Problematic fiction, and action

Lately, I’ve been seeing discussions of “anti-shipping” hit mainstream, for example in a Kotaku article trying to connect it to the latest video game controversies. I’m separated by two degrees from any anti-shipping arguments, but I’m aware it’s a clusterfuck, so I’m a bit apprehensive about this new attention. People who are involved in anti-shipping flame wars are notorious for pulling in complete strangers to the subject, and coercively classifying them on one side or the other. It’s a nasty flame war I prefer to keep at arms distance, although I find some of the underlying questions to be interesting.

Briefly, anti-shippers (or simply “antis” if you want to be enigmatic and ungoogleable) are people with moral objections to certain kinds of problematic ships. The precise content of anti-shipper or pro-shipper stances is slippery, but in my understanding anti-shippers commonly object to ships with characters that are canonically minors, and even label it pedophilia. If you’re familiar with the dominant culture in fanfic (AO3 in particular), and their habit of shipping basically every pair of characters, you can see how the disagreement is substantial and significant.

This raises several questions. What exactly counts as problematic or not? What does it mean to have a moral objection to problematic content, vs just not liking that content, or not wanting to be exposed to it? Once we’ve identified problematic content, what actions do we advocate taking in response? As a writer who has occasionally critiqued works of fiction from a social justice perspective, it is that last question that fascinates me.

[Read more…]

Mixed race in the 2020 US Census

TL;DR: The 2020 US Census shows a very large increase in the “Two or More Races” group. However, at least some of this likely has to do with changes in the question design and coding procedures, and shifting constructions of race.

The US Census construction of Race

When the US Census asks about race and ethnicity, it tries to reflect the way that racial/ethnic identity is constructed in the United States, but it also has to obey certain constraints. As a result there are some outstanding differences between race as it is constructed by US residents, and race as it is constructed by the US Census. For example, Middle Eastern Americans often do not identify as White, and are not perceived as White (and I suspect this perception has increased since 9/11), but in the US Census they are still classified as white.

Another outstanding difference is in how the US Census defines “race” vs “ethnicity”. According to the Census, “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” and its negation are the only ethnic categories, and are excluded from the racial categories. I can say from my own experience with surveys, that this system is really weird, and causes no end of confusion among respondents.

[Read more…]

A retraction

I am publicly retracting and apologizing for a blog post I published on my blog A Trivial Knot in March of 2020. That post is “Trump’s Atrocious Trolley Tradeoff“. The essay contained a political discussion of the pandemic, and speculation on possible outcomes, and most regrettably, a comparison to the number of deaths in the Holocaust. This problem with this was pointed out by my (now former) coblogger and friend Sara, whom I treated rudely. Afterwards, Sara chose to disassociate herself with The Asexual Agenda, and the local ace meetup group.

The reason this has been much delayed is that Sara asked me not to explain why she left. However, I could have still retracted the essay without mentioning her. In any case, Sara has finally come forward to explain the problem.

[Read more…]

“Latinx” and intersectionality

Since the issue at hand is about how to refer to people in the US of Latin American origin or descent, and since I am deliberately not favoring any particular word, in this post I will use “Latino/x/e” to describe this group.

In a previous post, I discussed why we grant members of a group special authority to talk about issues related to that group. In this post, as a case study, I examine the word “Latinx”, a contentious gender-neutral term for people of Latin American origin or descent. It’s commonly argued that this word should not be used, on the basis that Latino/x/e people themselves don’t like it, and presumably they have special authority to speak on the matter. I’ve also heard people say that “Latinx” must be coming from misguided non-Latino/x/e people.

As an example of these arguments, there was a recent NYT essay that argued that “Latinx” fails because it is rejected by 97% of Latino/x/e people in the US.

But something that the essay completely ignores, is that “Latinx” has strong associations with specifically queer Latino/x/e people. This is acknowledged by the Pew Research poll that the essay is based on:

The first substantial rise in searches [for “Latinx”] (relative to all online searches) appeared in June 2016 following a shooting at Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQ dance club in Orlando, Florida, that was hosting its Latin Night on the date of the attack.

[Read more…]

Direct expertise in social justice

In a social justice context, it’s taken as a standard principle that when talking about group X, the ultimate authorities are members of group X. From this principle, people draw a variety of conclusions and cultural practices. For example:

  1. If someone is a part of group X, then we should take their opinion on the subject seriously.
  2. When people say the wrong things about group X, we can infer that this comes from people who are not part of group X, who failed to listen.
  3. If you’re not part of group X, you should stop talking about them, instead amplifying the voices of people within that group.

The way I think about it, there’s a certain kind of expertise that comes from having direct experience with an identity. We might call it “direct experience expertise”, but I think just “direct expertise” has a nicer ring to it.

Direct expertise has justifications, but also limitations. Trusting experts is a useful and justifiable rule of thumb. However, like other forms of expertise, there are cases where experts are wrong, or where they disagree. I also find some of the conclusions listed above to be unwarranted. In this article, I’ll explore the source and scope of direct expertise.

[Read more…]

Reblogging, the root of evil

A straw on the camel’s back

“Cancel culture” is a bad and incoherent concept, run into the ground by conservatives who use it to attack any sort of cultural criticism from the left, while excusing any analogous criticism from the right. At the same time, I do see people on the left also use “cancel culture” as a way to discuss legitimately worrying problems, such as Twitter pileons. Such leftists do not necessarily accept the “cancel culture” framing uncritically, but you can’t not talk about it. You can’t talk about Twitter pileons without talking about cancel culture, because it’s burrowed into all our brains, and we’ll recognize it even if you don’t say it. And I don’t know what to do about that.

I have wondered if it might help if we just rename the problem. We’ve changed the name before; we used to call it callout culture, and now we call it cancel culture for some reason.  Although, that didn’t seem to help things at all.

Another approach is to shatter the “cancel culture” framework to pieces, and talk about the pieces individually. So, in the spirit of being the change I want to see, I will discuss just one piece: the reblog. Not really the root of evil–the title is hyperbole–but nonetheless an important structural element of the social media platforms that have it the worst.

[Read more…]

Art, success, and rewards

I recently read a story where an artist sold a recording for a flat fee, and then the song went on to become hugely popular, but the artist didn’t receive any royalties. It’s a familiar story of exploitation, especially of Black artists who systematically receive less credit than they are due in American music.

However, I was distracted by an alternative interpretation that came to mind. To some extent, the rights to royalties for a song is essentially a lottery ticket. Song popularity follows a power law distribution (I presume, based on how these things usually work), so that a few songs become extremely successful while the vast majority remain in obscurity. It makes sense to want to sell your lottery ticket–provided that you get a fair price for it. If you have a losing ticket–as most people do–then selling that losing ticket is a way to still make money.

[Read more…]