democratic facilitation versus winning? What is the planner’s role in public conflicts over space?

Arthur Applbaum,
“The Remains of the Role,” in Ethics for Adversaries, 61-75.
“Professional Detachment: The Executioner of Paris,” 15-42; “Montaigne’s Mistake,” 240-259
in Ethics for Adversaries. (On BBoard)

Quinlan, “Response” [To Applbaum]: Governance 6, No. 4 (October 1993): 558. (On BBoard)

Case 2: A Town for White Supremacy? In general, people associate suburbs with white supremacy, but the cosmopolitan nature of many of our major cities suggests that suburban demographics are changing. But beyond that, Craig Cobb, an entrepreneur, recently proposed in Leith, North Dakota a town specifically designed to serve the consumer preference for whiteness. Should planners enable this proposal through the approvals process, or fight it? Pick a position and defend it.

A place to start:

Trying to make a town the capital of white supremacy (

Sewer and water issues and state permitting: (

Class 4: February 6: Role Ethics III: The Ethics of Identity and Difference Planners tend to come from fairly privileged backgrounds. In addition, they often represent democratic majorities, powerful state institutions, or developers. The profession itself is not as inclusive as it should be: many factors of white supremacy, patriarchy, and class interlock to push people out of the profession and out of engaging with the planning process. The topic of how to engage productively across difference is too large to handle in one week. Nonetheless, possession of social and economic privilege means that we have an obligation to be aware of it and to alter our conduct accordingly. This week gives us a place to start.

Code of ethics for antiracist allies by J.L. Calderon.

Class 5: February 13: Discretion versus democratic representation
How can we simultaneously satisfy the public’s desire to have decisions made by qualified professionals and their desire that decisions be responsive to public demands? What should planners do when people have strong opinions founded on bad information or demonstrably sloppy reasoning?

Burke, Edmund. Speech at Bristol, in The Works of Edmund Burke (New
York: Harper and Brothers, 1860), 218-222. (On BBoard)

Hannah Pitkin, “Representing Unattached Interests: Burke,” in Concept
of Representation, Chapter 8. (On BBoard)

Pitkin: “Representing People who Have Interests: Liberalism,” in Concept of
Representation, Chapter 9. (On BBoard)

Case 3: Campaigning—or planning—for Measure R?
In 2008 with Measure R, a local option sales tax measure, Valley area council member Mike Antonovich called out LA Metro for their choices with regard to “informational” documents sent in support of a ballot box measure.

You work for Metro, and based on this case, you have been asked to draft a policy regarding agency communications about ballot box initiatives like Measure R in the future. (Case materials on Blackboard).

Class 6: February 20: Ethics of Planning Rhetoric
Is planners’ use of political rhetoric praise-worthy for enabling democratic action, or is it a form of manipulation, or does it depend on circumstances? How do we draw the line between rhetoric and reasoning? How much information should planners be expected to reveal about their projects and services when they are in the middle of a political fight?

Plato, Gorgias (Hackett), 1-26, 447a-466a. (On BBoard)

Robert E. Goodin, “Rhetorical Trickery,” in Manipulatory Politics (Yale, 1980), 93-122. (On BBoard)

Galston, William. “The Obligation to Play Political Hardball,” in Claudia Mills (Ed.), Values and Public Policy* (On BBoard)

Case 4: The social marketing of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Eagles
In the late 1990s, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Authority staffers began to use a nesting pair of bald eagles as a means for education surrounding the Bridges’ ecology restoration programs. As time wore on, the educational component surrounding the eagles fell away, as the animals became symbols for the project. What did planners around the project gain and lose as the eagles became media celebrities? Was the social marketing ethical? You are a mentor to a young environmental planner at the WWB authority who has become concerned that the way the Authority is using the eagles in the media has misrepresented the project’s environmental impact. What do you advise the young planner to do and why?

February 26: Planners as Liars (Part 1)
Walzer, Michael. 1973. “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,”
Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, No. 2 (1973): 160-180 (On BBoard)

Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, pp. 15-22 (Ak. 399-405); Metaphysical Elements of Virtue (2 page excerpt on lying: 90-93, Ak. 429-432) and “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives,” 346-350.
(On BBoard)

Class 7: March 6: Planners as liars ( Part 2)
Last week we were pretty abstract. This week, we’re going to get our hands dirty with some cases.

Korsgaard, Christine M. “The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing with Evil,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 15, No. 4 (Fall 1986): 325-349. (On BBoard)

Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981): Book III, Chap. VII, §2 (on Kant and lying); Book IV, Chap. 5, §3, 485-492 (on cases in which utilitarians should not make their principles public). (On BBoard)

Use Sidgwick’s cases to think about your reflections this week.

Wachs, M. 1996. “Ethics and Advocacy in Forecasting.” (

Flyvbjerg, B. 2001. “When Planners Lie With Numbers.” (

Case 5: California High Speed Rail Ballot Box Initiative
In 2008 as part of a ballot box initiative called Prop 1A meant to raise $10 billion for high speed rail, the California High Speed Rail Authority issued cost estimates for the entire, 520 km system at a little over $32 billion despite extensive criticism from infrastructure experts that the promised project was likely to cost nearly $80b to $120b. Throughout the election, rail advocates, encouraged by the CHSRA, shouted down such criticisms whenever possible. Then, two weeks after the ballot box measure passed, the CHSRA issued new cost estimates of $42 billion. Facing yet more criticism and the state’s comptroller who was unwilling to issue bonds with such incorrect estimates, the CHSRA issued a new business with cost estimates ranging from $75b to $100b. Outraged, Governor Jerry Brown demanded a re-envisioning of the estimates which came in at $72b with project modifications. Still, many feel that the original estimates come close to (if not amount to) ballot fraud and there should be a re-vote on the measure. Advocates of the project claim that voters already approved the project with the 2008 and that the cost estimates are irrelevant.

You have been appointed to chair the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Governance and Accountability. Your job is to review the case and conclude about whether the problems with forecasting and democratic accountability constitute unethical practice and whether the state should be required to go back to the voters to re-approve California’s High Speed Rail Project. Keep in mind, the Governor very much wants this project to go forward. But is it more likely to go forward if the house gets cleaned, or if you do damage control? Perhaps the project should die, after all, if it can’t clear the vote?

Class 8: March 13: Set aside for one of your topics!

March 20: Spring Break! Please enjoy, be ethical, and have a good time!

Class 9: The Ethics of Changes, Demolition, and Takings
One thing I wish every planner or developer would learn: blowing into a community and describing a place or a community as “ghetto”or “blighted” is both unprofessional and bad manners. Describing a person’s neighborhood in negative terms is a lot like walking into their home and calling it a dump. Even if there might be good reasons for championing change, like community members seeking change themselves, planners have a duty (or do they?) to demonstrate empathy towards the process of change.

Marris, P. 1986. Loss and Change. Routledge. (On BBoard)

Leigh, R. 23 (1996) Ethics of Compensation: Takings, Utility, and Justice, The Ecological Law Quarterly. (On BBoard)

Class 10: April 3: Whistleblowing
From Edward Snowden to Sherron Watkins, whistleblowers are both celebrated and reviled among their peers and the colleagues. What is the right way to stop your employer from doing wrong?

Jensen, J Vernon. “Ethical Tension Points in Whistleblowing.” J Bus Ethics 6, no. 4 (1987): doi:10.1007/BF00382941. (On BBoard)

Milbank, D. “Putting her foot down and getting the boot.” Washington Post. July 10, 2008. (

Milbank, D. 2013. “The Price Gina Gray paid for whistleblowing.” Washington Post. (

Ravishankar, Lilanthi. 2003. “Encouraging Internal Whistleblowing.” UC Santa Clara Working paper on Ethics, Center for Applied Ethics, UC Santa Clara.

Case 6 The Housing Authority: You are a financial associate with the Los Angeles Housing Authority. You have been clearing the vouchers for Section 8 housing, when you are abruptly informed that, despite a waiting list of nearly 380 families, that there are no remaining funds for the program. You have been working with families for months, and there has been no indicator—not from your boss or from the people in accounting—that you would not be able to serve a least 200 of the remaining families. When you inquire, you are told that the vouchers cleared so far cost far more than you had projected. Confused, you backcheck your calculations and double-check the payments out for vouchers. You find that, in general, your original projections for the vouchers were very close—certainly not enough to make for the significant funding deficit. When you press your boss, you are told that they were mistaken when they blamed your original projections, but that the authority is entering a fiscal crisis. Again, this is the first you have heard for the fiscal crisis, and when you bring it up with analysts for other programs, they say they have heard nothing of it. When you suggest to your boss that perhaps all the analysts should meet to discuss the fiscal concerns, your boss tells you to ‘drop it’ and begin re-doing next year’s projections. When you approach your boss’s boss, you are told that your original projections for Section 8 spending must have been in error. What should you do?

Class 11: April 10: Planners, harms, and wrongs
Despite the best efforts planners make, planning and development can and do hurt communities. Often, individual planners join agencies that have committed harms and wrongs long before the planner joined. Even if planners are directly involved, democratic decisions, undertaken by public institutions, may reflect the priorities of democratic majorities, and those priorities may not include deferring to the preferences of democratic minorities. Or democratic decisions may be taken by a diffuse group of actors so that assigning blame to planners makes little sense. And yet, communities and individuals experience harms and wrongs nonetheless, and it influences how planners can ethically relate to them. You can’t just act like nothing happened, or that what happened doesn’t matter.

Sklar, J. 1990. “Misfortune and Injustice.” Faces of Injustice. Harvard University Press. (On BBoard)

Schweitzer, L. Forthcoming. ”Restorative Planning Ethics.” Planning Theory.’’ (On BBoard)

Case 7: The Blue Line and Broken Promises
In 1992 in riot-torn South Los Angeles, the LA metro promised a train line that would bring jobs and new opportunities to the area. The train has delivered a lot of mobility but very little in the way of promised growth to South LA. Do those promises reflect simple misfortune in planners and project advocates misjudging the future? Or injustice in making promises planners were in no position to keep to be begin with (reflecting back on rhetoric and Gorgia and ‘winning’? What, if anything, should planners do about the Blue Line, or in future relations with residents of south central?

You work for Legal Defense Fund in Los Angeles, and your job is to recommend a position for LDF to adopt with regard to future rail development in South Central.

(Case materials found on Blackboard)

Class 12: April 17: Whom Do Planners Serve?
We have spent the semester talking about the ‘public’ service and the ‘public’ interest, and we’ve danced around this idea about who planners serve throughout the semester. Local residents? What if their preferences conflict with those of long-term sustainability? Future generations? What about people in need now?

Seyla Benhabib. 2007. “Twilight of Sovereignty or the Emergence of Cosmopolitan Norms? Rethinking Citizenship in Volatile Times.”
Citizenship Studies. 11(1): 19-36 (On BBoard)

Douglas Kellner and Richard Kahn. 2008. “Resisting Globalization.” in
The Blackwell Companion to Globalization. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, Ch. 34 (On BBoard)

Do We Owe a Duty to Future Generations to Preserve the Global Environment?
A d’Amato – The American Journal of International Law, 1990 (On BBoard)

Rolston III, Holmes. 1996. Feeding People Versus Saving Nature. IN William Aiken and Hugh LaFollette, eds., World Hunger and Morality, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996), pages 248–267 (On BBoard)

Class 13: April 24: Wrapping up
American Institute of Planners Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
(Keep this website bookmarked: we’ll go back to it again and again.)

Case 8: Rewrite the AICP Code of Ethics for 2014. (knowing what you know now)

(last week of class due to MPL comp)

Joseph Anton, the price of fame, and the price of religious fanaticism

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children struck me, when I read it years ago, as a masterpiece. None of his other books measured up, although Satanic Verses was well worth reading. I’ve read the other Rushdie books as they come out, always disappointed. Sometimes I find that my first experience with a good writer is so powerful that it overshadows anything else I might read. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Instead, it’s not my imagination: most other critics think he’s declined as a storyteller as well.

Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s memoir of his fatwa years, however, is a mess, and I wish I hadn’t read it. As floundering as his recent novels have been, nothing equals the narcissism and entitlement apparent in Joseph Anton. I feel bad judging the man: after all, I can’t imagine being the target of such a serious threat or what it would do to your life and psyche. And yet, I can’t help but think that somebody at his publishers should have told him to tone down the entitlement. The best two reviews of the book have appeared in The Atlantic by Isaac Chotiner and The New York Review of Books by Zoe Heller. Both are extremely good, and you should read them both (no paywall!).

Here’s the pith from Chotiner:

Before the fatwa, Salman Rushdie wrote two great books, Midnight’s Children (1980) and Shame (1983). Since the fatwa, he has not written any. Before the fatwa, Rushdie brilliantly exposed the corrupt dynasties and pathologies of two sundered societies (India and Pakistan). Since the fatwa, Rushdie has allowed flamboyant language and narrative trickery to overshadow biting political satire and acute characterization. Before the fatwa, Rushdie lived a relatively modest life in London. Now, as Joseph Anton drearily attests, Rushdie has become a New York socialite obsessed with name-dropping every celebrity he meets, lauding his own work with shameless abandon, and pointlessly denigrating his ex-wives. Joseph Anton shows both the resolve with which Rushdie confronted the threats to his life, and the sad degree to which the unhinged words of a demented ayatollah helped ruin a superb writer.

He reminds us of a quote from the late John Updike, whose reviews were always works of art, that Rushdie’s work since gaining international superstardom with the fatwa was plagued by a “distracting glitter.” No glitter here: Rushdie reveals himself to be a petty little narcissist incapable of a) understanding how others have paid the price for his freedom as an artiste and b) having the self-control not to dish. In the resulting ish, Rushdie comes off as man utterly without compassion or empathy for others.Read More »

Bonhoeffer and opposition to the state in justice theory

This morning in my seminar on social justice and public policy, we are finally going to tackle liberation theology. It’s taken me a good four readings of Gustavo Gutierrez’s Liberation Theology book to get to a point where I think I can say something intelligent. I’m not crazy about how I organized the last three weeks of the class, but it turns out that I needed the extra week of Thanksgiving to figure out what I wanted to say.

We land this week with Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite justice thinkers, actually, because he is so confounding. He was a conservative Lutheran, and he appears to have had little time for liberal modernists like Reinhold Neibuhr. This fact tends to make conservatives in the US chortle with glee that he “must have been a conservative.” But he was a conservative Lutheran, people, and a European one. Check out the social welfare regimes in Lutheran-dominated European countries if you want to know what that means.

When I say that Bonhoeffer was a conservative, I mean that his theology was informed by Biblical revelation, of course–his problem with the liberal modernists like Neibuhr concerned their willingness to rely on intuition relatively more than Bonhoeffer could stand, rather than more strict Biblical interpretation. Just because he was a conservative theologian does not mean that he would have lined along with people like Pat Robertson.

That theological conservatism led him to interesting places, including the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which impressed him greatly. The Baptists, too, were evangelical and relied on revelation and the Bible, but there he saw the strands of political liberation even within a congregation centered on conservative doctrine. Setting themselves against the face of white domination, the leaders of the Abyssinian Baptist Church denied the notion that liberation needs necessary be “liberal” in a freedom-loving, individualistic way. Instead, it appealed to the higher social order of God’s community.

Bonhoeffer carried this understanding back to Germany where he preached against in the Nazis. I’ve been reading three key sermons: The Jewish Question; A Church of the World or a Church of the World; and The Aryan Paragraph in the Church. The Bonhoeffer revealed here shows a man who becomes progressively more convinced that the church’s work is external and possesses a duty to work against the corrupted state.

Bonhoeffer’s critics argue that for all practical purposes, he did little to help Jewish victims. He can not be used as German martyr, they argue, because there is little evidence that he worked to free them or get them out of the country. Yet he joined in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed for it, largely out of spite, I argue, at the end of the war. One can always criticize everybody for not doing more; I have trouble believing that a relatively famous theologian like Bonhoeffer, who had spoken out against the regime, would have been a particularly effective underground worker. I suspect he was watched and reported on closely which would have served to expose those he associated with, not hide them.

The question that sits before young students of public affairs with Guttierez, Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King (and Gandhi, of course) concerns when social movements can, and perhaps should, be justified in taking up violent opposition to the state.

(I’m going to throw this up as I have to run to class! Sorry for typos. Will proofread a bit later.)

Where do rights come from?

We’ve spent the last few weeks in justice class working on rights and what they are, where they come from. In particular, we posed the difficult question for secular governments of: if you don’t believe in souls or the divine aspects of man, how do you set up the theoretical precedents for humans as rights-holders? It’s a sticky problem when you start poking at the question of rights without gods: people of faith have it a bit easier by referring to a divinity who holds mankind in special regard, and from that follows that mankind has certain entitlements. Certainly secular rights theorists have their arguments, such as eudaimonism, among others. The nice thing about the secular route is that you have a opening for people like Peter Singer to come along and challenge your assumptions about pleasure- and pain-feeling for the basis for rights, largely as a means of extending those rights to animals and other species that obviously feel pain, fear death, etc.

I got rather stuck in the middle of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Justice: Right and Wrongs, and within his chapter on eudaimonism, where he argues that pleasure and pain principles can not, ultimately serve as a basis for rights-holding. I’m getting lost in his reasoning. Here’s Wolterstorff discussing Rawls (my approach–public reason) versus secular morality, and the paradox of the reasoning behind rights.

It strikes me that his argument that you can’t reason with some people also pokes holes in his own approach to rights; if you can’t reason with boneheads, and you can’t reconcile public moralities, you also have trouble making foundational religious claims among people like me who do not believe.

#ACSP2012 Reflections: Therapuetic Planning Session on Saturday

Attention conservation notice: Planning theorists rule! I really enjoyed my paper session, and I’m very grateful that I stuck to finishing a draft of my paper despite the crazy fall I am having. Simon Fraser’s Meg Holden was our discussant, and she did a great job. In sum, we concluded that we all had reservations about the metaphor of therapy to describe the process of restoring political community. We also discussed the distinctions of restoring relationships among and between socio-polital groups. Aftab Erfan brought in some Peter Marris; Robert Lake laid down some pragmatic approaches to constructing justice via planning with some John Dewey. Nicole Foster brought some Gibson-Graham, who are never not 100 percent interesting.


SCHWEITZER, Lisa [University of Southern California] l

Public apologies take myriad forms, from the politically expedient to the genuinely reparative. This manuscript examines the role of restitution—financial compensation—as a supplement to Sandercock’s recent writings that have framed planning as part of a therapeutic, healing dialogue (Sandercock 2004; 2010). In the first part of the manuscript, the mutually reparative nature of healing dialogues are discussed, providing insight into the moral paradox for planning theory of healing as apologies without restitution. The paradox concerns the profession’s longstanding failure to pursue restitution in communities where planning has done harm, even as planning theory has stressed the importance of recognizing past harm. Absent restitution, healing dialogues can benefit the offender—the state and its consulting professions—more so than the victims. This article argues for understanding the two different contexts of public compensation in planning and development: the utilitarian and the reparative. Three major positions on restitution and reparation are discussed in the context of planning: a) Sher’s theories of entitlement to restitution in nonideal justice; b) Derrida’s theories on public apologies as public theater; and Ricouer’s theories of public memory and forgiveness. All of these concepts have a role to play in planning theory, but the first, restitution, is an a priori condition to emancipatory planning practice and the just city.
1. Sandercock, L. “Towards a Planning Imagination for the 21St Century.” Journal of the American Planning
Association 70, no. 2 (2004): 133-141

2. Sandercock, L. “Spirituality and the Urban Professions: The Paradox at the Heart of Planning.” Planning
Theory & Practice 7, no. 1 (2006): 65-97

3. Sher, George. Approximate Justice: Studies in Non-Ideal Theory. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998

4. Derrida, Jacques. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. London: Routeledge, 2001.

5. KUTZ, CHRISTOPHER. “Justice in Reparations: The Cost of Memory and the Value of Talk.” Philosophy &
Public Affairs 32, no. 3 (2004); 271-312.

Abstract Index #: 591

ERFAN, Aftab [University of British Columbia]

Tsulquate is a small reservation on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, home to some 500 First Nation people. The conditions of the community are typical of present-day remote reservations across Canada: high incidence of poverty, addiction, mental illness, lateral violence, and general sense of anger and hopelessness. Much of this is a legacy of the history of oppression that marks these communities, including forced relocation of the people from their ancestral lands
to the current semi-urban location (1964), the forced removal of children from their families and their placement within the Indian Residential School system (1929-1975), and an ongoing attitude of racism and neglect.
In 2009, the Band leadership put in motion the creation of a Comprehensive Community Plan and welcomed university researchers to assist in the plan making and implementation process. As a doctoral student with previous experience in planning practice I enthusiastically stepped forward. It soon became clear that this was unlike any planning I had done before. Given the deepness of the community’s wounds and the extent of conflict at various levels the communicative, collaborative tools that I was used to working with did not seem appropriate, even after adjusting for “cultural” differences. Both the pain and the antagonism that seemed to dominate the collective psyche of the community, also dominated gatherings, affectively blocking any attempts at collaboration.
A primary question for community planners -or anybody else hoping to “intervene” or “assist” in such a setting – began to sharpen: What would it mean to conceive of the planning process as a healing process? Put another way, what is the “therapeutic” role that planning can/should play (Sandercock, 2003) without reproducing the “colonial cultures of planning” (Porter, 2010).

While searching for appropriate models for being, relating, and acting in such a context, I decided to grow my skills in a meeting facilitation approach developed in post-apartheid South Africa with roots in process oriented psychology, which is being called Deep Democracy (Lewis, 2008). The ensuing action research I engaged in can be seen as experimentation, applying Deep Democracy in gatherings on Tsulquate Reserve in the course of implementing the Band’s Comprehensive Community Plan. In particular, I facilitated a series of meetings among parents, grandparents and teenagers on the topic of raising children – a seemingly simple topic but one that is fraught with internal dilemmas and significant tensions, and that was identified as a priority for the Band. Stories of struggle abounded in the course of these meetings, as did stories of hope and connection, and even though I opted not to drive strongly towards agreements on appropriate planning interventions, the meetings generated practical outcomes. The initiative has resulted in the formation of an ongoing Parents Committee that has become an active voice of children and their families within the Band’s governance structure. The parenting lessons generated and debated through the sessions have been captured in a large community-painted mural, which was deemed the most appropriate format for making the lessons more widely available in the community. More importantly, the transformational learning, personal empowerment, and a sense of ongoing healing was palpable and has been captured through a participatory evaluation process, and in the transcripts and follow-up interviews with attendees. Key members of the community are now being trained in Deep Democracy, as a way of retaining the capacity to continue having affective meetings.
Based on the above, this paper summarizes my reflections on the nature of therapeutic planning, its potential and appropriateness, and the necessary skills and capacities planners need to work in this realm.


1. Sandercock, Leonie, Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century, Continuum: 2003

2. Porter, Libby, Unlearning the Colonial Cultures of Planning, Ashgate: 2010

3. Lewis, Myrna, Inside the No: Five Steps to Decisions that Last, Published by author in Johannesburg, South
Africa: 2008


FOSTER, Nicole [University of Texas at Arlington]

In recent work, Edward Soja and J.K. Gibson-Graham explore non-foundationalist political action and the ways in which spatiality constitutes and is constituted by such practices. Although the authors share certain theoretical interests and agree on the role of academics as intentional interventionists for community-based justice and political projects, they posit contrasting ontologies and focus their analytical attention on different spatial scales, which has significant implications for identifying and nurturing political activities that empower oppressed individuals and communities.
Lefebvre’s “right to the city” serves as a productive concept in order to unpack these differences and explore their subsequent implications for planning practices. In his discussion of “right to the city” as somewhat synonymous with “seeking spatial justice”, Soja suggests that “right to the city”, practices not only include appropriating or defending space, but also inhabiting and creating space. Although Soja’s brief discussion of the creative and vital aspects of Lefebvre’s “right to the city” opens the door to questions of how such practices can generate emergent political subjectivities and agendas that are not explicitly tied to justice concerns, he does not pursue this possibility. Rather, Soja focuses on the ways in which “right to the city” operates as a mobilizing concept, enabling pre-defined groups to transcend their differences and work towards pre-determined justice claims.
The creative and vital aspect of Lefebvre’s “right to the city” concept, alluded to by Soja, draws upon Nietzschean influences, a point ignored by most scholars (Kofman and Lebas 2003). Tracing Lefebvre’s “right to the city” concept to Nietzsche challenges us to identify the political possibilities that emerge out of the actual experience of creating new spaces, places, and communities. Furthermore, Nietzsche suggests that such empowered action through lived experience is animated through a different affective stance – a kind of jouissance as opposed to ressentiment. Although they do not discuss the “right to the city” concept, Gibson-Graham’s “politics of becoming” resonates with the Nietzschean influences of Lefebvre’s work by pointing to the ways new bodily and affective practices can perform and therefore, engender new political subjectivities and practices.
As part of my preliminary dissertation research, this paper explores Lefebvre’s Nietzschean influences to suggest how certain “right to the city” practices, such as community gardens and other examples of DIY Urbanism, may indicate a “politics of becoming” as opposed to Soja’s “spatial justice”. In so doing, this paper will discuss the planning implications of these practices including how to address competing “rights to the city” and the inevitable struggles over geography that not only exist between oppressed communities and the state and/or capital, but rather as a result of the overlapping and more often, competing desires of individuals. As such, I suggest that Gibson-Graham’s discussion of Foucaultian ethical practices may prove helpful to communicative and post-structural planning practices aimed at empowering marginalized individuals and communities.


1. Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2006). A postcapitalist politics. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

2. Lefebvre, H. (2003). Writings on cities. E. Kofman & E. Lebas, (Eds.). Oxford: Blackwell.

3. Merrifield, A. (1995). Lefebvre, anti‐logos and Nietzsche: An alternative reading of the production of space.
Antipode, 27 (3), 294–303.

4. Purcell, M. (2002). Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant.
GeoJournal, 58 (2/3), 99–108.

5. Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. Minneapolis: Univ of Minnesota Press.


LAKE, Robert [Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey]

Considerations of justice have moved to a central place in planning theory following Susan Fainstein’s (2010) eloquent plea to elevate justice as the principal criterion for the evaluation of planning practice. In Fainstein’s principled and impassioned view, justice trumps other considerations such as economic efficiency or competitiveness as the desired outcome of planning practice. Justice is the object that planning practice should be oriented to achieve. Considered as the object of planning, justice names a widely accepted consensus on universal values (democracy, equity, and diversity in Fainstein’s formulation) to employ as standards for evaluating practice. On this understanding, while justice provides a criterion for planning evaluation, specification of its requirements occurs outside of the planning process.

In this paper, I explore the implications for planning theory and practice of making justice the subject rather than the object of planning. This reformulation places justice at the center rather than the outcome of practice. Of concern, in this view, is planning as the practice of justice rather than the justice of planning practice. Rather than assessing the outcome of practice against an independent universal standard of justice, an explicit consideration of justice becomes a central element of planning practice. In Flyvbjerg’s (2001) terms, value rationality replaces instrumental rationality at the center of planning practice, transcending the distinction between means and ends and taking seriously Dewey’s claim (1927/1954) that all knowledge is moral. Making justice the subject of planning is not simply to refocus on planning process over planning outcomes, although process is certainly at stake in such a reformulation. It is to place the explicit deliberation over justice on an equal level with the specification of planning practice within the planning process. Doing so alters the temporality of justice claims within the planning process, from an ex post facto evaluative standard of planning outcomes to a preemptive requirement in the design and enactment of planning practice. Doing so also expands the scope of deliberative democratic planning from the short-term specificity of narrowly construed planning “problems” to a multigenerational process of constructing a political culture in which the meaning and substance of justice attains the status of collectively accepted agreement. On this approach, apparently foundational principles of justice are simply (but more defensibly) understood as the generally accepted articulation of collectively adopted values worked out through reflexive practice over time (Rorty 1979).

In the second half of the paper, I review examples of planning practice that illustrate the experience and the potential of situating justice as the subject of planning. These are cases in which considerations of justice, i.e., an explicit discussion of values, govern the design of the planning process and the substance of discussion. Such examples illuminate both the promise and the challenges of elevating justice to the center of the planning process.


1. Dewey, John. 1927/1954. The Public and Its Problems. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

2. Fainstein, Susan. 2010. The Just City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

3. Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2001. Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed
Again. NY: Cambridge University Press.

4. Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 5. Westbrook, Robert. 2005. Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press.