Don’t Go In There!

Hmm… I still have access to the FtB server. Apparently the whole “plugging the security loopholes” lesson hasn’t quite been learned, given that you’re reading this post right now. Anyway, just thought I’d throw this out there, since it’s something that I did in January and is finally now seeing the light of day. This was originally posted earlier today at my personal blog (which, I’m sure it will disappoint you to learn, I am not posting at very much at all).

Horror films are a wonderful source of escapism, where we can feel the thrill of terror in the relative safety of our living rooms or a crowded movie theatre. One of the all-time classics within the horror genre is the zombie movie: hordes of shuffling, shambling atrocities hell-bent on devouring the flesh of the still-living. One of the iconic images of any good zombie movie is the panic-stricken victim of a zombie bite who is slowly turning from human into monster, as all morality and reason drains from their body while their comrades feverishly debate whether or not to put their erstwhile friend out of hir ‘misery’ courtesy of a well-timed shotgun blast to the face.

Cinema.

One of the things that has always struck me about the thrill and threat of the zombie subgenre is the idea that someone can walk around ‘infected’ without showing any outward signs of distress, but at that pivotal moment they ‘turn’ and lash out. Having watched enough zombie movies in my life, I know enough that I would be far more cautious about that ‘little scrape’ on my friend’s upper arm after a fight with a horde of the undead. I’ve seen enough movies to know that that ‘little scrape’ might mean the difference between life and un-death. I suspect that, if you’ve watched these movies too, you know as well as I do what the warning signs are – the eerie music, the mysterious noise, the unexplained ‘headache’.

Much like a zombie movie afficionado does, members of visible minority communities have spent years learning to read the warning signs of racial antipathy, even from those who don’t recognize that they’re ‘infected’ with the subtle biases that affect us all. They (we) have learned to spot the danger from a long way off, ensuring that we can take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

In the following presentation, given in January of 2013 in Kelowna, BC, I explore the parallels between zombie movies and anti-racism, with examples drawn from classic horror scenes. I discuss how we can learn to understand racism in a contemporary context, and understand the role our subconscious plays in our interactions, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid and combat racism in the same way we use it to avoid and combat zombies. I discuss how to have more productive conversations when you, as a member of the majority group, enter a minority space. Finally, I emphasize how anti-racism is a crucial and useful part of a skeptical toolchest, and how we can use this knowledge to grow the movement.

I hope you enjoy the talk, and please feel free to share it, as a whole or in part, wherever you like:

Part 1: Don’t Go In There!

Part 2: Fighting Racism, Zombie Style

Part 3: How Not to Get Your Head Blown Off

Part 4: Anti-Racism and the Skeptical Movement

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Clips from Dawn of the DeadZombielandShaun of the Dead, and Resident Evil claimed under Fair Use principles for educational purposes.

Packing it in

Just over 3 years ago, I started a blog. I have always loved writing, and I had a lot of stuff on my mind that I thought needed to be puzzled out and written down. As is sometimes the way with these things, people started noticing and reading my blog, and talking about what I wrote. Thanks to the notice of a few prominent members of the freethinking community, I found myself invited to join the Freethought Blogs network, which was a huge honour for me. I have been happy and productive at FtB, and met some truly incredible people who have helped improve the way I think about a lot of issues.

The time has come, however, to close down the blog and move on to new endeavours.

I am immensely proud of The Crommunist Manifesto. For three years it has provided regular, thought-provoking, and consistently high quality posts about topics that are relevant and interesting. I do not begrudge the number of hours and the level of effort required to create The Manifesto in that form, but I can no longer maintain that level of output. You may have noticed that over the past couple of months the frequency of posting has decreased dramatically, with nothing new going up in several weeks. That is not a product that I am proud of, and it does my previous work a disservice, but I honestly don’t see that changing any time soon. Writing has become a job, not a joy, and that’s not a sustainable way of being for me.

My plan is to move the content from this site back to its former home on WordPress (crommunist.wordpress.com) and leave this space on the FtB roster to someone who is willing to put in the necessary effort to make it succeed. On the old (new) site, I may periodically post new essays, but I imagine the site will sit relatively quiet for the most part.

As far my plan of what to do with myself, I am really excited for a new musical project I’ve been working on, and I will be devoting much of my newly-freed time to that. I’m also going to be working on my job and my PhD, and trying to find new ways to enjoy life.

And as far as what is happening to ‘the Crommunist’, I’m not retreating from the world, just closing this particular outlet. I hope you will heed my perennial exhortation and follow me on Twitter. If not there, you can always contact me by e-mail if you have something you urgently need addressed. I may pick up new projects (or potentially revive old ones like Seriously!?), so hopefully you will be interested enough to check those out when they appear.

In this farewell, there are some people I need to acknowledge.

First, I want to thank my co-bloggers at FtB, particularly Ed Brayton and PZ Myers for plucking me out of relative obscurity. I could not ask for a more positive and supportive environment to have conducted this experiment. I have met some truly fantastic people in the freethinking movement, and the hands-down best of them have shared the first part of a URL with me for the past 20 months. With the possible exception of the howling herd of insolent nincompoops who crowd the hallways like belligerent hyenas around a fresh kill, cackling about ‘FTBullies’ and ‘misandry’ and ‘feminazis’, blogging at FtB has been a nearly flawless experience. I will miss the backchannel irreverence and the mutual support and camaraderie.

Second, I want to thank my co-bloggers Brian, Jamie, and Edwin. You helped shoulder part of the load when things were at a fever pitch, and you wrote some incredibly insightful and useful posts. I’m proud to call you friends, and will probably have more time to see you in meatspace now that I don’t have daily looming deadlines. Thank you for your contributions and your grace at being launched into a bigger spotlight than you were probably used to.

Finally, I want to thank you. For reading, for commenting, for sending me links, for sharing my posts on your Facebook or on Reddit, for challenging me when I was wrong, and for opening your minds enough to be challenged by some of the more provocative stuff I’ve thrown at you over the past couple of years. Knowing that I had to answer to a crowd of smart and inquisitive people has kept me honest and forced me to work hard to make each post something I can be proud of. I am eternally grateful to anyone and everyone who has felt that this place was worth coming back to, and that these ideas were worth considering and spreading.

In my mind’s eye I had pictured this post ending with something pithy and profound, but I’m not that guy. I’m this guy.

An otter waving goodbye

So long, and thanks for all the fish

- Ian

Non-Violent Direct Action Anyone Can Do (That Everyone Should)

Jamie

It’s been a while since I last posted (and in fact, even since I last wrote an entry on my personal blog), and this entry is about part of the reason why—and that if you’re reading this, you should take up similar pass times. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the distinction between so-called “peaceful” actions and non-violence, I’d suggest you keep a stopper on that query until a later date, when I will answer that question for you in another piece of writing. In this piece of writing, I am deliberately choosing not to talk about “peaceful” anything; however, I am also not talking about aggressive behaviour or confrontation of any kind, while focusing on a specific form of non-violent direct action. As for the term “direct action”, this generally means, as an activist of any kind, taking matters into your own hands. Direct action is often associated with aggressive behaviour, confrontation, hostility, and violence, whether or not the actions taken even are violent (i.e., police and sometimes even military tend to be responsible for the escalation of direct action to the point of violence, as is being seen in New Brunswick right now, where non-violent protesters in a road blockade are being arrested for laying tobacco on the highway). For instance, I’ve written before about effective grassroots protest methods including the formation of a Black Bloc, and generally speaking, any community of activists can reasonably anticipate infiltration by undercover police if they are effective at anything they are doing (i.e., one more reason for the Black Bloc). Violence is often rather paradoxically mis-characterized as well, in that many see vandalism of inanimate property such as vehicles and buildings as violence, but fail to acknowledge or even recognize systemic oppression such as poverty (a direct and necessary product of capitalism) or racism (a direct and necessary product of cultural chauvinism, cultural imperialism, and white supremacy) as violence. For that matter, most people fail to recognize the inherent violence of the very existence of those buildings and vehicles themselves — environmental violence. I’ll be addressing that further when I write about the distinction between “peaceful” and non-violent some other time.

Now that all of that is aside, I bet you’re wondering what the actual fuck I’m talking about — what is the non-violent direct action anyone can do and that everyone should? Well, it started with a strong curiosity about a certain bird (I’m kind of nuts about birds, as anyone who knows me personally can tell you). Then it became very long walks in the forest. And then the marsh. And recently, the beach too. Most often, these walks have been a solitary activity, but on a few occasions, I’ve had human company. Over the past few months, it’s become the (technically illegal) gradual discovery, extraction, and disposal of several hundred pounds of trash by yours truly from former Coast Salish village sites, forests, marshes, and beaches. And you could (and should) be doing it too.

[Read more...]

Big announcement from Point of Inquiry podcast

Mixed news for fans of the podcast Point of Inquiry with Chris Mooney and Indre Viskontas. This just arrived in my inbox:

On Friday, Point of Inquiry’s two co-hosts—Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney—resigned from their positions at the Center for Inquiry. On Monday, Point of Inquiry producer Adam Isaak followed suit. This note is to explain our reasons for departing CFI and our future plans.

In May of 2013, when the Women in Secularism II conference took place in Washington, D.C., Point of Inquiry—the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry—was more successful that it has ever been. Following a format change in 2010, our audience has increased by 60 percent and our growth rate has doubled in the last year and a half. We’d recently done a highly successful live show featuring Steven Pinker before a packed room at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, and interviewed guests like Oliver Sacks, Jared Diamond, Paul Krugman, and Mary Roach. We had started to incorporate new, successful video content. 2013 featured our most listened-to show ever and we were averaging well over 2 million total downloads per year.

Then came the events at that conference—including a widely criticized speech by Center for Inquiry President & CEO Ronald Lindsay. Lindsay then went further, writing a blog post which referred to a post by one of his critics—Rebecca Watson—as follows: “It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.”

In response to public criticism of Lindsay’s speech and blog post, CFI’s Board of Directors issued an ambiguous statement regretting the controversy, but going no further than that. [Read more...]

Memories, Emotions, and Brains

Brian

One of the things I noticed when taking my Philosophy undergrad was how 17th century Philosophers (and Philosophers of other periods too) often made grandiose claims about how people thought about the world. Often their 100% certain proclamations were refuted by other Philosophers who were also 100% certain about how the world worked. A particular example of this would be the general commitment to the Platonic notion of how we are born with a complete set of concepts (believed and accepted by most philosophers prior to Locke), and then the commitment to the complete opposite, the ‘blank slate’ (Locke’s tabula rasa), the idea that we are born with zero ideas. Turns out that biology is more complex than that. Philosophy of Mind makes slow progress.

[Read more...]

Abused meme roundup: “Witch Hunts”

In light of the recent furore* over CFI’s bafflingly vacuous response to Ron Lindsay’s behaviour, some prominent members of the freethinking community have decided to pull back their participation in an organization that they see as not adequately representing their values. Some have even gone so far as to encourage others to do the same. This is pretty much boilerplate activist behaviour: someone says or does something unacceptable, you don’t patronize or support them anymore. We applauded it when Chick Fil A’s Dan Cathy made homophobic statements and people stopped buying his chicken. We applauded it when Rush Limbaugh said… well, basically the stuff he always says, but this time we paid attention.

And yeah, maybe boycotts don’t always work, and maybe they’re often impractical what with megacorporate ownership of pretty much everything, but they’re a pretty non-controversial method of expressing displeasure with someone or some entity whose actions you strongly disagree with.

Unless, of course, you’re criticizing CFI and Ron Lindsay, in which case it’s a “witch hunt”.

The image of a witch burning

Now, to be sure, this is not the only circumstance under which I’ve seen this comparison dredged, unwillingly, into a place it doesn’t belong. It is, however, a distressingly common circumstance to see people decry any and all criticisms of or actions taken against someone who is on ‘their team’ as a “witch hunt”. Oftentimes they will invoke the ghost of old Joe McCarthy, and generally bloviate about how innocent people are being dragged through the muck by (fill in the blank). [Read more...]

What is there to do in Sydney?

Hey Australian people. How’s it going? I’m good, thanks. I know we don’t talk that often, what with the time difference being what it is. So, as a gesture of solidarity, I am posting this at a time where many of you are likely to be awake.

I am flying to Sydney on the 29th of June. I’ll be there for about 10 days with nothing to do but explore the city and its environs. Because I don’t really know anything about Sydney (other than the fact it exists, is nice, and has an opera house), I am reaching out to you to ask the following questions.

What is there to do?

Sydney is a gigantic city. I am not suggesting that there isn’t anything to do. I just don’t know what is good to do there (aside from seeing the aforementioned Opera House). Does anyone have any recommendations? When I go to a new place I like to see live music, go to history museums, see parks, and generally do things that I couldn’t do anywhere except the place I am in.

If you live in Sydney, or have travelled there, what kinds of things should I do while I am there? If it is relevant, I am staying in The Rocks.

Who is there?

If any of you have been dying to meet me, I’m certainly up for hanging out while I’m there. There’s a Skeptics in the Pub meetup on the 4th that I am planning on attending. Above and beyond that, however, I’m sure there are lots of opportunities to do social things.

Also, if you have a group that is having a meeting you’d like me to speak at, I’ve got a couple of prepared talks, or I can just hang out and chat with people if that’s easier.

Anyway, if you’re so inclined, leave me some info in the comments, or e-mail me.

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Colour blind, deaf, and dumb

Right now, as you read this, some well-intentioned white kid on the internet is posting a link to this video. In it, the actor Morgan Freeman states that the way to solve racism is to stop talking about it. Specifically, Freeman says that if the host stops seeing him (Freeman) as “a black man”, then he will stop seeing the host as “a white man” and they can presumably just be man-friends and hold hands under a double rainbow or something. Needless to say, I am far from impressed by both the content and the ubiquity of this clip, as it serves more to confirm the “I don’t need to do anything” impulses of white people who haven’t given much thought to the matter beforehand.

For my part, I much prefer John Legend’s response to a very similar question. And I think there’s something to be gleaned from the age difference between Messrs Freeman and Legend. The former is a man who came up in a world where the consequences of anti-black racism were dramatically self-evident: vicious racist slurs coming out of the mouths of police officers and judges, blatantly and unashamedly racist laws and policies, frequent acts of race-motivated physical violence with a blind eye turned toward it by an indifferent society*. The latter is a man who came up in the world of ‘polite’ racism and “post-racial” politicking, where the fashion is to find an endless string of euphemisms to disguise racist attitudes and behaviours that, minus the drama, haven’t changed much.

Which isn’t to say, incidentally, that the kind of racism that Morgan Freeman experienced isn’t still very much alive and well today; it’s just less common. [Read more...]

Imagine you had a friend…

Imagine, for a moment, that you had a friend.

If you’re like me, you will find this a wildly improbable scenario to entertain, but I implore you to at least give it a try. This doesn’t have to be a close friend, or someone you’ve known for an incredibly long time. Perhaps imagine someone who, if you were having a bunch of people over, you would feel compelled to invite but wouldn’t feel super put-out if they couldn’t make it. Someone whose last name you wouldn’t know if it wasn’t listed on their Facebook profile. Someone who you’ve never hung out with except in the context of a group. Someone who, if you ran into them at a party, you wouldn’t go out of your way to introduce your new boyfriend to.

That level of ‘friend’. Someone you have generally good feelings about, but whose friendship is not exactly indispensable to your life.

Imagine you had a friend… [Read more...]

The first step is admitting you have a problem

The director of CFI Okanagan has reached out to me with a very important request:

We have our Secular Sobriety group here in Kelowna and this is a huge deal for us as there is nothing else similar here and it is making an impact.  Unfortunately they don’t really have a steady place to meet and they don’t have the luxury of moving around like our main CFI group does.

The Unitarians are giving us a good discount at $20 per week but want to have the years rent up front so we need to raise $1040 so that we can secure the space.  I was hoping that you could post it on your blog and hopefully get a few bucks from the larger community.

This kind of stuff is precisely what the freethinking community needs to start doing: replacing religious institutions that provide help at the cost of your rational faculties. I’ve contributed last month’s blog revenues (~$60) to the cause. If you’ve got a few extra bucks floating around your pockets, won’t you consider helping them out?

Check out their fundraising page here

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