Dogma comes in many flavors

Ask an atheist, and they will tell you that religion poisons everything. There is an understanding that human nature is not fixed, but is susceptible to all kinds of influences — people make decisions based not simply on what they are, but on how they were brought up and shaped by their environment. They are likely to note that an American is most probably a Christian, not because they thought it through and worked out the logic and evidence, but simply because they were brought up in a predominantly Christian culture; if they’d been born in India they’d most likely be Hindu, in Italy Catholic, in Iran Muslim, in Sweden Lutheran, etc.

Where this awareness fizzles out, though, is in domains where we’ve absorbed and accepted the dominant worldview — suddenly, the conventions become not a plastic response to history and contingency and idiosyncratic circumstance, but “human nature” and the arguments become all about the necessity of maintaining the status quo: “that’s the way it is”, “are you some kind of freak?”, “we wouldn’t be this way if it weren’t adaptive.” There is a pressure to conform, because everyone is expected to behave the way everyone else is.

We wouldn’t hesitate to be iconoclastic if the issue is one of faith. Break it down, we’d say, shatter those chains and think for yourself. Other topics, though, are suddenly taboo. Try to go to most atheist meetings and question, for instance, conventional notions of masculinity. A significant number of those radical superstition-breakers will be appalled and start whispering about you, and divisions will form and some will cast you out. There will be references to such distinguished defenders of the fixity of gender norms as Steven Pinker and Christina Hoff Sommers when they want to appear highbrow, and mutterings about cucks and SJWs when they don’t care. They are willing to be infidels only on narrow matters of religion, but on anything else, they are as hidebound and inflexible as the most dogmatic Catholic.

But they are wrong. Masculinity is not one simple thing. There is no rulebook that says “You must have short hair; you must enjoy football; you must sneer at queers; you must eat steak and work out on weekends.” Having a penis does not imply that there is a suite of behaviors you must accept, while not having one means you cannot engage in them. There is a link between biology and behavior, but it’s weaker than you think and requires constant reinforcement from culture in order to sustain itself. We know this is true because different cultures have different notions of masculinity. There is no one true male nature.

Cartomancer has a long and thorough post on the nature of masculinity in ancient Greek culture. It’s amazing. Right there at the root of contemporary Western culture, they can’t even get this fundamental biological essentialism right — different cities had different perspectives on what it means to be a man, almost as if the Y chromosome does not dictate every aspect of your identity.

I have spent some time outlining the Homeric models of manly behaviour, because they show us threads that continued to be important in the culture of the Classical city-states of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, widely regarded as the high water mark of Greek culture. But to talk of one Greek culture is clearly a mistake. The different city states each took their shared Homeric inheritance and distorted it in different directions, placing emphasis on different aspects of their shared culture and in so doing creating different and competing conceptions of masculinity.

Spartan culture, for instance, was radically authoritarian, militaristic, anti-intellectual and anti-capitalist. Full Spartiate citizens were expected to be full-time warriors, living in communal barracks with their fellow men and spurning the trappings of wealth, comfort and sophistication. To them courage was everything, the model of Achilles their ultimate goal. The Spartan approach to courage comes across well in the saying, recorded by Plutarch, that Spartan mothers expect their sons to come back carrying their shields or on dead on top of them (that is, having won the battle or having died trying – throwing away your heavy metal hoplon shield to better escape a pursuing enemy was an unforgivable crime in Sparta). The Greek word we usually translate as “courage” is andreia – literally “manliness”, and the two were pretty much synonymous in Sparta (compare the Latin virtus, from vir, man, which is the root of our “virtue”).

They don’t say much about femininity — there’s another lengthy essay that needs to be written — but it’s too often implicit that the feminine is the mirror image of the masculine. If courage and virtue are manly traits, then women must be timid and weak, or they are violating norms. If men of other cities are less diligent in pursuing glorious death in battle, they must be “pussies”, or that universal put-down, “women”. If a woman expresses courage like a man, she must be “butch”, a “dyke”, and must therefore be ugly and less desirable as a woman.

We are soaking in these attitudes. Fire up an online video game and do poorly, and watch the reaction: you must be a “pussy” or a “fag”. It’s gotten so bad that if you merely defend the equality of women, you are a damnable SJW who is betraying men.

But we can fix that! We tried to bring up our kids to be tolerant and open and willing to explore their identities beyond blindly accepting gender-defined paths, and I think they turned out pretty good. There are sub-communities within atheism that are conscious of other ways of thinking than the default patriarchal set, just as there are better ways of thinking about the universe than the indoctrinated godly explanations. We can learn to be better and recognize the artificiality of so many conventions in our society, so we can break them. This ought to be understood as the default position of atheist organizations everywhere. No gods, no masters, no dogmas about human nature.

There’s a flip side to human plasticity, though. If we’re flexible enough that we can be made better, then we must also recognize the possibility that culture can make us worse. If atheism is liberating, it’s also true that Catholicism is persuasive, and we could be living in a society that constantly tells us we need to be more Christian (hey, we do!). If the truth is that gender roles are more complicated and less rigidly dictated by biology than many people believe, there can also be a culture that promotes the lie that there is only one true way to be a man, and we have that, too, and it harms people as badly as the most demented religion out there. It’s called the alt-right, or the manosphere, or machismo, or any of a thousand names that some will automatically accept as virtuous (it’s built into the language that man equals virtue, after all.) Abi Wilkinson reports on her experiences with toxic masculinity.

In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.

On their forums I’ve read long, furious manifestos claiming that women are all sluts who “ride the cock carousel” and sleep with a series of “alpha males” until they reach the end of their sexual prime, at which point they seek out a “beta cuck” to settle down with for financial security. I’ve lurked silently on blogs dedicated to “pick-up artistry” as men argue that uppity, opinionated, feminist women – women like myself – need to be put in their place through “corrective rape”.

I know about the “men going their own way” movement, which is based around the idea that men should avoid any sort of romantic or sexual relationship with women. I’m aware of “traditional marriage” advocates, who often argue that you should aim to marry a very young woman as she’s likely to be easier to control. I also learned the difference between an “incel” who is involuntarily celibate, and a “volcel” who makes a deliberate choice to avoid sexual activity, and sometimes also masturbation, often in the belief that ejaculation depletes their testosterone and saps them of masculine power.

I’ve read their diatribes, too, and what I find dismaying is how often they cite science as somehow backing up their views, but to their minds, “science” means rationalizing their rigid and deterministic gender essentialism. Good science says no such thing. Neither does history or philosophy or sociology or anthropology or psychology. We have a responsibility to stop these lies. They are as damaging to human psychological development as dogmatic Christianity or Islam, and if you are concerned about removing obstacles to our species’ potential, as most atheists will say they are, then you have an obligation to combat the propaganda of these pseudo-scientific Y chromosome worshippers as you do the propaganda of religion.

Once again, the Witherspoon assumes their biases are laws

The Witherspoon Institute has once again decided to dictate to us all about the proper, conservative approach to everything. This time, they take aim at National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution”: Bad Argument and Biased Ideology. Of course they’re agin’ them transgenders.

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic is dedicated to exploring what it calls the “Gender Revolution”—a post-Sexual Revolution movement that seeks to deconstruct traditional understandings about human embodiment, male-female sexual dimorphism, and gender. In an article titled “Rethinking Gender,” Robin Marantz Henig cites evolving gender norms as a justification for the Gender Revolution. But Henig’s argument is not only unpersuasive, it’s also based on a radical proposal about human nature that is at odds with both natural law and biblical anthropology.

I started reading this essay enthused about seeing their “natural law” and “biblical anthropology” arguments, both subjects I find to be nonsensical trash, and therefore ripe for mocking. To my disappointment, there is no biblical anthropology anywhere in it, and what ‘natural law’ arguments there are are sadly implicit, and just assumed. It reduces the whole essay to weak whining.

They have only one point to make, and it’s laid out in this one paragraph.

Indeed, this is the crux of the matter that plagues the transgender movement. It is based not on evidence, but on the ideology of expressive individualism—the idea that one’s identity is self-determined, that one should live out that identity, and that everyone else must respect and affirm that identity, no matter what it is. Expressive individualism requires no moral argument or empirical justification for its claims, no matter how absurd or controverted they may be. Transgenderism is not a scientific discovery but a prior ideological commitment about the pliability of gender.

The Witherspoon Institute, that deeply ideological organization, wants to argue that transgender people are wrong because they are ideological. But of course they are! So am I! So are they! If they want to claim that an “absence of scientific discovery” invalidates a whole personal and cultural phenomenon, they’re going to have to burn down the entirety of their archives, because nowhere, including in this essay, do they build a case for their ideology with science. In fact, this is the whole of their defense.

Accepting the claims of transgender ideology requires papering over one’s conscience and making a mockery of the “law written on the heart” that our bodies bear witness to in our complementary design.

They want to claim that there is a “law written on the heart” that makes the gender binary natural and proper and righteous — but they make no scientific (or biblical anthropological, which is fine, because I’d dismiss it) argument for that claim.

Here’s my proudly ideological argument against the Witherspoon’s biases.

The gender binary is a social construct: it is a set of behaviors and expectations for how people should conform within a society. It is built around biological predispositions which are real but not absolute; all we have to do is look at different cultures around the world and see that there different expectations in different societies. Real men don’t cry? Not always. Women are the sheltered, weaker sex? Not always. Men should always “pay” at the “restaurant” when they take a woman out on a “date”? I can’t even begin to unpack all the artificial cultural constructs built into that sentence. They are really trying to impose the standards of Victorian England on all of humanity, which is the kind of thing Victorians did all the time, but isn’t it about time we kicked that bullshit to the curb?

They want to argue that humans aren’t plastic, but are fixed by their biological natures. But we know that isn’t true, because we can see that human beings have thrived in a variety of different cultures without a necessary genetic difference in their makeup. Look at the United States — we have people living here who within the last few generations have come from Vietnam, Ireland, Laos, Nigeria, Peru, Sweden, Somalia, Iran, etc., etc., etc., and they have adapted, and in fact, the conservative American ideology requires that they must conform.

This is what people do. They adapt, they conform, they absorb the expectations of their surrounding culture, especially as children, and they also bring their past experiences into communities and shape their environments. The Witherspoon wants to reify masculinity and femininity to fit their ideological preconceptions, deny the reality of people’s identity, and they reject arguments against that kind of cultural imperialism because, they say, you can’t fit a person’s perception of their identity under a microscope. Well, you can’t fit Christian conservativism under a microscope either, yet you’re sinking a lot of money, time, and effort into propping it up.

Not everyone will be accommodating of your particular views. I am not comfortable, to put it mildly, with Christian conservativism — you don’t get to tell me that I am wrong in my identity, and that I must learn to love faith and oppressive authoritarianism. However, I am personally comfortable with my expected gender role — I have never questioned my conformity to maleness — but I am also capable of recognizing that not everyone else is, and that they would be as unhappy with a world that dictates that they must be a straight heterosexual man’s man as I would with a world that told me I had to participate in gay sex, and like it (although if I’d been brought up through childhood in that world where gender fluidity was more common, maybe I would…which I suspect is one of the ideas that horrifies the Witherspoon).

That the majority of people fall into one of the two broad, culturally accepted definitions of gender is not scientific evidence that these divisions are natural and necessary because, as I said, people are plastic and tend to conform to cultural norms. There have always been individuals who refuse or are unable to meet social expectations, even in Victorian England. The question is whether we punish people by demanding that their identity meet a narrow set of criteria, or whether we accept people for who they are and who they want to be. The former is a formula for widespread misery. The latter leads to greater happiness, although it does tend to piss off the authoritarian prigs who enjoy crushing the joys of others.

I have to confess to sharing a little bit of that latter attitude, because I would greatly enjoy crushing the totalitarian hopes and dreams of the Witherspoon Institute members.

It’s nice to know one lawsuit is going to go down in flames

Oh jebus. Lucas Werner is gloating about winning millions of dollars in a lawsuit against Starbucks, because they wrongfully banned him when all he’d done is pass a “nice note” to a young barista he found attractive.

Unfortunately for him, a “nice note” of the kind he passes to people has been revealed.

There's this chemical in my body Telomerase. All men past 35 automatically become ideal fathers and husbands. It lends offspring strong DNA. It's been a year. It's been 5 years since I've had sex. Why do I feel this need to be inside you?

There’s this chemical in my body Telomerase. All men past 35 automatically become ideal fathers and husbands. It lends offspring strong DNA. It’s been a year. It’s been 5 years since I’ve had sex. Why do I feel this need to be inside you?

“Nice” is not the adjective I’d apply to that: “creepy” is more accurate. As a biologist, I’d say “WRONG” would also be good, although I think the barista is more reasonably going to feel that the former is the right word to use.

I get email…again

It’s been a remarkable day for email from idiots.

Prof. Myers, I have 3 questions about the evolution of humans that I have not been able to find the answers to. Could you offer your opinions?

1. If men prefer women who are less intelligent than they are does this mean there could have selection for lower intelligence in women?

2. Why haven’t women evolved to spontaneously shit themselves to deter rapists?

3. Why are women so annoying? Could they have actually evolved to provoke men into giving them a slapping?


Happy to help, Gary!

  1. Go fuck yourself. You’re an idiot.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, women are members of the same species as men. You had a mother (she’s probably embarrased by you), and you inherited rougly half your chromosomes from her. It would require a remarkable degree of dimorphism to configure genes responsible for intelligence to be differentially expressed.

    Also, speak for yourself. Men don’t necessarily prefer less intelligent women. I happen to prefer a partner who is my equal. I don’t think it would have been advantageous in our evolutionary history to have half the population deficient in a trait that is responsible for our evolutionary success.

  2. Go fuck yourself. You’re an idiot.

    Why haven’t men evolved to find violent abuse of their partners repugnant? I suspect it’s more of a matter of random variation within the population producing some proportion of individuals who are more stupid and more violent than the mean. That’s you, Gary. You are noise. You are the unpleasant nasty detritus of chance variation.

  3. Go fuck yourself. You’re an idiot.

    As you so well demonstrate, some men are even more annoying.

Sadly, I cannot continue this enlightening conversation with Gary — I’ve blocked his email. If any of you would like to explain things more gently to Gary, you can write him at I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

How not to get famous

Spokane’s most single man is getting a heck of a lot of press. Inquisitr covers him, he made it to Seattle television news…I almost feel sorry for him.

But then I discovered his Tumblr page.



Sympathy…evaporated. Although with this kind of heavy criticism, it might be a good idea for law enforcement to be aware of him in order to protect him. Another side of this kind of toxic masculinity is that some people will feel justified in doing violence to him. Nothing he has done warrants violent action or even legal sanctions — his creepiness is self-defeating.

I do appreciate the fact, though, that he has taken a fairly common ugly sort of behavior and taken it to such an extreme that the media finally noticed.

“Spokane, Washington’s Most Single Man”

One man’s quest: to have sex with teenagers. His tools: misconceptions about biology, access to a meme-maker, and boundless self-pity. Ladies, meet Lucas Werner…and run away.

He’s an atheist in Washington state, going by the name “OlympiaAtheist” on facebook. I wish he wouldn’t. Atheists have enough reputation problems as it is.

His obsession — it really is an obsession, it’s basically all he writes about — is that he’s 37 years old, he wants a girlfriend who is less than half his age, and that he thinks he is biologically entitled to have sex with younger women. His strategy is to create terrible, terrible meme images and post them on the web, which I’m sure is going to draw in the high school girls like bees to honey. Here’s one example. There are many more.


You should have sex with him, because he has lower telomerase levels than younger men, and therefore he’s not going to give you cancer. And you’re a bigot and a hypocrite if you don’t take him up on his kind offer. Here’s a photo of a bridge.

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There’s no such thing as male and female DNA

I’ve been away for a while — my beloved has been away for over a week (felt like longer), and I had to travel through the arctic wilderness and another icy storm to pick her up at the airport, and then we had to spend a night in a hotel because of said icy storm, and I just got home. It was aggravating because there was an extreme case of someone being wrong on the internet, and I’d left my laptop at home (it was supposed to be just a quick trip to Minneapolis and back!), so I was frustrated in my inability to reply. All I could see was Twitter, and that is not an appropriate place for a a sufficiently lengthy, ragey response.

It was Bryan Fischer. Savor the irony in this.

It’s a scientific, biological, genetic fact that DNA is either male or female. To reject that is to reject science. I’ll stick with science.

Yeah, the young earth creationist wants to stick with the science. Look, simple answer first: DNA is not gendered. There is no difference in sequence, structure, or conformation between males and females. Fischer has invented a false fact that only serves the sanctimoniousness of assholes.

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A master class in dealing with media douchebros

Watch this video. @LaurenDuca goes up against Tucker Carlson and you get to learn.

It’s amazing. She’s confident. She calls him out on his bullshit. She points out when he’s being patronizing. She clearly explains her points. She dumbfounds him because he can’t understand how she can admire many of Ivanka Trump’s accomplishments while also deploring her actions in “supporting the most aggressively anti-woman candidate of our time” — which seems like a fairly obvious and reasonable concern to me, but Carlson doesn’t get it.

Or, at least, he pretends he doesn’t get it. Most of his rebuttal seems to involve adopting a dull, stupid expression, repeating her words, and acting as if there is some kind of contradiction there, when there isn’t.

And then at the end he tries to fight back by mocking her writing for Teen Vogue — she has an article on thigh-high boots which apparently, to the one-dimensional mind of Tucker Carlson, means she can’t have thoughtful political opinions…and further, there is an implicit belittling of teenaged girls, which Duca confidently rejects.

Here’s hoping a generation of teen-aged girls are growing up aware and angry, preparing to put on their thigh-high boots and do a flying drop-kick to Tucker Carlson’s condescending stupid face. He ought to be worried.

By the way, it also helps that she’s defending a righteous and reasonable position. Confidence is good, responding aggressively is good, but it doesn’t help if your confident aggression is in defense of racist sleaziness, for instance.

Moral clarity

Joe Soucheray has a few words on the recent UM football scandal.

No player involved appears to have risen to the moral or ethical clarity required of any man whose instinctive character would have compelled him to say, “Wait a minute. Stop. This isn’t right. This has gotten out of hand. Everybody clear this building.’’

Any man of character — we call football players men — would have not only cleared the building but would have helped the woman, taken her to the hospital, for example. Actually, if there were men of character around that night the bacchanal would never have happened and the woman would not have required a hospital visit.

There was no respect for anybody in that apartment. There does not appear to be any awareness of physical or mental health at stake. There does not appear to be any awareness of safety.

Exactly right. It’s not enough to simply say you’re not going to rape or harass or take advantage; you also have to refuse to turn your back when others do so. Our football team is full of cowards who’d rather avoid conflict than correct an injustice.

Soucheray has a recommendation for the football coach:

But what Claeys should have really said is, “I don’t want any of these players on the team. These players will never set foot in this practice facility again nor will they ever wear a Gopher football uniform as long as I am coach. If you don’t like it you can take your poorly formed idea of due process and shove it where the sun don’t shine.’’

Maybe our overpaid coach should be shown the door, and the next candidates should have their moral compass measured and calibrated before any are hired.