I can’t take Slavoj Zizek seriously

cn: apologetics for sexual violence

I don’t know why, but YouTube keeps on recommending me videos about philosopher Slavoj Zizek.  For some reason as of late he has been held up as a great leftist thinker, the anti-Jordan Peterson.  No, seriously, he’s apparently planning to debate Jordan Peterson or something.  Hard pass.

Honestly, I hate the guy.  The first and only time I had cause to encounter Slavoj Zizek, was in relation to the controversy over Avital Ronell.  (I don’t feel like finding all the relevant links, so you’ll have to accept my own disjointed commentary and the links therein.)  Avital Ronell sexually harassed students for years, and when someone stepped forward, Slavoj Zizek was one of many academics signing a petition defending her, basically on the grounds that it would be such a shame if someone so important as Ronell were to face consequences.

The petition got leaked to the public, along with some rather damning evidence against Ronell, and many of the signatories (including Judith Butler) backed off.  Not Zizek!  He continued to defend Ronell in several editorials, claiming he was privy to additional evidence, that he refused to share.  I speculated that his “additional evidence” was that the victim reciprocated–which is irrelevant, the victim was coerced by the power imbalance.  Zizek later revealed that this was exactly his reasoning.

Sorry, I cannot take seriously a Marxist theorist, of all people, who cannot recognize a power imbalance right under his nose.  How can a professor who studies power be so ignorant of the sheer power that professors have over grad students?

Race in Horizon: Zero Dawn

Content note: This will contain minor spoilers only.  No guarantees about the comment section.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a 2017 video game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where robotic beasts roam the earth. The protagonist, Aloy, is an exile from the Nora, a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Aloy’s mission in life is to end her own exile, but as soon as she succeeds, she receives her call to adventure, and must venture out of Nora lands into Carja territory.

HZD has some genuinely interesting things to say about race, far surpassing my expectations for a big-budget video game. Here I will discuss how the game hits the mark on several issues. Then I’ll discuss how the game has been criticized for cultural appropriation of Native Americans. Finally, I will discuss my own criticism: Where the main game succeeds, the DLC pack The Frozen Wilds falls flat on its face.

Where Horizon: Zero Dawn succeeds

The first thing that stands out about HZD is its racially diverse cast. Behold:

A bunch of minor HZD characters

Credit: AbyssOfUnknowing. These are all minor characters, because the image was challenging people to name as many characters as they could remember.

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Religion as an axis of oppression

Earlier, when I was talking about the death of the New Atheist movement, and I mentioned the idea that New Atheism contained an implicit critique of social justice norms. In social justice, it is common to treat religion as just another axis of oppression, similar to race, gender, or orientation. Religious minorities, such as Muslims, are seen as an oppressed group. However, New Atheism problematized the social justice framing by pointing to the harm caused by religion. New Atheism wanted to make it socially acceptable to argue about religious beliefs.

So, I’m curious how this all rolled out, especially among readers who participated in New Atheism and then shifted towards social justice. How did you view religious minorities around five years ago? Have your views changed since then? If so, why?

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Against apologies

Disclaimer: This is not in response to any particular apology. This has been on my topics list for years.  Frustratingly, when I finally committed it to words, someone went and made a public apology, and I had to postpone this to avoid association.  So here we are.

The title, “Against apologies” can be interpreted in several ways, so I will clarify my meaning up front. There’s nothing wrong with people apologizing for things they’ve done wrong. There’s nothing wrong with accepting or rejecting those apologies. The thing I am complaining about, is when people demand public apologies, and then when the apology arrives, they pick out some small detail that they say shows the apology wasn’t really sincere. I think this is more often than not, a flimsy pretext to reject apologies no matter their content.

But I am not saying that we need to accept bad apologies.  Rather, I propose that if we’re going to reject an apology, then we don’t need to invent an excuse. For some kinds of wrongdoing, we may decide that no apology will ever be acceptable.  We should be unashamed to say so.

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Call your congress critters on SESTA/FOSTA

Remember when Tumblr decided to ban adult content? Well one thing I learned from all of that, is that it’s traceable to a specific set of laws, passed earlier this year, and which will begin to be enforced in January. I’m referring to SESTA & FOSTA.

I don’t really need to explain it, since Vox has already done a good job, and there’s a website dedicated to stopping SESTA & FOSTA. Here I give the short version.

SESTA & FOSTA are a pair of laws intended to fight sex trafficking. Under previous law, websites with user-created content could not be held liable for the civil wrongs of its users (however they are liable for federal crimes and intellectual property laws). SESTA & FOSTA add an exception, making websites liable for sex trafficking and sex workers who advertise services. Lumping together sex trafficking and sex work does not make sense.  And arguably this does not stop trafficking or sex work, but rather makes things less safe for sex workers and trafficking victims.

In any case, the proof is in the pudding that SESTA & FOSTA are too broad and vaguely written. Many tech companies, including very large ones that can certainly afford liability insurance, now think it’s too risky to host content that has even the vaguest resemblance to sex work. I mean, Tumblr banned illustrated porn. Facebook’s new content guidelines are so vague that they could include solicitations for dating, or even private banter between couples.

The upshot is that this passed congress without any significant opposition. The Senate voted 97 to 2, and the House voted 388 to 25. Clearly most of congress didn’t understand the implications of what they voted on. Call your representatives and let them know.

So you want to discredit an academic field

Perhaps you’re an evolutionary biologist who thinks evolutionary psychology is too panadaptationist. Or you’re a creationist who thinks evolutionary biology is the devil’s handiwork. Maybe you think Freud is fraud. Or you think climate science is fake news produced by lizards. Perhaps you find postmodern theory to be a bunch of anti-scientific babble. Or perhaps you have a bee in your bonnet about how gender studies believes in “cisnormativity” in “the workplace”.

No matter your target, whether your crusade is honorable, foolish, or malevolent, discrediting an entire academic field is a tall order. After all, an academic field is the work of many very educated people, and you barely have enough time to read even a few pages. You have difficulty understanding what Gibberish Studies is even talking about (which is of course one of your critiques!), and you have a life outside of attacking academics, and also your writing deadline is tomorrow. What to do?

If discrediting an entire academic field is too ambitious, then perhaps it is also too ambitious for me to write a comprehensive guide telling you how to do it. This might fit into the demarcation problem in philosophy, but it’s an unsolved problem–anyway, who has time to read all that philosophy? I give you something more low-brow, simply a list of practical tips.

1. Get a degree

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Reason is a powerful aesthetic

I feel like we’re living in a golden age of YouTube vlogging. Every month my link roundup seems to include Lindsay Ellis, Contrapoints, or the like, because they make powerful arguments, and they’re very entertaining. This past month, ContraPoints posted a video called “The Aesthetic”, which I felt was worthy of a longer comment.

The video asks, “What matters more—the way things are or the way things look?”

Justine: I’m not against reason. Reason is a very powerful aesthetic. If you’re a man.
Tabby: What if you’re a woman?
Justine: Oh, don’t be a woman. That’s not a good idea.

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