On the Interplay of Values and Goals

James has his response to Monday’s post up.

In general, I think this is a wise strategy to pursue. Clearly, the ‘market’ for intense moral communities dedicated to Humanist values is smaller than the ‘market’ for more loosely organized non-believers’ groups. As numerous charity and service drives organized by the movement demonstrate, it is possible, sometimes, to get many atheist groups from all over the country to join together to take action around a particular issue – the Light the Night initiative headed by Todd Stiefel is a great example of such a coalition, which people can get involved in now.

Predictably, though, I don’t think this analysis is quite accurate, and I don’t feel this strategy is enough on its own to achieve what we need to achieve as a movement. First, I want to draw a distinction between “goals” and “values”. While an organizational goal might be something concrete, like some target to be achieved regarding service projects, or a piece of legislation to be passed, a value is a broader, higher-level commitment – reason is a Humanist value, for instance.

Go read the whole thing.

The Series

D.J. Grothe Tackles the Problem of Harassment

Yesterday, I asked people to help Kylie collect information on why women don’t return to TAM. I included D.J. Grothe’s hypothesis on the topic. As Kylie was asleep in Australia, D.J. left a response (to what exactly, I’m not sure) in my comments as well. Rebecca Watson took the opportunity to ask D.J. to clarify part of his original hypothesis, which he did. He left an additional comment, which was largely repetition of prior points, as well.

I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight and comment on some of what D.J. had to say. [Read more…]

Where Are the Women?

Kylie has a post up asking for information on what is keeping women from returning to atheist or skeptical conventions. As a conversational starting point, she quoted D.J. Grothe on the matter (emphasis hers):

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

I’ve heard the theory before, and I’m curious what information will turn up in Kylie’s comments. Please, if you’re a woman and not returning to a conference you’ve previously attended, tell her why.

The Thing About Work

…is that you can’t just walk away. You can’t throw a fit in proportion to the idiocy in front of you without worrying about how it reflects on your employer (even if you’re volunteering). If it’s public-facing work, you’re generally constrained to be friendly and appealing, however you personally feel just then.

All of that is what makes this so particularly inappropriate.

Then, at the very end, when everyone was preparing to leave, and I was packing up the Hug Me table, answering questions, and generally socializing with other speakers and attendees, thinking about how fat my check is going to be from Big Pharma when one man and his wife, whom I’ve become vaguely acquainted with on Facebook in the last week, approached my table. He said, “Here’s a little something to remember us by” and handed me an upside-down card. I turned it halfway over, glanced at it peripherally, then thanked them.

A minute or so later, I had a “wait… what?” moment, then flipped the card over and looked at it not peripherally to discover I had not been handed a business card, but a card with a naked photo of the two of them, with their information on how to contact them should I want to fuck.

A person at work is not free. Unless coercion is your thing, you let them be in control of making your encounters less professional (assuming that’s what you want). If coercion is your thing, well, an awful lot of people are gearing up to make your life less satisfying, and I’m all for that.

The Freedom of the Artist

What do Karl Rove, the terraforming of Mars, missionaries singing English hymns in Japan, and learning German in your sleep have in common? This commencement speech from Laurie Anderson.

This may be the strangest commencement speech ever given, but there’s probably more to learn from it for all that. The speech itself starts just past 2:30.

A Coalition Is Not a Community

This is part of my ongoing discussion with James Croft on the establishment of humanist communities. Links to the full series of posts is below.

On Thursday, James agreed with me that the normative aspects of community can be exclusionary. He said pains would need to be taken to keep any humanist community from defining itself in such a way to cause problems. I’m not entirely sure that can happen, but I’ll get back to that later.

James said that his purpose in building communities is the political strength they offer. I agree that a community does offer more political strength than the individuals in it do alone. I was particularly struck by this quote by William R. Murry that James used, however:

Institutionalized injustice can be changed only through the exercise of power…Each person is a center of power. Our task is to use our personal power on behalf of love and justice to effect systematic change. One of the best ways to use power effectively is to form voluntary associations and coalitions of associations. Coalitions are important because there is strength in numbers. In today’s world, groups that do not exercise their power on behalf of their interests and rights are usually left out of consideration by governmental or corporate entities…Justice is won only when power is brought to bear against power.

I agree with this, but when I read it, it doesn’t tell me that we need humanist communities organized around taking action on their values. That is in some ways the opposite of what this passage says to me. [Read more…]

Fallen Warriors

This was originally printed here.

One of the things that struck me in travels through Scotland and the Canadian Maritimes was the monument in every town. Most of them were tiny, just a handful of names from each war–not because few died, but because the town was that small. The memorial at Edinburgh Castle, on the other hand, is of a scale and a simplistic majesty that imposes awe, a trick more church designers would like to have up their sleeves, I imagine.

Whatever the size, most memorials are central and public and impossible to overlook. That isn’t something we do well here in the U.S. Monuments are destinations, traveled to on special occasions. Memorial Day is a single day of remembrance, Veterans Day, one more, and the rest of the time, our veterans are treated as disposable.

Some volunteered; others answered a call not of their choosing. They risked their lives and health for us. Many died. Worse yet, many killed. Many lost people who had become, in some ways, closer than kin. And we give them a day for those who lived and a day for those who died and maybe a little space out of the way.

We suck at remembering. [Read more…]

Flirting Is Easy*

A few days ago, JT put up a post, “Flirting, sex, and lines“, on sorting through the signals of con mating rituals with someone you don’t know well. The discussion will inevitably turn that direction when the subject of harassment comes up, and I’m happy to say his post served at least one of its purposes. The discussion on my posts did not get derailed, even briefly, by the “awkward flirting” discussion.

JT and I chatted a little before he wrote his post, both about keeping the topics separate and about whether it’s hard to tell when someone is flirting with you. I maintained then, and maintain now that it’s not. If you think it is, that’s probably because you’re unclear on exactly what flirting is.

[Read more…]

Nice Tail

Someone just posted this on Twitter. I had to share, mostly because green tree pythons are gorgeous, but also because I hadn’t seen this behavior before.

The snake is doing something called caudal luring. It’s using its tail to imitate a worm of some sort, something that its prey would want to eat. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Chaos Magician’s Mega Chemistry Set

If you’re feeling as though you’ve seen everything there is to see in modern fantasy, it may be time for you to check out Nnedi Okorafor. Nnedi is something of a rarity–a creative writing professor who can really write. She is the author of the 2011 World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death? She writes for and about children who have far more power than they understand, and this story is no exception.

Ulu stopped wiping up the mess and went to the window. Outside the palm trees were bending in the wind, sheets of rain falling from the sky. It looked fairly normal, like any other storm. So why don’t things feel normal, she wondered? She glanced back at the chemistry set and then at her parents. They were still standing where they were, frowning and listening.

“Something’s wrong,” her mother whispered.

“Ulu, come away from the window,” her father suddenly said. Ulu quickly moved into her mother’s arms. The three of them huddled together on the couch listening to the storm outside. The room still reeked of farts. Ulu imagined one of the creatures from her Moomin novels, a huge mangy hattifattener perhaps, hiding under the house, his butt in the air as he farted nonstop. But Ulu was no longer that concerned with it so much. Outside had started to sound like a battle was going on.

Those who have watched a thunderstorm closely know when they are finishing; the rain tapers, the thunder shrinks to a grumble and the lightening retreats. The wind moves on, too, Ulu thought groggily. She’d fallen asleep on the couch. Her mother and father were still sitting up, with stiff backs, their faces tense as they listened to every sound from outside. The rain had stopped and the thunder and lightning had gone away and the wind had settled but… Ulu sat up.

“I don’t know,” her mother was saying to her father. “I’m afraid to get up.”

Her father was staring at the window, his dark face glistening with perspiration, his lips pressed together. Then he walked to the window and opened it. He stuck his hand outside and frowned more deeply. Outside, Ulu could see the leaves and branches of the mahogany and palm trees were swaying angrily like grieving women.

“The air is still,” he said. “But the trees are still beating themselves up.”

Then it dawned on Ulu what was going on. But her fear remained because she had no idea how to make it right.

Keep reading.