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.

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Non-binary people who aren’t trans

As it says on the sidebar, one of my most important activist projects has been analysis of ace community demographics. More specifically, I volunteer expertise for the AVEN Community Census. As far as activism goes, it isn’t as glamorous as blogging, but IMHO the glamour of survey analysis is way underrated.

Anyway, let’s talk about the results on gender from 2014:

gender history

This figure was originally published here, but I made a slight revision. The width of each line is proportional to the percentage of the ace community. The color of each line indicates how many people in that subgroup identify as trans or unsure. “Other” refers to people who indicated that they were neither men nor women, but throughout this post I will refer to this group as non-binary.*

Within this figure is a cross-section trans politics. The biggest surprise to me was how few non-binary people identify as trans. But I should first offer brief comments about other features of the data.
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Love is chemicals, and I am grateful

The problem with a naturalistic world view is that everything is just a bunch of chemicals bouncing around, and nothing means anything. The only way to produce any meaning is if there are a few supernatural spirits bouncing around too.  You know, so they can moan about the meaning of life, the nature consciousness, and objective morality.  Or something like that.

But let’s be real. Chemicals are not “just” chemicals. Quarks and leptons can be quarks and leptons, while at the same time forming chemical structures. Likewise, a chemical can be a chemical, while at the same time forming a person. When we say that love is “just” chemicals, it is not a statement of fact, it is an aesthetic.

A common criticism of naturalism is that it forces us into the “just chemicals” aesthetic. But that’s just one of many aesthetics available to us. If you want to say “love is free yet binds us“, I don’t entirely know what that means, but it seems consistent with reality too. Aesthetics are a matter of preference.

“Love is just chemicals” is an aesthetic I prefer, and I think you should prefer it too. The chief point is that chemicals permit diversity. Love can be experienced in a variety of ways, or not at all, and that’s okay.
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Re: Necessity of sex-positivity

Fellow FTB blogger Great American Satan wrote a post called Sex Positivity: Still Necessary, which defends sex-positivity against asexual discourse.  This is a response from an asexual perspective.

First, some general comments:

  • I consider myself sex-positive.  However, because I participate in the ace community, non-sex-positive, or sex-negative views are within my Overton window.  I will offer some defenses of these views, but I ultimately agree with the thesis that sex positivity is still necessary.
  • If you read the comments on GAS’s post, there are a few from Elizabeth Leuw.  I will say basically the same things she does, but with fewer links.  This does not necessarily reflect a consensus view, it’s just that Elizabeth and I are on similar wavelengths.  She is one of my cobloggers on The Asexual Agenda.

Sex positivity in principle and practice

The central problem with sex-positivity is its supporters.  If you meet several sex-positive people, and all of them advocate for harmful messages (e.g. everyone should enjoy sex; no one should ever be grossed out by sex; more sexual content in the public sphere is necessarily better in the long run), you might reasonably disidentify with sex-positivity.  You might like sex-positivity in principle, but dislike in practice, and what it is in practice is important.  Or perhaps you think that the roots of its problems lie within its principles.

I will point out that this is not so different from the way many FTB readers disidentify with the skeptical or atheist movements.  You could decide that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and DJ Grothe are so bad that you want no part.  Or you could decide that you want to stay involved. [Read more…]

Rational ideals

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, whose theme this month is “Questioning your faith“.

Leaving religion was a rather unemotional process for me. There was no catalyzing event. I was interested in skepticism. I learned about philosophical arguments for God, and found them unpersuasive.  Without any real urgency, I spent a whole year thinking to myself, “Gee, there’s really no justification for belief in God, and there may never be.” At the end of the year, I considered myself an atheist.

Unlike leaving religion, leaving straightness was a far more emotional experience. And yet, I tried to treat it the same way. “Am I straight or am I asexual?” was an intellectual puzzle, to be approached under the same rational ideals.  It is not clear to me, after the fact, that this approach was a good idea.  Here I give a taste of my thought process.
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Celibacy, and its use by asexuals

This post is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda, and is written for a general audience.

“Asexuality is not the same as celibacy” is a common line in introductory explanations of asexuality, but as I discussed in an earlier post, mocking celibacy can still be asexual-unfriendly. Here I will go further in depth.

The distinction between asexuality and celibacy plays the same role that “born this way” plays for LGBT people. The purpose of each talking point is to establish that LGBT/asexual people did not choose their orientations. The slogans can be useful, particularly in hostile environments. However, if people become more accepting, if people realize it does not matter if it is chosen, perhaps we can move beyond slogans.

Aside from the politics, there is also a question to what extent it is really true that LGBT people are always “born this way”. If you look, you will find people who subjectively experienced a choice, people who emphasize that their identity or behavior are chosen, and people who would like an honest look at the empirical evidence.

Similar questions may be raised about asexuality and the extent to which choice plays a role in it. While asexuality and celibacy certainly have distinct meanings, we want to know exactly how far that distinction goes. For example, some people take that to mean that asexuals and celibates are non-overlapping groups. But is that really true?
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Before you mock celibacy, listen

Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy. This is something we can agree upon. However, when people mock celibacy, it can be done in a way that is particularly unfriendly to asexuals. This is a particularly common occurrence in atheist spaces, where people often make fun of clerical celibacy.

Nearly ever time I’ve ever raised the issue, the defense is that asexuality is not the same as celibacy. While true, I want to show why it is uncompelling as a defense.

The bottom line: It is okay to not have sex. First corollary: it is okay for asexuals to not have sex. Second corollary: it is okay for literally anyone else to not have sex.

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