The best laid plans of mice and small minds

One of the fascinating aspects of the denial of privilege is the pirouettes one must turn in order to square the denial with observed fact.

“Black people have just as many opportunities as white people!”

Well, here’s an assload of evidence that suggests that’s not true

“…culture of poverty! Single moms! Phrenology!”

This is the reason why I think race is a perfect subject for the skeptical movement, because we can point to the evidence and say “here’s a whole bunch of problems, and the excuses offered for them are based on stereotypes rather than facts”. This is what we do when it comes to homeopathy, UFOs, gods, whatever you like. We find ways to take human inference out of the equation, and then figure out what the truth looks like regardless of what beliefs you had before you asked the questions.

The hubris of those who discover that Obama didn’t raise their taxes, or that FOX News isn’t “fair and balanced”, or that outlawing contraception causes more abortions, is always highly amusing to watch. Well, sometimes amusing, other times depressing as they manage to find smaller and smaller loopholes of post hoc reasoning to justify the rapidly-disappearing credibility of their arguments (“he’s a secret socialist! You just wait!” “Scientists and media observers are all liberals!” “the devil lives in the uterus!”). At any rate, it’s never boring.

What’s even more amusing is when the myths of the obsessed are punctured at their own hands: [Read more…]

A response to Lee

A commenter going by the handle ‘Lee’ has been asking some pointed questions about how to respond to claims of discrimination. I tried to give a robust answer, which ended up ballooning into a full-length post.


I’ll respond by bringing the two into one. If someone claims they have been discriminated against, or they feel they have been discriminated against, what would you suggest as the next step?

1. investigate their claim, ascertain the details, come to a conclusion.

2. accept the claim, start accusing.

When you sort of scoffed at #4, I read that as endorsing (2) above. Perhaps I’m mistaken? I mean, I don’t want to appear to be dodging your questions, I think they’re good questions, but they’re not precisely relevant to the argument presented in #4. They assume that you would take route #1. Your second question seems to me to put that person’s participation into a higher priority slot than, say, checking if they’re full of it or not before making accusations.

So instead of jumping right to invective and scoffing back, I’m hoping to get an idea for why you reject #4 [#4 referring to point 4 in this week’s Movie Friday, and my disagreement that there is a meaningful difference between perceived and real discrimination – C].

And in a separate comment…

I suppose a correlated question would be: is it your position that we should take anyone and everyone’s non-rational (i.e. no grounds established) fears or feelings as actionable representations of the world, simply on the off chance that those fears or feelings may turn out to be grounded in reality, or because similar claims have been grounded in reality in the past?


The key to my objection to #4 is here: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: FAN MAIL!

Ohmygosh you guyse, I am just super excited. I was poking around in the dashboard of this site yesterday, and I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from a Youtube video. Seeing as it is highly unusual for me to get referrals from Youtube, I clicked on through to see what was driving traffic to the site. Well wouldn’t you know, someone loves me and loves this blog enough to record a ten minute piece of fan mail! I’m so incredibly flattered. For someone to take ten whole minutes out of what I’m sure is a very busy schedule of hating the shit out of women to talk about little ol’ me? Gosh…

Let’s watch!

Well it’s the oddest piece of fan mail I’ve ever got. It doesn’t even seem like fan mail. It seems like he doesn’t like me! But that can’t be… I’m so loveable.

For those of you who didn’t/couldn’t watch all the way through, I will summarize IntegralMath’s* points: [Read more…]

#IdleNoMore: Something is happening

It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.

And I was doing that.

Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.

And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now: [Read more…]

A letter to Michael Shermer

This morning I was pointed toward a post written by Dr. Michael Shermer, a prominent skeptic, author, and neuroscientist. In it, he responds to an article by author and fellow FTBorg Ophelia Benson in which she sharply critiques the acceptance of stereotypes about the agency and willingness of women to speak up in skeptical circles, using a snippet of an statement that Dr. Shermer said in an interview: that while the gender ratio of non-belief is probably roughly even, it may be that men are more willing to speak up about it, which is one explanation of why it is more difficult to book female atheists for interviews.

I encourage you to read both Ophelia’s article and Dr. Shermer’s response first. My response is below:

Hello Dr. Shermer,

I remember watching the interview in question and being annoyed by your response to the question of why it was more difficult to find female atheists to join discussions. Your response, that speaking out might simply be “a guy thing”, was non-controversial but nonetheless disappointing, because this is not a question about which there is no information. You are, by your own admission, aware of the growing role that feminist discourse has been playing in the skeptic community overall in the past number of years. And yet, despite your awareness of its existence, your response betrayed no hint that you had listened to or understood anything that had been said by those voices – which is not to say that you haven’t, but there was certainly nothing in your “guy thing” response that suggests you have.

Let’s rewind the clock a bit and look at the context into which your statement was spoken. [Read more…]

Who should we fear?

There’s a scene in a particularly cringe-worthy episode of The Office where Michael Scott, the bumbling boss, tries to manipulate the audience into picturing a criminal in their mind. He describes this fictitious person, using increasingly racial language, and then ‘stuns’ us all with the big ‘reveal’: the criminal is a white woman. Steve Carell does a masterful job of portraying the sneering arch-liberalism of the Michael character as he tries to demonstrate how racist his audience is, and yet how ideologically pure he is. The bonus of course is in the fact that Michael himself commits various acts of well-intentioned racism throughout the series, especially in this particular episode.

But like most of the satirical edge of The Office, there is a truth to be mined from Michael’s nuttiness: we do have racialized ideas of criminals that exist in our public life. These are not so mysterious when you are aware of how those attitudes came to be, dragged along as part of the overt and noxious racism of the past into the ‘polite’ racism of our contemporary world. Add to these attitudes a capitalist system that foists the burdens of poverty disproportionately upon certain racial groups, and the fact that poverty and criminality are causally linked, and you end up with the repeated emergence of the image of “the black criminal”.

A particularly great example of the pernicious power of this idea comes to us from Brooklyn: [Read more…]

A mysterious and puzzling mystery

There are some things, for all our vaunted expertise and powerful scientific tools, that we can simply not seem to answer. We may never be able to figure them out. They are the mysteries of the universe. And this is one of them:

A new poll released by the charitable organization Samara suggests Canadians are less satisfied with their democracy compared to eight years ago. Last spring, researchers conducted a poll using a question identical to one used in 2004, asking respondents about their level of satisfaction “with the way democracy works in Canada.”

Seventy-five per cent of Canadians expressed at least some degree of satisfaction in 2004. But when asked again in 2012, the number expressing satisfaction dropped 20 points to 55 per cent.

It’s weird. Why would people’s confidence in the Parliamentary system decline so precipitously since 2004? What has changed since then? Anything? I certainly can’t think of an answer. [Read more…]

Is blackness a credible threat?

When I was 17 years old, I received my G2 “graduated learner’s” license. The way Ontario’s system worked (or maybe still does), you could get a permit at age 16, but if you were driving, you had to be in the company of someone with at least 5 years’ experience at a full ‘G’ license. For many people, myself included, that meant I had to be in the company of my parents to drive. Not exactly the freedom of the open road that I had fantasized about. And so when I got my ‘G2’, allowing me to drive unaccompanied, I was well chuffed. Gone were the days of riding shotgun and being forced to listen to whatever talk or jazz station my dad preferred – control of the radio would finally be mine!

My neighbourhood at the time was populated with a large number of young men who would spend their allowance (I imagine) buying really expensive stereo equipment to put in their shitty cars. It was a rare night in Brampton when I didn’t pull up next to someone pumping some obnoxious dance ‘tune’ at a stoplight. In my childish glee, I used to switch over to the classical station, crank my own volume, and blast away some Brahms symphony or a Bach partita or whatever was playing at the time. It never failed to get a reaction – mostly puzzlement, sometimes amusement, occasionally irritation as they realized they were the targets of mockery.

It is, I suppose, lucky for me that I was not 17 years old in Florida: [Read more…]

Feedback on the new layout

Those of you who browse from the main page will probably have noticed that Freethoughblogs (including this page) has a new layout. What may be apparent to you, but not to me, is how that has changed functionality with commenting, or the readability, or any number of other factors that affect how you use the site.

If there’s anything missing, inaccessible, or otherwise seriously problematic about the new format, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail. You can also tell me stuff like “silver is stupid” or “the new logo is for dorks” or “I like the old site better”, but please rest assured that I am ignoring you, because I can’t change that stuff.

A response to Larry Moran

As I mentioned in my summary of my experience at Eschaton2012 in Ottawa, I had a brief exchange after my presentation with biologist ad blogger Larry Moran. He took me to task for a statement that I made during my presentation, in which I asserted that race is not a biologically-defined reality, but rather a socially-derived construct. In response, Larry had this to say:

My position is that the term “race” is used frequently to describe sub-populations of species, or groups that have been genetically isolated from each other1 for many generations. By this definition, races exist in humans just as they do in many other species.

The genetic evidence shows clearly that Africans form a distinctive, but somewhat polyphyletic, group that differs from the people living outside of Africa. Amongst the non-Africans, we recognize two major sub-groups; Europeans and Asians. I see no reason why these major sub-populations don’t qualify as races in the biological sense. Please read: Do Human Races Exist?.

I don’t think that denying the existence of races is going to make racism go away. Nor do I think that accepting the existence of biological races is going to foster racism.

I think that most of my disagreement with Dr. Moran (or perhaps more accurately his disagreement with me) is a product of a number of things. The first and most obvious one is my lack of familiarity with the full scope of the genetic literature when it comes to human beings and their (our) descendent trees. The second seems to be an unfortunate result of the time limit of the presentation and the imprecision of the language I chose. The third one is a bit more complicated, but has largely to do with what evidence we are using to arrive at a definition. I will discuss each of these issues in detail, with the hope of clarifying the problem. [Read more…]