Why are you hitting yourself? Part 3: this post contains implicit content

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

We left off last week looking at the ways that factoring in someone’s desire to approve of the way the world works (“I like things the way they are”) will lead her to defend the status quo, even if that status quo puts her at a disadvantage. The authors suggest 5 different mechanisms by which this effect might be seen: 1) rationalizing observed events by seeing the likely as the desirable; 2) using stereotypes to rationalize differences in power between groups; 3) using stereotypes more often when there is a cognitive ‘threat’ to the status quo; 4) accepting explanations regardless of their legitimacy; and 5) misremembering those explanations as being more legitimate than they are. When these factors work in parallel, we can explain much of the seemingly-idiosyncratic ways in which members of disadvantaged groups will sometimes defend the very system that holds them down.

In this installment, I will be delving into their discussion of what is one of the recurrent themes within my own analysis of racism: the fact that many of these mechanisms operate below the level of conscious awareness. Freud postulated the existence of three separate agents within the mind: the ego, the superego, and the id. His argument was that while conscious beings were able to be aware of their actions, many of the things that influence our behaviour happen without our even realizing it. While this idea has been around for decades and has a great deal of face validity, it is often ignored when we examine why people around us behave the way they do (another psychological concept called the Fundamental Attribution Error). [Read more…]

Religion and justice: the weird sisters

Religion, as a manifestation of the human impulse to attribute unexplained or unlikely occurrences to some kind of sentient external being, is arguably one of the most destructive forces plaguing our planet and our society. Personal or political differences between individuals or groups take on a whole new dimension of fucked-uppedness when religion gets thrown in the mix. It’s not always destructive though – I am willing to admit. Sometimes people do good things for explicitly religious reasons, although it’s far easier to find non-religious reasons to do good (pro-social) things than it is for evil things. Be that as it is, sometimes adding religion to things makes them better. Other times… it just makes them weird.

Fiji battles with Methodist church:

Fiji’s military government has ordered the cancellation of the Methodist Church’s annual conference, accusing the leadership of being too political. Senior members of the church were summoned by the military to hear the order, reports say. Soldiers attempted to detain 80-year-old former head of the church, Reverend Josateki Koroi, but he refused to go. “I told them, the only way to take me to camp now is bundle up my legs, tied up, and my hands, I will not go with you. That is the only way, you carry me to the camp or you bring your gun and shoot me and you carry my dead body to the camp to show to the commander,” he told New Zealand media.

In this case, it seems like the Methodists are on the side of the good guys, as the political leadership in Fiji has suspended democratic freedoms and clamped down on dissent. Not cool. There’s also legitimate religious persecution happening here, where religious practice is being curtailed due to political differences. This is quite distinct from, say, telling a church it may not publicly endorse a candidate during an election cycle or prohibiting open religious exercise by government-funded institutions. This is telling a group that it may not assemble because it is critical of the government – an obvious violation of the principle of free speech and freedom of conscience.

I suppose the weirdest part of this story is that I’m defending a religious institution. I’ve maintained all along that I don’t have a problem with religious people, but with the wacky ideas they believe. If the Fijian Methodist Church’s opposition to Commodore Bainimarama’s regime is based on the fact that Jesus totally hates his guts, then that’s a lousy criticism. The fact that valid ideas are sometimes present in churches doesn’t vindicate the weirdo things they believe in. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, and so I am giving their stance my support (you’re totally welcome, guys).

Shariah court forcibly separates Indonesian lesbian couple:

Islamic police in the Indonesian province of Aceh have forced two women to have their marriage annulled and sign an agreement to separate. The women had been legally married for a few months after one of them passed as a man in front of an Islamic cleric who presided over their wedding. But suspicious neighbours confronted the couple and reported them to police. The two women are now back with their families, forcibly separated and under surveillance by the Islamic police.

This is like a sideways version of the movie Mulan, or more historically (and fitting with the title of this post) As You Like It. In this case, however, instead of masquerading as a man to fool a would-be-suitor, the disguise was to fool everyone else into recognizing the validity of a relationship. And, instead of the star-cross’d lovers being united in the end, the religious authority is forcing them to annul their marriage and move apart from each other. Why? Because apparently everything is so peachy keen in Indonesia right now that the people don’t have anything better to spend their time worrying about. Like, for example, the brutalization of minorities. Or the lack of adequate health care. Or suppression of right to free speech.

No, apparently Allah can’t punish those lesbos all on his own (nothing escaped this disastrous economy – not even omnipotence), and needs the help of his busybody footsoldiers to make sure that one couple who wasn’t hurting anyone can’t continue their devious campaign of living together happily. I’m not a supporter of defrauding the legal authority, which is unquestionably what happened here, but the punishment is not proportionate to the ‘crime’. It could be far worse – in parts of Nigeria or South Africa these women would have probably been gang raped. Going to the trouble of separating them and annulling their marriage is just, well, weird.

Druid represents himself in court:

A druid who went to the High Court to try to stop researchers examining ancient human remains found at Stonehenge has failed in his legal bid. King Arthur Pendragon wanted the remains found in 2008 to be reburied immediately. He was fighting a Ministry of Justice decision allowing scientists at Sheffield University to analyse the samples for five more years. His bid was rejected at a High Court hearing in London.

Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused to give Mr Pendragon permission to launch a judicial review action, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Ministry of Justice might have acted unreasonably. Former soldier Mr Pendragon, 57, who changed his name by deed poll, was dressed in white druid robes and represented himself at the hearing.

Okay… I don’t have to explain why this one is weird, right?

This is why

Druids are weird. Being all precious and uptight about dead bodies is weird. Representing yourself at a High Court hearing is… well, it’s just a bad idea. I suppose Druidism is no more or less weird than First Nations animism here in North America, and certainly its more environmental and pacifistic tenets are worthy of some consideration. That doesn’t make it less weird.

Of course the take home message is that when religious beliefs collide with a secular justice system, there are some really strange outcomes. A system that is founded on principles of rationality and logic intersecting with a belief system that is based on the fundamental abdication of either of those is virtually guaranteed to produce some truly, spectacularly bizarre outcomes.

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Movie Friday: Jamie Kilstein

Those of you who are regular readers may have noticed that my use of language fluctuates from post to post. Sometimes I am crude and direct, other times I am flowery and expressive. Some of this is organic – I am actively trying to improve my writing and I think that repeated daily practice is accomplishing that. Other times it is intentional – trying to match the tone of my words to the topic at hand to elicit emotional impact. Sometimes, I will confess, it is simple laziness on my part.

I love words. I can’t really draw or paint, and while I am a musician my creativity in that department is not exactly exceptional. Where I think my real strength lies in in my use of language. Words on a page, properly arranged, can change the world. While my own personal aspirations are somewhat more modest than global metamorphosis, I do put more than a little bit of conscious effort into these sentences you read here.

Sometimes I run into someone who can knock me on my ass with their use of language. Jamie Kilstein is one such person:

Audio is definitely NSFW, but you shouldn’t watch Youtube videos at work anyway.

Yes, I recognize it’s crude, but I challenge you to find fault in the phrase “fist you into a meth coma”.

I’ve run into these kinds of arguments against gay marriage and gay parenting before. They are, quite frankly, ridiculous. There are heterosexual parents who do a far worse job of raising kids than a gay couple could ever hope to. There are single parents who do do an outstanding job without another person around (I’d offer my own upbringing as evidence of that possibility). Suggesting that a mix-gendered environment is a necessary component of a healthy childhood is easily put to the lie by even the most casual of scrutiny. Suggesting further that every gay couple will do a worse job than every straight couple is an even greater height of absurdity.

Jamie Kilstein does a great job of skewering these arguments with a fast-paced, profanity-strewn and impeccably-delivered 3 minute monologue. Of course, being in front of a sympathetic audience certainly helps the delivery, but even without the accompanying laughter it’s quite something to see.

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Getting your priorities… straight

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The pun was just too appropriate:

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) may soon try to pass amendments to its equity policy that allow religious doctrine to trump the Ontario Human Rights Code. Among the eight amendments, only two passed at the last board meeting, on May 16. The meeting came to an end before trustees had time to vote on six other proposed amendments that appear to directly target queer students.

One proposed amendment states that the Catholic board’s denominational rights “take precedence over human rights protections.” Another takes aim at gay-straight alliances (GSAs): “The board will approve only clubs which [sic] have goals that are not inconsistent with Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings. Equity and Inclusive Education policy amendments ”

We all have things in our lives that require careful balancing and triage. For example, I work a 9-5 job, and play in a band. I also try to have some kind of social life outside the band, and then of course there’s this blog. This is a lot of stuff to juggle, so I have to make sure I keep my priorities very clear. Everything else would fall apart if I lost my job, so that gets the majority of my attention and focus. Conversely while I would be personally disappointed if I had to stop blogging, it’s the easiest thing on that list to sacrifice if it came into conflict with something else.

We all do this on a day-to-day basis. If you’re married, you have to find a way to prioritize your needs and those of your spouse (which is to say nothing of being a parent). If you’re a student, you have to find a way to make money that enables you enough free time to complete your readings and assignments and so on. Accordingly, there are always times when our priorities conflict with each other and we have to make a decision we’re not happy with.

What we have to do when making those difficult decisions is think what is in our long-term best interest – which of these prioritization decisions will yield the greatest benefit? Well, unless you’re the TCSB – then you just stick your fingers in your ears and insist that your stubborn refusal to accept reality is more important than the well-being of your fellow creatures. It is a particular brand of conceit that tells the world “my personal beliefs are more important than your equality under the law.”

The bizarre thing to me is how anyone in the board could possibly think this is a good idea. We’re not talking about some podunk town where the only gay guy within a 50 km radius lives in denial and constant fear. This is Toronto

Pictured: Toronto Chamber of Commerce

In a city with such a large, visible, and popular gay community, it is incomprehensible to me that an entire school board would fail to recognize what a PR disaster a movement to shame gay Catholic kids is. Ignoring for a moment the issue of human rights (since the board is happy to do so already), just on the simple basis of how this looks to the city at large, the board has stepped in it big time. Catholic organizations do not need to be caught showing their intolerance and bigotry out in the open, especially when it comes to matters of sex and morality. The entire church needs to rehabilitate its image, and pick its battles very carefully. Purely from a PR standpoint again – this was the wrong time and the wrong place to take a stand on making life harder for gay teens.

In general, however, the point needs to be made that human rights legislation was crafted for a reason – when left up to the mercy of society allowed to express all ideas in the open marketplace, we saw centuries of oppression of gay men and women from religious organizations. It’s only very recently, when public opinion underwent a sea change (due in no small part to the tireless efforts of gay rights activists), that churches began to revisit their stance on the issue. Human rights need protection, and while freedom of belief is indeed one of those rights, that does not license you to enact the consequences of those beliefs on others.

This decision was both philosophically and ethically wrong (nothing new for Catholic organizations, I’ll admit), but also extremely stupid from the perspective of rehabilitating the faith at a time when it needs all the allies it can get. Smart would have been to read the winds of public opinion and quietly shelve opposition to LGBT groups. Smarter still would have been to recognize that doctrine is not more important than human rights, and that students need the guidance and support of teachers – not condemnation affixed with an official seal.

Of course, smartest of all would be to simply recognize that the doctrine is stupid, and refuse to waste any time thinking about it, the way most Catholics do.

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Free speech advocates: this is not the droid you’re looking for

I am in something of an unusual position, being an outspoken crusader both for human rights and for free speech. It crops up in my discussions of hate speech as a free speech issue again and again. The reason why I say my position is somewhat unique is that usually those who defend absolute speech rights ally themselves on the side of anti-gay, racist and/or sexist bigots. Their position tends to be “I shouldn’t be punished for saying hateful things.” My position is a bit more nuanced – I think that the definition of ‘hate’ is imprecise, and that while we should take note of it, it is far too tempting for the state to abuse the power to criminalize unpopular speech.

A recent court case has free speech advocates salivating like starving wolves in front of a fresh kill:

A comedian who was fined by the BC Human Rights Tribunal after a confrontation with a lesbian couple at a Vancouver restaurant is appealing the decision, arguing the province’s human rights legislation shouldn’t apply to stand-up comics. The tribunal ruled in favour of Lorna Pardy, a gay woman who testified that Guy Earle shouted gay slurs and other insults at her and her girlfriend from both on and off the stage during a comedy show in 2007. Earle and the restaurant were ordered to pay a total of $22,500 in compensation.

Human Rights Tribunals are the bane of the bigoted set. They are intended to find a way to balance respect for human rights with civil liberties, and are empowered to levy fines against people found guilty of discriminating, propagating hatred, or otherwise violating people’s charter rights in ways that aren’t expressly criminal. While they are an imperfect tool, they represent an attempt to uphold the rights of individuals to live free of persecution and hatred.

The reason why my fellow unrestricted speech advocates are so hot about this particular case is because on the surface, it reads like the story of a comedian who made some off-colour comments about lesbians in the context of a comedy performance, and who was subsequently brought up on charges by some overly-sensitive bleeding heart liberal lesbos in the audience who can’t take a joke. ‘Political correctness gone mad!’ has been the cry. ‘How can we allow these Tribunals to bulldoze over the rights of performers to make jokes? Can we only tell knock-knock jokes from now on?’

Hey guys, ‘Knock, knock”

Who’s there?

A maniac that went on a hatred-fueled tirade against two women in the audience that went well beyond the boundaries of his act. A maniac that went on to bodily assault those women when they tried to stand up for themselves. A maniac that completely lost his cool and continued to berate them after his stage show had finished.

Yeah, not so funny a joke now, is it?

If the case had merely been an echo of Michael Richards’ racist tirade against black people, or Tracey Morgan’s recent statement where he said he would stab his son to death if he (the son) came out as gay, then I’d be decrying this decision right along with the rest of my fellow speech defenders. This isn’t that, though. This is the case of a guy who wasn’t content to simply humiliate a pair of women who he claimed were heckling him (this is disputed by the women, who say he began harassing them for the arch-crime of kissing each other), but went on a rampage against them even after he was off stage.

My fellow speechies are holding Mr. Earle up as an example of the overreach of the Tribunal process, but if anything it shows that there are times where clearly some kind of intervention is needed. What occurred at the restaurant was far beyond what one would consider reasonable fare for a comedy show, where the abuse begins and ends on stage. Guy Earle is not the victim of an oversensitive system that bends to every errant whine from a minority group – he’s the perpetrator of a shocking and unacceptable verbal assault that crossed the line from joke to serious when he put down the microphone.

I am not sure what mental deficiency it is that makes my colleagues unable to understand nuance and irony, but it has them hitching their wagon to a horse that isn’t so much dead as it is running in the opposite direction they want to go. If the battle is indeed to bring the free speech argument into the public consciousness – to sell the idea of unrestricted free speech rights to the marketplace of ideas then they’ve picked a real stinker of a human being to make their/our case on.

That being said, if this were a simple free speech issue, I’d side with Mr. Earle in a heartbeat, no matter how despicable a human being I might think he is. What he said on stage may have been defensible speech, but the extent to which he allowed it to go is indefensible conduct. Speech, no matter how hateful, is crucial to the conduct of our society – parasites like Guy Earle undermine the very idea of free speech.

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Burnaby: Oh… well then neither can we, apparently

Well clearly I spoke too soon:

A group that opposed a Burnaby school policy intended to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students is urging parents to pull their children from classroom lessons that offend their morals. The Parents’ Voice is distributing a form letter for members to complete and send to their schools requesting “alternative delivery” of lessons “that may in any way undermine our moral convictions with regards to non-heterosexual inclinations and/or behaviours.”

I was speaking with a friend recently about the idea of “death throes”. She asked me if I thought we were seeing a swing toward hyper-religiosity in light of developments in the United States and a mirror of that movement here in Canada. I posited that it seemed to me to be more of a desperation move (a “Hail Mary pass” if you’ll forgive the pun) of an ideology that has been left behind. Society has seen the flaws in religion, and is beginning to move past it. The religious establishment is getting busy trying to re-establish its relevance, but it’s too late for that. It’s a tantrum thrown by a child after she’s lost a game – all the tears and screams in the world can’t change the past.

This reaction from this parental group is just another such tantrum – ‘give my kid dissenting information, will you? Well I’ll show you!’ Pulling kids out of classes only hurts the kids – they’ll still learn about pro-gay attitudes from interactions with their peers. They will learn that there are other ways of looking at the world besides your stone-age mythology, and they’ll start to ask questions. Unless you’re going to erect a wall around your child and refuse to let any dissenting information in (a la Fox news), then you’re fighting a battle that isn’t just losing – it’s already lost.

The Parents’ Voice insists schools have a legal obligation to accommodate cultural, religious or ethical differences, and says Burnaby acknowledged that obligation earlier this year when it approved a policy allowing students to opt out of animal dissections in science classes.

I remember when there was a flap about frog dissection in my biology class back in high school. Kids were indeed allowed to opt out and learn anatomy another way. You know what happened to those kids? They didn’t learn the stuff properly.

Besides, there is one very important issue that is being overlooked here. Nobody is saying to the parents “you’re not allowed to tell your son or daughter that gay people are abominations and should not be accepted.” You can teach your kids whatever hateful bullshit you want in the privacy of your home. However, you don’t have the right to demand that the rest of us play your insulation game. Just as parents will be wrong about math, language, history, and science, they will be wrong about ethics. The schools have an obligation to teach, to the best of their ability, the truth. If your world view is hostile to the truth that LGBT people are not disordered or sinful, then that’s your problem.

Funnily, it’s usually parents of this mindset that trumpet the idea of “teach both sides” when it comes to things like evolution and the origins of the universe (as though there were only two sides, and that those two sides have equal evidence supporting them). It’s funny to see how hostile they are to having “both sides” taught when it’s something they disagree with.

Enjoy your tantrum, Burnaby. It’ll be the last time anyone pays attention to you.

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Burnaby: We can be human beings

Every now and then, a story comes along that restores some of my faith in humanity:

The Burnaby school board approved a controversial anti-homophobia policy on Tuesday evening. Trustee Ron Burton said it is comparable to an anti-racism policy implemented several years ago. “It was quite prevalent in the schools — racist slurs were everywhere,” Burton said. “[The anti-racism policy] gave teachers the ability to correct that behaviour, to say, ‘That’s inappropriate’ and make it a teaching moment when it happens. We’re hoping the same thing will happen with homophobic slurs — and educate kids in general.”

He pointed to the 2001 killing of Aaron Webster, a gay man who was beaten to death by a group of former Burnaby students because of his sexual orientation. “Perhaps if we had this policy in place [then], they wouldn’t be in jail now and that man would be alive,” Burton said.

Anti-gay bullying is a serious problem, particularly because it happens at an age where kids are particularly susceptible to the taunts and disapproval of their peers. I’ve spoken about this before, but the argument bears repeating. Gay kids get particularly singled out not just by individual bullies, but by society at large. “Gay” is a slang term that means blanket condemnation of LGBT people, and it gets tossed around with seeming unthinking ease. Add to that the fact that anti-gay attitudes are passed off as “traditional family values” – as though families with gay people don’t have values of their own. Kids are made to feel ashamed of themselves for no good reason, and then bullied on top of that.

There is a common objection that usually accompanies stories like this: all bullying is bad; why should we give gay kids special treatment when straight kids are being bullied too? I sometimes wonder when I hear these objections if the speaker has put any thought into that statement, or if it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction fueled by anti-gay sentiment. Nobody is saying “straight kids aren’t important” or “we are not interested in stopping bullying in general unless you’re gay”. It’s recognizing that there is a unique problem in a subset of a population that requires particular attention.

To draw an analogy, the objection is about as reasonable as saying “why should we raise money to feed starving people? Some people have heart disease – everyone’s got problems! We should just focus on solving all bad things, rather than giving starving people special attention!” It’s a ridiculous position that assumes a sort of zero-sum game, where targeting a solution to one community takes something away from another. Anti-gay bullying is a subset of bullying in general, and because the consequences are more dire and immediate, and because that particular subset has been ignored for so long, we can devote some extra attention to it, which ultimately reduces general bullying.

Of course, the part that I like the most about this story is the following:

A group called the Parents’ Voice had gathered thousands of signatures for a petition against the policy, saying it violates parental and religious rights. The group accused the district of trying to camouflage a discriminatory policy by calling it an anti-bullying measure.

If your religion requires you to bully gay kids, then your religion is fucked up and you need to change it. I’m not sure where parents got the idea that they have the right to teach their kids to hate other people, and the rest of the world has to respect that. If your beliefs are stupid, then you’re going to find that the rest of the world is going to be against you (with a few caveats if you live in Alberta). Just as it isn’t a violation of “parental and religious rights” to tell kids that black people aren’t the result of an ancient curse and deserve the same respect as white people, it’s not a violation of those same imagined rights to tell them “some people are gay, and that’s not an abomination or a sin – it’s just the way some people are.”

But despite the objections from the lunatic asylum, the board did the right thing and moved their policy into the later part of the 20th century. Those who are demanding the right to propagate their small-minded bigotry against gay people through their children are losing a battle against the tide of history. While it’s not happening fast enough for my tastes, soon all that will be left of these “traditional family values” will be an unpleasant memory of howling hordes of ignorant, backward people, and we will look back and say “how could anyone actually believe that?”

If you’re frightened by that last sentence, you should be.

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Movie Friday: Surviving ex-gay ministries

A commenter asked yesterday what was wrong with so-called “ex-gay ministries”. For those of you that don’t know, these are programs that are set up to ‘re-train’ homosexual men and women, to convince them that their sexual orientation is either a weakness of the mind, or the influence of Satan, or both. Words cannot express how contemptuous I am of the rank and foul arrogance required to tell someone that their sexual identity is evil. Then again, this kind of moralizing arrogance comes naturally when one considers oneself a direct emissary of the creator of the universe.

Ex-gay ministries are founded on the lie that sexual orientation is a choice, and that accepting Jesus will cleanse you of the sin of being “abnormal”. Of course, accepting Jesus is entirely orthogonal to being gay – there are many gay Christians (a fact that baffles me, but then again there are black Christians and female Christians too, so humanity clearly has a blind spot for its own hypocrisy). However, desperate people who have been convinced that they are disordered due to a lack of faith will grasp at all kinds of desperate straws to regain YahwAlladdha’s favour. They will completely abandon their rationality, frantic to prove their worth in their invisible tyrant’s eyes. And what does the religious establishment do with desperate people?

It fucks them:

Yep, it’s pretty much exactly as you’d expect. Jayden was molested by someone claiming to be able to ‘fix’ his homosexuality. The problem with this mindset is that it’s built on a series of falsehoods. First, it claims that homosexuality is evil or ‘unnatural’ – in that homosexuality in and of itself is no more harmful to people than heterosexuality, and we see examples of homosexuality often in the natural world, this first claim is a lie. Second, these ministries claim that one can simply ‘reprogram’ gay men by introducing them to ‘manly’ activities – I guess the number of gay men in the Marines and other Armed Forces just aren’t manly enough…


Hmm... okay maybe they have a point

The third and final lie that makes up the foundation of “ex-gay” ministries is that accepting Jesus will cure you of your homosexuality. This is the cop-out lie that all religious faith enjoys – if it fails, you can blame the victim because their faith “wasn’t strong enough”. No matter what happens, their asses are covered – if they appear to succeed then it’s because of the program, and if they fail it’s because of the individual in the program. Imagine if we explained away government programs or modern medicine in this way.

Oh, and did I mention that when people are blamed for something they can’t control, and told that their feelings are evil, even though they’ve never hurt anybody… they sometimes hurt themselves?

Of course the commenter then asked me where I got the gall to force my morals on everyone, so maybe I should have just laughed it off. Some lies need to be confronted, exposed, and destroyed. Ex-gay ministries are among them.

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In defense of my bigoted moron brothers

Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta is a non-crazy freethinkers group in Atlanta, and you should check them out.

This morning I went on a bit of a tirade against KD and Black Son, two of the hosts of a public access television show called “Black Atheists of Atlanta” for their completely non-scientific rationalization of their anti-gay stance. I got so fired up about tearing them a new asshole, that I forgot to talk about the original point I wanted to make about the show.

The first point was that being a member of a minority group (whether that be a racial or ideological minority) doesn’t make you immune from being a bigot or an idiot. Similarly, being an atheist doesn’t automatically mean you’re intelligent – it just means you have at least one thing right. KD and Black Son are just as seeped in the heterosexism of their society as anyone else. While we might be surprised to see someone that is a religious skeptic use the same kind of nonsensical “reasoning” we complain about in apologists, it’s not completely mysterious. The challenge is to be skeptical about all claims, and to apportion belief to the evidence – KD and Black Son clearly aren’t very skilled at appraising the quality of evidence.

The other thing I wanted to say but didn’t get a chance to was a response to something that Hemant wrote:

At one point, someone calls in to say that there is, in fact, a biological basis for homosexuality. The response?

KD: “Those scientists were white, weren’t they?”
Caller: “Why does that matter?”
KD: “It matters to me because I’m black… if you’re not careful, even science can be racist.”

(I’ll admit it’s true that black people have been victims in some experiments, but that’s the fault of individual scientists, not science as a process.)

Hemant’s comment represents a fundamental misunderstanding of racism, and the climate from which things like the Tuskegee experiment came. It wasn’t simply a handful of unscrupulous scientists operating outside the norms that were responsible for the atrocities of the now-infamous abuses done in the name of science. Rather, the rationalization for using these people as they were used sprang from the societal idea that black people were little better than animals, and as such could be used as instruments of medical testing rather than treated as people.

KD’s remark about science being prone to racism is not then an indictment of the process of science, nor is it a misplaced criticism of a few people. It is justifiable skepticism about truths that come from the scientific establishment – an establishment that has demonstrated again and again its vulnerability to racism, sexism, heterosexism… all the flaws we see in human beings. Seen from this perspective, KD’s point is entirely justified – one does have to be careful to ensure that science isn’t racist. We see this taking place in clinical trials, where medicines are tested in primarily white, male populations, and then distributed to the population at large without checking to see if the results are generalizable. To be sure, this is getting better, but we haven’t reached the point where we have to stop being careful.

That being said, the correct response is to remain skeptical – not to reject the science. Animal studies of homosexuality have been performed by a variety of scientists in many countries, and they are based on observation. They were also not performed with the purpose of proving that gay sex happens in the animal kingdom, they are based on field observations and followup hypothesis testing. This is quite ancillary to the fact that there is nothing inherent in people of European descent that is pro-gay; white people and black people alike hate LGBT people, in equal measure, and with equally little rational support.

So while I am still appalled and horrified by what KD and Black Son said in their broadcast, and find it just as stupid and meritless as I did this morning, I have to defend that particular comment, because it is rooted in a justifiable and rational response to a scientific establishment that is predominantly white and has a long history of racism. Science, properly applied, leads to the acceptance of homosexuality in humans just as sure as it does lead to the conclusion that black people are equal in all meaningful ways to all other people.

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Black, atheist, bigoted

Welcome Pharyngulites and Redditors! Thanks for reading! There is another part to this story that I’d appreciate you reading if you wouldn’t mind clicking through.

Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta is a non-crazy freethinkers group in Atlanta, and you should check them out.

One of my daily reads is Hemant Mehta’s blog, Friendly Atheist. This past week, he posted something that is well within my wheelhouse, and did so in a way that I think requires followup. The post itself concerns a black atheist public access show in Atlanta, Georgia which is in the southern United States. The hosts of the show devoted the first third of that particular episode to discussing homosexuality, in a way that embedded my face so firmly in my palm that I had to get it removed surgically before I could write this response.

Fair warning: the following video contains homophobic language, so if you’re particularly sensitive to bigotry you may not want to watch. It also contains considerable amounts of stupidity, so if you’re sensitive to that then you might want to… well quit using the internet I guess:

I am going to try and take these arguments as they come, so you can follow along if you like. The shit hits the fan at about 3:00 in:

3:05 – Black Son: …The homosexual community is co-opting the whole atheist movement.

No, it really isn’t. There are many homosexual groups that work within a religious framework, and try to change the religious organization from within. Successes in, for example, the Anglican church, are testament to the tireless effort of religious gay rights campaigners. The confluence of the gay community and the atheist community that does exist like has two sources. First, anti-gay attitudes lead many gay people to question whether or not the ideas put forth by religious leaders are true, which can lead to questions about the truth of any religious ideas, which can lead to atheism. Second, many atheists are skeptics and humanists. As a result, we look to science and reason as the foundations for our beliefs, rather than appeals to tradition. To claim that gay atheists aren’t really atheists is a claim made without evidence or logic supporting it, and can be dismissed as such.

5:52 – KD: …if you are of African descent, then you also accept the values, customs and traditions of traditional African people.

Yeah… no. Being of African descent doesn’t have anything to do with what ideas you believe, or what values you accept. First off, “traditional” African beliefs include religion, although not usually of the organized variety (rather beliefs that are embedded in culture and lived as part of lifestyle). Lack of belief in a god/gods is a rejection of “traditional” African values, customs and traditions, and yet the hosts still consider themselves black.

6:20 – KD: This is a historical fact

No it isn’t

6:22 – KD: I’m not a bigot

Yes you are.

6:55 – KD: Homosexuality is a byproduct of Western individualism…

Black Son: So you’re saying it’s all about ‘me me me me’…

KD: Yes, it’s same sex relationships, it’s about having a relationship with yourself. That’s not complementary, that’s not balanced.

It was at this point that I felt as though a trillion pairs of eyes were all rolling at the same time. Black Son and KD have arrived at the home turf of every anti-gay bigot out there: homosexuality is a choice. KD, are you saying that the only reason you are attracted to women is because you recognize the importance of “complementary” relationships? Are you attracted to men, but have decided to to sleep with only women because you choose to be heterosexual? Or, have you always been attracted to women and haven’t felt the need to explain why? Because if it’s the latter case, congratulations – you have just illustrated that homosexuality is not a choice you ignorant motherfucker.

7:57 – Black Son: When I talk about God or the deity not making no sense, I come from a scientific point of view, so when you deal with science you’ve got to deal with it all the way, so when the topic of homosexuality comes up, I always bring up the Law of Reproduction.

Interesting fact to note here: there is no such thing as the Law of Reproduction. Black Son has simply wrapped his bigotry in a sciency-sounding phrase and then claimed the win. His argument is that the purpose of a relationship is to produce children. Homosexual sex does not yield children, and therefore homosexual relationships have no purpose. However, he’s not relying on science for this conclusion, he’s deputizing teleology. Teleology is not a scientific position, and it has no evidence to support it. Relationships provide a number of things to humans, children being only one of them. It is conceivable that Black Son has had, or would not object to another man having, a relationship with a woman that isn’t for the purpose of producing children. I doubt he’d get hot and bothered over someone who’s had a hysterectomy getting together with an infertile man. These relationships also violate his fictitious “Law of Reproduction”, and yet escape the criticism. It’s hypocrisy, nothing more.

8:41 – KD: …and this is why we say – if you’re European, if you’re white, that’s their thing. Do what you do.

Ah yes, if you’re gay and you’re black, you’re adopting a European custom. You’re not “really black”, because “real” black people make babies. Hey Black Son and KD, do you know how many black women are raped in the Congo and in South Africa each year at the hands of “African tradition”? Some of those women “reproduce” – are we saying that this is a custom that is acceptable to you, whereas consensual homosexual sex isn’t?

12:00 – KD: European customs are by nature contradictory or in conflict with African customs

This is a load of horseshit. Customs are not inherently geographical – they are historical. The value of those customs is not based on where or when they came from, but rather what effect they have on human beings. The formalization of the scientific method (which these guys claim to adhere to, despite all evidence to the contrary) came out of… drumroll please… Europe. Does that mean that African people can’t use science? Does it mean that white people don’t value community and family? Absolutely not, and you’d have to be an idiot to think otherwise.

12:12 – Black Son: Absolutely

Oh… well, I guess that answers that question.

13:28 – KD: …in that sense they’re not necessarily colonizing each other because they’re cousins. So if Egyptians go to war with people in Ethiopia, that’s not colonialism. That’s one nation calling another nation to get their affairs in order before the Europeans or the Arabs control both of them.

WHAT? At this point we can safely conclude that KD is just making stuff up as he goes along. He’s pretending that pre-colonial African civilzations lived in peace and harmony, only using war as a means of warning each other that external invaders were approaching (it seems like a strongly-worded letter would suffice for this purpose). He also seems to think that European and Arab people are not cousins to African people, once again flying in the face of science.

After the 16-minute mark they veer off into discussions of black nationalism, which is not relevant to this discussion.

I liken watching this clip to taking a bite of a blueberry muffin, except instead of blueberries, it’s got facts sprinkled in there, and instead of dough, the muffin is made of bullshit. KD and Black Son touch on some things that are absolutely true: African social customs are distinct from European because of separate histories; colonialism introduced many European ideas into the African narrative; many gay black people initially leave the church because of the hatred they experience. However, the hosts then link these facts to conclusions that are in no way supported by either evidence or reason – simply backfilling an explanation for their own hatred of gay people.

I have known black pseudo-intellectuals of this stripe before. They engage in the exact same kind of flawed reasoning that religious people do, and couch it in rejecting “European” values. If I was an atheist in Atlanta, I’d be downright embarassed to have these two clowns representing me, and I hope they catch a shitstorm for being that publicly moronic.

Please remember to read the follow-up to this story!

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