The worst thing in the world (Wednesday edition)

Trigger warning: violence against children, women, and humanity at large. Also, cults.

As much as my lizard brain would love me to, I have a really tough time (intellectually) branding someone as ‘evil’. Sure, I am happy to call actions, ideologies, and institutions evil. By their fruits ye shall know them and all that – judge things by their consequences. Even in yesterday’s condemnation of neo-Nazi and murderer J.T. Ready, I avoided (with middling success) implying that Mr. Ready was an organically evil person. I find such descriptions do little to further our understanding of how to prevent these kinds of problems in the future. We only know who ‘evil people’ are after they’ve already done something evil, by which time it is too late. Plus, nobody ever thinks they’re evil – just misunderstood or held back by the forces of political correctness or something.

People are not ‘evil’ in the sense that such language use would suppose. People are people, and we are all occasionally cognitively lazy enough to embrace ideas uncritically. The worst offenders among us embrace ideas that, directly or indirectly, hurt our fellow human beings. When we see that behaviour in someone else, we should be able to recognize our own shared failings. In so doing, we are better equipped to act with compassion and critical thought rather than knee-jerk blame, which only narrows our own field of vision for potential solutions.

I know all this, and have believed it for some time. That being said, it’s sometimes hard for me to put that principle into practice: [Read more…]

Please sign this petition

Natalie Reed’s audience is much larger than mine, and I can’t imagine that there are too many of you reading this who aren’t reading her as well (and if you’re not, you should be). However, this issue is important so I’m going to signal boost as much as I can:

Next month, in April, an extremely pivotal bill is going to be up for debate in the Canadian parliament. It’s Bill C-279, which will add gender identity and gender expression to the list of statuses protected under the Canadian Human Rights Code, and amend the pertinent sections of the Criminal Code in regards to anti-transgender violence, assault, and harassment.

Currently, transgender Canadians have no such protections, and may be discriminated against on the basis of their gender by employers, businesses, shelters, institutions (public or private) and individuals without any legal consequence. Effectively, I can be turned down for a job, barred from entering a restaurant, denied admittance to a shelter or hostel, or forced to comply with male dress-codes at public institutions without my having any recourse. If I am harassed, assaulted or murdered on the basis of my being trans, this does nto qualify as a hate crime. I am in the position of having to depend simply on the mercies of a legally empowered majority to choose not to exercise their right to openly discriminate against me.

This is not okay.

Read the rest of the post, then (if you’re Canadian), call your MP and demand an answer. My MP (who I can’t imagine opposes this bill) is being uncharacteristically circumspect, so I’m going to keep pressing her. Right now the biggest opponent of the bill is the fact that nobody’s talking about it. Let’s see if we can’t get some chatter going.

Sign the petition

Movie Friday: Bill O’Reilly makes sense

Not USUALLY, not GENERALLY, but in this clip he actually sounds like he’s payed attention to the arguments from the other side:

There are people out there who, despite having had something explained to them a metric fuckton of times, still profess not to understand the issue. I ran into this with Mallorie Nasrallah a few months ago, where she claimed to have read the criticisms of her obsequious love letter to the patriarchy, but couldn’t understand why people were so upset. I have devised a clever scheme for such circumstances: ask your opponent to summarize your argument, and offer to do the same in reverse. That way, the propensity to strawman can be identified early, and dealt with.

So it was with some surprise that I watched Bill O’Reilly offer what is a pretty cogent defense of the pro-gay-marriage position. So cogent, in fact, that he appears to stump faith-head Kirk Cameron, such that he (Kirk) has to derail his own line of ‘reasoning’ and claim not to have a position. Which, of course, raises the question of why Bill seems ever-eager to bring up the same canards when it suits him to do so. Then again, in order to be surprised by Bill O’Reilly being a hypocrite, you’d have to assume he’s a normal person with scruples.

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All that is old is new again

I don’t really like suspense movies. I think they’re wildly inaccurately named, because they’re about as suspenseful as an egg timer. The plots tend to be mundanely formulaic, and the “startling” moments can often be predicted within a 5-second window – not exactly shocking stuff. One of the most common tropes within the horror genre is the moment where the monster/killer/villain falls under a hail of bullets/magic spells/thrown puppies and appears to be finally defeated. Tentatively, the hero inches toward the prone corpse and nudges it to ensure that it’s really dead. Relieved, ze walks away. The camera cuts to the face of the villain, whose eyes suddenly and “dramatically” open, revealing that the evil has only been temporarily slowed, not ultimately defeated.

As trite and cliche as these moments are, we do see parallels in our political life:

A Ugandan MP has revived a controversial anti-gay bill but says the provision for the death penalty for some homosexual acts will be dropped. A BBC correspondent says MPs laughed, clapped and cried out: “Our bill, our bill,” when its architect David Bahati reintroduced the draft legislation on Tuesday. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved in 2011 after an international outcry. It still increases the punishment to life in prison for homosexual offences.

Yes, the infamous “kill the gays” bill has once again reared its disgusting and bigoted head in Uganda. Fueled by endemic homophobic attitudes, anti-gay rhetoric from the United States, and a (somewhat justified) paranoia about colonial control of an African democracy, lawmakers in Uganda are trying to revive a bill that received widespread denunciation from the international community. Interestingly, though, the bill does not have the support of the government: [Read more…]

Does stupidity make you racist?

If you read the other FTBlogs (and you should), you may have noticed discussion of a study about cognitive ability, conservative ideology and outgroup prejudice. JT talked about it, and so did Jason. Basically, to read the coverage of the study, a team of psychologists from Brock University in Ontario have demonstrated that a lower level of cognitive ability is predictive of negative attitudes toward other races and gay people, but that political conservatism plays a significant role in that pathway. In a nutshell: conservatives are a bunch of hateful dummies, and now we can prove it!

While I would certainly love for that to be the case, I have spent far too much time wading in the muck of junk science about racism to hop so readily on board. I can certainly confess to my own non-trivial amount of outgroup antipathy toward ideological conservatives. Knowing what I know about confirmation bias and the difficulties associated with measuring intelligence (and how those exact same problems have been used to justifiably discredit studies of scientific racism), I suppressed my “nanna nanna boo boo” instinct and actually took my skeptical scalpel to the paper.

A link to the article, which may be behind a paywall for some of you, is provided here. [Read more…]

Sometimes it’s a good day

If there’s anyone in the Canadian political system who’s reading this and wants to make me an extremely happy guy, it’s really not that difficult. I’m a simple man who enjoys the finer things in life – a nice meal, a pint of good beer, a productive day at work, time spent with close friends… it doesn’t take a lot. What puts me over the moon is when politicians legislate like liberals and act like grown-ups.

Liberal ideas – promoting equality and long-term progress through evidence-based policy – are ideas that I can support. For reasons that surpass understanding, it is rare to see someone get tough with liberal ideas. Not tough in a macho, bullying kind of way, but tough in a “I believe in this, and am willing to fight for it” sort of way. Too often, perfectly defensible liberal ideas get bulldozed by threats of political ramifications or hurt feelings. However, there are rare moments when the planets align and politicians get tough on things I agree with, and those days make me happy.

Today is a very good day. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Rick Perry on his ad

So by now I’m sure you’ve all seen Rick Perry’s absolutely terrifyingly boneheaded and bigoted campaign ad. In it, the governor decides to reveal a deep, dark secret about himself – he’s a Christian. Yep, it’s finally out there, and he’s not ashamed. What he is ashamed of, however, is the fact that gay people aren’t ashamed to serve in the military. He’s ashamed of the fact that other Christians can’t proselytize in government buildings. And he’s ashamed about a third things too, and it’s… uh… oops.

What you may not have seen is his follow-up act on CNN where he tries to defend that ad:

This is what journalists are supposed to do, and which Sarah Palin has apparently scared them away from. If someone leads with their chin as obviously as Perry does in his ‘defense’ of his bigotry, you’re supposed to oblige them and deliver the knockout punch. “The Israeli military’s pretty good, right?” is the question that every single person who defends “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be forced to answer.

And also there’s this:

But I’m intentionally avoiding reading anything into that.

So America, you seem to have a choice between the party that this knucklehead of a homophobic asshole represents, and then the other guys:

And the fact that this is actually a difficult choice for your country absolutely floors me.

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Warning: this story is full of win

Sometimes the stuff I blog about gets me pretty down. There’s a lot of ugliness in humanity, and a lot of things to despair about. The ever-persistent stain of racism, rampant and unabashed misogyny, the easy lies of conservatism… it’s enough to wring a tear from even my stony gaze, and I have to reach for my supply of otter pictures.

Then again, sometimes a story comes along and completely cheers me up:

Poland’s first transsexual member of parliament has been sworn in, in what has traditionally been a socially conservative country. Fifty-seven-year-old Anna Grodzka was previously a man, known as Krzysztof, before having surgery in Thailand.

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Poland has made a progressive milestone by electing someone who, no matter how qualified, would not have been able to serve in office a generation ago. That’s pretty cheering. But wait, there’s more… [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…]

Why are you hitting yourself? Part 4: the self-hating 99%

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

In this morning’s installment, we explored the phenomenon of implicit valuation of members of high-status groups. Despite what we may say, or what we may consciously believe about ourselves, our actions reveal subconscious attitudes that we may have. Our wish to approve of, or make excuses for, the status quo of our social lives leads those who are on the top of power gaps to exhibit bias towards themselves. At the same time, that same desire puts those at the bottom of those divides in the somewhat bizarre role of showing the same bias – toward those at the top. This effect is not seen when measuring explicit attitudes – what people are willing to admit to – but shows up when we can find ways to ‘bypass’ conscious processing.

In this installment, I’m going to look explicitly at one aspect of how system justification theory manifests itself: political ideology. [Read more…]