Image over substance

[cn: CSA, sexual assault]

Actor Kevin Spacey was recently accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy. The incident was 30 years ago. Kevin Spacey, didn’t he play the protagonist in American Beauty, a movie that all but celebrated pedophilia, and featured a repressed homosexual murderer? Oh, I guess people today mostly know him for his role in House of Cards.

Anyway… this story caught my eye because several friends were saying that Spacey had found the one time that it was inappropriate to come out as gay. See, in Spacey’s statement of apology, he added a paragraph saying that he was gay.

Yeah, so about that. It makes sense that he would say that, because after all, he was accused of sexually assaulting a boy, and had long been rumored to be gay. People were going to connect the dots. They already connected the dots in the article which first published the accusations! But I agree that it seems like a deeply inappropriate time to come out, because it comes across as an attempt to distract. Indeed, some news outlets ran stories that mentioned the coming out first, and the accusations second. Although, looking at Google news results, I suspect this was the exception to the rule. If the intention was to distract, it probably just drew more media attention.

I want to talk about how some people criticized Spacey for the wrong reasons. Yes I know that sounds pedantic. Really who cares if some people come to the correct conclusion for wrong reasons? The reason I care, is because I care about the issue of sexual assault in the context of queer men. And some commentators? They seem to care more about image over substance.
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Who is #metoo for?

[cn: non-explicit discussion of sexual harassment and assault]

A week ago, there was the #metoo campaign. It called for people who had experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment to say “me too” on social media, so that we might realize how common it is. It swept over Facebook for quite a while, so presumably most readers have already heard of it; I’m just recapping so nobody feels left out.

I didn’t say anything on Facebook, but here I will say, “Me too.” I have been a victim of multiple counts of sexual assault, including rape. It’s not a big deal for me to come out and say this, because I have been open about it for years.

#Metoo was not a helpful campaign to me personally.  I did not desire to participate, and I did not learn anything from it.  I already knew lots of people have experienced sexual assault and harassment.  I mean, I work on the Asexual Community Survey and produce graphs like this one.

A plot of the percentage of people who experience sexual violence, broken down by age. It's around 30% for minors and approaches 70% for people in their 40s.

Please do not take the numbers on this graph literally, and do not duplicate the image without citation to the report that it comes from. There’s a lot of additional context that changes its interpretation.

The plot suggests that about 70% of the ace respondents to our survey will experience sexual violence of some kind in their lifetime.  It will be somewhat smaller in the general population, because the general population has more men and is less queer.  (In our own survey, the straight non-ace people had rates that were about 10% smaller.)  But no matter how we cut it, we’re talking about a very significant fraction of the general population.  And that doesn’t even include sexual harassment!

This is all to say, if you really want to know how widespread sexual assault and harassment is, you can just look those numbers up.  Believe those numbers.  Internalize them.  Now just pretend that X% of your friends said, “Me Too,” and you can save them the trouble of actually having to do it.

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A melondrama

On the topic of celebrity drama, I follow the YouTube channel The Needle Drop, run by music critic Anthony Fantano. Fantano claims to be the most relevant music critic on the planet right now, and given his million subscribers, it may even be true. I have discovered a few great artists through him, and have even linked to him a couple times from here.

Recently, the Fader published an article that claims that Fantano has a lesser known channel that panders to the alt-right. If you want to see a shorter and more neutral article, I also recommend this article on Junkee.

As a follower of Fantano, most of the accusations seem unfair.

First, some background. Anthony Fantano has at least three YouTube channels. theneedledrop, with a million subscribers, publishes music reviews and a few thinkpieces. fantano, with 180k subscribers, publishes mostly reactions to music industry news. thatistheplan, with 400k subscribers, publishes meme stuff.  Or it did, before it was taken down.

I didn’t know what was actually on thatistheplan, because I only followed the other two channels, and blocked thatistheplan practically immediately after it came up in recommendations. I found it exceedingly obnoxious, although that isn’t a strike against it. Plenty of YouTubers make content that I am not interested in. Anyway, Fantano took thatistheplan down, saying YouTube policies were preventing him from monetizing it, and it wasn’t worth the drama.

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On furries, and against humor

One of the advantages of being an utterly serious person who never cracks a joke, is that I never let humor get in the way of facts. When it comes to “weird” subcultures like furries, it seems like a lot of people only see the humor, and can’t be bothered with facts. It’s easy to forget that furries are a subculture that actually exist, and therefore, your beliefs about them can be true or false.

You don’t really need to know much about furries, just like you don’t really need to know much about anime fandom, or death metal fandom. I don’t know much about furries, and I’m not writing this article from a perspective of greater knowledge. But it’s always important to remember, beyond the fog of your ignorance, there are actual facts to be known. You could look them up on Wikipedia at any time. There are academic studies on this subject, for real.

It may be helpful to compare furry fandom to Harry Potter fandom. In Harry Potter fandom, there are certainly some sexual fantasies going around, Harry/Draco being one of the most common slash pairings on AO3. But for some reason, Harry Potter fandom doesn’t get branded as a fandom that’s all about sex, while furry fandom does. Relative to Harry Potter fans, furries are a “marked” group. Anything that ever appears in conjunction with furries tends to stick around as an association, especially if it’s something that’s negative and confirms our already-held biases. In the mean time, the fact that the more mainstream Harry Potter fandom includes a lot of slashfic is taken for granted, or ignored entirely.

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On the social construction of electrons

One interesting fact about electrons is that they are all literally identical. And I really do mean completely and literally identical, in the sense of sharing all properties. Yes, even the spatial distribution of their wavefunctions.

To illustrate how this is possible, consider a simple scenario, where we have two electrons, one at point A, and the other at point B. At first it would seem that electron 1 has a different location from electron 2. But in fact, the universe is in a quantum superposition of two states–the first state has electron 1 at A and electron 2 at B, while the second state has electron 2 at A and electron 1 at B. So even though we observe electrons at two distinct locations, the two electrons involved are actually identical.

The fact that electrons are identical has really important consequences.  One consequence is the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that no single state can be occupied by two electrons simultaneously. So when we have a large atom, electrons will occupy many different orbitals of the atom, instead of having all electrons occupy the one orbital with lowest energy.

Of course, it’s not really practical to think of it this way all the time. Generally we prefer to think of each electron as being at a distinct location, and then we tack on additional rules like the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

The point is that the individuality of electrons is an idea that arises from practical necessity, and not from the fundamental physics. Practical necessities arise from social context. And in principle, a different social context could have different needs that are better fulfilled by some other way of thinking about it. Therefore, the concept of individual electrons is a social construct.

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What is identity politics? An empirical investigation

Every time I see people making disparaging remarks about “identity politics”, I wonder what that means. It sounds like a meaningless buzzterm, like “political correctness”. It sounds like an attack on any minority groups that dare to politically advocate for themselves.

But where did the term originate? How did it become popular? Which minority groups is it directed at? Has its use changed over time? Here I perform an empirical investigation using Google.

A line plot of the popularity of search terms over time.

Source: Google trends. This tracks the popularity of search terms over time.

As can be seen from above, the term “identity politics” has been around for a long time. I looked as far back as Google trends allows (back to 2004), and it’s still there. However, there was a big spike in popularity in November 2016–the month that Trump was elected. There’s also a broad hump around January-February 2017, and a more recent spike in August 2017. I will investigate each of these time periods by sampling from time-constrained google searches.

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Nazi punchers don’t need permission

Ever since some guy was recorded punching Richard Spencer in the face, there’s been a public conversation about whether it’s appropriate to punch Nazis.  From the start, what seemed odd to me about this conversation is how abstract it is.  The vast majority of people who are in favor of punching Nazis are not literally going out there and punching Nazis.  And now that we’re seeing literal Nazi demonstrations, I believe we will discover that it’s not for lack of opportunity.  I’m left wondering what exactly the argument is about.

If I said I advocated punching Nazis, I would feel disingenuous, given that I’m not actually doing it.  There is an alt-right rally in Berkeley tomorrow, just a few blocks from here, and I did not have any plans to punch anyone.  As for other people, they’re going to punch Nazis or not punch Nazis regardless of what I say about it.  They don’t need my permission.

I think the argument is basically about whether we should offer moral support for Nazi punchers.  So here are my thoughts on that.

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