Apologetics and Apoplexy

You see the arguments: Atheists can’t have morals because they don’t have a god to provide them. Atheists think this world is all there is, so what do they care about being good if it all goes away when they die? God is love, so atheists can’t love anyone.

It’s a clueless, backward argument. Atheists have morals. They love. Demonstrably. I’ve always found it a bit sad that these particular theists argue from principles and end up denying the facts rather than the other way around, but…well, you just can’t make people think if they don’t want to. I might step in now and again to point out that this is what they’re doing. I include evidence to the contrary when I lecture a class on religious skepticism, but in arguments, usually I just walk away.

Today, however, it’s personal.

Last week, my friend Jodi, who rarely blogs, wrote a post about penises. Well, it was about taking a realistic look at body image anxieties imposed on men, in particular about penises. She ended it with “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should all just have sex the way we want with the types of people we want and *enjoy* it, because enjoying it makes it awesome.”

Then, some idiot theist who likes to keep tabs of what “the atheists [a]re up to these days” decided that this one sentence was a great jumping-off point for another one of those ass-backward arguments about morality. His point? That atheists had no reason to not include pedophilia in that “types of people we want” because we didn’t have religion.

I’m not linking to his post. Jodi preserved it for history in her own post. Go over there if you want to read it and laugh over some spectacular bits of cluelessness about who wrote the post and what it was about or engage in some discussion over where exactly the injunction against pedophilia comes in the bible and how well those who preach these morals live up to them. That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about demonization. It’s about basic empathy and humanity. And it is, sadly, about kids and rape and a suicide note. This may get too intense for some people. If you’re one of them, you’ll find the rest of what I have to say at the very end of this post, below the fold.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter who he was. I mean, it matters intensely, but I didn’t know him. After reading his letter this morning, which I found following a random Twitter link that I can’t even find anymore, I couldn’t remember his name (it’s Bill Zeller). What matters is that he was building a life, growing academically and professionally, despite having been repeatedly raped as a child. I say, “was,” because what follows is the letter he posted before successfully hanging himself, posted in its entirety as he requested.

I have the urge to declare my sanity and justify my actions, but I assume I’ll never be able to convince anyone that this was the right decision. Maybe it’s true that anyone who does this is insane by definition, but I can at least explain my reasoning. I considered not writing any of this because of how personal it is, but I like tying up loose ends and don’t want people to wonder why I did this. Since I’ve never spoken to anyone about what happened to me, people would likely draw the wrong conclusions.

My first memories as a child are of being raped, repeatedly. This has affected every aspect of my life. This darkness, which is the only way I can describe it, has followed me like a fog, but at times intensified and overwhelmed me, usually triggered by a distinct situation. In kindergarten I couldn’t use the bathroom and would stand petrified whenever I needed to, which started a trend of awkward and unexplained social behavior. The damage that was done to my body still prevents me from using the bathroom normally, but now it’s less of a physical impediment than a daily reminder of what was done to me.

This darkness followed me as I grew up. I remember spending hours playing with legos, having my world consist of me and a box of cold, plastic blocks. Just waiting for everything to end. It’s the same thing I do now, but instead of legos it’s surfing the web or reading or listening to a baseball game. Most of my life has been spent feeling dead inside, waiting for my body to catch up.

At times growing up I would feel inconsolable rage, but I never connected this to what happened until puberty. I was able to keep the darkness at bay for a few hours at a time by doing things that required intense concentration, but it would always come back. Programming appealed to me for this reason. I was never particularly fond of computers or mathematically inclined, but the temporary peace it would provide was like a drug. But the darkness always returned and built up something like a tolerance, because programming has become less and less of a refuge.

The darkness is with me nearly every time I wake up. I feel like a grime is covering me. I feel like I’m trapped in a contimated body that no amount of washing will clean. Whenever I think about what happened I feel manic and itchy and can’t concentrate on anything else. It manifests itself in hours of eating or staying up for days at a time or sleeping for sixteen hours straight or week long programming binges or constantly going to the gym. I’m exhausted from feeling like this every hour of every day.

Three to four nights a week I have nightmares about what happened. It makes me avoid sleep and constantly tired, because sleeping with what feels like hours of nightmares is not restful. I wake up sweaty and furious. I’m reminded every morning of what was done to me and the control it has over my life.

I’ve never been able to stop thinking about what happened to me and this hampered my social interactions. I would be angry and lost in thought and then be interrupted by someone saying “Hi” or making small talk, unable to understand why I seemed cold and distant. I walked around, viewing the outside world from a distant portal behind my eyes, unable to perform normal human niceties. I wondered what it would be like to take to other people without what happened constantly on my mind, and I wondered if other people had similar experiences that they were better able to mask.

Alcohol was also something that let me escape the darkness. It would always find me later, though, and it was always angry that I managed to escape and it made me pay. Many of the irresponsible things I did were the result of the darkness. Obviously I’m responsible for every decision and action, including this one, but there are reasons why things happen the way they do.

Alcohol and other drugs provided a way to ignore the realities of my situation. It was easy to spend the night drinking and forget that I had no future to look forward to. I never liked what alcohol did to me, but it was better than facing my existence honestly. I haven’t touched alcohol or any other drug in over seven months (and no drugs or alcohol will be involved when I do this) and this has forced me to evaluate my life in an honest and clear way. There’s no future here. The darkness will always be with me.

I used to think if I solved some problem or achieved some goal, maybe he would leave. It was comforting to identify tangible issues as the source of my problems instead of something that I’ll never be able to change. I thought that if I got into to a good college, or a good grad school, or lost weight, or went to the gym nearly every day for a year, or created programs that millions of people used, or spent a summer or California or New York or published papers that I was proud of, then maybe I would feel some peace and not be constantly haunted and unhappy. But nothing I did made a dent in how depressed I was on a daily basis and no
thing was in any way fulfilling. I’m not sure why I ever thought that would change anything.

I didn’t realize how deep a hold he had on me and my life until my first relationship. I stupidly assumed that no matter how the darkness affected me personally, my romantic relationships would somehow be separated and protected. Growing up I viewed my future relationships as a possible escape from this thing that haunts me every day, but I began to realize how entangled it was with every aspect of my life and how it is never going to release me. Instead of being an escape, relationships and romantic contact with other people only intensified everything about him that I couldn’t stand. I will never be able to have a relationship in which he is not the focus, affecting every aspect of my romantic interactions.

Relationships always started out fine and I’d be able to ignore him for a few weeks. But as we got closer emotionally the darkness would return and every night it’d be me, her and the darkness in a black and gruesome threesome. He would surround me and penetrate me and the more we did the more intense it became. It made me hate being touched, because as long as we were separated I could view her like an outsider viewing something good and kind and untainted. Once we touched, the darkness would envelope her too and take her over and the evil inside me would surround her. I always felt like I was infecting anyone I was with.

Relationships didn’t work. No one I dated was the right match, and I thought that maybe if I found the right person it would overwhelm him. Part of me knew that finding the right person wouldn’t help, so I became interested in girls who obviously had no interest in me. For a while I thought I was gay. I convinced myself that it wasn’t the darkness at all, but rather my orientation, because this would give me control over why things didn’t feel “right”. The fact that the darkness affected sexual matters most intensely made this idea make some sense and I convinced myself of this for a number of years, starting in college after my first relationship ended. I told people I was gay (at Trinity, not at Princeton), even though I wasn’t attracted to men and kept finding myself interested in girls. Because if being gay wasn’t the answer, then what was? People thought I was avoiding my orientation, but I was actually avoiding the truth, which is that while I’m straight, I will never be content with anyone. I know now that the darkness will never leave.

Last spring I met someone who was unlike anyone else I’d ever met. Someone who showed me just how well two people could get along and how much I could care about another human being. Someone I know I could be with and love for the rest of my life, if I weren’t so fucked up. Amazingly, she liked me. She liked the shell of the man the darkness had left behind. But it didn’t matter because I couldn’t be alone with her. It was never just the two of us, it was always the three of us: her, me and the darkness. The closer we got, the more intensely I’d feel the darkness, like some evil mirror of my emotions. All the closeness we had and I loved was complemented by agony that I couldn’t stand, from him. I realized that I would never be able to give her, or anyone, all of me or only me. She could never have me without the darkness and evil inside me. I could never have just her, without the darkness being a part of all of our interactions. I will never be able to be at peace or content or in a healthy relationship. I realized the futility of the romantic part of my life. If I had never met her, I would have realized this as soon as I met someone else who I meshed similarly well with. It’s likely that things wouldn’t have worked out with her and we would have broken up (with our relationship ending, like the majority of relationships do) even if I didn’t have this problem, since we only dated for a short time. But I will face exactly the same problems with the darkness with anyone else. Despite my hopes, love and compatability is not enough. Nothing is enough. There’s no way I can fix this or even push the darkness down far enough to make a relationship or any type of intimacy feasible.

So I watched as things fell apart between us. I had put an explicit time limit on our relationship, since I knew it couldn’t last because of the darkness and didn’t want to hold her back, and this caused a variety of problems. She was put in an unnatural situation that she never should have been a part of. It must have been very hard for her, not knowing what was actually going on with me, but this is not something I’ve ever been able to talk about with anyone. Losing her was very hard for me as well. Not because of her (I got over our relationship relatively quickly), but because of the realization that I would never have another relationship and because it signified the last true, exclusive personal connection I could ever have. This wasn’t apparent to other people, because I could never talk about the real reasons for my sadness. I was very sad in the summer and fall, but it was not because of her, it was because I will never escape the darkness with anyone. She was so loving and kind to me and gave me everything I could have asked for under the circumstances. I’ll never forget how much happiness she brought me in those briefs moments when I could ignore the darkness. I had originally planned to kill myself last winter but never got around to it. (Parts of this letter were written over a year ago, other parts days before doing this.) It was wrong of me to involve myself in her life if this were a possibility and I should have just left her alone, even though we only dated for a few months and things ended a long time ago. She’s just one more person in a long list of people I’ve hurt.

I could spend pages talking about the other relationships I’ve had that were ruined because of my problems and my confusion related to the darkness. I’ve hurt so many great people because of who I am and my inability to experience what needs to be experienced. All I can say is that I tried to be honest with people about what I thought was true.

I’ve spent my life hurting people. Today will be the last time.

I’ve told different people a lot of things, but I’ve never told anyone about what happened to me, ever, for obvious reasons. It took me a while to realize that no matter how close you are to someone or how much they claim to love you, people simply cannot keep secrets. I learned this a few years ago when I thought I was gay and told people. The more harmful the secret, the juicier the gossip and the more likely you are to be betrayed. People don’t care about their word or what they’ve promised, they just do whatever the fuck they want and justify it later. It feels incredibly lonely to realize you can never share something with someone and have it be between just the two of you. I don’t blame anyone in particular, I guess it’s just how people are. Even if I felt like this is something I could have shared, I have no interest in being part of a friendship or relationship where the other person views me as the damaged and contaminated person that I am. So even if I were able to trust someone, I probably would not have told them about what happened to me. At this point I simply don’t care who knows.

I feel an evil inside me. An evil that makes me want to end life. I need to stop this. I need to make sure I don’t kill someone, which is not something that can be easily undone. I don’t know if this is related to what happened to me or something different. I recognize the irony of killing myself to prevent myself from killing someone else, but this decision should indicate what I’m capable of.

So I’ve realized I will never escape the darkness or misery associated with it and I have a responsibility to stop myself from physically harming others.

I’m just a broken, miserable shell of a human being. Being molested has defined me as a person and shaped me as a human being and it has made me the monster I am and there
‘s nothing I can do to escape it. I don’t know any other existence. I don’t know what life feels like where I’m apart from any of this. I actively despise the person I am. I just feel fundamentally broken, almost non-human. I feel like an animal that woke up one day in a human body, trying to make sense of a foreign world, living among creatures it doesn’t understand and can’t connect with.

I have accepted that the darkness will never allow me to be in a relationship. I will never go to sleep with someone in my arms, feeling the comfort of their hands around me. I will never know what uncontimated intimacy is like. I will never have an exclusive bond with someone, someone who can be the recipient of all the love I have to give. I will never have children, and I wanted to be a father so badly. I think I would have made a good dad. And even if I had fought through the darkness and married and had children all while being unable to feel intimacy, I could have never done that if suicide were a possibility. I did try to minimize pain, although I know that this decision will hurt many of you. If this hurts you, I hope that you can at least forget about me quickly.

There’s no point in identifying who molested me, so I’m just going to leave it at that. I doubt the word of a dead guy with no evidence about something that happened over twenty years ago would have much sway.

You may wonder why I didn’t just talk to a professional about this. I’ve seen a number of doctors since I was a teenager to talk about other issues and I’m positive that another doctor would not have helped. I was never given one piece of actionable advice, ever. More than a few spent a large part of the session reading their notes to remember who I was. And I have no interest in talking about being raped as a child, both because I know it wouldn’t help and because I have no confidence it would remain secret. I know the legal and practical limits of doctor/patient confidentiality, growing up in a house where we’d hear stories about the various mental illnesses of famous people, stories that were passed down through generations. All it takes is one doctor who thinks my story is interesting enough to share or a doctor who thinks it’s her right or responsibility to contact the authorities and have me identify the molestor (justifying her decision by telling herself that someone else might be in danger). All it takes is a single doctor who violates my trust, just like the “friends” who I told I was gay did, and everything would be made public and I’d be forced to live in a world where people would know how fucked up I am. And yes, I realize this indicates that I have severe trust issues, but they’re based on a large number of experiences with people who have shown a profound disrepect for their word and the privacy of others.

People say suicide is selfish. I think it’s selfish to ask people to continue living painful and miserable lives, just so you possibly won’t feel sad for a week or two. Suicide may be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but it’s also a permanent solution to a ~23 year-old problem that grows more intense and overwhelming every day.

Some people are just dealt bad hands in this life. I know many people have it worse than I do, and maybe I’m just not a strong person, but I really did try to deal with this. I’ve tried to deal with this every day for the last 23 years and I just can’t fucking take it anymore.

I often wonder what life must be like for other people. People who can feel the love from others and give it back unadulterated, people who can experience sex as an intimate and joyous experience, people who can experience the colors and happenings of this world without constant misery. I wonder who I’d be if things had been different or if I were a stronger person. It sounds pretty great.

I’m prepared for death. I’m prepared for the pain and I am ready to no longer exist. Thanks to the strictness of New Jersey gun laws this will probably be much more painful than it needs to be, but what can you do. My only fear at this point is messing something up and surviving.

I’d also like to address my family, if you can call them that. I despise everything they stand for and I truly hate them, in a non-emotional, dispassionate and what I believe is a healthy way. The world will be a better place when they’re dead–one with less hatred and intolerance.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

Since being kicked out, I’ve interacted with them in relatively normal ways. I talk to them on the phone like nothing happened. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like pretending I have a family. Maybe I like having people I can talk to about what’s been going on in my life. Whatever the reason, it’s not real and it feels like a sham. I should have never allowed this reconnection to happen.

I wrote the above a while ago, and I do feel like that much of the time. At other times, though, I feel less hateful. I know my parents honestly believe the crap they believe in. I know that my mom, at least, loved me very much and tried her best. One reason I put this off for so long is because I know how much pain it will cause her. She has been sad since she found out I wasn’t “saved”, since she believes I’m going to Hell, which is not a sadness for which I am responsible. That was never going to change, and presumably she believes the state of my physical body is much less important than the state of my soul. Still, I cannot intellectually justify this decision, knowing how much it will hurt her. Maybe my ability to take my own life, knowing how much pain it will cause, shows that I am a monster who doesn’t deserve to live. All I know is that I can’t deal with this pain any longer and I’m am truly sorry I couldn’t wait until my family and everyone I knew died so this could be done without hurting anyone. For years I’ve wished that I’d be hit by a bus or die while saving a baby from drowning so my death might be more acceptable, but I was never so lucky.

To those of you who have shown me love, thank you for putting up with all my shittiness and moodiness
and arbitrariness. I was never the person I wanted to be. Maybe without the darkness I would have been a better person, maybe not. I did try to be a good person, but I realize I never got very far.

I’m sorry for the pain this causes. I really do wish I had another option. I hope this letter explains why I needed to do this. If you can’t understand this decision, I hope you can at least forgive me.

Bill Zeller

Please save this letter and repost it if gets deleted. I don’t want people to wonder why I did this. I disseminated it more widely than I might have otherwise because I’m worried that my family might try to restrict access to it. I don’t mind if this letter is made public. In fact, I’d prefer it be made public to people being unable to read it and drawing their own conclusions.

Feel free to republish this letter, but only if it is reproduced in its entirety.

If you couldn’t read the whole thing, don’t feel bad. I’ve had to skip around in it a bit as well. There’s just…too much. Too much damage, too much pain, too much tragedy. It’s overwhelming. It should be. It haunted me all day. (And if it resonated with your own experience too much, please read what Joel Johnson at Gizmodo has to say about the letter. It is every bit as true as it is probably hard for you to believe.)

Now, to strip gears just a touch, that’s what state I was in when I read the post by that idiot theist who wants you to believe that I, as an atheist, have no reason for not accepting what happened to that young man as just and moral. He wants you to think I find that just as fine and dandy as sex between consenting adults because I was raised without religion and have never claimed a god or religion as my own. He wants you to think it’s all the same to me.

In short, he wants you think I’m not human. Because I’m an atheist and he wants that to be wrong.

I don’t know whether he believes this or is just trying to score cheap points for his “side.” I don’t care. Either one makes him despicable. In order for him to believe it, he can’t feel overwhelmed by the wrongness of what happened to that young man, so that he thinks religion is required to keep everyone from doing it. Or he has to be so prejudiced against atheists as to believe that my lack of religion would keep that letter from reaching me emotionally.

If he’s trying to score in some argument ongoing in order to promote his religion, he’s both dishonest and adding to the social stigma borne by atheists. But maybe that’s okay if it provides additional pressure for atheists to convert, even if it requires that the rape of children be turned into a rhetorical football.

It’s not okay with me, though. It’s an insult at every level. It denies the tears I’ve been fighting ever since reading that letter. It denies me my humanity. It denies the work I’ve done to point out the dangers of arbitrary authority. It denies the fact that every child I interact with comes away from the encounter with a little bit more permission to be defiant, to subvert the rules, to say, “no,” to any authority, even Mom and Dad. (Yeah, I’m a hit with the parents.)

But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t be made to go away by a simple denial. I am a fact. My tears are facts, although you wouldn’t have heard anything about them if the idiot hadn’t tried to call them imaginary. My record on consensual sex is a fact, and so is my atheism.

So as long as this idiot goes around claiming that god and religion are required for morality, he is hurting himself and calling his other arguments into question. It won’t matter to some people, of course, since as I noted at the start of this post, you can’t make people think. But to anyone else, it will be obvious what kind of tired, transparent, and insulting apologetics he’s dabbling in.

I just wish that meant more to me right now.

How Must She Behave to Have Been Raped?

I don’t know whether the rape charges against Julian Assange are valid. I do know, however, that they are rape charges. It doesn’t matter whether a woman consented to have sex with you. If she tells you to stop, and you don’t stop, that is still sexual assault. I don’t care how frustrating it is or whether you hate her for the rest of your life for it. Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Let’s say that again: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

One more time just for clarity: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Does that tell me whether Assange did what he’s accused of doing? Nope. I just don’t know. And neither do you.

There is one more thing I do know, though. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near a single traumatized rape victim, much less in a professional capacity, if he believes that the alleged victim’s behavior tells us she wasn’t raped. Here’s his evidence:

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange’s case his alleged victim – the gender equity officer at Uppsula University – chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant – after they’d had the sex that even Swedish prosecutors concede was consensual.

Even ignoring the fact that the way to characterize the sex as consensual is to claim that consent, once given, cannot be revoked for any reason (which I think we’ve dealt with above; let me know if I need to repeat myself again), this is bullshit and he should know it’s bullshit. There isn’t one damned thing that all rape victims do or don’t do in common. They don’t all get scared. They don’t all get angry. They don’t even all show that they’re upset.

What did I do when I was sexually assaulted? I went on with my plans for the evening, which were to lose my virginity. Yep, that’s right. Within hours of being sexually assaulted, I had consensual sex.

Why? Hell if I know that either. I do know it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s because I wasn’t rational. I’ll remind you that I’d just been assaulted (and suffered another type of betrayal right alongside it). I had no idea what to do. I did the easiest thing, which was to go along as though it hadn’t happened. Pretending didn’t make it go away, but it was so much simpler than figuring out how to behave in a changed world.

If Assange did rape the alleged victim, why did she behave as she did? Maybe she was in denial. Maybe she wanted to show herself she could be that strong. Maybe she was reasserting her claim to the world they both shared. Maybe she was even pissed that Assange took control from her but not particularly traumatized. I don’t know and neither do you.

Neither does Kirk James Murphy, M.D., but that didn’t stop him from weighing in on the matter in a professional capacity (something he really ought to stop to give some serious thought). It didn’t stop him from perpetuating rape myths. Hell, it didn’t even stop him from writing a post that is one long exercise in “bad girls can’t be raped.”

Who is Julian Assange’s chief accuser in Sweden? She’s a gender equity officer at Uppsula University – who chose to associate with a US funded group openly supported by a convicted terrorist and mass murderer. She just happens to have her work published by a very well funded group connected with Union Liberal Cubana – whose leader, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in turn just happened to pop up on right wing Colombian TV a few hours after the right-wing coup in Honduras. Where he joined the leader of the failed coup in Ecuador to savage Correa, the target of the coup. Montnaner also just happened to vociferously support the violent coup in Honduras, and chose to show up to sing the praises of the Honduran junta.

Well, after all that, I guess the matter’s closed. Except I still have one little question. What the fuck has that got to do with anything? Oh, wait. He explains.

Small world, isn’t it? Julian Assange is the human face of Wikileaks – the organization that’s enabled whistle-blowers to reveal hideous war crimes and expose much of America’s foreign policy to the world.

He just happens to meet a Swedish woman who just happens to have been publishing her work in a well-funded anti-Castro group that just happens to have links with a group led by a man at least one journalist describes as an agent of the CIA: the violent secret arm of America’s foreign policy.

And she just happens to have been expelled from Cuba, which just happens to be the global symbol of successful defiance of American foreign policy.

And – despite her work in Sweden upholding the human right of gender equity – in Cuba she just happens to end up associating with a group openly supported by an admitted CIA agent who himself committed mass murder when he actively participated in the terrorist bombing of a jetliner carrying a Cuban sports team…an act that was of a piece with America’s secret foreign policy of violent attacks against Cuban state interests.

Yeah…nope. Not even an accusation that a CIA agent put her up to anything–or that they ever met. Or maybe it was supposed to be the terrorists who wanted Assange arrested. Keeping state secrets hidden is right up their alley, right? Or was it supposed to be the feminists? I can’t figure out why else her job merits multiple mentions in a smear piece, and that’s all this amounts to.

Call me back when you’ve got something other than your dislike of this woman’s politics or her party planning. In the meantime, I’ll be figuring out whether this particular post reaches the level of unprofessionalism that merits lodging complaints with the appropriate oversight board.

Nonapologies, Whatever Edition

I’m guessing you’re aware of the concept of the nonapology, the thing that is phrased as an apology, often even contain the words “I’m sorry,” and expresses an utter lack of responsibility for any actions. “I’m sorry if you were offended.” “I’m sorry you feel that way about it.” I heard a new one today.

“I’m sorry for whatever happened between us.”

Really? You’re sorry for…whatever? You don’t know what happened because, frankly, I haven’t bothered to tell you, but you’re sorry?

No, I don’t think so. If you were sorry about what happened between us, you’d at least want to know what part you played in it. What you’re sorry about is my reaction only. You’re sorry I don’t want to hang out. Sorry I don’t want to talk. Not sorry enough to find out why. Not sorry enough to find out whether it’s fixable. Just kind of…well…sorry.

Tells the whole story, really.

Caring About Abuse

To those implying* that your friendly local atheist is taking some new-found interest in fighting child sexual abuse because it involves the Catholic church or because Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are supporting the effort to explore legal options:

Oh, there are plenty of things I could say here. Short, pithy, pointed. Angry. Satisfying…but unhelpful. So I’ll settle for this: Are you listening to yourselves?

I’m serious. Did you think for one brief minute before sharing your first half-formed thoughts on this?

Even among child abusers, people who think they’re doing something okay are not the rule. People fight pedophilia, even when they find it within themselves. Many who do act on it come up with elaborate stories to explain away what they’re doing. The monster who says, “Mine to do with as I please,” is not common. Why would you think we’re apathetic about it?

No, I don’t sit around saying, “Child sexual abuse is bad. It should stop.” I also don’t generally say, “Gravity pulls that way. It should stick around.” The reaction to child sexual abuse is so universal that I’ve been cautioned as a writer against using it as a cheap emotional device in stories. Some things are simply so self-evident that it is an insult to say them to anyone who’s been introduced to the concept. Some statements require an explanation justifying their utterance. This is one of them.

What is it that you think of us? Do we condone child abuse normally–until it’s done in the shadow of the cross or the crescent? Are we merely callous and insensitive? Frivolous? Self-absorbed? Blind to the problem?

While you’re thinking about the audience for your condescension, think about that last option a little harder. If you are so much more personally concerned with the problem of child sexual abuse than we are, you probably know that somewhere between 10% and 25% of children are estimated to be affected. Even given lower survival rates among those children, they still grow up to be a large percentage of the population.

How many of those people you’re accusing of jumping onto a trendy and politically expedient problem are survivors of child sexual abuse themselves?

No, I can’t tell you either. I can tell you that you’ve hit at least one. Me. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but who does?

I participate in certain activities instead, activities directed at helping kids survive when they’re abused, activities directed at calming people down enough that pedophiles feel free to seek treatment and that fruitful research on the problem can take place. I could tell you what they are, but I won’t, because I decide when and where I talk about this, not you.

I didn’t go through what I did, mild as it is by some standards, to be put on trial by you to prove that I care about this issue enough to have an opinion on whether it’s a good thing to put pressure on the world’s largest central religious organization to change policies that perpetuate child sexual abuse. I didn’t survive to watch that piece of me be dismissed because you don’t like how I–or someone else–talks about religion, when we’re talking about systemic, organizational enabling of abuse.

Do you want to talk about other actions you think will be more effective than prosecution, to engage people who have always wanted to help but not known how to tackle problem this pervasive and diffuse? Great. If nothing else, I’m always up for a chat on changing clerical exemptions to mandatory reporting laws. Now seems like a great time to fix those. We’ll talk.

But if you come at this questioning my motivation, I have nothing to say to you, except to ask what kind of monster you think I am. There is no grounds for discussion. We’re done.

* Not a strawman and not limited to those who dislike atheists or, sadly, even to those who appear to be angry at one or two atheists in particular. I could point, but there are some discussions that should be staked through the heart and buried at a crossroads.

How Unhappy Is Irrational?

I got an interesting response to my post, “Going Emo,” by email. It was specifically in response to the last bit of a single bullet point:

Breaking the social conventions isn’t worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, “No. I don’t need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help.”

The bullet point, in turn, was a response to a note from the same person asking why I was being so negative, since “It’s not like you at all,” accompanied by the question of whether it was time for me to get some professional help with that. Based on my Facebook status updates. Specifically, these status updates:

  • …is just too damned much trouble, really.
  • …falls, on the scale of human companionship, somewhere between utterly unrewarding and actively taxing.

For anyone else who was terribly concerned…I had PMS, made significantly worse by an enforced lack of exercise. I mentioned it over here. It happens. It’s ugly. It’s over in a day or two, but anyone who gets in my way in the meantime might be in for a bit of a surprise and for no good reason. Those two statements are a pretty fair picture of a temporary situation. They might be strongly worded, but one of the cornerstones of training in writing is cutting out wimpy prose.

The next update, by the way, was, “If you need hyperdrive, I can fix that too, but I could never be your wookie.” (Explanation, of sorts, here.)

The idea in this new post-emo-post note was to urge me, once again, to seek professional help. “If I’m the only one of your kajillion and a half friends who has made the suggestion of seeing a professional, then I am shocked.” You might want to sit down. “I don’t know why you might be resistant to seeing a therapist.” Then do allow me to explain.

I’ve been dealing with pain for two months. I’ve been dealing with enforced inactivity for a fair chunk of that. I’ve been dealing with uncertainties about my health for a good bit more. But that’s just it, I’m dealing with them. I’m making my doctors appointments. I’m being appropriately cautious with my activity, which does include some testing of my limits. I’m taking pain medication when appropriate–mostly.

A note about narcotic pain medications: The reason these things have a high street value is that they fuck with your head. Even looking at the list of milder side effects for Vicodin, we see: drowsiness, nausea, and mood changes. Huh. Sounds a lot like the superficial symptoms of depression, doesn’t it? It would be nifty if a chat with a therapist would provide some coping strategies for Vicodin that would make those side effects go away, but that’s not about to happen. That leaves me with a choice between side effects (including a loopiness that makes me hesitate a very long time before spilling my guts on the old blog) and pain.

The emotional side effects of pain are something that a therapist can help you deal with. However, the advice is to keep the pain from interfering with your life as much as possible. For reasons having to do mostly with my not wanting to continue bleeding and partly to do with the inability to immobilize the cervix so jiggling around doesn’t make the pain worse, this hasn’t been entirely possible. I’m very much hoping that tomorrow’s doctor appointment will settle that question. I miss exercise.

I miss exercise in part because I miss being able to eat what I want without gaining weight. I can’t do that if I don’t move around a bunch, so I’m eating very little right now. It’s not a shortcut to weight loss, unfortunately, but at least it means I’m not gaining anything. It does, however, look like one of those signs of depression–until you listen to me bitch about wanting a hamburger. Or see me angling for oatmeal raisin cookies. Vicodin makes me hungry when it’s not making me motion sick.

Then there’s exercise and sleep. Sleep and I have never been very good friends, particularly when sleep means something that’s compatible with a corporate work schedule. Exercise helps keep us mostly reconciled. With enough exercise, sleep takes over some time near the time it should if I’m going to get up at a decent time. I still see the wee sma’s about once every two weeks, but I mostly maintain something like a pattern.

One thing being immobile has done is make me pay out my sleep debt and put me on a more comfortable schedule. I should, apparently, sleep from midnight to eight or so. Unless I’m sick, in which case, I should sleep always. Sleeping always without actually being sick, along with migraines, is what drove me to the doctor in the first place, which is not exactly evidence of being unwilling to see someone about my problems.

So, yes, if you’re looking at me, you’re going to see changes in (apparent) appetite and sleep. You’ll also see that I’m not consistently doing many of the things I would normally enjoy doing, largely because they require concentration or extended attention, which is also a problem with both pain and narcotics. You’ll see that I’m not enjoying many of the things I normally would, because I’m so out of shape (and blood) that getting ready and getting to them leaves me tired out.

Then we come to mood. When was the last time you were sick, injured or in pain for an extended period of time? How did you feel about that? How sad did it make people when you talked about it? How worried did they get? How tired of explaining everything did you get? How long did it take talking about your problems and asking for accommodations that weren’t offered to make you feel selfish?

One of the reasons I’ve been writing about my little health scare is that nobody else was. There was information about the technical aspects of all the procedures I’ve been through, but nobody was talking about what it felt like. I didn’t want other people to have to discover the fear and the pain and the inappropriately funny bits on their own. I didn’t want other people to feel alone.

There are a lot of things about the way our society is set up that make being ill isolating if you’re at all sensitive to social expectations. Not that make it feel isolating, but that actually isolate you from other people. Social interactions that should express genuine interest in another person are used as greetings in passing, so it’s nearly impossible to tell who really wants to know how you’re doing. We live long distances from one another so that visits are occasions, not to be met without a shower and some decent clothes. We set up our interactions around participatory events that don’t have a lot of room for the passive (ask me to expound on wedding and baby shower games sometime) or require cash even when someone may not be getting paid.

We medicalize unhappiness. Let some isolated soul vent irritation about being isolated, let them be honest about being grumpy, and suddenly they’ve got one more fucking problem that requires that they go do something to have it fixed. We say, “Go see a therapist.” We don’t say, “You’re right, that sucks.” We don’t say, “I’d be pretty miserable in your position.” We don’t say, “Can I bring you a cookie?”

Except we do. Some of us. Many of us. We reach out and hug somebody so they feel less isolated. We make sure they know we really
want to know how they’re doing, and then we listen. We sympathize, even when sympathy hurts us too. We recognize that being unhappy is, to a certain extent, exactly the most rational response to pain and disability and disappointment. And we ask, instead of tell, our friends what kind of help they need, because being sick doesn’t make people children incapable of making those decisions.

That, my friend, is why you’re the only person who has suggested I see a therapist, much less done so three times. It’s also why I’m resistant, not to seeing a therapist, but to the pronouncement that a therapist is the appropriate response to the things I’m dealing with when you haven’t taken the time to find out how I’m dealing with them.

Let’s Talk Pre-existing

I’m grumpy today because I’m not feeling well and haven’t been for…well, far too long. The migraines are getting more frequent again, and more of them hurt instead of just making me stupid (thinking through sand) and hypersensitive. The allergies are taking a different tack this summer. I can breathe through my nose, and I’m content to leave my eyeballs where they are, but I feel as though I’ve been wandering around with about an extra twenty pounds of weight strapped to each ankle. I am so tired it hurts to have to stay awake sometimes, like after taking a shower in the morning. I’ve been working from home more so I can nap. And now my temperature is going wonky. To be fair, it does that whenever I’m tired or slightly sunburnt or….

It’s time to do something, which means going to the doctor. The old OTC antihistamine is no longer doing what it must. The class of antihistamines that works best for me isn’t available OTC in a 24-hour form. The migraines have been successfully treated in the past, but only with drugs that are only available by prescription for a very good reason.

On top of that, it’s time for another MRI of my heart. Oh, yes, and a new antibiotic prescription so I can go to the dentist without pushing myself another step closer to a valve replacement. Time is already doing that for me, but no need to hurry things along. I’m hoping the original will last until Medicare kicks in.

Thing is, there’s nothing acute wrong with me (as far as I know; the static can get pretty loud sometimes). Everything I have is a pre-existing condition. Everything but the allergies dates back at least to my teens. Arthritis included.

This is kind of a big deal. HIPAA’s got me covered somewhat, but needing to maintain constant coverage limits what I can do. My husband and I can’t start a business together without being absolutely certain that we can afford the exorbitant prices of individual coverage, assuming a carrier will cover us. I can’t pursue writing full time, or him photography, without being sure we can afford COBRA if something happens to the other’s job. We also have to be prepared for something happening to both our jobs, even if we don’t take any entrepreneurial risks.

I can’t experience a gap in coverage (neither can he), which means we are hostage to the highest priced insurance plans in the U.S. If I do, if I can’t afford that insurance, none of the crap I have to deal with will be covered for a year. Any treatment I might need, including open heart surgery, would be mine to pay for, even while I was paying for insurance.

And after all this, I’m relatively well off. I just hurt every day. I have a flexible job, so my health doesn’t keep me from being a good employee most of the time. Other people lose jobs because their health makes them not unemployable, which would give them access to Medicare, but undependable, which gives them access to nothing.

Like me, a lot of these people have little or no control over their conditions. They didn’t ask to be ill and marginally employable and uninsurable. Anyplace civilized, they wouldn’t be punished for the accident of their health while insurance companies rake in profits.

This is why we need health care reform and, more specifically, health insurance reform.

May I Just Say…Arrgh!

Thankfully, though, there’s a company out there brave enough to tackle the differences between girls and boys—more specifically, the difference between the way boys play Ouija and the way girls play Ouija. Because when men are pretending to contact the dead, they’re all like, “Is there a ghost here?” while women are all like, “Who in this room is jealous of me?” Am I right?

According to Hasbro, yes. Behold Ouija For Girls:

And it gets worse. Seriously.

Thanks (sort of) to Ben.

Sympathetic but Irrational

If you haven’t already read Greg’s post about a student of his recently sentenced for acts he committed as a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), I strongly recommend it. It is, in part, about dealing with people you love doing bad things. It is also about, well, here:

But there is a third axis along which we can judge movements that engage in violence to enact change: The link to and articulation of the rational argument. ALF does not have one. ELF does not have one. Their arguments are based on misconceptions, misinformation, crappy logic, bad planning, and political ineptitude. Their arguments are shit. ALF and ELF have probably done more harm than good, in terms of the politics and public opinion, in the areas of animal care and environmental concern. The environmental movement and the animal ‘rights’ movement have progressed to the extent that they have despite, not because of, ELF/ALF.

Becca asked the following question in the comments.

Do you think ALF and ELF are irrational because their goals are irrational or because their means of achieving them are counterproductive?

It’s a question that needs to be asked, I think, simply because of the causes these groups align themselves with. Implicit (and I speculate, in part, because I know Becca will correct me if I’m wrong) is a certain sympathy with the cause that bleeds over to the group. However, I also think the answer is important, so I’m putting mine here to make sure it isn’t buried forever in a comment thread.

We’ve got a related post at QM that’s been sitting in the queue waiting for this to be done, so I’ve been thinking about this a while myself.

I’ll start with the first part. For the ELF at least, their aims are irrational. I’m not talking about the loving the Earth part. That may be their motivation, but it isn’t their goal. Their goal is to decrease the cost to the environment by increasing the cost of development–because development costs are paid by the environment. To put it more succinctly, firebombing is bad for the Earth, both by itself and in the cost of replacing what was damaged.

On to their means. My first reaction on hearing about this was to be pissed at the ELF for screwing up another life. Yes, I know they haven’t killed anyone, but all too often, they end up hurting the good people.

When they decide to torch a condo construction project, it makes a big splash and a big statement. However, the people put at risk are firefighters and the neighbors who have chosen to live in high-density housing. The people who lost financially were, again, those living in high-density housing, plus those who were getting ready to move into high-density housing and those who saw their insurance rates go up to cover the costs of additional materials to rebuild.

Then there’s what they do to their own people. Take a kid like John, someone who presumably was driven by a passion for the environment. He wants to help. Other environmental groups are telling him that we need to continue to do ecological research so we understand the decisions we’re making, that we need to press politically for the action we already know is needed, that we need to engineer more efficient production and transmission of alternative energy, that we need to figure out how to slow or stop population growth.

Those are all good things to be doing. They also take time and perhaps some education that John hasn’t achieved yet. So what does he do? Does he buckle down and get that education and try to enlighten his fellow students as he goes, despite the fact that they’re more interested in Friday night’s party?

He’s, what, eighteen? What do you think he does when he has the ELF over here telling him he can help in a big way, right now, by playing with fire?

So now we’ve got another kid doing prison time instead of working on our problems, another extremist for political opponents to point to (only this one actually did extreme things). And Greg didn’t mention it, but it’s in the news. John will have to pay restitution, so he’ll be the one helping to pay for the environmental resources to replace those destroyed by the ELF.

Irrational top to bottom.

Two Copyrights Can Make a Wrong

Sham pulp culture buried in time
True pulp culture there to be plundered

I stopped by Pharyngula this morning, as I usually do on Sunday mornings, to see whether there were any questions for the radio show. There weren’t, which was fine. We got more questions during the show than we could fit in.

What was at Pharyngula was a link to a feature-length animated movie by Nina Paley.

“Aha,” I said to myself, “That’s what she’s been doing!”

I used to read Nina’s Adventures (here’s a fun one), and I missed their cheerful cynicism, so, discovering that she had a blog, I decided to play a little catch up.

I didn’t find quite what I’d expected. Instead, I found another lesson in why the current U.S. copyright law hurts artists:

Even with the $50,000, I still may not be able to clear all the songs. So far only Warner-Chappell and EMI have informally agreed to those terms, but they haven’t issued contracts yet, and they can still change their minds for any reason. The rest of the rightsholders are under no obligation to agree. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, will they work with me or against me?

What’s the big deal, right? Of course she has to clear copyright on the music in her movie. Well, yes, but the copyrights she’s clearing are for 1920s jazz songs. The singer is dead, the writers are dead, but the corporations that now own the rights live on. And on and on.

For three years, Paley’s been working to be able to distribute this film built around music older than anyone who’s going to read this post. And so, another artist I admire is supporting QuestionCopyright.org.

1920s.

We pay our artists next to nothing to feed our minds and our hearts. How much can we afford to charge them for the materials they need to do it?

Jane Yolen (whose views on copyright I don’t know), tells a story about a letter she received from an elementary student. This student had been assigned Jane’s book Wizard’s Hall and had noted several similarities between Wizard’s Hall and the Harry Potter books. Indignant, the child asked the teacher whether J. K. Rowling was going to sue Jane for ripping off Harry Potter.

The teacher suggested the student look at the respective publication dates.

Oh.

Now the student wanted to know whether Jane was going to sue J. K. Rowling.

Jane suggested, with the patient gentleness that is one of her charms, that if Rowling wanted to send her something for the idea, she wouldn’t turn it down. But no, she wasn’t going to sue.

She could, perhaps, have sued, but (back to my opinions) what would have been the point? Harry Potter wasn’t terribly original, but that wasn’t why kids loved it. In fact, kids adored some of the least original parts of the books: the magic wands, the lonely orphan, the staunch friendships, the classic British boarding school format, the rivalries, the rebellion. If Rowling had insisted that every part of her book had been untraceable in modern children’s literature, would anyone have read it? And what would have happened to all those kids inspired to read had Jane sued?

If Harry Potter doesn’t seal the argument against long copyrights for you, try reading Will Shetterly’s fable, “The People Who Owned the Bible.”

But when his Lulabelle ran off with a Bible salesman, Jimmy retired to one of his mansions and refused to let anyone print any more Bibles or use the Bible in any way that raised money.

The surviving churches sent delegates to Disney, begging them to get Congress to shorten the copyright period to put the KJV back in the public domain. But Disney had picked up the rights to a Restoration revenge tragedy that looked like a great vehicle for Britney Spears, so they made a counteroffer.

It’s funny as hell, but how far is it really from what would happen?

Nina Paley could use your help to get this movie fully free from its copyright issues. You can go see whether you think its worth the help. She needs donations to pay off the record companies. She needs server space and bandwidth for distribution. She may still even need a lawyer. There’s just one thing she’s asking you not do.

Many more formats will be online by March 7th, the day Sita Sings the Blues airs on WNET TV (part of Reel 13 on March 7 at 10:45 pm). These will be higher resolution and free to copy and share. If you want a copy, please wait for the higher quality formats instead of capturing the very compressed channel13.org streaming version. As the artist, I want the highest quality versions to circulate; it’d be sad if a super-compressed capture started torrenting first. Together, we can keep quality high!

So please don’t distribute the film yourself–not yet.

So check beneath your fingernails
In between your toes
Right between your earlobes, darling,
That’s where culture grows