On panhandlers

Dear readers, what is your attitude towards panhandlers?

My husband and I have adopted different attitudes, with him preferring to completely ignore them, and me preferring to politely refuse them. I want to acknowledge their personhood, he is afraid of encouraging them to accost us further.

Maybe that doesn’t make a difference, as neither of us are offering money. I’ve given money to panhandlers a few times over… ten years, but this is an area where I reach moral satiation practically immediately. Giving money to panhandlers feels so bad, because I overthink it afterwards. My whole life I’ve been told that charity feels good but you know what it doesn’t so stop lying to me.

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People sure are judgmental about food

Some years ago, I read an article about how millennials are killing breakfast cereal or something, and I made the mistake of reading the comments. Surprisingly, it was less millennial bashing, and more older readers looking down on cereal. Something something nutrition, something obesity epidemic, something something overpriced processed foods. This article isn’t the one I remember but has comments along the same lines.

Disclosure: I eat cereal every day. It’s cheaper and easier than most options, there’s enough diversity in brands that I don’t get tired of it. Personally I don’t buy the sugary cereals, except to mix with less sugary cereals. I wouldn’t care if it was linked to obesity, and judging by the first meta-analysis I found, cereal is actually negatively correlated with being overweight.

To be fair, it’s a fine line between explaining your preference in foods, and moralizing your preference in foods. But I get the impression that these commenters don’t care a bit about walking that line.

My impression is that commenters, without realizing it, are basically complaining that cereal is too low class for them. Which seems misplaced on an article talking about how millennials (who are on average poorer) are eating less cereal.

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After atheism, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop

In New Atheism: The Godlessness that Failed, Scott Alexander explains how New Atheism was a much bigger phenomenon than younger people realize, and theorizes about its demise.  Scott’s hypothesis is that New Atheism seamlessly transitioned into the social justice movement (while leaving the remaining atheist movement behind with all the anti-social-justice folks).  I don’t entirely agree, but I’ve advocated similar theories myself.

But as much as I enjoy theorizing about the demise of New Atheism, I’d like to highlight a point Scott makes in his conclusion:

I’ve lost the exact quote, but a famous historian once said that we learn history to keep us from taking the present too seriously. This isn’t to say the problems of the present aren’t serious. Just that history helps us avoid getting too dazzled by current trends, or too swept away by any particular narrative.

The “current trend”, the current paradigm of the culture wars, is social justice.  As a former atheist activist, and current social justice activist, I am perpetually concerned that social justice will crash and burn the same way atheism did.  I mean, isn’t it practically guaranteed?  Do you really think that 10-20 years down the road, people will be concerned about the same things?

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Paper: On the Racialization of Asexuality

Every month I repost an article from my archives.  Since this week is Ace Week, I thought it might be appropriate to repost one of my articles about asexuality.  This is a fairly recent article, from 2018, summarizing an academic paper from 2014.

I borrowed a copy of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which is an anthology of scholarly articles published in 2014.  Sennkestra wanted to write summaries of each chapter, but ran out of time, so now I’m doing that.  For the first chapter, I selected “On the Racialization of Asexuality“, by Ianna Hawkins Owen.  You might remember the author from our interview with her several years ago.

In the introduction, Owen says,

Many authors have claimed, in one way or another, that “little or no” scholarly attention has been directed to asexuality in humans prior to the twenty-first century.  In response to such observations, I offer that asexuality as a concept has long been invoked in the study of race.

So what you can expect from this article, is the reinterpretation of historical images and ideas as “asexual”.  Now, this is something that ace activists commonly complain about in  academic approaches to asexuality: using overly broad definitions of asexuality in order to include historical examples that at best are irrelevant to the modern day, and at worst are basically stereotypes.

But this is different!  Owen writes about historical stereotypes and misunderstandings of asexuality, and explicitly describes them as such.  Then she shows evidence that these misunderstandings still influence reactions to asexuality today.

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Cancel culture and celebrity worship

“Cancel culture” is an alleged pattern in progressive spaces, wherein people boycott the work of someone who is said to have done something problematic. For a mainstream perspective on cancel culture, I suggest The New York Times, and for a perspective more critical of the concept, I suggest The New Republic.

I won’t review all the arguments surrounding “cancel culture”, but will draw a comparison to the adjacent concept of “callout culture”. Callout culture is also an alleged pattern in progressive spaces, but instead of boycotting problematic people, it was about the harassment of problematic people. Callout culture was extensively discussed circa 2015, when I made a linkspam about it. My feelings about it were mixed at best.

Whatever my feelings about “callout culture”, I feel that “cancel culture” is simply an inferior concept. Compared to harassment, boycotts are less obviously bad, and obviously less bad.

Furthermore, where the target of harassment could be anyone, the target of “cancellation” is almost always cultural creators who are very popular and successful. Their supposed punishment, is that they become less popular and successful–and yet they are still more popular and successful than either I or most of my readers. “Cancel culture” completely centers the top 1% of cultural creators. It is, essentially, a complaint that the gods among us are sometimes granted slightly shorter pedestals.
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What is a “positive male role model”?

On the subject of how feminism can do better to help men, one suggestion I’ve heard many times, is that we need to provide better role models for men.

Honest question: what does that even mean? I don’t understand what “role model” is, why I would want one, or how it would solve anything.  To me, “Who are your role models?” is a writing prompt they give you in elementary school, which was endlessly frustrating and never made the least bit of sense.

My frustration is compounded when people go on to suggest specific celebrities to be role models.  For example, “Terry Crews is a great guy, and a great model for 21st century masculinity.”  So, I know Terry Crews as someone who has done work against sexual violence, but that doesn’t make him a role model to me.  I’m confused about how that would even work.  Are you suggesting that I follow news about Terry Crews and imitate what little I can glean of his viewpoints and habits?  The solution to the crisis of masculinity is… more celebrity news?  Color me skeptical.

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In (reluctant) defense of the atheist movement

Something I hear people say, is that self-identified atheists, and “new atheists”, are terrible. They’re racist and sexist, and their main mission is to bring about the death of religion through a series of trite “gotcha” arguments. Now, as someone who was involved in “new atheism” from 2007 to 2017, and then quit for some of those very same reasons, I always want to say, “Yes, but also no.”

Yes, the atheist movement is terrible, but no it has not always been so, and is not wholly so. In particular, you should not assume that every self-identified atheist is just a Dawkins fanboy armed with a series of atheist proverbs. I mean, I participated in the atheist movement for a decade and I was in fact never a Dawkins fan, and I spent many years complaining about atheist proverbs myself. Yes, be critical of the atheist movement, but be careful that it doesn’t veer into stereotyping and sweeping generalizations.

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