I am thankful

Yesterday, while USians were curled up at home feeling thankful and/or gluttonous, feminists around the world were celebrating a different day: the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Few noticed in the US, I’m sure, because of their own major holiday, but there were things to note. In the coverage of the protests by Agence France-Presse, reporters noted that many demonstrations sang A Rapist In Your Path, a song written & first performed in Santiago, Chile.

One might think that Chileans would be particularly proud that a local protest song has become a worldwide dance anthem, translated into dozens if not hundreds of languages on its way to being performed on every continent. (Except Antarctica?) And likely many are, considering how many showed up to those protests, but the government in Santiago is not among the fans: they used water cannon on the dancers. Yes, in another spectacular example of Unclear on the Concept, feminists protesting violence against women were met with violence against women.

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The Death Squirrel (Not?) From Bethlehem

Great Gods of Garlic Gumbo, the derangement is worse than I thought. I am now forced to bring you another episode of Unclear on the Concept.

A couple days ago I created a post expressing my annoyance with particular problematic practices that I have observed frequently to occur in discussions about the so-called Historic Jesus. I was even quite clear that I wasn’t talking about actual historians writing in actual journals:

I won’t contest how this [methodology] is used in the work of peer reviewed historians. Perhaps that is even the best method, certainly it must be among the better methods or professional historians wouldn’t use it. However in the work of professional historians, I think they better understand exactly how limited is the claim that HJ existed.

Outside of arguments in journals, however, I think that this argument ill suits these less professional audiences.


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Travis Pangburn: Chickenhawk

Travis Pangburn, as PZ has brought to local attention, is interested in orchestrating a “war of ideas”. Yet, like the numerous “chickenhawks” of the USA right-wing who constantly advocate the nation commits acts of war while avoiding ever serving in the military, Pangburn seems to flee from those wars when they might involve him fighting on the front lines. One interesting manifestation of this is the strong possibility (examine the evidence for yourself) that Pangburn uses sock puppets to stick up for him, rather than arguing his case himself. But really, the entire thread over on Pharyngula about Pangburn’s latest project is at least as illuminating.

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For Freud’s Sake: Anti-racists are the real racists…again?

A couple weeks ago an NPR bigwig wrote an editorial about how it was wrong to call racism “racism” or racists “racists” because that was a moral judgement, not a factual one.

That. Position. Is. Freuding. Bankrupt.

Treating racism as a matter of moral opinion leads us directly to this place:

[Text Excerpt, emphasis mine:] “If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district … perhaps progress could be made”

Ten days ago, Wonkette’s Dok Zoom did a story on how NPR’s  Keith Woods, VP for newsroom training and diversity, argued against the decision NPR’s newsroom had previously made to label racist shit as actually racist. The conclusion that Dok Zoom came to was this:

that’s a big part of the problem with Woods’s argument: When it’s reduced to a headline, it sure as hell sounds like “let’s not stir up controversy with the mean word racism.”

But I don’t think that’s even the biggest problem with Woods’s argument. No, I think the biggest problem is that when whether or not something is racist or someone is engaging in racism is a moral opinion rather than a factual question, then there is no possible basis on which the media (or anyone, really) can challenge the message “anti-racists are the real racists”. It is the effect of long-standing refusals of news departments to treat racism as a fact that has gotten us to the point where even in 2019 Trump thinks that accusing Elijah Cummings of racism is a good media strategy … and might even be right.

Since we’ve been hearing this asinine argument for more than 50 years now, it seems imperative that the US media pulls its head out of its collective burro and gets busy developing the skills necessary to actually investigate racism as a factual matter, something that either does or does not exist, not a matter of opinion.


Oh, and by the way: Tucker Carlson, when Jon Stewart said you were hurting the US? This is what he was talking about.





Explaining Horizontal and Intra-Community Hostility: Aoife Helps Out

Aoife O’Riordan who writes (or wrote, last post was in 2017) the blog formerly hosted here on FtB Consider the Tea Cozy once wrote a bit about anti-bi-woman sentiment in lesbian communities. She doesn’t gives us much about causes, but she does identify a problem similar to that experienced by trans* women in queer women’s communities (especially but not only those that label themselves lesbian communities). This should be no surprise, since she’s actually attempting to use the experience of cis bi-women to educate other cis people about the experiences of trans* people who share their communities.

There’s lots of lesbians, you see, who won’t date or sleep with bi women. Even if there’s mutual attraction, they don’t want to go there, simply ’cause we fancy men as well. Girl meets girl, girl fancies girl, girl finds out girl also fancies guys, girl backs away in disgust. While it’s absolutely their right to reject whoever they like for any reason the like (of course!), it still sucks to hear. And the fact that it’s a pattern familiar to almost every bi woman I’ve talked about is, y’know, a problem. This doesn’t mean that every lesbian in the world has to date the first bi woman who fancies her, regardless of whether the attraction’s mutual! It just means that a lot of bi women (and hopefully loads of lesbians too) would like it if the lesbians who do feel that way took some time to think about whether their feelings might be based on prejudices and stereotypes. That’s all.

But this anti-bi-woman prejudice, where it exists, isn’t explainable as a reaction to some genital configuration because it is just as prevalent when lesbians interact with cis bi-women as it might be when lesbians interact with trans* bi-women (though in practice it appears to be dramatically more prevalent, because sexual orientation tends to take a back seat to biological sex – past or present – in discussions of cis* lesbians interacting with trans* folk).

We have to draw on other knowledge to help us explain this intra-community split. Fortunately, I’ve written about this before on a Pharyngula thread:

[After WW2 and the Holocaust,] people wanted an ethical system that said, “Never again” and meant it. Clearly the deontology of divine command didn’t do it. You couldn’t count on contractarianism to make a government respect its citizens. So, what then?

The infinite, the universal, the transcendent is what. If we can’t give human beings an infinite, transcendent value, then there will always be the possibility that some community or nation will believe that mass killings are desirable based on comparing the value of those human beings (to the nation considering the killing, not to those people themselves) to the value the society places on its own goals.

Infinite worth was the way out of the despair of WW2. Existentialism spread like wildfire. Good stuff, in its way. It gave us terms & concepts like “devalue”.

If you see yourself as horribly devalued, however, and you latch onto infinite value ethics as your level to try and achieve your safety, a couple things [might] happen. First, you try to universalize: you want to get every woman on your side, the struggle is that important. Thus, “we’re all in it together”, thus “we’re all exactly the same in the way that matters most”, thus, “those sufficiently different from me that I truly can’t imagine myself ‘the same as’ cannot be in my category”, thus “those falsely claiming to be in my category are jeopardizing my movement and thus my safety,” thus “it is appropriate to label their destabilization of this category upon which I rely for my ultimate safety ‘an attack’ ”.

[This particular chain of ethical reasoning] also shows how the same women can claim to be anti-racist (“we’re all in this together, of course I care about women of color”) but end up pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with ending racism (“The real oppression is sexism, it’s universal to every society.  So when we get rid of the real oppression, *THEY* won’t need racism to divide us and racism along with all those other subsidiary oppressions will pass away” – AKA “there will be no racism after the revolution, so don’t worry your nappy little head about white supremacy”). [original comment lightly edited for our purposes – cd]

Keep in mind that these aren’t thoughts that necessarily flow from existentialist ethics. Indeed de Beauvoir’s graph on ethics and morality was called, “Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté” (in english traditionally rendered: “The Ethics of Ambiguity”), and the intolerance of destabilized categories of essence is directly contrary to de Beauvoir’s concept of self-directed, self-determined essences. Nonetheless, these ethical statements about the negative value of subdividing the category of woman are descended directly from de Beauvoir’s leading-edge, second-wave existentialist feminism. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why I find exclusionary feminisms so incomprehensible at times. They clearly attempt to preserve quite a lot of de Beauvoir and other early second-wave feminisms, and yet they fully reject aspects of those feminisms that were fundamental to their cohesion and their ethics. In the language of de Beauvoir, they have embraced facticity and rejected transcendence.

Nevertheless, while hollow-boned, feather-winged flyers were not inevitable once early archosaurs evolved, and while hollow bones and other aspects of modern birds would be in conflict with the mode of existence that made early archosaurs what they were, looking backward we can say that birds’ descent from those early archosaurs is a historical fact. Likewise, it is a historical fact that these ambiguity-rejecting, fear-based feminisms descended from de Beauvoir’s feminism (albeit with admixtures from independent sources).

It can be very difficult to understand how trans* exclusive feminists who appear to cling to the second wave can simultaneously reject so much of the second wave’s fundamental insights. But this is not because the development of these feminisms and their ambiguity-rejecting ethics is inherently incomprehensible. Rather, the difficulty in understanding comes from attempting to derive these feminisms based solely on prior feminist categories. In fact, other sources of fear or love, other priorities and values, even other meta-ethics from entirely outside feminism are constantly mixing with our existing feminisms. At times, they enrich our work and make it more effective, as with Kimberlé Crenshaw and the development of intersectionality. At other times they mix poorly. But on its own, bringing into feminism other aspects of women’s experiences, knowledge, and thought is not a bad thing. Indeed it’s a good thing. We wouldn’t have feminism at all if we weren’t allowed to bring those things into a feminism that did not yet include them. How else would we have gotten a feminist labor movement? How else would we have gotten a feminist movement for a more ethical judaism?

So let’s understand that this fear of the other, this fear of destabilized categories, when brought into an early existentialist feminism that offers hope of a universal, stable category of woman, a category that can then be called upon for universal action, can seem wise. It does not instantly negate the opposition to sexism that is the organizing principle of all feminisms. But if you hold existentialist feminism to the light in just the wrong way, it seems as if our fears as women of sexist domination absolutely demands easy categorization, eradication of ambiguity, an undivided unity of interest.

It is tragic, but even the existentialism that so many thought offered a way to guarantee that we fallible humans would live up to our own mutual promise, “Never again,” cannot prevent dehumanization. It cannot prevent violence. It cannot prevent – and it has not prevented – genocide.

The cry for easy categorization, for undivided unities in the face of violence is a cry of fear. It guides us towards liberation no more reliably than any other fearful response. But it is comprehensible, and it should not on its own negate efforts to feel and to offer sympathy across the boundaries of rigid categorization those crying out in fear construct. Indeed better understanding and sympathy for the fear can often be useful in opposing the ossification of these new and contested constructions.



The Cotton Ceiling: The best argument yet that TERFs aren’t feminists?

If you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, well, I’m very, very sorry. But more relevantly to this post, I want you to remind yourself that I’ve long been critical of the argument that TERFs are not feminists. This strikes me as odd. After all, many of the same people who make this argument for excluding TERFs from the feminist club also argue that trans* women must be women, in fact are by definition women, otherwise they wouldn’t be trans* women, they’d be trans*-something-else. By similar logic, it seems nonsensical to take the group of Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists and then argue that they aren’t feminists. If this is simply a descriptive label and not an epithet, as many people including myself contend, then by definition TERFs are feminists. They would have to be or they’d be TER-something-else. TERSE, I guess. (And Lawd, Lawd, the idea that they might be “TERSE” seems self-refuting, doesn’t it?) So I’m not going to argue that TERFs and their fellow travelers who bring up the cotton ceiling workshop again and again to this day are not feminists in the literal sense. Rather, I just want to show why I think that the people who make this argument are functionally feminism-illiterate. They might very well be feminists according to some particular definition you articulate, but that doesn’t mean that they’re informed feminists or that they have a competent understanding of feminist basics, or that what they’re doing actually advances feminism in any way.

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Constitutional Law Everyone Thinks They Know: That Fiery Theater

So, everyone thinks they know a bit of constitutional law. And in many cases they actually do. How many senators does your USA state get? Who is the Head of State of Canada? These are questions that a great many people can answer correctly. But as soon as the answer gets slightly more complicated, we reach a weird zone where people aren’t able to admit we are in “I have no idea” territory yet, despite the fact that they clearly have no idea what’s going on.

Case in point: Can you or can you not shout, “Fire!” in a crowded theater? Spoiler alert: YES!

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Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

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Radio Announcers Unclear on Clinton’s Concept

So on the reissue of Funkadelic’s “Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow” they included a few bonus tracks. One of those bonus tracks was a 60-second radio advertisement for the album which featured only the first independent clause of the album’s title (as did the modest album cover itself, though the inside material made clear that the full name of the album included the shocking word ‘ass’).

The ad was read by an announcer who is funny in many ways, all of them unintentional. From the unironic use of 70s slang now rarely used without irony to the stilted, white-accented approach to lauding an album that is anything but stilted or white, this audio clip fully deserves its place on an album that went platinum…