SlutWalk: the missing racial perspective

In my earlier post about SlutWalk, I made reference to a blog post that called the white blindness prevalent in SlutWalk – the complete failure to recognize that slut is not only gendered but racialized as well. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there:

Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying.

There is no indication that SlutWalk will even strip the word “slut” from its hateful meaning. The n-word, for example, is still used to dehumanize black folks, regardless of how many black folks use it among themselves. Just moments before BART officer James Mehserle shot Oscar Grant to death in Oakland in 2009, video footage captured officers calling Grant a “bitch ass nigger.” It didn’t matter how many people claimed the n-word as theirs – it still marked the last hateful words Grant heard before a white officer violently killed him.

Whether white supremacist hegemony was SlutWalk’s intent or not is beyond my concern – because it has certainly been so in effect. This event will not stop the criminalization of black women in New Orleans, nor will it stop one woman from being potentially deported after she calls the police subsequent to being raped. SlutWalk completely ignores the way institutional violence is leveled against women of color. The event highlights its origins from a privileged position of relative power, replete with an entitlement of assumed safety that women of color would never even dream of. We do not come from communities in which it feels at all harmless to call ourselves “sluts.” Aside from that, our skin color, not our style of dress, often signifies slut-hood to the white gaze.

A common problem in discussions of minority groups is that it becomes too temptingly easy to focus on your own oppression and ignore the fact that some of your compatriots feel things quite a bit differently. It certainly doesn’t help when you are then accused of “hating” the majority group because you level reasonable criticisms at them (poke through the comments at the bottom of the link for examples of what I mean):

If you want to open space for a new dialogue, you need to take down the “white supremacist” nonsense from your article. This is such BS – you are being an enemy to ANYONE who wants to speak out against rape, regardless of what their color is. Oh, but that’s right, you don’t give a **** if white women get raped. They deserve it, right? Who the he** cares if THEY get raped – is that what you are trying to say?

That’s a direct quote from a race-baiting sock puppet that haunts the comments section.

Over at PoCO, much the same argument is being made:

I thought to myself, after hearing of SlutWalk, about how much language and empowerment is racialized. How would the Mexican-American mothers I know feel about their daughters calling themselves whores? Or the Black mothers of friends react to their daughters calling themselves sluts? Probably not well. Many communities of color have had growing movements against anti-woman language for good reason. For communities of color, even those who aren’t expressly political, there’s a visceral reaction to name-calling aimed at women of color, who are seemingly always the targets of names whose historical, cultural, social and political edge white women will never confront.

From ‘welfare queens‘ to ‘unwed mothers,’ images are almost always racial. As a Latino male, people who look like me (and Black men as well) are often the ones visualized when people think gender oppression. But white supremacy means Caucasians do not, for the most part, need to think about messaging regarding normalcy and deviance, or that people of color, especially women of color, have been subject to these issues all our lives. Historically, the masses of white women have not fought with women of color, but instead sided with white men in exchange for their own freedoms.

These are legitimate criticisms, not dismissals of the event as a whole. The point of such criticism is not to tear down the cause, but to expose some of the hypocrisy and unexplored biases and cognitive hiccups that might (and usually are) otherwise be ignored. Read the criticisms, learn from them, do better next time.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Yeah THIS guy needed to be fired…

Pretend for a moment that you’re the head of a major international organization worth billions of dollars (hey, congratulations!). Unhappily, however, your organization is facing overwhelming international criticism for a series of egregious ethics violations. Some of these violations implicate you personally, but the majority of them refer to the general standards of practice and the organization’s history of secrecy and evading prosecution. As the leader, you have complete and total authority to change the rules and standards of practice of the organization to respond to this criticism – criticism which, incidentally, is severely impacting your bottom line.

Have you got that in your head? Good. Moving on.

Now imagine that you hear that someone in middle management somewhere in the organization has advocated changing a company policy on the grounds that it is both unpopular and unfair. This manager has bypassed the usual chain of command, which is most certainly a violation of the rules. However, in the larger scheme of things he has articulated a position that many of your shareholders advocate and that would certainly go a long way in rehabilitating your international image. What do you do with this manager? Do you call him in for discipline? Do you say that while you respect his right to speak, you disagree with his position and here’s why? Do you use the criticism as an opportunity to change direction and show the public that your antiquated policies can be changed for the better when the times call for them? You’ve got lots of options; which one do you pursue?

If you picked anything other than ‘shitcan his ass’, the congratulations: you are smarter than the Pope:

Pope Benedict XVI has sacked an outspoken Australian bishop who had called on the church to consider ordaining women and married men. The Vatican said in a statement Monday that the pope had “removed from pastoral care” Bishop William Morris of the Toowoomba diocese. That language was unexpectedly strong by Vatican standards. However, no explanation for the move was given.

There are many people that need to be fired in the church (the Pope being chief among them), for doing things that make a person with any sense of humanist morals shudder. It is one thing to know someone who rapes children and not do anything to stop it. That’s pretty bad (even writing that sentence seems ludicrously evil). It is another thing entirely to aid the rapist in covering up his crime, allowing him to repeat it again and again. It is another thing to threaten the victims of your friend’s crime with eternal punishment if they speak out about it. It is another thing to allow all of this (and actively participate in it), whilst simultaneously holding yourself up as an example of morality and ruin the lives of millions of people, sacrificed in the name of your moral posturing.

But yeah… fire the guy who says that women should be allowed to be priests.

The level of evil is almost cartoonish with this organization, and the rabbit hole goes deeper:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has arrived in Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II. An EU travel ban forbids him from visiting member states but the Vatican, where the ceremony will take place, is a sovereign state and not in the EU. Mr Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, has been allowed to transit through Italy. Italy’s foreign ministry said it had requested an exemption from the EU travel ban for Mr Mugabe.

Yep. The gross pig-fucker himself is welcome in the Vatican’s hallowed chambers. A man whose exploits have earned him the just condemnation of the international community for bankrupting his country, attacking political appointments with violence, and repeatedly violating the human rights of his own people… but he’s got a friend in Rome! To the point where government officials have to ask the EU to suspend its own laws so that he can come watch a fraud passed off as miraculous. You’ve got to imagine how uncomfortable that conversation must have been.

EU: Sorry… we must have a bad connection. It sounded like you said you wanted an exemption to allow Robert Mugabe into Europe. Heh heh, but that’s just ridiculous.

Italy: Um… yeah. You got it right. We want Mugabe.


Italy: The pope wants him at the beatification of John Paul II


Italy: Well the Vatican has diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe, and he’s the leader, so he’s invited


Italy: Is there someone else I can talk to?

Some people wonder if the Pope and other religious leaders do not actually believe the things they say, but perpetuate the lie to gain power. It’s certainly a reasonable suspicion, given that the claims religious leaders regularly make are so bizarre and contrary to the basic rules of logic. However, when you look at the actions of these people, it becomes abundantly clear that they really do believe that their deity is speaking directly to them. It’s the only way one could justify such unrelenting and convoluted evil – license from the supernatural.

This is why enshrining ‘faith’ as a virtue is dangerous. People can trick themselves into believe just about anything, especially when they are told by the culture surrounding them that it’s good enough to just believe something, facts be damned. Once you’re willing to completely blind yourself to the effects of your actions by telling yourself that justification for your evil comes from on high, anything is possible. There is some truth to the old adage that ‘faith can move mountains’ – it can move mountains of inconvenient evidence and logic out of the way, so that the believer can commit any crime she/he wants without utterly devastating her/his own self-concept.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

The barbarians are still at the gates

Twenty-four years ago, a marginally-talented artist decided to make a statement about the way in which religious figures have been misrepresented by their religious organizations. A fine statement, all things considered. This artist decided to express this opinion by encasing a crucifix in a jar of his own urine and called it, somewhat uncreatively, Piss Christ. However lofty the sentiment may have been, the execution is somewhat juvenile and rudimentary. It’s the sort of “shock factor” statement that a high school student would make – like crudely drawing the Madonna fellating the Buddha or something like that. Considering the wide variety of ways in which religious iconography is shown disrespect, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is rather tame.

Fourteen years later, Piss Christ is still generating controversy and outrage from idiots. This time, though, the idiots have hammers:

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion. Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon. The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year.

It is so common as to be cliche at this point: someone uses an art medium to criticize a religious subject, and the followers of the “Religion of Peace” du jour decide that their hurt feelings are justification for that work’s destruction. As though the argument hasn’t been forward literally thousands of times that the way to fight art you don’t like is to ignore it, and to encourage others to do the same. Suppression of ideas is a giant waste of time, and so counterproductive as to be almost comical.

Perhaps more frightening is the fact that this complete abdication of reason is being actively stoked by a political entity to gain support. In a country like France, where secularism was literally purchased with blood, it’s chilling to see someone fanning the flames of the conflict between religious people and secular society, especially for something so craven as re-election. It is one thing to discuss and point out differences of position, it is another entirely to turn it into a “they are coming to burn your bibles” situation, as Sarkozy appears to be willing (if not eager) to do.

I am not interested in defending the Piss Christ. I don’t think it takes much talent or imagination to submerge an object in urine. I don’t really see the connection between exhibiting a urine-soaked crucifix and the ostensible message criticizing the misuse of religion. I think there are far more clear and creative ways to get that point across. To my eye, this is the equivalent of a radio shock jock using racial slurs to gin up controversy. However, with their trademark inability to appreciate irony, the religious mob has decided to prove the exact point that the installation is criticizing.

Of course, this is the smashing of a plexiglass container of urine. Anyone wishing to replicate this priceless work of art can send me 50 bucks, a Powerade, a mason jar and a crucifix – I’ll happily provide the rest. While the original work has been destroyed, the statement is alive and the artwork itself is simple enough to reproduce if need be. Smashing it is a shitty thing to do, but it’s not as though the world has lost Michaelangelo’s David or Picasso’s Guernica – if we were really concerned about this priceless treasure, we could make another one, and unless you knew the story of the original you wouldn’t know the difference.

No what is truly frightening is the prospect that there are people who won’t stop at simple destruction of property to express their outrage at whatever imagined light was perpetrated against their Collective Delusion. There are people who are so god-bothered that they feel they have the divinely-granted authority to kill human beings for saying things they disagree with. This is the system that people say humanity can’t possibly do without.

The fact is that rationality has surpassed our need for imagined explanations and intuitions  to govern our society. We can govern ourselves based on secular reason – furthermore, those regions that do this more are doing much better than their less-reasoned brethren. Those who would react to an idea by trying to destroy it, and those that think it, must not be the ones to rule us. They should be thought of, in our walled palace of reasoned thought, as barbarians banging at the gates.

The barbarians are at the gates, and they’re armed with bibles.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Unopposed hypocrisy

I am what libertarians would describe as a ‘statist’. I believe that the government can and should play an active role in maintaining the stability of the society, as well as being actively involved in the economy. Of course, the word ‘statist’ has a bunch of other baggage that doesn’t apply to me at all, and I certainly have some libertarian leanings that my more liberal brethren disagree with, but suffice it to say I am not in favour of a completely hands-off approach to governing, nor do I necessarily think that the private sector will do a better job than the public sector in controlling costs or delivering high-quality services.

The only way that the democratic process can work well for the people is if there is a strong and effective opposition. The government’s interests should be to best represent the people, but as history shows us, it tends to become self-serving. Regular elections help balance that out, but an effective opposition can bring light and voter attention to issues that might otherwise escape notice. In the absence of a powerful opposition, or when the opposition has power but cannot wield it effectively, the government has a free hand to indulge in its favourite pastime: soul-crushing corruption and hypocrisy.

US state department spokesman PJ Crowley has resigned from his post following controversial comments involving the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The news on Sunday came three days after Crowley was reported to have criticised the Pentagon’s treatment of detained US soldier Bradley Manning. Crowley said the defence department’s handling of Manning, who is accused of leaking thousands of confidential US documents to WikiLeaks, was “stupid” and “counterproductive”.

So… let’s get this straight. A non-violent, non-enemy military person leaks non-mission-critical information to a journalistic outlet that makes the info available to the world. That person is locked in a maximum-security prison, deprived of his civil rights, humiliated and held without trial. This, according to the Obama administration, is in no way cause for anyone to be fired. Despite repeated violations of the constitution and basic decency, there are no deleterious consequences for the way in which Manning is being treated.

Someone within the administration voices a perfectly reasonable criticism of this atrocity, and he’s pushed out. Someone, incidentally, with years of experience in a time when experienced state officials are sorely needed. And the rabbit hole of hypocrisy and self-immolation doesn’t stop there:

Of course, it’s also the case in Barack Obama’s world that those who instituted a worldwide torture and illegal eavesdropping regime are entitled to full-scale presidential immunity, while powerless individuals who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing and illegality are subjected to the most aggressive campaign of prosecution and persecution the country has ever seen. So protecting those who are abusing Manning, while firing Crowley for condemning the abuse, is perfectly consistent with the President’s sense of justice.

Also, remember how one frequent Democratic critique made of the Right generally and the Bush administration specifically was that they can’t and won’t tolerate dissent: everyone is required to march in lockstep? I wonder how that will be reconciled with this.

This, from a Republican president, would be a not-so-shocking example of executive overreach. From a Democratic president who campaigned on changing the way politics is done in America, this is a disgusting betrayal not only of the trust of those who voted for him, but of liberal democratic principals and basic human decency.

So where, pray tell, is the outrage over this issue? Where are the Republicans to stand up for the constitution, for civil rights, for open and transparent government? Oh right, the Republicans are more concerned over stripping the rights of workers to stand up to their employers and the rights of women to sexual self-determination to bother with something as trivial as the rule of law.

An effective, well-coordinated and disciplined political opposition is crucial to the health of a democratic state. No matter who is in power, she/he will invariably become corrupt and begin abusing her/his power. A political opposition provides a check on that power, to ensure that corruption is exposed. When your opposition is completely incompetent, then the interests of absolutely nobody are represented, and everyone loses.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Psychology beats “bootstraps”

Crommunist is back from vacation, at least physically. I will be returning to full blogging strength by next week. I appreciate your patience with my travel hangover.

Here’s a cool thing:

You don’t have to look far for instances of people lying to themselves. Whether it’s a drug-addled actor or an almost-toppled dictator, some people seem to have an endless capacity for rationalising what they did, no matter how questionable. We might imagine that these people really know that they’re deceiving themselves, and that their words are mere bravado. But Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School thinks otherwise.

Using experiments where people could cheat on a test, Chance has found that cheaters not only deceive themselves, but are largely oblivious to their own lies.

Psychology is a very interesting field. If I wasn’t chasing the get-rich-quick world of health services research, I would have probably gone into psychology. One of the basic axioms of psychology, particularly social psychology, is that self-report and self-analysis is a particularly terrible method of gaining insight into human behaviour. People cannot be relied upon to accurately gauge their motivations for engaging in a given activity – not because we are liars, but because we genuinely don’t know.

Our consciousness exists in a constant state of being in the present, but making evaluations of the past and attempting to predict the future. As a result, we search for explanations for things that we’ve done, and use those to chart what we’d do in the future. However, as careful study has indicated, the circumstances under which we find ourselves is far and away a more reliable predictor of how we react to given stimuli than is our own self-assessment. This isn’t merely a liberal culture of victimhood, or some kind of partisan way of blaming the rich for the problems of the poor – it is the logical interpretation of the best available evidence that we have.

Part of the seeming magic of this reality of human consciousness is the fact that when we cheat, we are instantaneously able to explain it away as due to our own skill. Not only can we explain it away, but we instantly believe it too. A more general way of referring to this phenomenon is internal and external attribution – if something good happens it is because of something we did; conversely, bad things that happen are due to misfortune, or a crummy roll of the dice. When seen in others, this kind of attitude is rank hypocrisy. When seen in ourselves, it is due to everyone else misunderstanding us. This is, of course, entirely normal – everyone would like to believe the best about themselves, and our minds will do what they can to preserve that belief.

The researchers in this study explored a specific type of self-deception – the phenomenon of cheating. They were able to show that even when there was monetary incentive to be honest about one’s performance and cheating, people preferred to believe their own lies than to be honest self-assessors. However, the final result tickled me in ways that I can only describe as indecent:

This final result could not be more important. Cheaters convince themselves that they succeed because of their own skill, and if other people agree, their capacity for conning themselves increases.

There is a pervasive lie in our political discourse that people who enjoy monetary and societal privilege do so because of their own hard work and superior virtue. This type of thinking is typified by the expression “pulled up by her/his bootstraps” – that rich people applied themselves and worked hard to get where they are. The implication is that anyone who isn’t rich, or who has the galling indecency to be poor, is where they are because of their own laziness and nothing more. It does not seem to me to be far-fetched at all that these people are operating under the same misapprehension that plagued the study’s participants – they succeed by means that are not necessarily due to their own hard work, and then back-fill an explanation that casts themselves in the best possible light.

Please do not interpret this as me suggesting that everyone who is rich got their by illegitimate means. If we ignore for a moment anyone who was born into wealth, there are a number of people who worked their asses off to achieve financial success – my own father is a mild example of that (although he is not rich by any reasonable measure). However, there are a number of others who did step on others, or use less-than-admirable means to accumulate their wealth. However, they are likely to provide the same “up by my bootstraps” narrative that people who genuinely did build their own wealth would, and they’ll believe it too! When surrounded by others who believe the same lie, it becomes a self-sustaining ‘truth’ that only occasionally resembles reality.

The problem with this form of thinking is that it does motivate not only attitudes but our behaviours as well. It becomes trivial to demonize poor people as leeches living off the state, and cut funding for social assistance programs as a result. People who live off social assistance programs often believe this lie too, considering themselves (in the words of John Steinbeck) to be “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” who will be rich soon because of their furious bootstrap tugging. While it is an attractive lie, it is still a lie that underlies most conservative philosophy – which isn’t to say that liberals aren’t susceptible to the same cognitive problems; we just behave in a way that is more consistent with reality, so it doesn’t show as much.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

The hypocrisy of the religious right

Crommunist is back from vacation, but still slowly putting his life back together. I will be posting something every day, but don’t expect it to be up to my usual standard until next week.

So obviously this title will raise exactly zero eyebrows among those who have read my previous discussions of religion. I find so many aspects of religious expression hypocritical (accusing atheists of arrogance whilst insisting that the universe is created specifically for them, accusing others of immorality whilst maintaining a hideous behavioural track record), there is one form of hypocrisy that I find unique among the political right wing:

A florist in Riverview, N.B., is refusing to provide wedding flowers to a same-sex couple, according to the event’s planner. After agreeing to provide the flowers for a wedding, Kim Evans of Petals and Promises Wedding Flowers sent an email last month to the couple, saying she didn’t know it was a same-sex wedding and would have no part of the ceremony. “I am choosing to decline your business. As a born-again Christian, I must respect my conscience before God and have no part in this matter,” the email said.

The religious right has two gods: their own perverted vision of Yahweh as some kind of doting father cum eternally judgmental asshole, and free market capitalism. If one takes even a fleeting glance at the agenda of the Republican party of the United States (and anyone who thinks that Canadian Conservatives are functionally different from Republicans, or that the evangelical wing of the Christian faith is anything other than CPC boosters needs to pull her/his head firmly from her/his asshole and take a look around), one cannot help but be inundated by people who’ve never cracked Friedmann in their lives talking about “common sense economics” and the virtues of small government.

It is certainly defensible to hold these two positions in concert, although it should be fairly obvious that neither one is contingent upon the other. It does not follow, for example, that limited government is necessary because Yahweh deems it so. Conversely, being a laissez faire capitalist who believes in allowing the chips to fall as they may does not lead one down the path to accepting the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The conflation of the two non-overlapping positions is a carefully constructed marriage, match-made by the Republican party in an attempt to get a single-issue voting bloc.

Laissez-faire capitalism dictates that someone should attempt to make as much money from a potential customer as possible, provided that doing so does not break the law (well, strictly speaking it doesn’t, but I’ve never encountered a libertarian or conservative who believes that people should flout the law to make money). Considering that gay marriage is legal in Canada, Ms. Evans is behaving in a decidedly anti-capitalist way by refusing to provide a service to a law-abiding person.

Now I have no proof that Ms. Evans is a conservative. My suspicion in this matter stems from the fact that I have yet to meet any evangelical who does not also immediately grant the superiority of unregulated free markets. If she is not a conservative, she should be strongly condemned by conservatives for being anti-capitalist. However, the comments section overfloweth with supportive comments from her CPC brethren.

Dollars to donuts this is going to soon end up on a Christian website as a “prime example” of religious persecution against Christians.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

My cup of dissonance overfloweth

As a thoughtful person with strong convictions, it is inevitable that I find myself conflicted over some issues. For example, I’m not 100% confident in my stance on free speech, I sometimes have trouble  drawing the line in racial issues, and I continue to struggle with my feelings about Anonymous.

This story doesn’t help:

A U.S. military base is the latest target of the online activist group known as Anonymous, which has taken up the cause of Bradley Manning, the U.S. army private accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. The group’s objective is to “harass” the staff and disable the computer systems at the Quantico, Va., marine base where Manning is being held, Anonymous spokesperson Barrett Brown said in an interview with MSNBC. The group plans to reveal personal information about base officials and disable the base’s communication networks in protest against how Manning is being treated at the base, Brown said.

Here’s my issue. On the one hand, I abhor what the United States military and government are doing in response to what is being called “Cablegate”*. Bradley Manning broke the law, and I do not dispute that (although it hasn’t been demonstrated in the court of law yet, let’s just stipulate that he didn’t confess to a crime he didn’t commit). As a result of breaking the law, it is entirely right to try him and punish him. Furthermore, hacking the U.S. military is no joke, particularly when they have active agents in the field. If such actions were undertaken by a foreign government, it would surely be interpreted as an incitement to war.

However, Manning has not been formally tried, but has been kept in solitary confinement. He is not a danger to anyone; he’s only threatening to the careers of politicians. The level of punishment far outweighs the crime. Considering that soldiers that are accused of war crimes have more freedom and privileges than Private Manning, his arbitrarily-harsh sentence reflects what the clear priorities of the military are – protecting their own asses. Considering also that the United States has set itself up as the ‘shining example of freedom’ for the rest of the world, their blatant hypocrisy in dealing with their military’s shortcomings and human rights violations is also a matter of national security. Also in light of the fact that freedom of speech is being suppressed by autocratic governments worldwide (and being met with overwhelming protest), it is entirely in the spirit of the Jasmine Revolution for a group to lodge protest against the suppression of free speech here in America.

So is Anonymous a cyber-terror organization, or a staunch advocate of free speech and a punisher of the iniquitous? At the present moment, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter definition. Their targets have been, up to now, unfailingly deserving of the negative attention. And it seems that their particular brand of internet policing is coming none to soon:

Last year on May 21, the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) reported reaching initial operational capability, and news stories abound of US soldiers undergoing basic cyber training, which all point to the idea that traditional super powers are starting to explore this arena. Recent activities with one government contractor and Anonymous, however, show clearly that cyber operations have been going on for a long while, and that the private sector has been only too ready to fill the cyber mercenary role for piles of cash.

While I am wary of a disorganized mob of vigilantes hacking various websites, I am far more threatened by the collusion of government and private interests conspiring behind closed doors to spy on computer systems. Anonymous’ activities are done in the open, with a reasoned and defensible justification posted for all to read. The government and military have shown their duplicity for decades when it comes to covert operations. The strength of democratic government is predicated on its openness – the people must know exactly what they are voting for so they can know when a regime must be voted out.

Nobody voted for Anonymous, and it seems as though they/it are/is self-policed and limited only by its own ambition and the complicity of its individual members. There is no auditing Anonymous, no way to check its power, no way to punish it for abuse. In that sense I prefer government. I can show up at my MPs office and voice my displeasure. If I try to do that to Anonymous, I am likely to have my e-mail accounts flooded with child porn. There is no mechanism by which one can defend her/himself from a headless organization – no courts can protect you, no lawsuits can be filed, no restraining order can be put out. As we know, humans given great power and no mechanism for controlling it almost inevitably abuse it.

And so my mind is still not made up. I applaud Anonymous for making the U.S. military deal with the consequences of their treachery and their betrayal of human rights, but I fear what may happen if Anonymous decides that fighting the good fight no longer provides the necessary amount of lulz.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

*The -gate suffix is really stupid. The Watergate scandal, upon which all other ‘-gates’ are based, was based on a hotel called “The Watergate”. It was not a scandal that was related to water, and adding the suffix is therefore completely nonsensical

Let’s call this what it is…

Those accommodationists among us (I am not calling them “diplomats” here – there is nothing diplomatic about being a coward) will say that one ought not to use mean words or phrases against our opponents. Rational discussion is, they say, based on both sides maintaining a respectful stance – a stance which is impossible if people use words or phrases that put the other side on the defensive. When confronted, people will put their fingers in their ears and refuse to hear your side.

If the protests in the Arab world have taught us anything, it’s that the accommodationist position is full of shit. Standing up and calling out your opponents is an effective method of achieving change, provided you can mobilize those who agree with you. This has long been my suspicion, but it’s nice of the Arab world to prove it for me.

So, in the spirit of not pretending that bullshit arguments have merit in order not to offend the bullshitters, I invite everyone to call these anti-Muslim “hearings” what they are: straight up racism

A U.S. congressional hearing on homegrown terrorism has been labelled “shameful” and “un-American” by prominent Muslim leaders. A Republican-led Homeland Security committee began hearing testimony Thursday in Washington on radicalization in the U.S. Muslim community. Representative Peter King, the New York Republican who organized the hearing, has stirred controversy by accusing Muslims of refusing to help law enforcement with the growing number of terrorists and extremists.

Muslim Americans, according to Peter King, aren’t licensed to simply exist as law-abiding citizens. No, that’s too good for ‘those people’. They also have to help law enforcement do its job, I suppose by acting as sleeper agents. You know, just like how white Christians flocked to aid law enforcement crack down on anti-abortion terrorist groups. Oh wait… that never happened, did it? You know why? Partially because it’s not a group’s collective responsibility to do law enforcement’s job for them, partially because terrorists are a tiny fraction of the overall population of white Christians, but also because they’re white! White people don’t get scapegoated – it’s in their contract.

I wish I could accuse Mr. King of being shockingly ignorant of American history, but I am not so sure that he doesn’t know who Joe McCarthy was and what his legacy is. Considering the number of people making the explicit comparison between the two, I will simply take a step back now that I’ve planted the seed and let you read on your own (if you care to).

If this were a more popular blog, and we had more American Conservatives(tm) commenting (or indeed, any American Conservatives), I’m sure I’d be flooded with comments like this one:

Nobody is “targetting” the entirety of American Muslims. That being said, an overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in the United States within the past two years have been perpetrated by Muslims. These are FACTS – not biases or racist screeds – duly recognized by Congress, and the executives within the Obama administration.

It’s not racism, guys! Really! It’s just that those durn Mooslims keep blowin’ stuff up! Well, unless you actually bother to count:

But even if it was Muslims who are predominantly committing acts of terror (and it isn’t – I can’t stress this enough), that doesn’t empower Mr. King to put the Muslim community on trial for those acts. If Mr. King was really interested in getting to the bottom of this issue rather than just demonizing a minority group, he’d be inviting experts and members of the community, talking to law enforcement specialists, consulting statistics.

But he’s not:

Consider, for example, that so far at least, King’s witness list does not contain the name of Charles Kurzman, a professor of sociology of the University of North Carolina. A non-Muslim, Kurzman has produced a report for the university’s Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security that actually uses statistics and facts to examine the question posed in the report’s opening paragraph: “Are Muslim-Americans turning increasingly to terrorism?” Kurzman examines things like the number of Muslim-Americans who perpetrated or were suspected of perpetrating attacks since 9/11: 24 in 2003, 16 in 2006, 16 in 2007, a spike of 47 in 2009, and a drop to 20 in 2010. A total of 161 over nearly 10 years.

In a few cases, Muslim groups have even turned in provocateurs urging jihad who turned out to be undercover police agents.

This isn’t a concerned citizen looking to find the solution to a serious problem – this is an opportunist who is cashing in on the rampant anti-Muslim sentiment of the populace to make hay and brand himself as a patriot. Considering his hypocritical stance on state-sponsored terrorism – defending the IRA in the 90s when they were perpetrating acts of terrorism in Ireland – it’s patently obvious that Mr. King’s motivation here is to demonize the “other”. In this case, in this day and age, that “other” is the Muslim community.

And why do I care (and, by extension, why should you)? I’m certainly no friend of Islam, and am suspicious of all religious people, particularly those whose religion requires extraordinary levels of piety and compliance with arcane rules. Why should I defend people I disagree with so vociferously? First of all, I care because it’s the right thing to do. Innocent people are being scapegoated by the U.S. government, and that’s a violation of their rights. Second, any time a minority group is made an example of, every person should become immediately uneasy. As an atheist and a black person, two groups that have received its unfair share of negative attention from governments and social institutions, I am standing up for myself here too.

There is no virtue in pretending that Mr. King has a noble purpose in these witch hunts. It is not diplomatic to try and hear his side – his side is built on lies, hypocrisy and thinly-veiled racial animosity. The virtue here is in calling this exactly what it is, and refusing to stop naming it until Mr. King is shamed into obscurity.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

U.S. shows its hypocrisy over free speech

Sadly, with this whole free speech thing, sometimes this is what it looks like when your side wins:

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a grieving father’s pain over mocking protests at his Marine son’s funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Yeah… fuck. Possibly the worst scum of the earth, Fred Phelps, has been granted a landslide license from the Supreme Court of the United States to picket military and private funerals, spreading his ludicrous doctrine. In the name of free speech, he’s allowed to cause widespread suffering to grieving families who have done nothing to deserve such hateful condemnation from a group of people they’ve never met.

I’ve never been less happy to win.

Nate Phelps, estranged son of Fred Phelps and director of Centre For Inquiry’s Calgary branch is, understandably, opposed to this ruling:

It has been my contention all along that protesting at a funeral is unconscionable. For the Court to give greater consideration to Free Speech, at the expense of a citizen’s right to bury a loved one in peace, is a dangerous travesty of justice… If ever there was a just reason to limit the time and place that a person can exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, this would be it.

I admire Nate a great deal, and his journey away from his family cannot have been an easy one. Forever being known as the son of that crazy hate preacher must be incredibly tiresome. It is therefore with some trepidation that I must disagree with him in principle. First of all, there is no law in the national constitution or any state constitution that grants an explicit right to bury a loved one in peace. To be sure, privacy isn’t a guaranteed or delineated right in the US Constitution either, so there is an argument that can be made over explicit and implicit rights. However, an implicit right cannot trump an explicit one, and the right of free speech is an explicit one. While it is certainly not a good thing to picket funerals, the rule of law dictates that we must prioritize rights that are codified over those that we wish were codified.

Secondly, there are far better reasons to curtail the right of free expression. From the government’s perspective, vibrant and wholesale protestation of the actions of government officials is dangerous. It could in fact be dangerous to the safety of citizens to have certain ideas made public or encouraged openly. Curtailing that kind of free speech would be far more justified than telling a tiny group of zealots that they’re not allowed to wave ugly signs at a funeral. However, the government is specifically enjoined from banning such demonstrations of lawful speech, and so by the literal interpretation of the law, the WBC slides in.

That being said, since the United States government is more than happy to curtail even legitimate free speech, it seems incredibly hypocritical of them to give the WBC a pass. Apparently it doesn’t violate the constitution to lock political protesters into fenced-off areas, but when those protesters are only harassing innocent civilians, it’s an 8-1 matter for the SCOTUS? Not to mention that since the content of the protests are personal in nature, a legitimate argument could be made that these protests are tantamount to criminal harassment, which is against the law. Not to mention the fact that even if they are not harassment, they are certainly disturbing the peace (another crime). It seems as though these protests can be moved on other legal grounds.

But of course, it is definitely too much to expect consistency from the United States. Free speech is a fundamental right! Well, unless it’s speech we don’t like:

The US army has filed 22 new charges against the soldier accused of leaking thousands of classified documents published by the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. Bradley Manning is facing life in prison if found guilty to the charges which include aiding the enemy. Manning, 23, had previously faced a host of charges including downloading and transmitting to an unauthorised person a classified video of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters employees.

I am well aware that Private Manning has broken military law and is subject to prosecution as a result. However, his ongoing imprisonment and his treatment as a hostile combatant is both cruel and unusual (there’s that pesky constitution again!). Considering that “the enemy” hasn’t been defined, and that Private Manning didn’t release the information to any specific foreign government or terrorist group, the charge of “aiding the enemy” is as ridiculous as it is transparently a ploy to torture someone who caught the US government with its pants down.

While politics, particularly (it seems) in the United States, is a breeding ground for hypocrisy, this kind of double-speak is particularly egregious. Free speech is important to uphold for hate groups who persecute grieving families, but speak against the government and your rights under the constitution are shredded. Land of the free and home of the brave indeed…

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!