Seeing Job from both sides

The interesting thing about the biblical story of Job is that it permits diametrically opposed interpretations. From an atheist point of view, it’s a terrible story about how terrible God is. From a Jewish or Christian point of view, they may have multiple ways of reading it, but they certainly wouldn’t see it as a terrible story about a terrible God.

But what I really want to talk about is A Serious Man, a 2009 black comedy by the Coen brothers.  A Serious Man is a retelling of Job, and just like Job it permits diametrically opposed interpretations.  But unlike the book of Job, people on both sides can enjoy A Serious Man.

The book of Job

The book of Job is about a man named Job who has had a very fortunate life.  Satan tells God that the only reason Job praises him, is because of Job’s good fortune and wealth. God accepts the challenge, and allows Satan to take away Job’s wealth, his children, and his health. But Job still remains faithful to God. Thus proceeds a TL;DR dialogue between Job and his friends, where they argue that Job must have sinned, and should repent. At the end, God speaks to Job, and he doesn’t need to explain himself, he laid the foundations of the earth! In the end, Job is blessed with twice as much wealth as he started with, and with new children.

The book of Job is a popular target among atheists, because it’s just so easy. God is obviously a jerkass, allowing Job to be punished for a petty bet. God’s defense is like an abusive parent saying “Who was it that brought you into this world?” And the happy ending seems to brush aside Job’s dead children. I have to strain to see this story from the other side, but we’re gonna try.

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Rape is about power and sex

cn: non-explicit discussion of rape

“Rape is about power, not sex” is one of those old feminist sayings. I don’t know the exact source, but Psychology Today suggests that it might be simplified from statements by Susan Brownmiller in 1975.

In its simplified form, it’s obviously a political soundbite, a piece of rhetoric rather than a serious thesis. If I put on my philosopher hat, what does it even mean for X to be “about” Y? Is this about-ness relation commutative, reflexive, or transitive? Based on usage, I’m guessing that what people mean is that rape (and other sexual violence) is motivated by power relations, and not motivated by sexual desire. Which just isn’t always true, so I don’t know why people say it.

I recently discussed the case of Avital Ronell (who, to be clear, was found guilty of sexual harassment, not rape). One detail I didn’t mention, because it was irrelevant, was that the perpetrator was lesbian, and the victim was gay. This surprised some people, and I saw people on Twitter defending the perpetrator on this basis, or suggesting that she must really be bisexual. This comes from the false belief that sexual harassment must be motivated by sexual desire. In this case, it was motivated by the power relation between an advisor and grad student.

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Sexual economics, a theory in need of reworking

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  It’s just some good old-fashioned making fun of pseudoscientific nonsense.

Recently, my attention was caught by the idea of the “sexual marketplace”.  Specifically, there’s a theory of sexual economics created by Baumeister and Vohs.  If you’d rather not read the paper, the Austin Institute* made a fancy video about it:

*Apparently, it’s a think tank run by Mark Regnerus.  Yes, that Mark Regnerus.

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Asexuality on Breitbart

I’m going to make this short, because it’s Breitbart, there’s hardly any point.  I’m only talking about it because a friend was quoted in it.

Recently, Breitbart posted an article titled “Asexual” is a Hot New Sexual Identity In the San Francisco Bay Area.  Rather than doing their own journalism, they basically copy content from Mercury News, and add insinuations that asexuality is a ridiculous trend that is confined only to recent times, and to the San Francisco Bay Area.

They also spoke to an “expert” from Israel, the author of The Truth: A Pathway to the Subconscious.  She says:

My research shows that every person is divided into five different levels of being; the mental body, the feelings body, the emotional body, the spiritual body, and the sexual body. […] The people who define themselves as asexual, most of them are activated from a conditioning that says ‘sexuality equals delete’.

At first it looked like Breitbart quoted an “expert” to invalidate asexuality, but on second glance I believe they were trying to find someone ridiculous to “support” asexuality, in order to make asexuality look ridiculous.  But nobody in the ace community would take this woman seriously, and we can all see that it was Breitbart who thought she was worth talking to.

Breitbart also wrote about asexuality last year.  What?  I don’t follow Breitbart, I get Google alerts, okay?

Now it’s happening among feminist professors of literature

cn: sexual harassment

I saw a New York Times article titled “What Happens to #MeToo When a Feminist is Accused?” The answer, it turns out, is that academics close ranks and defend their own.

The article is about an NYU professor of literature, Avital Ronell, who was found by a Title IX investigation to have sexually harassed a former grad student, Nimrod Reitman. Some professors circulated a letter in support of Ronell, and a draft of the letter leaked. The letter appears to take the ludicrous position that Ronell should be judged on the quality of her scholarship, rather than the substance of the investigation.

The kicker is that the first signatory of the letter is Judith Butler.

Now I did a bit of research, and I found a small mitigating factor that I thought I should mention first before going into how terrible this is. Apparently, the signatories of the letter were given false information about the investigation. There was another leak of the letter soliciting professors for signatures in defense of Ronell. Signatories were told that Ronell had undergone a long investigation, which had cleared her of sexual harassment, and was moving on to non-sexual harassment charges. Ronell was apparently worried that she would be fired even if found innocent, and the letter was intended to support her under those circumstances.

One can hope that Judith Butler et al. will retract their defense of Ronell once they learn the findings of the investigation. But even if they do, for shame. These professors should know better than to lend their support to some professor under investigation for sexual harassment, when they know little about the case.

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I tried microtonal music and liked it

The pitch of a note is determined by its frequency, and frequency can vary within a continuous spectrum. And yet, in the western music tradition, we only use frequencies with discrete values. That’s not a bad thing, but it implies a whole world of possibilities not explored. Microtonal music, also known as xenharmonic music, sets out to make use of the unused frequencies.

I recently tried listening to a lot of microtonal music, because I discovered that you can find lots of it through the microtonal tag on Bandcamp. Sure, a lot of it isn’t very good because anyone can put music on Bandcamp, but there were enough gems that I continued to peruse the tag. I’ll share just two examples. First, I selected Brendan Byrnes, because I think his music has the most pop appeal, while also being unapologetically microtonal.

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