Accepting the Absurd–My Latest for Splice Today

I’m writing on the 16th anniversary of 9/11. Rather than tick off the obvious: where I was, changes in American culture and discussions about religion, I’ll relate how 9/11 first brought me face to face with the Absurd.

I first discovered existentialism shortly before 9/11. A friend at the time had a blog called “On Being and Nothingness,” and while she said there was no real reason for the title, I went to the library and started reading Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Soren Kierkegaard. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness was too much for me at the time, but I instantly connected with Camus’ more approachable style. It was Camus who first taught me about the Absurd: humankind’s futile attempt to find meaning in a life that has none. I was a Christian back then, so I thought Camus was just a nihilist and didn’t take him too seriously.

Then came 9/11. In the days following the attacks, I felt this deep unease in my stomach, as if all illusions of a moral arc bending towards justice suddenly disappeared. It didn’t help that 9/11 happened during my second week of college. Childhood was over, and I was entering an adult world full of violence and chaos, one falling apart underneath an apathetic sky. Maybe Camus was right all along, I thought.

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WDYT?: Is Hate Speech Free Speech?

CN: Racist slurs/slogans

In the wake of the Charlottesville rally, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not hate speech is free speech. Maybe I’m just a Regressive Leftist who wants to censor everyone who triggers me, but I don’t think there’s a simple answer.

First, let’s define what hate speech actually is. As Andrew Torrez told Morgan and I on the Biskeptical Podcast a few months ago, the law usually defines hate speech as any hateful speech that directly leads to violence. In other words, it’s one thing to stand on a stage and say white people are the superior race; it’s something completely different to stir up a crowd of white supremacists to go out and commit violence against ethnic minorities right there and then. This is pretty much John Stuart Mills’ approach to free speech. He believed there should be no government censorship whatsoever even when it comes to the most bullshit and inane ideas, but he also said “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

I agree for the most part, but I do have some questions.

Technically anyone can say “Blood and soil” and “1488” on social media, even if they’re not serious. So if someone says “Blood and soil” on Twitter as either a joke or just to vent but has no intention of actually going out and murdering Jews, would that still fall under the category of hate speech? By that I mean should the government get involved, or is it best for regular folks to use their free speech to say, “Hey man, that’s racist as fuck”? I think in this situation it’s best to use your free speech to call out hateful speech because even though hateful speech like that doesn’t directly incite violence, it indirectly feeds into a culture of violence.

I hate to quote Sam Harris, but he was right about one thing: beliefs have consequences. If you feed into a culture that says certain minorities are inferior to others, you create a culture of discrimination, hatred, and, ultimately, violence. Language itself can be violent, but I like to think in this case the best thing to do is use your free speech to condemn hateful speech without the government getting involved.

Charlottesville is where things get tricky. Not only were the white supremacists chanting “The Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” but according to the people who were there, they also came with bats, brass knuckles, shields, and other weapons. They were ready to fight. Would their chants of “Blood and soil” and “The Jews will not replace us” count as hate speech in this case? Should the government keep a closer eye on future white supremacist rallies (not that the government cares about black and brown people, of course)?

What do you think?

Bi Any Means Podcast #102: Embrace the Void with Aaron Rabinowitz

My guest for today is Aaron Rabinowitz, co-host of the new podcast Embrace the Void. Here’s what the official description of the show says: “Welcome friends, to a podcast for a darker timeline. Maybe the darkest of all timelines. Definitely not one of the good timelines. Maybe it’s always been a dark timeline, maybe the Hadron collider screwed us over. Science may never know. What we do know is that we live in the void. The void, a place where a chittering mass of void crabs can infest a person suit and win the presidency. The void, a place where we’re just clever enough to know that climate change is happening, but not quite clever enough to do anything about it. The void seems terrible and cruel, but it loves you, in its own ironic way.” So today we’re going to talk about philosophy, religion, and what it means to embrace the Void.

Listen to “Bi Any Means Podcast” on Spreaker.

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Is Gender a Social Construct? Kinda

“Social construct” is one of those weird terms that gets tossed around a lot online without knowing what exactly it means. A lot of people think “social construct” means “made up” or “fictional,” but it’s more complicated than that. Now I’m not a sociologist, so don’t take my word as gospel, but based on what I’ve read, hopefully I can clear up some things.

For starters, according to Dictionary.com, a social construct is “a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’through cultural or social practice.” Wikipedia goes a bit deeper and explains, “A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event.” So when it comes to gender being a social construct, it means our society’s ideas about what it means to have either a penis or a vagina are determined by society, not necessarily biology.

Simone deBeauvoir sums it best with the classic line from The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” To be a woman in society is to meet certain preconceived expectations and roles, and if you don’t meet those roles, society says you’re not doing it right. Judith Butler echoes deBeuvoir’s observation by explaining “gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time–an identity through a stylized repetition of acts.” Hence, according to Butler, gender is performative.

Unfortunately, the social construction argument overlooks one key factor that goes into gender: the scientific basis for gender identity.

As I’ve mentioned before, several studies show a connection between neurological patters and gender identity, so the catchphrase “gender is a social construct” doesn’t always show the full picture. I think trans activist and biologist Julia Serano explains it better than I can:

While [queer theory and post-structuralist] feminism differs from [identity-politics-focused/cultural] feminism in many ways, it shares its predecessor’s tendency to artificialize gender expression. This is often accomplished via gender performativity, a concept developed by Judith Butler to describe the way in which built-in expectations about maleness and femaleness, straightness and queerness, are constantly imposed on all of us. Butler uses the term “performativity” to highlight how feminine and masculine norms must constantly be cited. She uses the example of the child who becomes “girled” by others at birth: She is given a female name, referred to with female pronouns, given girl toys, and will, throughout her life, have her “girlness” cited by others in society. Butler argues that this sort of reiteration “produces” gender, making it appear “natural.” However, many other [queer theorists and post-structuralist] feminists have interpreted Butler’s writings to mean that one’s gender is merely a “performance.” According to this latter view, if gender itself is merely a “performance,” then one can challenge sexism by simply “performing” one’s gender in ways that call the binary gender system into question; the most often cited example of this is a drag queen whose “performance” supposedly reveals the way in which femaleness and femininity are merely a “performance.”

In other words, the idea that gender is just performance doesn’t tell the full story.

I think a better way of explaining it is this: gender identity has a scientific basis, but gender roles are social constructs. Rosey Grier isn’t less of a cis man because he crochets. Dori Mooneyham isn’t less of a trans woman because of her butch presentation. AFAB non-binaries are no less non-binary if they present as feminine. Society may say they’re not performing their genders right, but that’s because our society has some fucked up views about what it means to be either a man or a woman. We’re better than this, right?

So yeah, hopefully this clears things up some.

Bi Any Means Podcast #67: Women in Secularism 4

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Today’s episode is a collection of short interviews I did with some of the speakers and attendees of last week’s Women in Secularism 4 conference in Arlington, VA. Women in Secularism is a yearly conference put on by the Center for Inquiry where a diverse group of women talk about what it means to be a secular woman, not just in theory but in practice. This year’s convention featured conversations about why there aren’t many out secular women, what it means to matter, and a heated yet still interesting discussion about the safe space debate. I wasn’t able to interview everyone I wanted to, but I did manage to snag a few great speakers, so today we’re gonna hear from blogger Dr. Ashley F. Miller, American Humanist Association president Rebecca Hale, Yvette d’Entremont the SciBabe, philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and ex-Muslim activist Maryam Namazie.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #63: Why Philosophy Matters with Dan Finke

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My guest for today is blogger and philosophy professor Dan Finke. According to his bio, he was an adjunct assistant philosophy professor at Hofstra University, City College of New York (CUNY), and Hunter College (CUNY). He also was a teaching fellow and then a teaching associate at Fordham University. He also spent a lot of time as an adjunct professor at William Paterson University, St. John’s University, Fairfield University, and back at Fordham University. In 2014, he left adjunct teaching to start his own online teaching business, and his blog Camels with Hammers can be found on Patheos. So today we’re going to talk about his background, his blog, and why philosophy matters.

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