I think youtube culture really has gone pathological

OK, people, you insisted and demanded and rebuked me for not watching Thunderf00t’s latest video, so I did.

It was a great steaming pile of dishonest, sleazy shit, disgraceful propaganda to serve the cause of sexism.

Guess what? I’m never taking your advice again. Jerks. What a waste of time.

At least one good thing has come out of it, though: Michael Nugent takes it apart piece by piece. I can tell he was as appalled by the shameful smears as I was.

I also hadn’t realized until I watched it that Thunderf00t concludes by calling on conference organizers to blackball Rebecca Watson, Melody Hensley, Amy Roth, me, and all those other people who want to make the events respectful of women. It’s truly remarkable. He’s been whining about censorship! and bannings! and FREE SPEECH! yet here he is, organizing his followers to bombard secular leaders to silence feminists. I haven’t seen anything remotely similar from our side of this argument, yet here is the champion of holy sacred FREE SPEECH calling on his mob to ostracize people he disagrees with.

His priorities are genuinely screwed up, and if anyone is guilty of hypocrisy, it’s Phil Mason. Michael Nugent gets it right:

Please consider channeling your passion for freedom of expression into our fight for the right of people to express their secular beliefs without being beaten or jailed or killed for blasphemy, instead of fighting for the imaginary right of the Wooly Bumblebee to call Melody Hensley a twat on YouTube without having her video flagged.

The Paingod

Once upon a time, there was a little paingod attached to humanity. It was mostly benign and useful; it was there to warn people not to step into that patch of thorns, that that spearpoint was sharp, that fire was hot, that you’d regret drinking that whole skin of beer in the morning. It brought with it the gift of empathy and forethought, as well, so the people were mainly well-served by its presence.

Humanity prospered and grew, and the paingod got ever busier; as societies got larger, not only were there more people experiencing or avoiding pain, but the complexity of their lives created new opportunities for pain. New diseases erupted in the denser populations, wars flared up between competing city-states, social stratification created breeding grounds for envy and contempt. The paingod also grew.

Now this is the thing about gods of all types: they are ambitious. They all aspire to be the greatest manifestation of their gift that they can be. After all, people had been defining god as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, so there was definitely pressure to escalate — if it wasn’t the greatest of all possible paingods, then it really wasn’t a god at all, now was it?

But now comes the tricky part. The paingod served humanity, and that was also an essential part of its existence. It could not simply lash out and promote death and suffering, like a cartoonish cult in a cheesy sword-and-sorcery novel; no, it had to convince people that their personal pain was a great boon, get them to revel in it, and also get them to willingy define their existence by their suffering. Then the paingod would be the the ultimate deity!

And so was hatched a cunning plan. The paingod would ask everyone to give it their pain as a gift; it would present itself as a savior to the world, telling everyone that they can find salvation from the suffering they experience by consecrating it to the paingod, that it loved them so much that it would accept their burdens and bear them for humanity. And it spread a story that claimed the paingod took on the form of a man and suffered heinous torture and died in agony, just to prove it was willing to take on the very worst that people could offer.

It was actually true. The man, though, was symbolic; it was the paingod, and it experienced every death and felt every person’s agony. There was no sudden change in the paingod’s role, only a clever semantic twist: now you metaphorically bestowed your unhappiness on the paingod as an offering, and it was no longer your fault or your responsibility, or anyone’s responsibility, really. It was the paingod’s will. Your duty was to bear up under it, and thank the paingod for sharing it with you.

And so it came to be that the people accepted the paingod’s rationale. When the inequities of their society bore them down, they wouldn’t rise up to change them — they’d go to the paingod’s church and praise it. When the paingod’s acolytes enthusiastically embraced their role in giving charity — after all, the poor and hurting were clearly the most blessed of the paingod’s subjects — they subverted that role into one of maintaining poverty and disease. They would provide a quiet place for people to die as slowly as possible, every moment one of redemption as you shared your pain with the paingod.

Every improvement that reduced the people’s suffering was shunned, and every social change that might make pariahs appreciated for who they were was discouraged. The paingod rules, and the only way the paingod can grow in power is if the misery of our existence were made the central focus of our lives.

And now we live in the world the paingod made, and true to form, it’s a world of pain.

We can’t end the pain, but we can kill the paingod and end the cycle of reinforcement. We can own our pain. It’s not the god’s, it’s ours — we don’t reduce it by pretending to share it with a supernatural being. We cause pain in others, and we don’t minimize it by claiming our sins are redeemed by the paingod — we accept the fault as our own, and struggle to change and repair and redeem ourselves. Tell the paingod that nobody died for your sins, they can’t…because they’re yours. The suffering we cause, the inequities we propagate, the unfairness and misery of a world split between those who have and those who don’t, those are all our responsibility, and no one else’s, especially not a paingod who feeds on grief and regret and sorrow and harm.

That’s not rape! It’s “intercourse marriage”

You know, one of the tough things about being a jihadist is that you get all these…urges, yet all the freedom fighters around you are covered with beards and body hair. And of course, as a devout, pious Muslim you also want to maintain your purity. What to do, what to do?

An Islamic cleric has come up with an answer! A fatwa that sanctifies rape!

Muhammed al-Arifi, a Wahhabi religious cleric, officially calls this act an “intercourse marriage” that can last only a few hours – “in order to give each fighter a turn” — and restricts the men to Syrian females at least 14 years old, widowed or divorced.

Al-Arifi, expressed his annoyance at the "warriors of Islam" being denied sexual pleasures while fighting in Syria “alongside the armed opposition forces” for the past two years. He said this fatwa "solves [their] sexual problems" and “boosts the determination of the mujahideen in Syria and is considered a duty to enter paradise for those females who enter such marriages.”

Hey, rape victims! You weren’t being brutalized: you were entering a kind of marriage that will win you a spot in paradise once you’re dead!


Taslima beat me to it.


This story has been retracted by the source.

MOOCs in perspective

I like the idea of MOOCs — massive open online courses — as ways to help spread the information at universities to a wider public. I don’t like the idea that these can replace real universities, though. It buys into the assumption that what universities deliver is big brains talking at a passive audience, when that’s only a small part of the experience. Scicurious is unimpressed, too.

Look, you want to learn? These online courses are a good supplement, and give you an opportunity to hear from experienced instructors. But if you really want to dig deep, there’s the disciplined grind as you try to master the minutia of a subject, there’s the hands-on lab experience, there’s give-and-take with peers and professors that you really need to bring it home. MOOCs just don’t do that.

Briefing from the radioactive badlands of the American Southwest, 1954

[We are fortunate to have this transcript, taken by a company stenographer, from one of the early efforts of the resistance to instruct an army company in tactics. Although we now have more sophisticated technologies to hold these invaders in check, it is instructive too see how the American military in the 1950s struggled to cope with an unusual enemy, a struggle that was described in an excellent documentary produced by Warner Bros.]

Men — and ladies — the purpose of this briefing is to instruct you in the basic anatomy of the enemy. We have lost many soldiers to the assumption that these are just elephant sized beasts and that this is an exercise in big-game hunting; post-mortem analysis has found that many wounds that appear as if they should be instantly lethal actually miss major organs and allow the monsters to rampage on relatively unimpaired. I am here to shake up your assumptions and give you better targeting instruction so that you will more effectively kill the enemy.

Get this out of your heads right now. These are not overgrown familiar animals. These are giant ants.

[Read more…]

Neither bullied nor cajoled

Michael Nugent has been accused of being “bullied or cajoled” into his support for women in the atheist movement. It’s strange that people think a small group of bloggers have that much power and influence, and it’s also obvious that anyone making that accusation doesn’t know Nugent at all. So he has written a post denying that he has been pressured, and repeating the seriousness of the problem.

There is also the wider context of sexism in general. If we as men faced this pattern of sick online abuse simply because of our gender, I suspect that we would urgently take action to tackle the problem. If we fail to take the same action when women face this problem, our inaction reinforces prejudice and discrimination against women generally. We may not mean to do that, and we may not even be aware of it, but the impact of our inaction remains the same.

Tackling sexism is a complex problem, with no magic answers. We should rigorously analyze the extent of sexism in our communities, both online and offline, and we should test and refine the best ways to eradicate it. But we must not deny that it exists, or reinforce it with prejudice and discrimination. Instead we should actively work to create inclusive, safe and supportive communities, in which we can live together as equals, regardless of our race, gender, sexuality or ability levels.

And we should work together on this so that, ultimately, we never again have a fifteen year old atheist girl excitedly posting online about her Christmas present of a Carl Sagan book, then reading crude comments about adult men wanting to have sex with her, and having to respond: “Dat feel when you’ll never be taken seriously in the atheist/ scientific/ political/ whatever community because you’re a girl. :c ”

I can tell you why he takes this position, though: because he is a decent human being. That also tells you what I think of the people who oppose this new emphasis on equality in the atheist/skeptic movements.