Biting the hand that feeds me: Why I am pro-church

One of the things I like the most about being a member of the freethought community is the fact that we, as members, prize debate and conversation above fawning civility. At least on the internet – maybe people are very different in meatspace. There are no sins in the freethoughtverse, except offering up a shitty argument. Doing that breaks the unwritten commandment of being a rational person: thou shalt not be boring. The inevitable outcome of a group of people all communicating with each other at the level of logical discourse is that oftentimes we see knock-down drag-out conflict over seemingly minor disagreements. Some people bemoan this fact – I revel in it. One of the ways we know that we are freethinking is when we disagree with each other – even those we deeply respect and whose views we otherwise share.

It is with that in mind that I say that I think PZ got this one wrong:

But freethinkers ought not to be shackled by rote and rites. And they especially should not be led by “chaplains” or whatever the hell they’re going to call them. No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests…not even atheist priests.

This was the conclusion of his post responding to an idea by Greg Epstein to create humanist ‘churches’ – secular institutions that perform the function that religious churches do, in much the same way. While I didn’t see the issue the way he did (I thought it was a nifty idea), I have been a Pharyngula reader long enough to know that I will get my ass handed to me for straw-manning or otherwise misrepresenting PZ’s position on an issue, so I waited to get a fuller explanation as to what the exact nature of his objection was. I participated briefly in the discussion on Twitter about the idea, but it quickly turned into a debate over optics and semantics, and I tuned out. Then I read this: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Special Investigation – Evolution

One of the things that drives me nuts is when people enter into an argument without actually listening to the other side’s perspective. When I was in high school we had instructions in how to debate, and one of the specific roles we were told to fill on our debate teams was to have someone whose job was to pretend to be on the other team. The idea was that this person would become an expert at the arguments that the other side was likely to use, so we could smack them down in rebuttal.

For some reason (probably because the target audience is not interested in hearing refutation), ‘debates’ that I see between religious people and atheists never seem to use that tactic.

If I ever get invited to debate a creationist or a theist, I have an entirely different strategy to employ – I’m going to go up there and pretend to be even crazier than my opponent. “You think the word was created 6,000 years ago? Absolutely nonsense! It was created 3 months ago by the sneezing of an intergalactic duck! It was just sneezed with the illusion of age! I know this because I read it on the back of this napkin, and I feel the truth of it in my heart.”

But then again, the people who argue the science side are usually trying to teach the audience something important, and consider it worthwhile showing respect to both their opponent and her/his position. I am labouring under no such burden – I just want them to see how stupid she/he looks.

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Greta says it so I don’t have to

One of the frustrating things about this blog is that I have a lot of stuff I like to talk about, but limited time/energy/motivation to cover it all. I also worry about losing focus and having this Manifesto turn into a diffuse leftist whine-zine. The thing that is particularly frustrating is when I get e-mails from readers suggesting I talk about this article or that issue, and I have to tell them that I will try but can’t guarantee anything. For one reader, I had to give a definite ‘no’. The reader in question is someone who has worked with sex workers before and thought that since I was pro-fem and anti-racist, that the topic would be well-suited to my attention.

I had to confess to this person that while ze made a very valid point, I am not informed enough about the topic to do it justice, and it was a bit outside my wheelhouse. This exchange happened a few months ago and I have been quietly working behind the scenes to see if I can’t get some traction to open this issue up to the skeptic community here in Vancouver, since the city has many of its own demons to deal with when it comes to the sex trade.

The awesome thing about this blog is, now that I am an FTBling, I am surrounded by people who can do a much better job than I can of discussing these important issues:

The myth: Prostitutes and other sex workers can’t choose their customers. They have to have sex with anyone who offers to pay.

When you think about this for ten seconds, you should realize that it makes no sense. People in any other service profession can, and do, turn down customers they don’t want to work with. Therapists, car mechanics, gardeners, hair stylists, nannies… you name it. There are a few exceptions — emergency room doctors leap to mind — but for the most part, it’s understood that, as long as they’re obeying non-discrimination laws, service professionals reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. (My hair stylist has told me long, entertaining stories about clients she’s fired.) So it’s kind of weird to assume that sex workers would be the exception.

Greta Christina, one of my favourite writers (the first version of this post contained a 2-paragraph gushing elaboration of this fact – I decided to turn down the squee a bit) and fellow FTBorg hits 9/10 of my high points of the issue – sex workers as workers, sex workers as autonomous people, female sex workers as the victims of a cruel sexual double-standard – with her usual flair and sharp, critical eye. The one thing that didn’t make it into the piece was the way in which violence against sex-workers is disproportionately weighed against people of colour (PoCs) working as prostitutes, which tesselates nicely into her overall argument.

Anyway, I feel slightly less guilty about not spending more time on this topic, since I have a much more capable colleague to do it for me. Go read her stuff.

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Reminder: Victor Stenger in Vancouver this weekend!

Hey all you skeptical Vancouverites! Looking for some hot skeptic-on-skeptic action this Saturday? Have we got a treat for you!

Centre For Inquiry Vancouver is pleased to present a lecture by particle physicist and New York Times best-selling author Dr. Victor Stenger, titled ‘Science and God’.

“Science is based on the objective observation of the world as presented to our senses. Religion is based on faith in the existence of a transcendent world beyond the senses. Thus, science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This incompatibility is more than just an intellectual debate among scholars. Belief in ancient myths joins with other negative forces in our society to keep most of the world from advancing scientifically, economically, and socially at a time when a rapid advancement in these areas is absolutely essential for the survival of humanity.

It is commonly believed that science has nothing to say about God, that it can’t prove or disprove the existence of God. While that may be true for every conceivable god, it’s not the case for a god with the attributes of the God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Such a God is believed to play such an important role in the operation of the universe and in the lives of humans that his existence should have been confirmed by now.”

  Room 100, Wesbrook Building, 6174 University Blvd, Vancouver, BC
 7:00 PM Doors Open
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM Lecture and Q&A
General Public: $10
Students: $7
Centre For Inquiry Members: $5


I will be there, rockin’ my CFI volunteer shirt. Should be an excellent time! Hope to see some of you there!

Why are you hitting yourself? Part 2: Sticking up for the big guy

This is part 2 of an ongoing discussion of a paper by Jost, Banaji and Nosek discussing System Justification Theory. Read Part 1.

We left off the previous post looking at system justification theory, and the intersection of three competing motivations for behaviour: ego (“I like me”), group (“I like us”) and system justification (“I like things the way they are”). People will try to find ways to balance all three of these motives, which often has the result of serving those who are already overprivileged (Tim Wise sagely notes that while the dictionary recognizes ‘underprivileged’ as a word, it is flummoxed into red-squiggleness by ‘overprivileged’). This of course runs contrary to previous models of human behaviour, in which people exhibit preferences for their own group and antipathy to outsiders. With the addition of system justification, we can see that there may in fact be times when low-status people may demonstrate higher levels of out-group favourability.

The paper itself is a narrative walk through 20 specific hypotheses of System Justification theory that have been grouped into subtopics, so I think I will do much the same in these posts.

Hypothesis 1: People will rationalize the (anticipated) status quo by judging likely events to be more desirable than unlikely events (a) even in the absence of personal responsibility, (b) whether those events are initially defined as attractive or unattractive, and (c) especially when motivational involvement is high rather than low.

Translation: the more likely you think something is, the more desirable you think it is. [Read more…]

Why Are You Hitting Yourself? An intro to System Justification Theory

By request, here are links to Part 2Read Part 3Read Part 4Read Part 5. Read Part 6. Read Part 7. Read Part 8.

So I’m not sure what your impression of the way I run things around here is, but let me tell you that my info gathering process is incredibly haphazard. Every morning I browse through the various news sites I read, and pull out articles I find interesting. I do the same at lunch from the blogs I follow. Some items come from Facebook or G+ friends, others get sent to me by readers. Every Saturday morning(ish) I pull out the file of the week’s acquisitions and whittle down to the handful of stories I can make hay with in a week’s worth of posts. Some weeks it’s light, other weeks it’s overflowing and I have to delete stuff I really like (since by the time I get to it, it’ll be comically out of date).

Once in a very rare while, I stumble across something that is a veritable goldmine of bloggable content – something that not only ties together a number of separate ideas I’ve had in the past, but helps me re-orient my thinking along lines that open up new avenues and new questions to explore. Such a goldmine is this paper by Jost, Banaji and Nosek: [Read more…]

Absolute speech freedom? Absolutely!

Blogging requires a bit of a thick skin, or at least a certain amount of self-assuredness. The more people scrutinizing your ideas, the more likely you are to have people openly disagree with you. I recognize that I am breathing fairly rarefied air, here at Freethought Blogs – most of the people reading my posts already agree with most of my basic premises. There are perhaps a handful of topics that I introduce in a given month of blogging that are foreign to 90% of the readership here. I recognize that. I also recognize that by the virtue of not owning a uterus, I will escape a lot of the uglier side of attacks (since everyone knows racism is bad, but misogyny still seems to be okay).

This is why I’m always somewhat buoyed whenever I come across someone who can express my opinion for me: [Read more…]

So apparently bribes are in order

I didn’t get the memo. This is odd, because there are a good 20-odd memos that the authors at FTB send back and forth each day (for example, yesterday’s involved a discussion of cruel childhood nicknames, and which type of porn pays more money – very crucial stuff). I didn’t realize that blog arch-rivals colleagues and valued friends Dana Hunter over at In Tequila es Verdad and the dastardly and conniving forthright and plain-spoken JT Eberhard at WWJTD would begin BRIBING their readers to shell out cash to their illegal money-laundering outfits Donors Choose campaigns.

Dana shamelessly promises the following:

So. Incentives. I shall give thee incentives, because this is something we should all do together.

1. I’ll write a short story for the highest donor. You can even choose the subject, if you like, and you’ll get a paper copy complete with autograph, if you wish. You’ll have to give me until the end of the year, because I’m stupid enough to try NaNo this November, but I’ll have it written and sent to you in January. Yes, I will haul my arse to the hated post office just for you.

2. The second-highest donor will get a personally-collected hand sample. That’s right! I’ll post a list of places I’m going this summer (once I know what they are!), and you tell me what hunk o’ beautiful geology you want me to package up and mail to you.

3. I’ll match 4 (count them, 4) donations of $50. So you $50 folk get to double your money! Don’t let that stop you from donating more, of course! And if you guys manage to fund these projects before I can whip my credit card out, you can each pick a project of your own for me to donate to.

4. Starving Students Offer: Those of you too strapped for cash to manage more than small donations can still get a little something! Send me an email telling me what you’re studying, why you chose your major, and why you donated, and I’ll showcase you guys on the site. Plus, I’ll write a poem for the person whose note makes me punch the air and shout, “Yes! Science can haz future!” Same caveats apply as the short story deal.

5. I’ve also got some super-snazzy Mount St. Helens posters, so all who have donated to any of our projects and want their names in for that have a chance at winning one of Mother Earth’s great works of art. Yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor.

While the cunning JT vows to bestow his own gifts:

I’ll also give some incentives above and beyond general altruism (and the fact that you probably want non-crappy music to put on your ipods in the future). If we hit $2,000, I will produce a karaoke video of singing nothing but Nsync songs all night. I’ll even learn some of the dances.

If you donate $50, I’ll let you pick a song for me to record (if I don’t know it, I’ll learn it).

If you donate $500, I will write a song about you and record it.

Well, the gauntlet has been thrown down! I know that my readers are above such petty attempts at bribery, because you are moral and altruistic people (did I forget to mention really good-looking?). However, I also know that if a bribe is offered, you wouldn’t be so rude as to turn it down. After all, you might hurt the briber’s feelings. So here’s the deal. I don’t have a lot of stuff to give you, but I can do this. The three highest donors will receive signed copies of the CROWN EP record, as well as some pretty fancy CROWN swag. The top donor will also receive an advance copy of our debut full-length record (recording starts in January). If that top donor pledges more than $75, I will harangue the other guys into learning and performing a song of that Donor’s Choice (see what I did there)?

Dig deep, Cromrades! You wouldn’t want to get beaten by a flippin’ geologist and a musician two worthy and respectable adversaries, would you?

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Canada’s hate speech laws collide with reality

For those of you who are noticing an alarming trend in my writing, I will come clean: I really like Canada. So much so, that I can’t seem to shut up about it. I’d apologize, but a) I’m not sorry, and b) I know that this glut of Canadiana is a passing phase, and I’ll have a new pet topic in a few weeks for you to get sick of. Anyway, as I was saying, I really like my country. There is, however, one aspect of Canadian life that I wish was more, dare I say, American – our stupid approach to hate speech:

The country’s highest court heard arguments pitting freedom of expression against laws banning hate speech Wednesday, setting the stage for an eventual ruling on what is more in need of protection: groups targeted with hatred, or a citizen’s right to speak freely. It could take the Supreme Court months to decide on which side they fall in the case of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission versus William Whatcott. The commission is appealing a decision that overturned its original ruling against Whatcott, who published and distributed four anti-gay flyers in towns and cities in Saskatchewan in 2001 and 2002. They led four people to file complaints with the commission.

As someone who feels most at home talking about things that make polite society squirm – religion, racism, poverty, the idea that people can actually be wrong about things – I place a premium on free speech. Penn Jillette likes to talk about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (the right of every citizen to own bear’s arms), saying that it’s the one that protects all the others. This, quite frankly, is militaristic nonsense. A gun doesn’t protect your right against unreasonable search and seizure – you pull a gun on a cop and that search all of a sudden becomes pretty fucking reasonable, amirite? [Read more…]