The Black Lives Matter protests are about systematic police brutality and racism. In the face of such weighty issues, it seems petty to talk about mere language, potentially even a drain on activist energy. Nonetheless, I personally find language to be a stimulating topic rather than a draining one, and it can be used as a lens to engage with larger issues.

The larger issue here, is the relationship between anti-racism, and Asian Americans. Anti-racism in the US has largely focused on anti-Black racism, and to a lesser extent anti-Latinx and anti-Indigenous racism. Asian Americans–as well as people of other ethnicities/races/nationalities–tend to throw in some nasty complications, mucking up the clean generalizations people would often like to make. For example, asking people to recognize their White privilege just falls flat when the audience is simply not White.

And you should know, I’m not deliberately trying to trip up anti-racist activists. It’s not a gotcha. It’s just a fact about me, that I’m mixed race Asian American, and my list of privileges is somewhat different. The differences are sometimes important, sometimes not.

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Legalistic fixation in atheism

Something I’ve observed among atheists, is a narrow legalistic stance informed by separation of church and state. For example, saying religion is 100% fine until you bring it into government policy. Or, religion is completely acceptable unless you’re forcing it upon other people. This stance does not seem at all consistent to me, and it was a perpetual annoyance back when I participated in the atheist movement.

And you know, who cares anymore, the atheist movement is dead.

Nonetheless, it’s a pet peeve of mine, especially when I see the same reasoning applied other realms. Say, statues memorializing racists. Can you imagine believing that racist statues are 100% fine unless they’re on public property?

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When will we learn to do remote socializing?

When I was an undergrad, I would host discussion groups with the atheist student group. We’d basically just declare and describe a topic and let people shout out their thoughts one at a time. In retrospect, there are serious issues with this discussion structure.

The first problem is division. If you have twenty people, on average each person speaks one twentieth of the time. There’s some sort of ideal fraction of time that people would like to be speaking rather than listening, and that fraction is greater than 1/20. So even if the discussion structure works adequately for 10 people, it tends to break down at 20. This caps the size of the group, as meetings become less engaging the more people join.

The second problem is inequality. On average each person speaks one twentieth of the time, but the typical person speaks much less than that, and in practice the discussion is dominated a few loudmouths. And yes, the loudmouths are disproportionately men. The loudmouths find the discussion engaging, while most other people do not, and now you’ve selected a group of loudmouths who vie for attention while crowding everyone else out.

This is now the discussion structure adopted by practically every remote social event. I hate it so much.

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Riots and commemoration

As massive anti-racism protests erupted across the US (and the rest of the world as well) we had yet another public conversation about the value and significance of riotous actions within protests. My own social media environment is very progressive and supportive of the protests, but even there I saw some disagreement, as some folks argued that rioting was valuable and significant, and others argued that it was not a significant part of the mostly peaceful protests.

After about a week, the latter view seemed to win out, especially in light of the much more significant violence perpetrated by the police themselves. “The Police are Rioting. We Need to Talk About It” is an article title that about sums it up. At this point I feel like I’m addressing the topic too late. But there’s one argument that stuck in my head.

This one argument justified recent riots by comparing them to the Stonewall riots. In the US, June is Pride Month, which originated as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots clearly demonstrate the potential value of violent protest. On the other hand, the history of Stonewall is heavily mythologized, and there is a danger of drawing the wrong conclusions based on fiction.

Today I’d like to discuss a scholarly article: “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth” by Elizabeth A Armstrong and Suzanna M Crage (via belowdesire, who has many other informative articles). And I do recommend reading the entire article yourself if you have the time. By examining the history we can better understand the potential–and limitations–of riots.

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Link roundup: June 2020

Welcome to my monthly link roundup, where I share and comment links to interesting articles I’ve found in the last month.  Additionally, I will share links to my own writing that appeared elsewhere.

My writing

Carnival of Aces: Quarantine – This is a blogging carnival I hosted last month, which prompted ace writers to talk about their experiences during the pandemic.  While this was an event for ace bloggers, not all the articles have to do with asexuality.  There’s a pretty wide range of personal experiences here, if you’re interested.

græ tells painfully familiar stories– I did something unusual and wrote a lyrical analysis of Moses Sumney’s album græ.

Ace Day was Incompetently Organized – I engage in activist drama.  Probably not of interest to most people.

Interesting articles

How South Korea’s Nightclub Outbreak Is Shining an Unwelcome Spotlight on the LGBTQ Community | Time – In South Korea there was an outbreak associated with a gay nightclub.  This causes problems with their contact tracing strategy because people didn’t want to publicly out themselves.  It sounds devastating.  By the way, this story is from early May, but I haven’t really seen any updates in English news so I don’t know what happened.

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I dislike holidays

Special days (or weeks or months) make me feel burdened with the expectation that I can feel some sort of way on command. You tell me to celebrate, what I feel is bad. You tell me to feel grateful, what I feel is resentful. You tell me to be respectful, I am respectful enough to keep quiet about how I feel no different from before.

If I were to organize holidays into tiers, the top tier would consist of the major holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. While these holidays nominally are about feeling some particular way, they are more importantly, about doing something. They are designated times for family gatherings. Family gatherings are something we want to do anyway, but we can’t do it every day, thus the holiday serves a practical purpose.

The second tier is national holidays when we get off work. A work holiday is something you do, not something you feel. You can’t take work holidays every day, there’s some value in everyone taking off work on the same day, thus the holidays serve some practical purpose. Unfortunately, many of these holidays also ask us to feel respect or reverence for something, be it veterans or labor activists, Colombus or MLK, and that doesn’t really work on me.

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I read popular physics: Quantum Steampunk

This is an entry in my series where I read physics articles in Scientific American, and provide my weary perspective as a former physicist.

Today I’ll be discussing the article “Quantum Steampunk”, by Nicole Yunger Halpern, in the May issue of SciAm. This one is paywalled, but you can still check out the opening paragraph, in which the author appears to excerpt a paragraph from her latest novel.

It’s a bit indulgent, but hey, whatever works as a hook.

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