Oooooo-klahoma where the racism’s sweepin’ down the plains

If you talk to conservatives about racism, one of their most common rhetorical positions is that liberals are “the real racists” because they (we) can’t seem to shut up about race. We’re obsessed with race – we see racism everywhere! But not conservatives. Conservatives treat everyone identically and don’t even notice race, or if they do notice it they certainly don’t let it affect their decision-making. Why, conservatives think that all of the races are born equal, and deserve equal treatment with equal opportunities for success.

It is because of this rhetorical position that conservatives are deeply offended by the idea of affirmative action programs. By giving one race an “advantage” in hiring or acceptance, liberals are discriminating against white people by saying that simply being born white makes you undeserving of a job or a placement in a school. That only non-whites should get into those jobs and schools, even if they’re not qualified, because liberals think white people are evil, or they feel guilty because some white people had slaves, like 100 years ago.

And it is from this mindset that we get stories like this: [Read more...]

A truly remarkable election, a truly remarkable story

So there was an election last night. Maybe you heard about it. I decided to take on a bottle of scotch and let the election results decide whether I was drinking in triumph or in bitter defeat. At it turned out, the lesser of two evils prevailed, which is good news for America and the rest of the world.

There was sincerely, non-cynically good news last night too, as Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, and Tammy Baldwin all won elections against opponents who represented the ugliest aspects of the body politic. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and Richard “god’s will” Mourdock lost their races as well, as did Allen West and Joe Walsh. This is all suggestive of an America that is happy taking a step back from the precipice of insanity that is the once-fringe-now-mainstream of the Republican party. There are a lot of ugly things that happened around this election as well, but we can talk about those next week. Events have once again conspired to rob me of blogging time, but I do want to highlight an important thought.

Elections are viewed through a lens of Hollywood-style horse race struggles between two opposing ideas, where one side “wins” and the other side “loses”. The fact is that this election is, at least at an aggregate level, a preservation of the status quo of Washington politics. It is no exaggeration to point out how deeply corporatized both parties are, and we don’t have to look too far to see a laundry list of things that went almost entirely undiscussed in this election: secret and illegal wars, climate change, domestic spying, curtailment of civil liberties, housing, affirmative action programs, increasing economic inequality, deepening poverty, and the disproportionate effect the economic crisis has had and continues to have on Americans of colour are just a few examples that jump off the top of my head. [Read more...]

How is a black man like a parking space?

Because all the good ones are taken or gay!

Wait… I think I screwed that joke up. Speaking of things that are screwed up, here’s a thing:

Extremist Christian and Bishop Earl Walker Jackson may believe gays are ‘sick’, but he has admitted he thinks they have stolen ‘all the nice looking black men.’ He made these comments while in an interview with Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, Right Wing Watch reports.

Jackson said: ‘Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex. So they can’t see clearly.’

Once again… a whole lot to unpack in even just this snippet of a statement. [Read more...]

They took ur helth curr!

I will honestly never know how it was that conservatives got this reputation as being “fiscally responsible”. People who fancy themselves politically savvy centrists will often describe themselves as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” as though that was a superior approach to just calling themselves “moderates” or something. Nuanced it may in fact be, but a point in their favour it is not. Classical fiscal conservatism is, at its heart, an argument that the state should interfere with economic matters as little as possible, and even then only to encourage the development of private industry through competitive markets and maintaining standards of fairness.

Since the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, however, fiscal conservatism has come to mean “get the government out of the way” by “starving the beast” and basically denying the possibility that public control over any industry is anything other than a surefire path to failure. It’s not enough to maintain fairness – it’s an absolute necessity that government be powerless not only to participate in markets, but to also demonize the possibility of intervention when things are clearly headed for calamity.

Specifically, this attitude has reared its disgusting and self-centred head in a discussion over the provision of health care to refugees. The basic underlying philosophy of publicly provided health care is to ensure that people are able to access medically-necessary services based on their need for those services, rather than a market-based approach that prioritizes those who have superior ability. Yes, it happens to be anti-capitalist, but it has the side benefit of being more fiscally responsible, since people aren’t putting off illness management until it’s too severe for them to ignore it. Refugees, people literally fleeing to Canada for fear of persecution in their home countries, often have greater need (particularly for psychological care, a particular bugbear of mine). The public health care system, it therefore seems to follow, should respond with greater provision of services.

Not if you’re a “fiscal conservative” though: [Read more...]

How is religion like delicious yummy corn?

Disclaimer: the central metaphor of this post is scatological, so if you have a particularly weak stomach, might I suggest you watch this video instead.

There is a far-too-common meme that exists among a subset of the nonbelieving community that goes more or less like this:

Well of course religion has led people to do bad things. Nobody is denying that. And I certainly don’t believe there’s any truth to it, but some people believe sincerely and do good things. It’s therefore neither fair nor is it accurate to paint all expressions of religion with the same brush. Religion has inspired people to do great good, as well as great evil.

Perhaps one of the most celebrated of those holding this opinion is Chris Stedman, who has published an excerpt from his upcoming book ‘Faitheist’ at Salon: [Read more...]

A Question of Authenticity

So the other day, I had written a post that was supposed to be about the strange dance away from logic that seems to be common on the fringes of the raw, organic food lifestyle (ROFL). What I ended up with however, was an extended detour into the social fascination with the concept of ‘authenticity’. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here, the sort of ‘authenticity’ that leads people to buy clothing made by hand in the Peruvian mountains by semi-nomadic alpaca herders, because by doing so they were being more ‘authentic’ and less ‘fake’ or ‘consumerist’.

I have no problem with Peru, or mountains, or nomads or alpacas, and I have nothing but good things to say about herders of all kinds. My fascination was with the people who buy their products – or perhaps more specifically, those particular beliefs that spur people on to seek out ever-more ‘alternative’ lifestyles. There’s a scene in the Ben Stiller movie “Zoolander” where Hansel, a model played by Owen Wilson, is describing a particularly vivid memory he has of his wild and adventurous life. He describes  mountain climbing in some far away nation, and recounts the extreme danger that he was in, before revealing that he was in fact remembering a particularly vivid hallucination brought on by the heavy use of peyote. He was confused because, we are told, Hansel’s life is so wild and adventurous – so real, that the fictional mountain climbing adventure could have been something he had actually done. Hansel has put his money and status to good use, by embarking on a campaign of living life authentically. Oh, and while he was remembering this experience, he was baking artisan bread in a wood-fire stone oven located in his industrial-loft apartment. Owen’s character was the embodiment of nearly every trope and cliché associated with the idea of living ‘authentically’. [Read more...]

Newton’s first law of racism

Having studied a tiny bit of mechanics, I find the subject extremely useful in explaining things like privilege, racism, sexism, and many of the other concepts that are the keys to reading this blog. You simply cannot successfully solve problems in mechanics without being able to recognize all the forces at play on an object, whether it be still or in motion. Failure to account for an extant force, or adding a force that does not exist, will result in you reaching an erroneous conclusion about the behaviour of whatever body is under observation.

Similarly, one cannot look at human behaviour or the impact of institutions and systems without taking all the relevant factors into account. When we allow ourselves to succumb to our privilege (or, put another way, when we fail to account for all of the forces acting on us), we draw conclusions that are not based in reality. We make decisions based on those conclusions, and on our predictions of what consequences those decisions will have. Failure to recognize either or own privilege or the prevailing forces of racism, misogyny, cissexism, heterosexism, you name it, will result in the creation of rules and systems that have unintended results.

Sometimes those results are disastrous and tragic: [Read more...]

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...]

“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...]

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...]