Atheist Memes on Facebook: Argument is Not Force

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Making an argument is not the same as forcing your beliefs on others. Many atheists would like to see a world without religion…. but we don’t want to accomplish that by making religion illegal, or in any way forcing people out of it. We want to accomplish it by — snicker — persuasion. We’re crazy dreamers that way. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

New Fishnet Story: “Catherine’s Wheel”

Fishnet logoFishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled Catherine’s Wheel, by Severin Rossetti, and here’s the teaser:

When David plucked up the courage to open his eyes he saw that Catherine was back at the easel again, resuming her work, cold and professional, as if her treatment of him had been nothing out of the ordinary. She resumed her low unconscious growl of concentration: a growl punctuated every so often by a shudder that ran through her body before she continued her work. He knew that his cock was erect before him, but he fought the impulse to look down, not wanting to see the alien object protruding from it.

Please note: This story contains content that some people may find disturbing, including borderline consent and extreme SM activity. If you’re not interested in reading stories with this type of content, please don’t read this story. If you are, and you want to read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

New Fishnet Story: “Doing the Math”

Fishnet logoFishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled Doing the Math, by Jeremy Edwards, and here’s the teaser:

And though it’s hours to go until midnight, these two are on each other as if they were only a few minutes away from the privacy of their bedroom. They stroke and pet while juggling drinks and canapes in the depths of Jacqueline’s sofa. They discreetly goose each other at the sideboard, and they sit half in and half out of each other’s laps at the Scrabble table. Lips go to ears, and toes to calves. All the while, they’re alert and gregarious, and they relish the tension of being in public and yet being intensely horny.

To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Intuition is Fallible

Scarlet letterI’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Intuition is important and useful. But it’s also very fallible. Among other things, it strongly biases us towards what we already believe, or what we want to believe. And that’s just as true about religion as anything else. That’s why atheists think intuition, by itself, isn’t a very good argument for God. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

On The Ubiquity Of Shaving

RazorI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog, in which I analyze the semiotics of pubic hair shaving. No, really. More specifically, I analyze what seems to be a recent trend towards pubic hair shaving becoming expected, standard, and even de rigueur.

It’s called On The Ubiquity Of Shaving, and here’s the teaser:

My initial reaction is to be against it. I don’t like the idea of any specific form of sexual expression being de rigueur. I think that sex is too personal, and too important, for it to be controlled by the whims of fashion. I don’t like the idea of people shaving their pubic hair just because all the cool kids are doing it… any more than I like the idea of people doing bondage, or having three-ways, or saving their virginity for marriage, just because all the cool kids are doing it. Sex is too special for that — and people’s sexualities are too unique, and too idiosyncratic, for that.

And I have issues with what I strongly suspect is the source of this trend: namely, mainstream commercial porn. I hate the idea of porn being the trendsetter, the sexual yardstick by which our sexual activity is measured. The sex in mainstream commercial porn is highly exaggerated; it’s choreographed primarily to look good on camera, not to feel good for the participants; it focuses largely on male pleasure at the expense of female pleasure; and it’s standardized to an almost ritualistic degree that would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Porn is not sex education. It scares and saddens me to think of an entire generation of sexually active adults getting their ideas about what is and isn’t normal/ acceptable/ desirable in sex from porn.

So. All that bugs me.

But. Yet. On the other hand.

I will also say this:

To find out what else I have to say about this — and why I think the increasing ubiquity of pubic hair shaving is a complicated question with both positive and negative aspects — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Smart /= Right

Scarlet letterI’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

“Lots of smart people believe in God” is not a good argument for why God exists. Plenty of smart people, throughout history and today, have believed things that were mistaken. Smart people are not immune to error… especially when it comes to beliefs they’re deeply attached to. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Brief Blog Break and Atheist Memes

I’m dealing with an unexpected dental situation (what I thought was a mild sore spot on my gum turns out to be an infected tooth — stupid high pain tolerance). Not an enormous deal, but an unpleasant and seriously annoying one. I am therefore giving myself a couple days off from the blog. I’m going to keep doing the Atheist Memes of the Day of Facebook and here, and will check for spam and flame wars, but am otherwise going to be getting tortured and then sulking in front of the TV feeling sorry for myself. Will be back in a day or two.

Scarlet letterIn the meantime: Yesterday’s Atheist Meme of the Day was:

It’s not reasonable to say that only trained theologians are competent to discuss religion’s validity. Most atheists aren’t interested in the religion of a few theologians: we care about religion as it’s believed and practiced by the vast majority of believers. Besides, many atheists have studied modern theology… and found it wanting. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

And today’s is:

It is hypothetically possible that there is a three- inch- tall pink pony behind my sofa, which instantly teleports to Guam the moment I look. You can’t prove with 100% certainty that it doesn’t exist. Is that a good argument for the pink pony hypothesis? And if not, why is it a good argument for God or the supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Same Sex Marriage, And Why You Passionately Care About Maine (Rerun)

The election in Maine over same-sex marriage is coming up soon — November 3 — and early voting has already started. So I’m re-running this piece, for anyone who didn’t see it the first time around. Please spread the word about this election: post about it on your blog/ Facebook page/ Twitter/ whatever, talk to your friends and relatives in Maine, and donate money and/or time if you can.

Maine postcard.JPGYou care about Maine.

You fervently, powerfully, passionately care about Maine.

Trust me on this one. You may not know it yet. You may be going, “Maine? Huh? I mean, sure, Maine’s cool, I’ve got nothing against Maine — but care about it passionately?” You do. Maine is very, very important to you.

Let me explain why.

No on 1As you may or may not know, the Maine legislature recently legalized same-sex marriage. But Maine law allows for a “people’s veto,” letting voters overturn any law the legislature passes. There is, predictably, a proposition on the Maine ballot this November — Proposition 1 — to overturn this new law, and ban same-sex marriage in the state. People who support marriage equality are gearing up — have been gearing up for some time — to defeat Prop. 1.

So why is this so important? I mean, there are battles over same-sex marriage in lots of states: battles happening right now, and ones looming on the horizon. And they’re happening in states that are a lot bigger than Maine, and a whole lot more visible. Why do you care about this one so much? Why is this fight different from all other fights?

There are two big reasons why you care about Maine. Momentum, and precedent.

Let’s talk momentum first. The far right and the religious right see Maine’s Proposition 1 as ground zero in the fight to stop same-sex marriage. They are already pouring huge gobs of money and resources into this one; they even got the same guy who ran the Yes on Prop 8 campaign to run it. They’re not idiots: they see that the momentum for same-sex marriage has been building like a freight train. We lost a lot of steam over Prop 8; but we picked it up again with Iowa and Vermont and New Hampshire, and indeed with Maine. And public opinion is slowly but steadily shifting in favor of same-sex marriage.

The far right desperately wants to stop this one in its tracks.

We can’t let them.

Maine lesbian coupleWe have to keep the momentum going. Momentum is huge in changing public opinion: with every state that legalizes same-sex marriage, it becomes increasingly obvious that same-sex marriage won’t destroy your family and poison your dog and bring civilization to its knees. It becomes increasingly obvious that when same-sex marriage is legalized, life goes on pretty much exactly like it did before — except that same-sex couples will be visiting their partners in the hospital and so on.

And momentum is huge in politics. A win makes the next campaign on the issue seem less radical and less scary; not just for voters, but for politicians and public figures, who are way more likely to fight for a cause if it looks like it already has some traction. A win energizes and inspires the winners; a loss tends to demoralize the losers, and forces them to retrench. Plus, for better or worse, a lot of people don’t like to feel like they’re on the losing side. They’re more likely to support a candidate or a cause when it looks like it can win, and is winning. With every state that legalizes same-sex marriage, the next one is way more likely to do it too. Same-sex marriage is going to look more normal, more like no big deal… and it’s going to look inevitable.

The right isn’t wrong about this one. This is ground zero. We need to get every bit as involved in No on 1 as we did in No on 8. If we lose this one, we will, in fact, have lost a tremendous amount of momentum. But if we win, we will have loaded a huge heap of coal into that freight train’s engine. It will make the fight for same-sex marriage in every other state — in New York, in New Jersey, in California in 2010 or 2012, and eventually in Oregon and Minnesota and Alabama — much, much easier, and much more winnable.

Ballot boxThe other reason Maine is so important is precedent. Same-sex marriage can now be legally performed in five U.S. states, six if you count Maine — but in every one of those states, it was legalized by either the legislature or the courts. In the U.S., same-sex marriage has never, ever won at the ballot box. Ever. The right has always been able to use smears and scare tactics and even flat-out lies to keep voters from supporting same-sex marriage
 tactics that are (marginally) less effective on judges and legislators than they are on voters.

If we win this one, it will be a huge precedent. The far right won’t be able to say that the courts and legislatures are shoving same-sex marriage down the throats of the people. The people will have spoken. And they will have spoken for fairness and equality.

There’s one more thing I want to point out before I finish up: This is a very winnable fight. The polls are very close on Prop 1… and as of this writing, we’re slightly ahead. And the No on 1 organization is very, very good: they’ve been working on this issue for years, and they’re already well-prepared to launch their opposition to the ugly attacks they know they’ll be getting. They’ve already started doing education and what they call “inoculation” against the fear-mongering they know they’re going to be facing. And Maine is, as the No on 1 organizers are fond of saying, a cheap date. It’s a small state, and media buys and whatnot are a lot less expensive than they were in, say, California. We can win this one.

Okay. So now you passionately care about Maine. You get why supporting No on 1 is the biggest, most important thing you can do right now to support same-sex marriage — not just for Maine, but for the rest of the country.

What can you do to help?

Talk1: Talk about it. We have to get this on the national radar now. If you’re a blogger, blog about it. If you’re a journalist, cover it. If you’re a progressive activist, get it on the radar of progressive organizations and allies — even ones that aren’t specifically focused on LGBT issues. And if you’re a regular citizen, talk about it. Tweet it, Facebook it, shoot it to your email list, gas on about it at parties, bring it up with your family and friends. Explain about the momentum, and the precedent, and the winnability. Let other people know, not just that the fight is happening, but why it’s such a big freakin’ deal.

And do it now. Don’t wait until right before the election. We don’t want to make the mistake we made with Prop 8 (well, one of the mistakes): we don’t want to spend the entire campaign playing defense. We need to help lay the groundwork now for a pro-active campaign. And in Maine, early voting starts in early October. If we wait until November to pitch in on this fight, we’ll have waited too long. We have to get this on the national radar, now.

Piggy_bank_-_dollar2: Give money. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount — again, Maine is a cheap date, and small amounts can make a big difference — but give what you can. (If everyone who reads this blog donated $25, that would be a decent-sized chunk of their budget.)

And do it now. Don’t wait until right before the election. Early money is one of the most powerful tools that a political campaign can have. Political campaigns need to know early what their budget will be so they can plan accordingly; more to the point, media buys and other costly campaigning efforts have to be done early in order to be really effective. (See above, re: not screwing up and playing defense like we did with Prop 8.) And again, early voting in Maine starts in early October: if we wait until November, we’ll have waited too long.

Helping_hands_43: Pitch in. The No on 1 campaign is doing something they’re calling a Volunteer Vacation: if you fly yourself out to Maine, they’ll put you up in community housing, and they’ll train you on canvassing and phone banking and political campaigning generally — training you’ll be able to use, not just in this campaign, but in any campaign you decide to get involved with in the future. Plus you’ll get to visit Maine in the fall, which is unbelievably gorgeous. (There are four one- week shifts available, from October 4 through November 1.)

And if you already live in Maine, there’s plenty you can do to help: you can canvass, phone bank, do data entry or other office help, host house parties, and more.

Maine isn’t just where the battle is now. Maine will help immeasurably in winning every other battle we have ahead of us. This fight is different from all other fights. Please help win it.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheists Are Not Vulcans

Scarlet letterI’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheists are not solely governed by logic, evidence, and science. We’re also shaped by passion, emotion, intuition, and personal experience. What with us being human. We simply think that logic and evidence are best suited to questions of what is and isn’t true in the real, non-subjective world. Including the question of whether God exists. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

The Ethics Of Public Sex

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Is public sex ethical?

Be forewarned: This isn’t one of those pieces where I gas on about some sexual topic that I already hold a strong opinion about. This is one of those pieces where I gas on about a sexual topic that I haven’t figured out yet; where I try to figure out what I think and where I stand by writing about it. So if I get this wrong, please accept my apologies in advance.

Carracci_Le_Satyre_et_la_NympheMy initial reaction to the question I myself am posing is that public sex is at least borderline unethical. I think it creates a troubling situation where consent is concerned: you’re making other people be voyeurs in your sex life, when they haven’t consented to be. Even if you’re in a public place where you hope not to be seen but might well be, where you’re trying to be hidden but part of the excitement is the fear of getting caught… I’d say much the same thing. You’re deliberately taking the risk of getting caught — in other words, of forcing other people to be involved in your sex life. This was the essence of my earlier piece about how parents should deal with their kids being sexual and masturbating: I said that you could be a sex-positive parent, and still teach your kids to keep their sexuality private, since not everyone wants to see them masturbate.

But I realize that this is a complex question. And like many complex questions, it’s complicated by one simple question: Where do you draw the line?

Not everyone has the same standards of sexual privacy. The standards for what constitutes appropriate public sexual expression, and what constitutes a violation of other people’s right to not participate in your sex life, vary tremendously from person to person, and from situation to situation, and from culture to culture. (And, of course, they change over time.)

FolsomExamples. You might be fine watching your best friend grope her boyfriend; your English professor might not be. You might be fine watching your best friend grope her boyfriend; you might be less fine watching your father or your sister grope theirs. An outfit that would get you shunned in Salt Lake City might not even raise an eyebrow in Miami… and in some societies, it’s considered a grotesque and indeed illegal breach of sexual privacy for women to wear pants. You might reasonably get squicked seeing a couple necking at, say, a law school graduation or an honorary dinner for the retiring president of the company. But at the Folsom Street Fair, if you see someone giving a spanking or a blowjob in broad daylight? In my opinion, you have no right to be upset. If you didn’t want to see that, then what were you doing at the Folsom Street Fair?

But I’m not just going to punt this question to “be appropriate for the context.” I’m not just going to say that you have to be culturally sensitive and do as the Romans do. I think that’s a cop-out. I think cultures that forbid women to wear pants are misogynist and oppressive and fucked up beyond belief, and I will stand by that position firmly and passionately. As a matter of practicality, I’m not going to wear pants in those countries… but as a matter of moral principle, I’m not going to accept that they have the right to make or enforce those laws.

Burqa_Afghanistan_01Which leads me to my next point. The stricture against public sex can and does get used as a serious form of political oppression. It gets used to restrain women, to silence queers and other sexual minorities, to censor sexual information. In the bad old days, gays and lesbians could be arrested for public lewdness simply for kissing or holding hands. (In fact, same-sex public displays of affection are still often treated as inherently sexual, when equivalent opposite-sex displays aren’t.) Countries that force women to wear burqas are countries that treat women as disgusting fonts of sexual sin and shame. Some people consider the very act of writing about sex for public consumption, or selling books about sex in a public bookstore, to be a breach of public decency, a violation of their right to never have to encounter sexual ideas that they don’t approve of. The idea that “you shouldn’t express your sexuality in any way that other people find invasive” can all too easily translate as “you shouldn’t express your sexuality in any way.” Period.

But I still don’t like SM couples giving spankings at dinner parties. I still don’t like it when people I don’t know very well tell me graphic details about their sex lives. (Unless they’re at porn readings, of course, or are writing to me for advice.) I still don’t like opening my front door at midnight to take out the garbage, and finding a couple fucking on my front steps. It feels like a violation: like I’m being made to participate in their sex lives, without having been asked.

So what’s the difference?

I’m tempted to say that the difference is motivation. Are you being publicly sexual to make a political or artistic point, to point out society’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies about sex and to try to shift sexual mores? Or are you just doing it for a forbidden erotic thrill, or because you don’t have the patience to get a room? I’m tempted to say that if it’s the former, then mazeltov; if it’s the latter, then get a room already.

London_Gay_Pride_1.JPGBut there’s not always a clear, bright line between the two. What if the cultural more you’re trying to shift is the one against dry-humping in public for fun? The difference is often in the eye of the beholder: a gay couple passionately kissing at the Pride Parade may see themselves as expressing their pride and their love, and yet may be seen by a homophobic right-winger as deliberately flaunting their sexuality in a flagrant act of exhibitionism and seduction. And I’m not sure it makes much difference anyway. Am I going to be any happier with the couple fucking on my doorstep if I think they’re doing it as an act of erotic political rebellion? Not really.

So I’m not sure where I’m going here. It seems like there should be a line, or at least some principle that would help us figure out where that line is under which circumstances. I don’t expect that we’d all always agree about how this principle should be applied — even the clearest ethical principles are complex and have shades of gray in practice — but at least we could agree on what the principle is.

But uncharacteristically, I’m drawing a blank. I’m starting to wonder if this desire for sexual privacy is one of those deeply-rooted, “hard-wired by millennia of evolution” moral principles that got shoved into our social-animal brains hundreds of thousands of years ago when were living in extended-family tribes. I’m starting to wonder if the desire for sexual privacy is irrational at its core… and that therefore any attempt to find a rational guiding principle behind it is just going to be a back-formation: not a genuine understanding of the core of the principle, but simply an attempt to rationalize a belief that’s already in place.

I dunno. I’m coming up blank on this one.

Thoughts?