Atheist Meme of the Day: “Open Your Heart” Is a Terrible Argument

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“You’d believe if you just opened your heart” is a terrible argument for religion. It’s basically saying, “If you bias yourself enough, you can convince yourself that this is true.” If religion were true, people wouldn’t need faith to believe it — it would be supported by good evidence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Brief Blog Break/ Speaking Tour, NE Ohio and Western PA, Oct. 13-15

Hi, all. I’m going to be out of town this week, on a speaking tour of Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, with stops in Cleveland, Kent, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh. It’s a pretty packed schedule — five talks in three days — and I think it’s unlikely that I’ll be blogging until I get back.

And if you live in Northeastern Ohio or Western Pennsylvania — or if you’re going to be there next week — come hear me speak! I’ll be speaking on three different topics: Atheism and Sexuality, Atheist Philosophies of Death, and What The Atheist Movement Can Learn From the LGBT Movement. So come hear me more than once, if you like! I’ll be doing Q&A at every talk, so come with questions if you have any. And if you do come, please introduce yourself and say howdy. Here, one last time, are the details:

LOCATION: Kent State University, Kent, OH
KSU Student Center, Rm 317
TIME: 3:00pm – 5:00pm
SPONSOR: KSU Freethinkers
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheist Philosophies of Death

LOCATION: Brecksville Public Library, Brecksville, OH (near Cleveland)
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
SPONSOR: Center for Inquiry, Cleveland chapter
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheist Philosophies of Death

LOCATION: Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH
Ohio Room
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
SPONSORS: YSU, Dr. James Dale Ethics Center
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality

LOCATION: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Spartan Room in Thwing Center (Case’s Student Union) (map here)
TIME: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
SPONSORS: Case Center for Inquiry and Spectrum
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality

LOCATION: Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, PA
One North Shore Drive, on Pittsburgh’s North Shore next to Heinz Field, on the Science Stage
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
EVENT: Associated with Drinking Skeptically – Pittsburgh
SPONSORS: Center for Inquiry Pittsburgh; co-sponsored by Steel City Skeptics and Drinking Skeptically – Pittsburgh
ADMISSION: $6 to non-CFI members, free to FOC. Parking $5 , $3 for Carnegie members.
TOPIC: What The Atheist Movement Can Learn From the LGBT Movement

Hope to see you there! And if you’re not in Ohio or Pennsylvania, I’ll see you here in the blog when I get back!

Howl: Everything Has Changed

Howl Well, my goodness.

Things certainly have changed since I was a girl.

And thank God for it.

This, more than anything else, was what kept drifting into my mind when I saw Howl, the new film about the renowned Beat poem and the obscenity trial that surrounded it, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.

A lot of things drifted into my mind when I was watching this film. The connections between eroticism and artistic creativity. The connections between eroticism and anti-conformist rebellion. The roots of gay liberation that extended back years before the Stonewall riots. The They Might Be Giants song, “I Should Be Allowed To Think.” (I know, I’m a Philistine.) What a tasty little dish James Franco is. How to make films based on real events that don’t seem like Lifetime docu-dramas. (The film Howl has an interesting structure, one that gives it a feeling of authenticity while still having drama and artistry and without reading as a documentary. It’s just four interweaving threads, all of which are drawn from real events: the obscenity trial, a re-creation of the first public reading Ginsberg gave of “Howl,” re-created excerpts of interviews with Ginsberg (with the events described in said interviews sometimes being re-enacted), and a luscious, evocative animated interpretation of the poem by comics artist Eric Drooker. Deceptively simple; quietly compelling; elegant.)

But the idea that kept drifting into my head, again and again, gently and relentlessly, was this:

Damn. The world certainly has changed.

It has radically changed when it comes to matters of sex.

And thank God for it.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on CarnalNation, Howl: Everything Has Changed. To read more about my take on the movie Howl, and what it shows about how the world has changed in just a few decades, and how that change came about, read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to Carnal Nation — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

When Porn Goes Bad: “Girls Gone Wild”

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Girls gone wild I am hereby changing my mind.

I am officially and publicly declaring that I was mistaken, and am shifting my position.

Not about porn in general. But about one particular brand of porn.

Specifically, the “Girls Gone Wild” videos.

And the way I’m changing my mind is illustrating one of the most important points I’ve been making about it.

You may have already heard: A woman who appeared in a “Girls Gone Wild” video recently sued the producers. In the incident, the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was dancing at a bar where “GGW” was being filmed: someone else pulled down her top and showed her breasts, and the footage was put into a video. In the original footage, Doe was heard saying “no” when asked to show her breasts, shortly before another woman suddenly pulled her top down. But the GGW producers argued that, simply by being in the bar and dancing where the video was being filmed, she was giving consent: not just to appear in the video, but to appear bare-breasted. Inexplicably, a jury ruled in GGW’s favor. As jury foreman Patrick O’Brien said, “Through her actions, she gave implied consent. She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

Sluts just have it coming to them, I guess.

Now, on top of being evil on GGW’s part, this was just plain dumb. I mean, how hard would it have been to simply not use the footage of this one woman? They must have thousands of hours of footage of women pulling up their shirts and showing their boobs. Why on earth didn’t they avoid the bad publicity and the ugly court case, and just leave the few minutes of the girl who said “No” on the cutting room floor?

Given their history of legal problems and bad publicity, wouldn’t they be a little more careful about consent?

Which brings me to the part where I’m changing my mind.

Girls gone wild bad girls In the past, I’ve defended the “Girls Gone Wild” videos. I said I could see the appeal in them; I said it was legitimately exciting to see people take sexual risks and push their own sexual boundaries, doing dirty things they never imagined themselves doing. I argued that, whatever you might think of the company producing the videos, the patronizing, pitying attitude towards the women performing in them that’s so common is absolutely unwarranted. I said that the women in them were clearly aware of the cameras, indeed happy to have the cameras on them; and that while many of them certainly seemed, shall we say, tipsy, none of them seemed intoxicated to the point of obliterating consent. And I pointed out that the GGW producers were — they claimed — very careful to get consent from the women in their videos… and in the videos I saw, this claim seemed entirely plausible.

But this case is making it clear that this claim is bogus. It’s become clear that the producers of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos are sloppy at best about obtaining consent from the women who appear in them. Clearly lots of women are willing and even eager to be in these videos… but it’s becoming clear that the producers are careless, to say the least, about making sure that this number is 100%.

So I’m retracting even the ambivalent support I gave them in the past. New evidence had made my previous position unsupportable, and I am therefore changing it. The “Girls Gone Wild” producers are sleazebags. They are not a trustworthy source of consensually- participated- in porn. Don’t buy their videos.

So what’s the important larger point about porn that this case illustrates?

*

Consenting adults One of the most common critiques of the video porn industry is that the women who perform in them aren’t consenting. (Concern about male porn performers seems, for some reason, to be largely absent.) The more moderate versions of this critique assert that female porn performers go into it for bad reasons, out of economic necessity or poor self-esteem or desperation for attention. The more hysterical versions of it claim that the mainstream video porn industry is inexorably tied to human trafficking, and that women are literally threatened and forced into having sex on camera.

And I don’t dismiss these critiques out of hand. I think it’s very possible, likely even, that some porn performers aren’t entirely self-actualized, that some of them go into it for unhealthy emotional reasons or because they need a paycheck. I think people go into a lot of industries for unhealthy emotional reasons (acting and modeling leap to mind), or because they need a paycheck (pretty much everyone who works for a living leaps to mind). And while I think the more hysterical critiques are, well, hysterical — at least as far as the mainstream American video porn industry is concerned — I’m open to being persuaded otherwise. If there really are problems with consent in the video porn industry — as there obviously are with the “Girls Gone Wild” videos — I want to know about it.

I just differ with these critics about what the appropriate response is.

If there’s evidence that a video porn company is being careless at best and callous at worst about the consent of its performers, then shouldn’t our objections be aimed at that company — not at the very concept of video porn?

Boy collecting cacao Here’s an analogy. Labor abuses in the cocoa farming industry are very well documented, including extensive use of child labor. It’s not just an isolated incident here or there — it’s endemic to the industry. And it has been for years.

So what is an appropriate response to this? Should we be selective about what kind of chocolate we eat, only buying fair-trade chocolate that we know is not supporting child labor, and boycotting any chocolate companies that won’t abide by those standards? Should we be encouraging restaurants and bakeries and other consumers to do the same? Should we be publicizing this issue until non- fair- trade chocolate is sufficiently unpopular that it’s no longer profitable, and fair trade becomes the industry standard?

Chocolates Or should we be condemning the very idea of eating chocolate? Should we be treating the entire chocolate industry, and indeed the very substance of chocolate itself, as irrevocably tainted? Should we be treating anyone who enjoys chocolate with moral repugnance, as callous, child-hating villains, more concerned with the gratification of their sybaritic hungers than they are with abused children? Should we be tying in people’s specific concerns about abuses in the chocolate industry with their general shame about food, using that shame to make them feel guilty about their physical desire for chocolate and the pleasure they take in it?

And if we think the former approach is both more effective and more just… why should we be applying the latter strategy to video porn?

If there’s evidence that a video porn company is being careless at best and callous at worst about the consent of its performers, then shouldn’t our objections be aimed at that company — not at the very concept of video porn?

And I’ll point out again: In the chocolate industry, these abuses are endemic. They’re not exceptions. They are the industry standard. They’re very well-documented. And the victims are, I will say yet again, children.

Annie sprinkle post porn modernist Which is patently not true of the video porn industry. I’ve seen some individual, anecdotal accounts from people in the porn industry who say that they went into it for bad reasons, that drug abuse in the industry is common (unlike, oh, say, the music industry), that they felt pressured to perform sex acts they didn’t want to, or that they were pressured into it by abusive men in their lives. (Linda Lovelace is the most famous example of this last one.) I’ve also seen individual, anecdotal accounts from people in the porn industry who say that they freely chose it, that they love it, that they feel empowered by it, that they feel perfectly capable of accepting or rejecting roles and sex acts, that in fact video porn is one of the few industries where women have more status and earning power than men. I’ve seen porn videos where the performers were clearly bored and phoning it in at best, detached and unhappy at worst. I’ve also seen porn videos where the performers were clearly inspired, excited, joyful, and wanting nothing more than to be doing exactly what they were doing. (As a porn critic, I have consistently endorsed the latter and excoriated the former.)

What I have not seen is good, careful, independent documentation of endemic or even common labor abuses across the industry.

And until I do, I’m not going to stop watching video porn.

Evidence If there’s strong, well-documented evidence from independent sources that a particular video porn company is being lax or callous about the consent of their performers — as the “Girls Gone Wild” producers have shown themselves to be — I want to know about it. I don’t want to support companies like that; I want to encourage other porn consumers to remove their support. And if there’s strong, well-documented evidence from independent sources that the video porn industry as a whole is being lax or callous about the consent of their performers, I want to know about that, too. If that’s true, then I will readily denounce the industry, and stick to the equivalent of fair-trade porn: amateur and indie porn, from small, labor- of- love porn producers, whose performers are clearly in it for something other than the money.

But when I see poorly- supported accusations of labor abuses in the commercial video porn industry getting tied in with standard sex-negative hostility towards porn in general — scorn and trivialization of the desire for porn, shaming of people for wanting it, the stubbornly willful failure to distinguish between the basic idea of porn and the specific ways it sometimes plays out in our culture, the patronizing assumption that no woman could possibly really want to perform in porn and therefore any woman who does must be self-loathing at best and coerced at worst — it renders these accusations considerably less credible. It makes them look less like genuine concern for the well-being of performers in the video porn industry, and more like… well, more like standard sex-negative hostility towards porn in general. It makes me take these accusations with a large grain of salt.

A handful of salt, in fact.

But give me some better evidence, minus the sex-negative axe-grinding, and I’ll change my mind.

After all, I changed my mind about “Girls Gone Wild.”

Thanks to Bacchus at ErosBlog, for his classic piece Evil Porn Werewolf Enslavers Debunked, to which I am indebted for this line of thought.

Atheist Meme of the Day: A Finite Life Is Precious

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheism does have comfort to offer in the face of death. Among other things, it offers the idea that a finite life can be seen as more valuable, not less: that the impermanence of life can inspire us to see it as precious, and to savor it and treasure it as much as we possibly can. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Greta’s Speaking Tour, NE Ohio and Western PA, Oct. 13-15

GretaIf you live in Northeastern Ohio or Western Pennsylvania — or if you’re going to be there next week — come hear me speak! I’m going to be doing a whirlwind speaking tour of the area, October 13-15, with stops in Cleveland, Kent, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh.

I’ll be speaking on three different topics, no less: Atheism and Sexuality, Atheist Philosophies of Death, and What The Atheist Movement Can Learn From the LGBT Movement. So come hear me more than once, if you like! I’ll be doing Q&A at every talk, so come with questions if you have any. And if you do come, please introduce yourself and say howdy. Here are the details:

LOCATION: Kent State University, Kent, OH
KSU Student Center, Rm 317
TIME: 3:00pm – 5:00pm
SPONSOR: KSU Freethinkers
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheist Philosophies of Death

LOCATION: Brecksville Public Library, Brecksville, OH (near Cleveland)
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
SPONSOR: Center for Inquiry, Cleveland chapter
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheist Philosophies of Death

LOCATION: Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH
Ohio Room
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
SPONSORS: YSU, Dr. James Dale Ethics Center
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality

LOCATION: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Spartan Room in Thwing Center (Case’s Student Union) (map here)
TIME: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
SPONSORS: Case Center for Inquiry and Spectrum
ADMISSION: Free
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality

LOCATION: Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, PA
One North Shore Drive, on Pittsburgh’s North Shore next to Heinz Field, on the Science Stage
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
EVENT: Associated with Drinking Skeptically – Pittsburgh
SPONSORS: Center for Inquiry Pittsburgh; co-sponsored by Steel City Skeptics and Drinking Skeptically – Pittsburgh
ADMISSION: $6 to non-CFI members, free to FOC. Parking $5 , $3 for Carnegie members.
TOPIC: What The Atheist Movement Can Learn From the LGBT Movement

Hope to see you there!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheist Have Happiness, Meaning, Goodness, and Community

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Religion is not necessary for a happy, meaningful, good life filled with community and connection. Most atheists experience great joy and purpose in our lives, and care deeply about right and wrong. And the atheist community is blossoming more and more every day. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheist Activism Is Valid

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheists care what other people believe because people act on their beliefs. Religious beliefs affect how people treat both others and themselves — and many atheists see that effect as doing more harm than good. If you disagree, then make that case — but it’s not fair to object to the very idea of atheists making our case as well. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.