Future Doctor Miller talks Karaoke

Photo by Amanda Walczesky DanielsonI know I’ve been close to radio silence here on the FtB lately.  I’ve found a lot of the fighting going on in my pages about Shermer a bit triggery, but mostly I’ve been getting ready for and recovering from the oral defense of my Comprehensive Exams.

WHICH I PASSED.

Yes.  I am All But Dissertation or, as I plan to sign only the most ridiculous things I talk about: Ashley F. Miller, almost PhD.  Of course, there’s that pesky dissertation thing between me and making everyone call me doctor.  And I’m starting a CAREER sort of job tomorrow, but I got this.

In light of the serious scholarly weight I’ve been carrying around with me this last month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about something not terribly deep at all.  My love for Karaoke.  Consider this a love letter, of sorts.

I have been having a rough couple weeks, but I’ve had the opportunity to go to karaoke frequently with people I like a great deal, so that’s been good.  It occurred to me that the rules of karaoke and how I approach it are very different from the way I do most things in life.  There are unwritten rules, the most important of which is that Taste Doesn’t Matter.  This is really weird for me because I am highly critical, but when I go to karaoke that part of my mind almost totally shuts down.  I mean, I still notice when something I don’t like is happening, but it generally doesn’t matter very much.  No amount of anxiety meds or alcohol or CBT has ever been able to shut off my obsessive-compulsive noticing of flaws, but karaoke very nearly does.

Photo by Chris Bickel

Karaoke is about supporting people doing something they enjoy, whether you would normally enjoy it or not — in exchange, they support you when it’s your turn.  Don’t like the song or the genre of music?  Too bad, support them anyway.  Don’t think they can sing?  Too bad, sing along.  Think “Blurred Lines” is quasi-date-rape-y? Too bad, sing the “hey hey hey”.  They are butchering a song you wanted to sing later?  Too bad, clap for them and find a new song.  They’re too drunk to read the screen and don’t know any of the words? Sing along in the audience to help them out.

This rule applies to the performance as well.  You want to do something that’s fun for the room.  You’re not obligated to, you can sing whatever you want, and not all audiences are alike.  One group might be very impressed by your rendition of a slow Adele song while another much prefers over-the-top cock rock.  You can’t always know this, but when you do, aim for helping them have a good time with your performance.  Do you think “I’m Too Sexy” is a great song? Of course not — but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Many of the best karaoke songs are songs you’d probably be embarrassed to admit to liking. Want to do something weird?  Own it.  Someone having fun on stage trumps everything.

This is the only rule of karaoke.  Unconditionally love and support the singer, even and especially when that singer is you.  That’s the reason it’s fun, because it isn’t about being good, it’s about the shared performance of audience and singer.  Oh, it might be great to be the best singer in the room or give the most convincing air guitar, but, when done right, karaoke should be just as much fun when you aren’t singing as when you are.  And that’s my karaoke wisdom, do with it what you will — Ashley F. Miller, almost PhD.

Photo by Chris Bickel

The Non-Religious Patriarchy: Why Losing Religion HAS NOT Meant Losing White Male Dominance (excerpt)

coverNow available through Wiley Online!

This is not my first academic publication, but it is my first journal article, so I am very excited!  Here’s an excerpt:

Beyond this, the atheist movement fails to address or analyze the problem in meaningful ways. Within the critiques of organized religion, there is “little analysis of the relationship between economic disenfranchisement, race, gender, and religiosity” meaning that such critiques inevitably are of “limited cultural relevance for people of color.”31 Likewise, such critiques often fail to engage with the reasons that religion can be a very useful thing to women and people of color, in a strictly utilitarian way, even while it oppresses them. The atheistic, science-and-objective truth above all point of view means that the experiences of those without the luxury of choice or who cannot place more importance on philosophy than taking care of their families are both not explored and treated as inferior. Religion is not simply about a belief system, and treating it as though it is, is only possible with a blindness to all of the social benefits it provides, even while acknowledging all of the injuries it creates as well. From the position of privilege many in the atheist movement occupy, the focus is always on what is false rather than on what helps one to survive. This is not to say that organized religion is a net good, or something not worth fighting against, but rather to say that ignoring the reality of how religion helps people means being unable to offer meaningful alternatives to it.

There is a pervasive belief that “objective” science holds all of the answers without an acknowledgement that most values and causes are supported by philosophy and personal worldviews as well.32 A white male scientist is naturally going to be interested in causes related to being a white male scientist and blind to or ignorant of causes not related to that. It is a systematic bias. As a movement founded primarily by white male scientists who felt ostracized, the atheist movement has a difficult time acknowledging that science has its problems both historically and as the sole foundation of a worldview and that being white confers special privileges, as does being male. Ironically, their deep commitment to skepticism often fails to include a skepticism aimed at their own worldview.

The movement “likes to talk about the European Enlightenment as if nothing bad could ever legitimately be said about it”33 despite the fact that the Enlightenment was responsible for scientific rationalization and implementation of terrible programs that exploited and hurt people of color and women. Historically, science has been responsible for: terrible programs of eugenics, claims of biological race, and sex differences that have sense been proven to be untrue, justification of slavery, scientific experiments on people of color, forced sterilization of women who committed the crimes of being poor, unmarried, or not white, forced imprisonment of women who were sexual or became involved with someone of a different race, and the list goes on. Science has been responsible for a great many crimes against humanity, and the majority of these crimes have been committed against those least able to defend themselves. There is a natural distrust from people who have faced generations of horror at the hands of scientists and science and the atheist movement’s focus on science above all, with no recognition of the problematic history, makes it difficult for many to trust it.

In addition to the fact that church offers so many benefits to women and people of color that the movement offers no alternative for, the atheist movement often fails to create a welcoming environment. Even without addressing the fact that the movement does not make an effort to emulate the community support of church, it also does not treat the issue of welcoming women and people of color as an important one.

31. Hutchinson, Moral Combat, 199

32. Pigliucci, Massimo, Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science, 1st ed. (Sinauer Associates, 2002).

33. Edwords, “The Hidden Hues of Humanism.”

There is also a piece by annalise fonza: Black Women, Atheist Activism, and Human Rights: Why We Just Cannot Seem to Keep It to Ourselves!

In this sense, therefore, this article is constructive and written to assert that black women atheists should be at the table with women who struggle for reproductive rights and with those who fight for religious rights. In this essay, I discuss the ways in which black women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ayanna Watson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jamila Bey, Kim Veal, and Mandisa Thomas have risked social status and reputation to raise the awareness that they too struggle for human rights and in particular for the rights of women to choose not believe in a god or supernatural ideas. Indeed, my objective is to assert that black atheist women must be a part of these dialogues and debates on matters related to gender, religion, and human rights, especially at this point in history, when human and civil rights for females/women are threatened worldwide by governance that is informed by patriarchal masculinity that conveys the need to control the fate of the female body.

If you need more information or help accessing the article, feel free to contact me.

The difference between “atheism+” and humanism

I am an atheist.  I am also a humanist.  Being a humanist is actually far more important to my worldview than being an atheist is.  In fact, the reason I care about religion and atheism is because I am a humanist.  In my opinion, organized religion is responsible for many evils in the world, a lot of which come down to human nature and the nature of large organizations, but many of which are made far worse by the nature of religion itself.  I support gay rights, I am a feminist, I am against the drug war, I am for social support systems and changing the way the world treats the poor — all of these things I am because I live my life from a humanist perspective.  Imperfectly, no doubt, but that is where I am coming from.

And yet, if asked how I define myself, I say “atheist” rather than “humanist”.  Why would I choose to define myself as part of this newly christened “atheist+” movement rather than the “humanist” movement?

It’s a completely legitimate question — if you go look at the American Humanist Association, you’ll see a group that does almost everything I could want a movement to do (and I support the AHA gladly and whole-heartedly).  It’s just that it doesn’t do one thing that is really important to me: make it clear that I am an atheist.

I guess it could be a small thing for some people, but it’s not for me, because where I am from, being an atheist is not really OK.  People face serious discrimination, people in my local atheist groups fear for their jobs if they come out.  The emails from the local atheist billboard campaign were truly horrific.  And what many atheists face from their families, even families who aren’t extremely religious, it painful and can lead to lifelong rifts.

As a longtime participant in the gay rights movement, I have been taught that self-definition is incredibly important; it matters a great deal that you should be able to label yourself as gay or straight, male or female, somewhere in between, or to eschew labels altogether.  When those labels automatically mean you are going to be treated badly, it becomes an important political act to stand up and insist that you are not undeserving of equal treatment just because you don’t identify with a different label.  I am an atheist because I don’t believe in gods, but I call myself an atheist because being an atheist means I get treated like shit by some people and that is not OK.

The desire to hold on to “atheism” rather than use the term “humanism” isn’t from a fundamental difference of goals and beliefs, but from a difference of self-definition. I personally like “atheism+” because it’s more confrontational, embraces a minority position that is loathed by many, and it is more transparent about the belief that religion is one of the root causes of many social injustices.  My humanism is more than just secular, it is anti-religion.

Beyond that, the social justice issues that “atheism+” care about include issues specifically about atheists as a group.  We are committed to is the pursuit of equality for atheists, a public acknowledgement of our existence, and a political voice for the godless. It’s not that humanism doesn’t believe in equality for atheists, of course it does, but that’s not the focus.  “Atheism+” is not my favorite of titles, I’d have gone with Atheist Humanism, but I don’t think that humanism, secular humanism, and “atheism+” are the same thing. Huge overlaps? Yes, absolutely.  But so long as I’m going to be treated as a social pariah for being a non-believer, I feel it is important for me to not be afraid to be out of the closet and loud about that label.

There is a difference between a self-defined humanist doing something good for mankind and a self-defined atheist doing it, simply because of the massive amount of stigma associated with atheism.  Proving that atheists care about other people and making the world a better place is important.  I think that “atheism+” is a way to bring the philosophy of humanism more strongly to the fight for atheist equality, and vice versa.

Calling myself part of the atheist — +, humanist, or otherwise — movement is a meaningful political act, and one not worth dropping to join something incredibly similar, but different.

My Unite Against the War on Women Coverage

I am everywhere today, it seems.

I am quoted in the front page story of our local independent paper, the Free Times.

The couple watches as women’s advocate Ashley F. Miller, a doctoral candidate in mass communications at the University of South Carolina, stands at a podium on the State House steps and declares, “This is not just a war on women: This is a war on dignity … 88 percent of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men. Our poverty rate is 25 percent higher than men’s poverty rate. In South Carolina, we’re still only making 76 cents on the dollar.”

America, Miller says, could turn into a place where women in some states could be arrested for having a miscarriage, while the killing of abortion doctors in others could be considered justifiable homicide. (Indeed, lawmakers in Utah and South Dakota, respectively, have introduced legislation to such effect.)

I was interviewed for Voices of Russia Radio about the rally and why it is important.  I have actually managed to sit and listen to the whole thing.  I will try to get a transcript of this for you, I thought I acquitted myself quite well.

Finally! You can watch me give my speech from the rally.  Here is a livestream video of the entire event, my speech starts at around 57 minutes.

Unitewomen.org

Imagine: Not an Atheist Song

How could you ever be angry at that?

Cee Lo Green changed a line in Imagine from “no religion too” to “all religions true” and the atheists and BeatlesFreaks are pissed. The sacred line about “no religion” was changed in a song about everybody getting along to be about everyone getting along in a slightly different way, and so people naturally are not going to get along about it…

What Cee Lo did is way more respectful and less cowardly than the way most people just cut the line entirely.  And the way Cee Lo changed the line is actually completely in sync with Lennon’s intentions.  He wasn’t trying to say there shouldn’t be anything religious, he was saying that all religions should get along.  Lennon, on the lyrics, “If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion, but without this ‘my God is bigger than your God’ thing—then it can be true.

Compare MLK’s dedication to the worldview expressed in “Imagine.” The song doesn’t advocate any action, it doesn’t detail any specific problems or solutions it just sort of drifts along and says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if things were great?” Not every song needs to be a treatise on geopolitics but shouldn’t a “meaningful” song actually mean something?

We’re talking about a guy who was unbelievably wealthy who brought the nonsense of eastern mysticism to millions of people singing about no religion and no possessions. I call bullshit.

I agree that the sentiment of the line is stupid, but the fact of the matter is that it is exactly what Lennon was trying to say, because Lennon was a namby pamby, non-committal, everyone is equally good sort of person, apparently just like Cee Lo Green.

Podcast Part II: Winning the War of Attrition

After we completed the main hour of the podcast, we continued our conversation and the guys over at “A Matter of Doubt” have been kind enough to put it up as a bonus clip.  This is where we get into the things that I am most interested in, LGBT issues, argument, and humanism.  I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about occasionally in here, even.

Yes, I’m pretty vitriolic online, and I am willing to call people wrong and be kind of… we’ll go with “emphatic”.  Somewhat dogged.  Win the war of attrition.  But in person, in real life, in real interactions, people are worth more than ideas.  People deserve to be treated well, people deserve to be loved for who they are, they deserve to be accepted.  You can have any opinion you want about their beliefs, but at some point you have to be willing to say, you know, I disagree with you and that’s not the most important thing about you.  We’re all worthy, we’re all equal, we’re all human.  And that’s the foundation of equal rights, that’s the foundation of why we care about the LGBT issues, it’s the foundation of why we think atheists should be treated the same.  And at some point you have to be willing to stop arguing.

http://www.amatterofdoubt.com/?p=187

Book Review: Jen Hancock’s Humanist Approach to Happiness

(x-posted from SheThought)

Jennifer Hancock, from her website

Jen Hancock was kind enough to reach out to the SheThought writers and offered me a chance to read and review her book, The Humanist Approach to Happiness: Practical Wisdom. The book is aimed at teens and young adults as a way to teach ethics, critical thinking skills and decision-making to young people. If you’re more interested in the book than anything I have to say, just scroll to the end and there’s more information on the special deal she’s offering SheThought readers.

This is perfect for me because, as someone who automatically hates everything and thinks grown-ups are stupid, I am exactly the right audience for a book aimed at teenagers.

So I suppose that’s a good place to start. I didn’t totally hate it, but I didn’t love it either. Some parts of it were really good, and some parts really rankled. It is written in an easy to understand way with plenty of examples and metaphors that are appropriate to a younger readership. The writer clearly has a very keen memory of her teenage days and isn’t afraid to mine them for engaging examples.

One of my bigger problems with the book came from formatting choices. There seemed to be some errors with the margins, which is fairly minor, but the author also made the decision to pepper the book with quotations from famous speakers. Now, I’m not against quotations, but giant quotations in between connected paragraphs makes me feel a little bit off kilter. When the quotes intrude, I feel the need either to read the quote and then re-figure out what I was reading or to skip the quote entirely.

Sort of like how you’re engaging with this picture right now

There’s a lot of great stuff, however, on what makes people “good” people, and what makes people not so good. Her three required traits are compassion, ethics, and responsibility, and these seem pretty accurate to me. She’s also happy to list bad people as well, people who generally don’t follow those three guidelines. She’s neither pro or anti-religion, at least not explicitly, and simply says that people can be good or bad regardless of faith and the only real caveat she gives in the book is that if you or someone you know is grieving, don’t assume your faith is the way they want to deal with grief. And be skeptical about supernatural claims, because that stuff is ridiculous and can get you killed!

My favorite part is where she insists that everyone is a dork. Because we all are dorks, and the sooner we embrace it, the sooner we can move beyond lame attempts at being cool. She also thinks we should be more eager to engage in lifelong learning and learning from our elders. Amen to that. We are all dorks who should hang out with old dorks.

And then she starts wandering a bit away from things I agree with into territory I feel a little confused about. She insists that people should aim for simplicity generally, including in their diet. Now, I’m all for simple tastes and simple lifestyles, but I am always skeptical about diet claims of any kind. Insisting on food simplicity strikes me as faddish and there are no references that make it seem like she’s making scientific claims, just personal ones. Why is a drink with chemicals worse than a drink with no chemicals? Am I really to believe that natural means healthy? I mean, arsenic is natural.

And she goes on to really discourage people from indulging in “sinful” pleasures (her quotes). Now, I appreciate that a book aimed at a young audience isn’t going to say go try drugs and sex and rock and roll because they’re interesting and part of the human experience… except that’s exactly what I think it should say. This is clearly just a difference of opinion between the author and myself, but I feel a little confused as to how her view is the only one justified by humanism, though perhaps it isn’t trying to claim to be the only point-of-view.

And then there’s sex. The author and I are clearly coming from totally different worlds on this one. Her advice to play the field while dating and wait for sex are things that I don’t personally find compelling, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad advice. But when she says things like women who hate their dads transfer that hate to all men; and people who dated can’t really be friends and shouldn’t contact one another for at least a year; and, no matter what they say, women who say they’re OK with a solely sexual relationship are really just looking for an emotional relationship, whether they know it or not; and people who watch porn lose sense of reality and it’s a catalyst for bizarre violent activity and it’s addictive… when she says things like that, it is all I can do not to punch the screen. Where are the citations? Why on earth does she think this stuff?

The book ends, however, on a high note, in a sense, about grieving. This is the best part of the book and speaks from personal experience and love. I’ve never seen much literature on the humanist perspective on grief, and this handles it gracefully.

So, there are good and bad bits and, if you rip out the section on relationships and sex, I think the book is a great read for young adults. I think few adult readers would find it challenging, but there are still some enlightening moments to it.

More information from the author:
Even though the book is explicitly Humanist, I’m finding that moms of different stripes and interestingly enough, religious folk who work with teens, are interested in the book.  My book is currently in the curricula for the Royal Military College of Canada to teach cadets critical thinking and decision-making skills. It’s also going to be in the new curricula for the UUA for youth education in the areas of critical thinking and character development.  Oh, and it’s enjoying its third month atop the Kindle best seller lists for Parenting/Morals&Responsibility and Parenting/Teens.

For a copy of the book go to: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/22621  20% off both the ebook and the paperback formats, Coupon code: UT36F – Price will be $4.80 instead of $6.00 – this coupon expires Oct 1st 2012.

For the paperback go to: https://www.createspace.com/3463716 and use the discount code: 2SV7A43M  20% off the list of $12.98 – so the price will be $10.38

The book is also available at whatever online book retailer you might prefer to use.

PS – I’ve also got a new little e-book out – Jen Hancock’s Handy Humanism Handbook – I’m giving that away free to people who sign up for my email list and the Humanist of Florida Association are giving it away free to anyone who donates to them or becomes a member.

African American Freethinking

As a relatively rare woman in the humanist/atheist/freethinker etc. movement, I have an interest in the demographics of said movement.  There are many, many thoughts as to why there are so few women and so few people of color and I always find it fascinating to hear the stories of difficulties coming to terms with being different.

Mercedes Diane Griffin Forbes at Unscripted has written a very interesting post on her transition from Christian to humanist, the particular challenges and benefits of humanism to African Americans, and how the complete integration of Black Life and Religious Life is a contributing factor to the difficulties African Americans face.

I asked myself, “Why were people so hell bent on worshipping a god that justified their enslavement?….in worshipping a god that justified the stealing of their land and the displacement of their people?” “Why could so many I encountered not even conceive of a morality not based on religion?” Racism affects the very reality upon which one values him or herself within the given societal paradigm. Living in America, it is easy to become consumed with self-hate and defeat. So many of Black and Brown people give up on their lives before they really ever begin! Because of this, the promise of life ever-lasting can be extremely appealing and religion continues as a most effective mechanism for perpetual bondage, keeping the masses intellectually and emotionally enslaved.

Culture can be broken down into three main concepts. The cultural seed, which is the determinative and explanatory aspect of a culture that puts into perspective the cultural manifestations of a people in reference to their historical and cultural evolution; the way a people must think in order to manifest its cultural seed; and the will of the culture, purpose, and collective behavior of a people.

I believe humanism can be the new cultural seed, upon which we build a stronger sense of our humanity, a deeper understanding of our connection to each other and to the world in which we live. The more I learned and the more I observed, it became obvious that the very seed from which African American culture had been shaped was fertilized by Christianity. And as is always the problem with toxic fertilizers, it cannot simply be washed away because it now a part of the fruit itself. Black life and church life have become synonymous, and the only way to adjust for this is by planting a new cultural seed, one fertilized with concepts of freethought!