Sikivu Hutchinson in Vancouver this Saturday

If you’re not reading the Black Skeptics blog, I have just one question.

If you are reading, you’re already well acquainted with the perfect blend of passion, fact, and relentless courage that is the writing of Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson. You may have even seen her in this discussion with Richard Dawkins:

If you’re in the Vancouver area, this Saturday (September 29th) is an opportunity to see Sikivu live, and to meet her. You can imagine how I felt when I first found out:

A man shocked at winning at the Price is Right

So if you’re free on Saturday at 4 pm, head down to UBC Campus to see Dr. Hutchinson speak about humanism, gender politics, and racism:

According to an African proverb, “until the lion learns how to speak the hunter will always be a hero.” In the U.S., the right wing conservative backlash against social justice, abortion, family planning, undocumented immigrant rights, and ethnic studies tells the same old hunter’s tale of American “exceptionalism” under siege.  Much of this propaganda relies on racist stereotypes that criminalize communities of color, demonizes women of color and undermines their right to self-determination.  On the other hand, culturally relevant humanism challenges traditional Western notions of what it means to be human.  By building on the lived experiences, cultural knowledge, and social history of people of color it explicitly rejects colorblindness and myths of meritocracy.  This talk will explore how culturally relevant approaches to humanism can inform feminist pedagogy and youth leadership.

There is a reception happening afterwards, where you will get a chance to meet not only Sikivu, but myself as well (if that’s a draw for you at all).

This event is sponsored by the BC Humanist Association, and more information about the event is available on their website.

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Idle Chatter

George Orwell’s prescient masterwork 1984 is more or less required reading if one wishes to critically appraise the modern political world. To be sure, it has always been the case that people have exploited war and propaganda for the purposes of seizing and maintaining power, but in an era where mass communication has never been so accessible, the lessons taught by Orwell have perhaps never been so valuable. When it is trivially easy to completely selectively tailor which news outlets, columnists, television stations, and essentially every aspect of information communication that one listens to in such a way as to flatter our inherent biases, we find ourselves with a shrinking number of opportunities to be presented with the kind of cognitive dissonance that forces us to examine facts.

One of the most chilling elements within 1984 was the “Two Minutes Hate“:

The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started.

As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.

(snip)

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. [Read more...]

State of the Blogion

I feel I owe you an explanation for the disrupted service that’s been going on for the past weeks. Maybe you haven’t noticed, in which case “great”, but if you’ve been missing the schedule of posts, here’s what’s been going on.

As I mentioned some months ago, I started a PhD program at the beginning of September. This means that, in order to fit my class schedule into my work schedule, I have moved to longer days at the office. As a result, I have been trying to bang stuff out on my lunch hour instead of working on it the night before as has been my habit for the past year or so that the blog has been running. Hence why, for example, most of the last couple of week’s posts have been going up at 1300 PST rather than their usual 0600 PST. It also explains why there are fewer posts.

As I’ve also (I think?) mentioned, I have just started dating someone. Because she and I are both busy people, we covet the time we get to with each other, meaning that on weekends I am usually preoccupied with enjoying the living shit out of her company. Weekends were when I was able to get most of my substantive writing done, but that time is now being used for something else. [Read more...]

No noose is good noose

Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?

Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.

The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.

“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.

For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.

So that happened, and it was weird, and after a couple of weeks we all just kind of moved on from it. Well… almost all of us: [Read more...]

“Misogynist” is NOT “the new nigger”

Sometimes I read things on the internet that make me furious at how clueless and exploitative they are. Other times I read things on the internet that make me laugh myself sick at how unbelievably shallow and idiot they are. It is a rare occasion indeed when I have the opportunity to experience both reactions simultaneously, with a good deal of nausea thrown in the mix:

There were words the upper class used to keep those lower beings in line, and check those who’d forgotten their place. One of these words seemed more effective than the others.

Nigger.

That was what they were, after all. Niggers weren’t the same as human beings. They were legally and socially less than the privileged class. Niggers could be harmed and the police probably wouldn’t help them. Niggers were subject to vigilante justice.

(snip)

Misogynists aren’t the same as other human beings. You don’t have to listen to anything a misogynist says. They aren’t allowed the same rights as everyone else. Debate with the superiors? Pfft, what for? They are just a bunch of angry misogynists after all. Don’t talk to me because you hate women…Nigger. Their misogynistic posters got torn down? Serves the niggers right! Debate? No, they are dangerous nig- oops, I mean, misogynists.

I have a big selection of animated .gifs that I could use to characterize my response. There’s “disgusted black woman“. There’s “Ripley tearing into a room of idiots“, there’s even “angry panda“. Ultimately, after a long and arduous selection process, I think my reaction is best expressed by Tracey Morgan:

Tracey saying "no" in a variety of ways [Read more...]

The wages of virtue

Most of you probably know that in addition to the handful of other things I do in my life, I work full-time as a health economic researcher. I have a job. I work at this job because it’s a necessary thing for me to have the kind of lifestyle I want, and I have been given the antecedents to the opportunity to get a job like this (a stable home environment, a consistent parental focus on education, abundant encouragement from mentors, good health, a great deal of luck, the list goes on). On most days I like my job, although getting my ass out the door at 6:30 am every morning is not exactly ideal.

I have a boss. I like my boss a lot. He gives me a fairly free hand to do work on my own schedule, and is there as a resource if I need guidance or feedback. Part and parcel with this sort of laissez-faire approach is that, while I don’t get micromanaged, I also don’t get noted for every time I don’t screw up. I can sure as hell expect feedback if I do something wrong, but on a day-to-day basis I know that I am the only one looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m staying on track and doing things properly. If I screw up and don’t fix my mistakes, I get fired.

Most of you probably know that in addition to the other handful of labels I apply to myself, I consider myself a feminist. I have detailed the reasons for this countless times before, but suffice it to say that I recognize the same forces of oppression and selective perspective at work in white supremacy that I do in misogyny. The similarities between the two make recognizing one without recognizing the other nearly impossible. Insofar as being identified and self-identifying as male precludes me from directly experiencing the most virulent and visceral forms of misogyny, it would not be inaccurate to call me a “feminist ally”*. [Read more...]

Settling in, Leftist Identity Politics, and Ideological Purity

I’ve been absent from the blogging world (or blogosphere, or blogodrome) for a while now, due almost entirely to having spent the better part of two weeks moving myself and my partner to a new city to begin the penultimate phase of my education. The move was rather stressful; I am not, by nature, a nomadic person. I enjoy stability and order, and moving – and everything it entails – disturbs that order.

In addition to attending a new school, I have also begun a new job as a TA for a first-year sociology course. I’ve also been assigned to a new cohort of graduate students – most of whom are easily as liberal as I am – and that always involves a period of getting to know the new folks, and letting them get to know me. Part of that ‘getting to know’ process inevitably involves learning about each other’s political/social positions and during the course of this process; I’ve discovered something about myself that I apparently didn’t know: I’m not ‘really’ a leftist.

Let me rephrase that: I’m not really a leftist according to some of the people I’ve met. To me, being situated on the left-hand side of the political spectrum has normally come about as a result of my political and economic beliefs; I align myself rather closely with the philosophies behind social democracy, and I generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude about other people and their beliefs. But apparently that isn’t enough to establish my leftist bona fides – at least in the eyes of some.

This isn’t unique to where I’m at currently; pretty much anywhere I go in social justice circles, conferences, workshops, etc., I find people who feel that since I don’t support their particular pet-passion, I ought to be disqualified from the group of people who generally inhabit the orange part of the political spectrum. Basically what I’m implying is that just as the right wing has its ‘purity tests’ to determine a person’s level of conservatism or republicanism, so too does the ideological left.

I point this out only because it’s become something of a favourite past-time of many of us who call ourselves progressive, to mock or ridicule movements like the Tea Party who while claiming to be all about fiscal libertarianism, often employ litmus tests as a way of ensuring the ‘correct’ level of ideological purity. I’m talking about litmus tests, and they’re lurking everywhere even among those of us on the progressive end of the spectrum. I know that for many of you who are reading this blog, this is something of a broadcast from planet obvious, but I am often surprised at how many people never really stop to think about it.

But what kinds of things do some people feel need to be attached to a leftist orientation? Well, the most obvious ones that come to mind are the distrust of the medical establishment and ‘Big Pharma’ more generally. There is also the environmentalist-born assertion that GMOs are bad – even if there’s not a lot of research to indicate that this is so (or without a handy definition of what ‘bad’ means to them) – or the insistence that farming organically and buying locally are the ‘appropriate’ ways for a person to ‘live ethically’. Those concepts of course, are rife with their own problems.

So what if we don’t agree with these positions? What if we’re not bothered by Wi-fi? What if we happen to think that vaccinations ought to be mandatory – and that they’re pretty good things to get, actually. What if we happen to think that chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths and homeopaths are bloody fools at best, dangerous snake-oil peddlers at worst? What if I enjoy eating meat or am an advocate of increased reliance on nuclear power as opposed to fossil fuels? Is it truly the case that unless I embrace that other, additional suite of social, moral, or political views, I cannot rightly call myself a leftist?

Of course not. Being a leftist doesn’t mean that I must forego the use of showers, toiletry supplies, and shoes (although if you want to, well that’s cool too just stay downwind of me, please), it means being able to think both deeply and empathetically about the society we live in. It means thinking about how to order society beyond simply asking how it might be ordered to best service me. I don`t need to be a vegetarian or an anti-science conspiracist or a level five laser-lotus or whatever in order to be a part of the social/political left; I just have to think that the institutions of society can be made to work for the betterment of all, not just for the betterment of me.

(EDIT 22/09/12 9:51PST) Changed the direction of the wind.

On atheist smugness and geopolitics

If you’ve been following the news at all, you’ve heard about rampant anti-US protests happening across western Asia and North Africa in response to a video trailer for a movie that supposedly mocks Muhammad, the central religious figure in Islam:

Rioting demonstrators battled with police outside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia Monday as violent protests over an anti-Islam film spread to Asia after a week of unrest in Muslim countries worldwide. In an appeal that could stoke more fury, the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah called for sustained protests in a rare public appearance at a rally in Beirut.

The turmoil surrounding the low-budget movie that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad shows no sign of ebbing nearly a week after protesters first swarmed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya in the eastern city of Benghazi. At least 10 protesters have died in the riots, and the targeting of American missions has forced Washington to ramp up security in several countries.

Protests against the movie turned violent for the first time in Afghanistan on Monday as hundreds of people burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base in the capital, Kabul. Many in the crowd shouted “Death to America!” and “Death to those people who have made a film and insulted our prophet.” They also spiraled out of control in Indonesia and Pakistan, while several in the Middle East were calm. [Read more...]

#MittBateman

I have loved some of Brett Easton Ellis’ novels. While he himself is a difficult person to have positive feelings about, his work is excellent and unique. Reading and watching American Psycho has been singularly useful to me in explaining corporate behaviour in the age of #Occupy.

And so when I saw this clip of Mitt Romney talking about the mortal lock that President Obama has on poor people:

I couldn’t help but think of this clip of Patrick Bateman saying much the same thing:

Now sure, Mitt’s knife is only metaphorical, but he’s running to have enough power to stab everyone.

It should not be overlooked, by the way, that even when he’s alone, Mitt Romney lies like a cheap rug. It’s also worth taking a look at where this supposed Obama-loving, no-tax-paying, freedom-hating 47% live.

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Talking to Tauriq Moosa: full transcript

Here is the full text from Tauriq Moosa’s response to my original e-mail. My response is here.:

Dear Ian

Thanks for replying and eloquently replying to some of my points.

> His assumption is that atheism+ (and the larger movement toward awareness of anti-misogyny) is focussed on the organizations within the movement is a bad one.

I wasn’t aware that this was his focus. While I understand he may be confusing the movement for membership to organisations, I wasn’t aware that he had located A+ solely within the framework of this. I suppose as he’s equated “the movement” with “organisational membership”, the continuing framework that he operates in will be slightly narrowed (ignores those instances where divisive behaviour does occur because they’re not part of “the movement”). I assume this is what you mean?

> I hope you will forgive my laziness

Never!!!

> The organizations that Mr. Lindsay notes speaking out against threats have not, therefore, done a particularly adequate job of addressing the main part of the argument, which is that misogyny must be dealt with directly rather than simply tamping down its more obvious outbreaks.

I agree both with this and your point that they’re not obligated to tackle it – though they’d be wise to do so. However, what do you mean by “misogyny must be dealt with directly rather than simply tamping down its more obvious outbreaks”. Do you consider the harassment policies and so on, to be part of this? I’m interested since in my own efforts to “combat misogyny”, I’ve also merely reacted to instances where women were treated (obviously) horribly (Anita Sarkeesian, being the latest).

> I would hasten to add at this point that it is my position that there is no real obligation in a practical sense to root out things like misogyny, racism, homophobia, in any organization that is not explicitly concerned with those things.

I think I would disagree with you here, depending on what we mean by obliged. If one is part of an organisation which hopes to, say, lead the charge for something like evidence-based public policy and fight for issues of equality, fixing problems within the organsation would be part and parcel of that fight. I don’t think you and I disagree on this, but I think it would depend on what we mean by “obligation”.

> That being said, there has been consternation in recent years over the fact that women have been reticent to participate in the community. One potential explanation that was offered is that women just aren’t interested, or that they were too shy. When misogyny was pointed to as a more likely potential explanation for that difference, the response was vicious and has perhaps grown more so.

I think this is an important point that is often not brought up or reiterated enough. It seems that pointing out misogyny as no doubt you’ve also done invites particular individuals to take serious offence to this. (But as you say later on, it’s the confusion surrounding that term that also invites it.) Yet one can’t help think that most of those responding with sensitivity – as has been in my case – do harbour pretty blatant misogynistic views (women are inherently weaker, women are inherently stupider, nature has made them for motherhood, etc.)

> It is intensely gratifying to know that threats are taken seriously by these orgs, but the atheist community is much more than those.

I think this is pretty much your point in the beginning: Lindsay’s false equating?

> To say that atheism+ uses up scarce resources that CFI needs is roughly akin to the US Department of Education saying that CFI is horning in on its territory – they are organizations with perhaps roughly overlapping bailiwicks, but they do not focus on the same issues.

From what I understand, CFI does fight for marriage equality, women’s rights, etc. They’ve hosted conferences and have specific people dedicated to those areas. Perhaps I’m mistaken that they’ve done these, but I recall Lindsay and others discussing this. Lindsay himself has done a lot of work in the area of bioethics, too, since he’s a qualified lawyer and philosopher. My point here is, assuming CFI is fighting, say, for gay rights, would it not make sense to focus on putting the passion who considers herself an A+ toward that “department” of CFI?

This, note, isn’t me being some kind of cheerleader for CFI – even though I am a supporter – but I’m using them as an example. The others, like JREF, have a clear focus on science and society. However, if you are correct that (1) there really are no groups which can cater to the goals of A+, which I find doubtful since these are goals people have been fighting for, for ages (2) or the ones that exist are crippled by too much internal politics, ineffectiveness, and the problems of wider society (too much misogyny, etc.), then I grant you that resource should rather remain. I would support whatever attempts to accomplish the broad goals of A+, even if I don’t sign up as a “member” or whatever.

> I do not think it is a good point, or ever a valid one, to speculate on whether or not atheism+ will succeed, thus wasting money. Atheism+ is sure to fail if nobody puts any effort into it, but for the reasons I outline above, the fact that the major organizations are not doing what atheism+ does is reason enough to suggest that this line of reasoning is empty, at best.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by it not being a good point on speculating on A+’s success. Could you please clarify? I think we might have different notions on what it might be, then.

> The issue of “civility” is one that I find very tiresome

Then I think you’ll get tired of me quite quickly. Could you define civility for me?

> it is based on extremely flawed assumptions of de facto equality between groups

Is every instance where someone who articulates reasonable dissent and is mocked, namecalled, not something worth being concerned about? I’m not sure how this kind of instance fits into issue of equality between groups. If anything those shouted out into silence seem to be on the weaker end. But again, I think you and I might not mean civility in the same way. So before we continue this focus, we should clarify what we each mean. By incivility I mean, for example, comments on a blog at, say, FtB where a commenter uses excessive name-calling at the OP, swears at all the supporters, and so on, and barely or does not even mount an argument in defence of his view. For example, this comment on Kagin’s blog. Another would be “[name redacted*]“‘s entire post calling Jen McCreight’s father a “failure” and McCreight “completely incapable of functioning as an adult.” [This post irrationality was such that I wrote a six-page currently unpublished reply.)

> To use an extreme example, if a man calls me “nigger” I am not being ‘equally uncivil’ when I call him a “racist cockbucket”. To use a less extreme example, it is not “equally uncivil” to call out someone who suggests that pregnant rape victims should “see it as a blessing in disguise”, even in extremely harsh language. To use an even milder example, it is not “incivil” to identify someone as homophobic when they say that while they don’t “have a problem with gay people”, they don’t think they should be allowed to marry each other because it will destroy society.

I don’t disagree but I think you’re locating civility in the actual words or phrases, as opposed to their, say effect or character content. One can use “rude” words to friends as a sign of affection (as I do all the time). I don’t think I’d say you’re being uncivil if you responded to a racist assertion like that. My only point would be to not resort to more dubious cases: for example, commenters who ask questions like “I’ve seen evidence that most Muslims are terrorists” should, in my opinion, be responded to with charity, not with incivility: we should question their evidence, show counter evidence, be able to mount our arguments. If they refuse and continue their absurd assertion, then perhaps mockery and derision is in order. Again, I don’t think you’re reply to a racist is uncivil!

> There are a number of high-minded and “civil” ways to dehumanize minority groups. There are comparatively fewer ways to mount an appropriate defense that will not be seen as “incivil”. Demanding “civility” often results in a restoration of the status quo of power divides, in which minority groups must sit mutely in the face of politely-worded abuse (or worse, appease their abusers with equally politely-worded responses). The problem that the “incivility” argument has is that it assumes that any level of incivility is equally bad, and that cracking down on it punishes/restricts both groups evenly.

Again I don’t disagree, but this again seems to me to locate civility with the actual words rather than the intent. It’s a bit muddled but I hope you see from my previous paragraphs what I mean.

> There are things that can be accomplished by a “third party” that cannot be (or cannot more easily be) accomplished from within the existing framework. New, external organizations are far more nimble and not prone to organizational inertia.

This is a good point.

> I do not share your assessment that this labeling is “unfair” – I do however think that applying it to a person globally (i.e., “soandso is a misogynist”) is a mistake, and I have said as much several times on my blog.

Is it not “unfair” because we’re all products of it, etc. as you said in the previous paragraphs: thus one can be a “perfectly normal person” but say or have views which are misogynist? I’m slightly confused: do you then think that Blackford is this? Just because you think it’s wrong to apply this globally doesn’t mean you don’t think someone like Blackford is “a product of a misogynist environment who is failing to recognize the flawed assumptions underpinning his argument, and thus allowing himself to reach a fatuous and harmful conclusion” (that is a mouthful!).

I see us diverging and disagreeing on many points. This is to be expected. You have a far better grasp on these matters than I do and your taking time to explain it to a bumbling fool like me is greatly appreciated.

Best,

T.

*In the interest of not having personal spats that don’t involve me spill into this space (at least not when I don’t want them to), I have removed the name. It doesn’t matter who said it – it’s a shitty thing to say. It’s also ridiculously untrue, but whatever.