My beetle is an elephant

This is a repost of an article from less than a year ago, which went on The Asexual Agenda.  I was recently reminded of this article, and I intend to say more on the subject.

Sciatrix once created an influential metaphor for attraction: it’s like everyone has an invisible elephant that only they can see.  These invisible elephants are apparently very important in society, but hardly anyone can be bothered to describe them because it’s assumed that everyone has their own elephant and can see for themselves.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, once described a thought experiment: Suppose that everyone has a box with a “beetle” inside it, but each person can only see their own “beetle”.  Wittgenstein argues that when we talk about “beetles”, we are only referring to that which is in the box.  It doesn’t matter if the boxes actually contain different things, or if the things change over time, or if the boxes are actually empty.  (watch this video)

That feeling when philosophical thought experiments become directly applicable to your daily life. [Read more…]

Japanese “herbivore men” hold a mirror to our culture

This is a repost of an article from 2013. There were a lot of comments on this one, probably because it upset MRAs.  To MRAs I say, cry more.

Herbivore men briefly explained

The Japanese subculture of “herbivore men” seems to hit the news every so often.  Here is a recent example in the Guardian: Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?  What exactly is going on over there?

I’m no expert in Japanese culture, but my coblogger on The Asexual Agenda, Queenie, is an expert.*  I will defer to what she’s written about herbivore men.  My summary: In Japan, men are expected to be “carnivores”, aggressively pursuing relationships with women.  But many men in metropolitan areas have become “herbivores”, being less assertive in relationships, more sensitive, and even willing to be friends with women (in Japan this is a big deal).  And there’s probably other stuff as well, like their attitude towards money, jobs, and fashion.  Women of course are expected to be herbivores to begin with, although there is also talk of carnivore women.

*She’s actually an expert in Japanese religion, but close enough.

In Japan, herbivore men are sometimes the subject of moral panic because they’re not forming relationships, are defying Japanese gender roles, and may be contributing to the declining birth rate.  Cry me a river I say.  People aren’t obligated to make babies just to uphold the national birth rate, and if Japanese people really wanted population growth so badly they could try being less racist and accept more immigrants.

In the English speaking world, the reaction to herbivore men is… different.  Sometimes, the reactions really say more about our own culture than about Japanese culture.

Here I will briefly show the reactions coming from three different groups: mainstream news, asexuals, and men’s rights activists. [Read more…]

Ace webcomics you should read

Today’s the last day of Asexual Awareness Week.  I don’t do many things for AAW, except this survey thing.  There’s a sample of AAW activities in this linkspam.

But today, I have a small bonus: webcomics with ace characters.  Although ace characters in fiction are in general quite sparse, webcomics have been an exception.  There are more webcomics with ace characters than I can keep track of!  This is great for me, because I am occasionally picky.

For a more complete list of webcomics with ace characters (including much more obscure examples), I recommend the LGBT webcomics list.  To avoid “archive binge”, I use Comic Rocket to bookmark pages and generate custom RSS feeds.

[Read more…]

Take my survey!

I volunteer for the Ace Community Census, an annual community survey.  The survey is open anyone over the age of 13, both asexual and non-asexual people.  The purpose of this survey is to measure various demographics of the asexual community in order to create an annually updated database of quantitative information which can be used for future asexual research.

The 2016 Ace Community Census is run by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) Survey Team. If you have any questions or concerns about the survey, you can contact the AVEN survey team at  You can also ask me directly, for a more informal response.

Click here to take the 2016 Ace Community Census!

For answers to common questions about the survey, please see the FAQ here.

You may share this, but I’m going to specifically ask that PZ Myers not share it.

Data feels

cn: rape, sexual violence, & CSA juxtaposed with cold data. This is being crossposted to my other blog.

Some of my most important activist work is in volunteering technical skills for the Asexual Census, a survey of English online ace communities. This past week, I’ve been on a roll analyzing our 2015 survey. No numbers will be reported here, this is just a personal account.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as I was done with prep work, my attention was drawn to the statistics on sexual violence. As a programmer, I’ve been trained to always use descriptive variable names. Now I’m looking at variables named “rape” and “rapeCombined”.
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Better identity labels

Last month, I said I didn’t care for most atheist models of identity. For example, I hate the “weak”/”strong” atheist distinction. I am not too fond of the gnostic/agnostic atheist/theist scheme. Dawkins’ 1 to 7 scale is okay though.

My views on identity label schemes is largely informed by my participation in asexual discussions. Asexual communities are renowned for making up new words and models. For example, one person might identify as heteroromantic demisexual gray-ace, and another as gray panromantic agender asexual. While these lists are often subject to mockery by Redditors, I find that they are far more intelligible and informative than, say, all the names we have for colors. Also note, for every successful asexual word, there have been many unsuccessful ones.  Everything goes through trial by fire.

The atheist community tends to be a lot less introspective about labels, which results in the persistence of bad identity label schemes. Here I’ll discuss some general qualities that you want identity schemes to have.
[Read more…]

In praise of the most important relationship

This is a repost of an (only slightly facetious) article I wrote in 2015.

Where much of fiction is devoted to the most tumultous kinds of relationships–those of lovers, family, and enemies–let us never forget that there is another kind of relationship which is much more important, and in fact essential to everyone’s daily functioning.  I speak, of course of the stranger.

I am infinitely grateful for all the strangers in my life, all seven billion of them.  I am enriched by the fact that they don’t know who I am, and waste no time thinking of me.  The great number of conversations we don’t have is a source of great joy.  And it’s heartening to think about how much we care about each other, under a thick layer of distant abstraction.  It’s a special kind of love, the kind that is tolerable in large quantities.

And yes it is true that I don’t mind losing a few strangers, that losing a stranger can even be a happy occasion.  But that’s just the kind of relationship that strangership is.  Another way of looking at it is that strangership is such an abundant gift that it’s no problem to skim a little off the top to form more mundane relationships.

[Read more…]