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.

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...]

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...]

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...]

Islamophobia, a discussion

Brian

Depending on who you read or listen to, either Islamophobia simply isn’t real, or it’s not as pervasive as people think it is, or sometimes it’s a legitimate criticism, but it’s often used incorrectly to shut down someone legitimately criticising Islam, or else it’s just some word (without any legitimate meaning) that people use to shut down conversations. To which I say: bullshit. I have to grant, of course, that there is possibly some people out there do these things, but I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen any of them. Even in articles where these claims are made, no evidence is provided.

Most often, people who haven’t ‘picked sides’ in this particular debate are left wondering what this term means, exactly. So I’m going to sketch out what I think it means, and how I see it used (which are, oddly enough, the same thing). Note that ‘what the term means’ isn’t the same as ‘what the word is defined as’. [Read more...]

Pride goeth before…

It has become a sort of pop-psychology truism that people who engage in prejudicial behaviour are doing so from a place of insecurity. It makes intuitive sense that if you don’t feel good about yourself, you can bring yourself up by tearing others down. Indeed, there is some evidence that threats to self-concept are likely to result in a preference bias toward the majority group (even among minority group members).

In a study by Ashton-James and Tracy, the authors propose a new hypothesis. They refer to the psychological literature that suggests that pride has two basic forms: hubristic and authentic. Hubristic pride refers to the kind of pride that is directed at one’s innate self-worth and deservedness – a kind of self-congratulatory, self-centred pride that is associated with narcissism and defensive self-esteem. Authentic pride, on the other hand, refers to pride taken in one’s accomplishments based on hard work rather than, for lack of a better term, special snowflakeness – it is associated with secure self-esteem.

The authors posit that hubristic pride will lead to increased prejudicial attitudes and behaviours, whereas authentic pride will lead to more compassionate attitudes and behaviours. They arrive at this hypothesis based on literature that suggests a relationship between self-esteem insecurity and prejudice. They go on to suggest that empathic concern is the mechanism by which this relationship manifests itself, since people who are more secure in their self-esteem are more likely to be able to be outwardly focussed and respond to the needs of others.

In order to test this hypothesis, the authors conducted three experiments, as well as a pilot study. [Read more...]

“In Bad Faith”

A post by Jamie

It seems to me that whenever someone in the atheist/secular community fucks up, the favourite line of defence is “They didn’t do it in bad faith”. Well, my friends, in case no one has told you before, intent isn’t fucking magical.

Also? That is literally about the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard an atheist say to shield another atheist from any kind of criticism.

Trigger warning for discussion of racist language, colonial history, and extremely sexist bullshit.

Tone police warning for excessive profanity and volumes more to come if you so much as dare try to tell me or anyone else that I would get my point across better without it.

Concern troll warning for Jamie calling Richard Dawkins out for saying something racist and then being an enormous fucking racist dipshit by repeatedly defending it. Wring your hands and clutch your fucking pearls all you need to, it doesn’t change that I’m not accusing him of being A Racist, but of saying and repeatedly defending racist shit while continuing to say it over and over again. Jamie also calls someone out for saying something incredibly fucking stupid about rape, and then spending four days defending it despite being called out by several people. The offender changed his mind about what he had done, so he has no use for your disingenuous declarations of concern, and neither does anyone else. Jamie also calls out pig-headed FEMEN protesters for incorporating heavy doses of cultural imperialism, racism, and Islamophobia in their recent protests “in solidarity with” Muslim women — who they then promptly insult when those very Muslim women start counter-protesting/calling out their bullshit.

Racism apologists warning for the “That’s not racist!” defence — which isn’t a fucking defence for being racist — what was said was racist from the start and the continual defence of it was too. End of story.

[Read more...]

Glimmers of secular hope

There has been a great fracas recently within atheist/secularist circles as ‘Horseman’ Sam Harris has been subjected to repeated critique* as the avatar of a disturbing trend within atheist circles: using “reason” to mask anti-Muslim sentiment in politically pallatable language. I have noted this tendency previously:

I don’t think anyone could confuse me with someone who is pro-Islam. As much as I find all religions repugnant, the face of Islam we see today is one of repressive fanaticism that stifles human progress. To be sure, there are plenty of examples of fanaticism in Christianity as well, to say nothing of Hindu and Buddhist repression happening in India and other parts of Asia. Whether it is due to anti-Muslim bias and the collision of Islam and secularism in Europe, or a reflection of the true excess of Islamic regimes, the news consistently carries stories of Muslim-dominated countries carrying out horrible acts with the excuses of Qur’anic license on their lips. I will not relent or shrink from criticizing this inhuman (or perhaps all-too-human) display of authoritarianism with claimed divine mandate.

That being said, there is a backlash against Muslims that is not based on their beliefs per se, but about our attitude about the danger that Muslims (and Islam) pose to the world. This attitude is not informed by evidence, but fueled by paranoia and misinformation. It qualifies, by every comparative standard that I can think of, as just as worthy of criticism as racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, take your pick.

My concern is that atheists find it far too tempting to single out Islam for particular opprobium because the stories we hear about Islamist-dominated countries are so dramatic. We conclude from the drama that Islam per se is a particularly twisted ideology, above and beyond the ideology of, say, Christianity. My counter-claim to this assertion is that Christianity contains essentially all of the same commandments and prohibitions and exhortations that Islam does, but time and the rise of secular society have rendered it, in the aggregate, less overtly oppressive than the current incarnation of Islam (again, in the aggregate). [Read more...]

Skepchickileaks

In the past I have mocked a lot of the hyperbolic rage-whining that comes at near-incessant frequency from the band of devoted camp followers that have made it their life’s mission to destroy FreethoughtBlogs, Skepchick, Atheism+, feminism, the concept of equality, the colour orange, and basically anything else they consider a personal affront. I have not held back in voicing my scorn for a group of people who seem to have endless amount of time, energy, hatred, and immaturity – I seriously do not know where these people find the wherewithal to work themselves into this level of froth over the fact that a blog network exists.

One of the oft-parroted claims made by this shrieking horde is that FTBchickminism+ is “ruining the movement”: that atheism was doing just stupendously well for everyone before the “FTBullies”* showed up and ruined it by… I honestly have never been clear on what the mechanism of “ruining” has been. This, of course, is contrasted against the other claim – that FTBchickminism+ is so ludicrously marginal and derogated by all right-thinking atheists that it is an abject failure and can’t possibly amount to anything. It is sometimes the same people making these contradictory claims. The mind boggles.

Up until now, my position on this kind of over-wrought conspiracy mongering has been fairly consistent: FTB is not the boogey-man; it’s a network of blogs that (mostly) existed before there was a network to begin with. Atheism+ isn’t ruining atheism; it’s a reaction to the fact that it was already ruined for a lot of people. Skepchick is not rounding up all male atheists to throw them into a witch’s cauldron of menses and liquid misandry. Go get hobbies that don’t involve Twitter, Reddit, or Photoshop.

That was until a recent event that, as far as I know, I am the first person to bring to the public sphere. [Read more...]

Who occupies “the middle ground”? A story of an open letter

Yesterday, I admonished you to read a Colorlines piece that details, in a step-by-step fashion, the way that majority spaces react when minority members speak up about discrimination. I put a particular emphasis on step three:

Step 3: Play the ‘Middle’ Between Rational and Frothing Racist

You know how mainstream news shows discuss global warming by pairing an actual scientist who points to decades of consistent research with an oil-company shill who says global warming can’t be real because Al Gore said something dumb once? And you know how the news anchor moderating the discussion gets to occupy the “rational” “middle” ground by saying “more research is probably needed”? You’re that guy now. Crackpots don’t get people fired, people who validate crackpots do, so get to work.

Let me get you started on your “common-sense” blog post, article or mainstream interview: “We can all agree that the behavior of these Internet trolls is unconscionable. However, let’s not discount their concerns because of a few bad apples…”

You’ve got some primo poli-sci Overton Window triangulation going on now! By assigning the Internet trolls one end of the alignment spectrum, you’ve successfully shifted the terms of the debate from, “What can be done about rampant unjust outcomes for women and people of color?” to “How many racial epithets is it OK to fit in a tweet?” Also, don’t moderate the comments on your blog post, even if they overtly threaten women and people of color. That would be, like, censorship.

The reason I highlighted this point, apart from my personal exasperation at the “tone” argument as a whole, is because I want to talk about something else I read yesterday.

Those of you who are familiar with the online atheist community are all-too-aware of the fact that atheist spaces are currently grappling with their own failures to attract women and people of colour. The problem mirrors one that the American Republican Party is having, and the people arguing against structural changes make many of the same arguments – that what is needed is merely a ‘pinkwash’ or a ‘brownwash’, rather than a concerted effort to change the culture. I have summarized my view of how we got to this position in a previous post, but the even summarier summary is that people began asking why women weren’t participating, but only some of those people accepted the answers they were given.

In response to what is (sincerely by some, ironically by others) being called the “deep rifts” within atheist communities, an Open Letter was drafted, and several high-profile secular groups signed it. It calls for, among other things, a détente between people on “both sides” of the “deep rift”, and a pledge to model more “constructive” standards of communication. I quote from that letter selectively: [Read more...]