Why I am a feminist

I took an intro to philosophy course back in high school. It was roughly the equivalent of a first-year philosophy survey course (only better, because the class size was smaller and everyone in the class actually wanted to be there), taught by a really cool guy named Mr. Peglar. It is to him, and his class, that I can attribute credit for not only a lot of the content on this blog, but the way in which much of it is presented – he’s the one who taught me the strength of the ‘argument-counterargument-refutation’ approach to persuasive writing.

One of the central dichotomies we focussed on at the beginning of the class was realism vs. antirealism – the question of whether or not reality exists independently of an observer. We agonized over this for a week before he introduced us to an absolutely magical solution – pragmatism. Whether or not reality exists objectively, since the question is unanswerable (the scientific method – the best way to determine truth – is dependent on the assumption of reality existing), we are best served by assuming things exist. It is the only way to get by in the world.

There are a lot of assumptions about what motivates feminism. If you’re a woman, you may be accused of hating men and wishing to castrate them, or of being bitter and not having the strength to assert yourself, so you have to tear men down. If you’re a man, these assumptions are harder to make stick – there’s no reason to suspect that I hate men, being a man myself and having mostly male friends, and anyone who thinks I’m not strong enough to assert myself is invited to come say that to my face. Other insulting suggestions, that I am whipped or I’m just sucking up to chicks to get laid, are similarly poorly applied to me particularly – I’ve been single for many years and it’s theoretically much easier to score with randoms that don’t respect themselves than it is with feminists (which is a sad fact), who are, in my experience, the only kind of women that think a guy who calls himself a ‘feminist’ is sexy. [Read more…]

Wives, be subject(ed) to your husbands

I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:

Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.

The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.


Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). [Read more…]

Walking on the gayest eggshells possible

One concept that we don’t discuss much in the “Western” world (a label that I find completely inaccurate and useless) is that of colonialism. Since Canada’s political structure and demographics are made up overwhelmingly of the descendants of European immigrants, we have much less of a post-colonial headache than South American and African countries (and indeed, many Asian countries as well). The United States points repeatedly to its birth as rebellion from its colonial masters, allowing it to throw off the weight of post-colonial detritus. The European countries are the ones who did the colonizing, so their relationship with the subject is quite different. The result of this confluence of historical and political/economic factors is that the only people who really discuss colonialism are members of minority groups.

We’re going to need to understand the issue a lot better:

The UK is showing a “bullying mentality” by threatening to cut aid to countries where homosexuality is illegal, a Ugandan official says. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend that those receiving British aid should respect gay rights. But Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were “tired of these lectures” and should not be treated like “children”.

The issue at discussion here is the proposal to withdraw foreign aid from countries that refuse to recognize universal human rights for homosexual people. The move is lauded by gay rights groups who say that it is hypocritical of countries like the UK to talk about promoting human rights, but to provide aid to regimes that criminalize homosexuality. It is derided, on the other hand, by African leaders who see it as an attempt to force “Western” moral standards on the rest of the world. Uganda is one of the worst offenders, to be sure, but they’re not alone:

Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has rejected the UK’s threat to cut aid if he refuses to legalise homosexuality. Mr Atta Mills said the UK could not impose its values on Ghana and he would never legalise homosexuality. (snip)

Mr Atta Mills said Mr Cameron was entitled to his views, but he did not have the right to “direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do”. He said Ghana’s “societal norms” were different from those in the UK. “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana,” Mr Atta Mills said.

Because I think it’s important to understand the different perspectives at play here, and because I don’t think the answer to this problem is cut and dry, I will borrow a device from one of my fellow FTBorgs and present this discussion as a dialogue between Mary Washburn from Essex, England and Jason Ngeze from Kampala, Uganda. [Read more…]

The lies told about the Occupy movement

This past Thursday, I spent an hour trying to explain the Occupy movement to a friend of mine. Because ze is (depressingly) not particularly well-versed in current events (I say depressingly because this seems to be a common phenomenon), I had to re-cap about 15 years of history and economics – topics I am enthusiastic about but am not an expert in. What followed my careful explanation of the reasons for the protest was a torrent of stereotypes and derrogations of the people present at the protest. When I asked where ze got the information from, all ze could offer was an admission that it had been from “people”.

It is not surprising to me that sources in the larger media are doing a depressingly awful job of reporting about Occupy. It is not a ‘protest’ in the sense that they are used to – loud, focussed, sponsored, targeted. The diffuse and amorphous nature of the problems facing the financial system and the way we think of the economy will not be solved through a single legislative package or a new political candidate; a new avenue of change is needed, and Occupy is trying to be just that. This poses a problem for the media – no leaders, no spokesperson, no head office, no stationery, no logo, no easily-digested sound byte. However, if a part-time blogger like myself can understand and explain the Occupy movement to a naive friend in an hour, then every media talking head that says they “don’t get” the Occupy movement should be fired. They are clearly grossly incompetent and unfit for their job, which is to relate current events and place them in context.

But what bothers me far more than the artificial “confusion” of media outlets is the constant stream of disinformation and propaganda that flows incessantly like rusty tap water from politicians and media outlets. For example: [Read more…]

When in doubt, demonize!

Let’s play a fun imagination game. Imagine for a moment that you’re the political leader of your country. You’ve just won, with a minority of the votes, a majority of the power. It’s a majority that you’ve been fighting for tooth and nail for nearly a decade of consistent disappointments. You’ve had to compromise with a political system and a populace that disagrees with everything you believe in, but now you’ve finally got the ability to push your pet projects through.

Let’s continue the game, and imagine that you’ve managed to win this majority by playing groups against each other, and ramping up personal attacks against your opponents. It’s paid dividends thus far, because your opponents have been feckless wimps who don’t have the wherewithal to punch back. What happens when, in the absence of a credible politician to oppose you, you’re instead opposed by reality. What do you do?

If your answer is “launch personal attacks against reality”, then congratulations! You have the right kind of political instincts it takes to be Prime Minister of Canada: [Read more…]

Banner insecurity

Look up at the top of the page. Now back to me. Now back to the top of the page. What do you see? It’s a banner. It’s not a particularly nice banner (although made infinitely nicer thanks to the hard work of reader aspidoscelis, for which I am very grateful). I would very much like to have a spiffy banner. However, I have no graphic design skills to speak of. I am hoping I can prevail upon you, gentle readers, for some assistance in this regard.

I have no particular requests or ideas for what a banner would look like. I know that it must measure 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits… wait no, that’s idiotic. It has to be 728 x 120, and it has to have the title of the blog in there somewhere. My old site had the black power fist:

And this quote from Christopher Hitchens: “The stubborn persistence of chauvinism in our life and letters is or ought to be the proper subject for critical study, not the occasion for displays of shock.”

Either or neither of those things could conceivably be worked in. I throw myself upon the mercy of the internet.

Wow, that sounds like a terrible idea…

The person with the design I like the most will be rewarded in some way that I have not figured out yet.

EDIT: Reader Zugswang has helpfully provided me with this most awesome tweak to the image above:

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Signal boost: Maryam and Black Skeptics

So technically the content of the e-mails sent back and forth between my fellow FTBorgs is confidential. This is as much for your protection as it is for ours – Jason’s posts are essentially nothing but profanity, punctuated with enough bestiality porn to make 4chan blush. However, I will tell you that, behind the scenes, the phrase “impostor syndrome” is getting thrown around a lot, as we have just picked up a new slew of really impressive bloggers.

Everyone go say hi to Black Skeptics and Maryam Namazie.

Black Skeptics: I’m not going to lie here – feeling a little insecure at having these powerhouses blogging right next to me, but at the same time I am super-pumped that I am on their team. I’m particularly excited that we’re going to have more discussions of race and race issues, because (obviously) I think it’s the next big component we need to add to our skeptical lexicon. While I’m tempted to say it’s nice to have backup, it’s far more likely that I’ll be the one providing playing Goose to their Maverick (huh?).

Maryam Namazie: What is there to say about Maryam Namazie that hasn’t already been said about The Grand Canyon? She’s deep, she’s impressive, and everyone should check her out before they die. It’s great that we’re picking up an international flavour (which is to say, outside North America), and Maryam is, more than anyone else here, highly qualified to speak about Islamism with authority and proper nuance.

The Freethought Blogs brand is gaining credibility by leaps and bounds. It’s forcing me to up my game (an arms race for which I have coined the phrase “mutually assured construction”). For you, dear reader, this means naught but good stuff coming your way.

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Why are you hitting yourself? Part 8: extra credit questions

This is part 8 of an ongoing discussion of a paper by Jost, Banaji and Nosek discussing System Justification Theory. Read Part 1Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 4. Read Part 5. Read Part 6. Read Part 7.

Having summed up my lengthy exploration of System Justification Theory, I teased you this morning with the question that you’ve likely been asking youself from the beginning: now that we know about system justification, what can we do to correct for it? Are we doomed to keep making the same mistakes, or can we overcome our terrible mammal brains and become better critical thinkers?

In order to answer this question, I must first re-iterate a point that I’ve been making for almost as long as this blog has been in existence: we can overcome cognitive biases by becoming more aware of them. Just like we, as skeptics, have learned to recognize faulty arguments like straw men and fallacies like appeal to authority, we can also learn to recognize when we (or others) base their arguments on streotypes instead of evidence. System justification lives on stereotype – confronting those will go a long way on its own to reduce the amount of system justifying we do.

There is also something important to be learned from Part 6, which is that system justification is directly connected to the level of inequality present in a society. As we reduce gaps between groups – be they through legislative policies like pay equity or through changing the social stigma associated with being in the minority – we reduce our tendency to ‘explain away’ disparities as being part of the natural order of things. By engineering societies that are more fundamentally equal, we simultaneously rob fuel from the system justifying machine.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially (or just my preferred method), we can reduce system justification by talking about it. The more people are aware that they have a tendency to do this kind of backfilling, the more likely they are to notice themselves doing it in the future. Successes in my own ongoing struggle to become less misogynistic suggests to me that awareness (and acceptance) of the fact that we all have cognitive demons operating below the level of conscious awareness will help us police our own attitudes better. We may never become perfect at it, but we can certainly become better.

Now, I would be a really crummy scientist if I didn’t use this opportunity to raise some research questions of my own that this paper did not address. [Read more…]

Why are you hitting yourself? Part 7: Summary

This is part 7 of an ongoing discussion of a paper by Jost, Banaji and Nosek discussing System Justification Theory. Read Part 1Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 4. Read Part 5. Read Part 6.

So on Thursday I finished up with the last sections of the paper, but I didn’t get to do the wrap-up post that I wanted to (time crunch – abstract submission deadline followed by dinner immediately after work, with friend who then asked for a full explanation of the entire OWS movement… it was a long day for my brain). So I’m going to take this opportunity to bring this series to a conclusion.

Why System Justification Theory?

Older psychological models to explain human behaviour focussed on the relationship between individual ego motivation, and group allegiance. The central understanding was that people would tend to demonstrate in-group favouritism and out-group hostility. In the same way we tend not to see ourselves as bad people but vilify the actions of others, we would do the same for groups with whom we did and did not feel allegiance.

The problem with this theory is that it fails to explain a common and seemingly-inexplicable finding: that people often tend to demonstrate an asymmetric bias toward people in high-status groups, even to the point of abhorring their own group. If it was a rare occurrence, we could just chalk it up to “well some folks is crazy”, but when it’s consistently observed in many different populations under experimental conditions, it becomes something that needs looking at. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: 14th and Webster

Last week I weighed in on police brutality committed during the Occupy Oakland protest movement. In the comments section, a bit of a dust-up occurred between a reader from Oakland who thought there was blame to be placed on both sides, and another who objected saying that police brutality of this kind is never justified. Other things were said as well.

The boyfriend of the Oakland reader helpfully provided me with this excellent video that he shot the night after the clash.

In it, he explores the city and gives a (fairly) neutral account of what’s happening on the ground. Anyone looking for sex or violence will be sadly disappointed, but if you appreciate good tunes and documentary looks at ongoing social movements, then this is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

As for me, my stance hasn’t changed. I support the Occupy Movement unequivocally, and while I recognize that violence was committed on both sides of the protest, I am suspicious enough of police and the political system in the Bay Area that I am inclined to side with the protesters. Especially since the actions taken by police seem to have been illegal.

I can understand the frustration felt by people who want no part of the Occupy Movement. That frustration, however, does not translate into lack of legitimate purpose for the protest. We’re all going to have to be patient and wait for the process to work its way through. Better yet, we could get involved and help instead of tut-tutting from the sidelines.

Thanks go out to Clifford Brown III:
Brown Audio Solutions & Services
San Ramon, CA

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