Oh god oh god oh god

Alain de Botton has written a book about sex! I’m almost tempted to buy it for the hilarity — de Botton is the kind of upper-class twit lampooned by Monty Python, and I’m sure it would be full of insights about how such a person could accidentally reproduce themselves.

You must read the whole review to get the full brunt of the absurdity. As Stephanie says, the book tells us much more about de Botton’s narrow view of sex than it tells us about sex itself.

For example…

Joking aside, de Botton goes on to extend Worringer’s [an art historian who wrote an essay in 1907] ideas to human attraction, posing that we are attracted to other people because we see in them what we are missing in ourselves. Not content to reinforce the unhealthy (if slightly romantic) notion that we need another human to be “complete,” de Botton pens an ode to the virgin/whore construct by comparing Scarlett Johansson’s features to those of Natalie Portman, giving each a completely subjective meaning (“her cheeknoes indicate a capacity for self-involvement,” he says of Johansson). “We end up favoring Natalie, who is objectively no more beautiful than Scarlett, because her eyes reflect just the sort of calm that we long for and never got enough of from our hypochondriacal mother (p. 56).”

Damn it. My mother wasn’t hypochondriacal at all. No wonder I can’t get jazzed about the thought of sex with Natalie Portman!

It’s something that he’s using an obscure source from 1907 for his ideas — citing old sources isn’t a trump card for erudition, I’m afraid — but the rest of that goes back further: it’s the 19th century fascination with physiognomy. No, the shape of your nose or your cheekbones or your earlobes may tell you something about genes and embryonic influences on development, but it isn’t an indicator of the way your mind works. What next, will de Botton cite iridology?

Actually, we get some ignorant zoology.

The early humanoids … may have had a hard time finding food, evading dangerous animals, sewing underpants and communicating with faraway relatives, but having sex was a simple matter for them, because the one question that almost certainly never ran through the minds of male hunters as they lifted themselves up on their hirsute limbs was whether their partners were going to be in the mood that night — or whether they might instead feel revolted or bored by the sight of a penis, or just keen to spend a quiet evening tending to the fire.

Uh, the fact that they’re not Homo sapiens does not imply that they didn’t have elaborate courtship procedures and complex social mores. I suspect that human ancestors, at least since they were primates, have had quite a few rules for negotiating sex, and that there has never been a phase in our evolution where you could just tap any female on the shoulder and she’d willingly spread her legs for you…and that he thinks such a condition would be a simpler state of affairs tells us a lot about his ideals. So women submitting to sex without concern for their interests or who their partner is is a simpler condition? Only for the males.

As usual, de Botton has little consideration of actual science.

In fact, according to de Botton, porn is bad for science, since it takes up the time researchers could be using to find the cure for cancer (p. 96).

Oh, so that’s why I haven’t won a Nobel!

He also has a very 19th century attitude towards common sexual practices. Masturbation is bad for you! And most interestingly, his annoying affection for religion surfaces here: all praise for the godly who favor repression. Special praise for religions that support his sexist biases.

Masturbation and fantasy are in complete opposition to virtue, he argues, and porn is the terrible catalyst. No, not just porn — the entire internet is at fault (p. 102)! The answer, de Botton suggests, is “a bit” of censorship, “if only for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish.”

If you don’t see how helpful “a bit” of censorship might be, it is because you “have never been obliterated by the full force of sex” (help! We’ve fallen into a Philip Roth novel and we can’t get out!). Religions get this, de Botton reminds us. “Only religions see [sex] as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. (p 103)” There is a paragraph somewhere in there that seems to obliquely suggest that hijabs and burkas make sense by pointing out the excitement aroused in men by “half-naked teenage girls sauntering provocatively down the beachfront.” Indeed, “a degree of repression is necessary both for the mental health of our species and for the adequate functioning of a decently ordered and loving society.”

Pause here for a moment and consider this carefully: earlier in the book, de Botton offered an example of a woman who pretended that she wanted a relationship just so she could have sex. That was a nice example because it showed that he was aware that women, too, have desires and women, too, want sex. Unfortunately, his considerations for women began and ended in the same place. While he suggests an award for impotence to applaud men’s “depth of spirit,” he completely ignores any sexual issues women face. You caught that, right? Now look at the above paragraph again. See how the discussion of censorship targets women specifically? There is no mention anywhere about men’s audacity to cavort on the beach. It is women who must be covered. It’s the female body that must be censored.

The most depressing news here is that apparently I have a shallow spirit and don’t get a prize.

Wait…a little saltpeter* and maybe I could win an award for “depth of spirit” and a Nobel prize!

*Actually, saltpeter is really ineffective. I should instead consult this list.

Is this cannibal week and no one told me?

It’s getting a little weird…now people are sending me more cannibal stories, like this one.

Papua New Guinea police have arrested members of an alleged cannibal cult accused of killing at least seven people, eating their brains raw and making soup from their penises, a report said Friday.

Part of the strange twist here, besides the Penis Soup, is that they’re killing sorcerors. Not for sorcery per se, but because their prices for casting curses on people are too high. So it’s kind of like the New Guinea version of the Occupy Movement, only with less chanting and more enchanted machetes.

I agree with Larry

They used to call us the Statler and Waldorf of talk.origins, so you just knew whose side I’d take in this discussion of civility. There’s a place for it, but not in a battle with malicious fools.

When I use the word “IDiot” I fully intend to bash the IDiots for their stupid ideas. Why? Because their ideas are stupid and they really are idiots.

Passion and anger are two of our weapons. I’m not going to let the ninny nannies disarm us.

Context is everything

Here’s something else I ran across at Making Light, and it will cheer you right up: it’s a history of Machiavelli’s time and place. If you thought Machiavelli was a ruthless, cunning schemer who presaged the modern political world of cynicism and expedience…you might just change your mind after reading it.

And now I want to visit Florence. Wait, I’ve always wanted to visit Florence…OK, now I want to visit it more.

Aww, heck, I want to see all of Italy.

Note also: her intelligent re-interpretation of the Avengers movie is also well worth reading.

Why I am an atheist – Melissa

Am I an Atheist?

I haven’t had a moment where I’ve decided I don’t believe in God, a “conversion” to some other position. My faith questions and doubts have been a journey that I’ve reflected here on my blog in several posts. But after my post on spiritualizing the night, I got several comments and emails asking when I had become an atheist. I am still thinking about this question, because I don’t really know the answer. I’m not even sure I am an Atheist.

When does one become an Atheist? Does it happen when you don’t feel a spiritual connection with God? Is it when you start to disagree with stuff in the bible? Are you an Atheist when you associate with other Atheists? Or only when you declare yourself one? I don’t know.

[Read more…]

Not a joke, and not an atheist

Ronald William Brown was a puppeteer on a children’s show on the Christian Television Network. He is also devout, and liked to take children to church. What a sweet, sweet man.

Here he is, using a puppet to explain why pornography is bad for Christians.

I think you can guess exactly where this is going.

Unfortunately, he also had a, umm, fetish. I think I’ll put the creepy desires of Mr Brown below the fold, in case you’d rather not read about what he wanted to do to children.

[Read more…]

So it’s like training a dog

Everyone is dealing with raging sexism nowadays, it seems: the atheist/skeptic community, the video game community, the philosophers, everyone…including the SF community. Over on Making Light, I read something hopeful, though — a comparison between what we’re seeing now and dog training.

In dog training there is a thing called the Extinction Burst. Let’s say you’re training the dog to not bark when someone comes to the door. You’ll be chugging along, working your operant conditioning like a boss, and you’ll notice your dog is finally starting to catch on. “Oh, you mean if the doorbell rings and I woof my servant monkey turns her back to me and ignores me, but if I don’t make a noise I get a treat? Awesome!” But just when you think the dog has it all down and it possibly the smartest dog in the universe, your friend will ring the doorbell and the dog will go bugshit crazy, barking, woofing, yelping, whatever, and you’ll just want to sit down with a pitcher of margaritas and give up. Don’t do that. Keep going, because what you’ve just experienced is the Extinction Burst. A few more tries and your dog will be so silent it’s like she’s bored whenever the doorbell rings – like she never even reacted in the first place.

OK, I can hope — we’re going through an Extinction Burst in sexist behavior (it’s not entirely valid to extrapolate from individual psychology to sociology that way, though). I still want that pitcher of margaritas right now. Now, you hear me? I’m waiting.

Looking for #2

I would have thought that it was a relief, a minor bit of unconcern, that Mitt Romney nominally supports evolution (he’s one of those waffly theistic evolutionists, so he doesn’t really…but at least he wouldn’t be brazenly contradicting all of the evidence). But there’s a potential problem looming: who will he pick for vice president? Who does he turn to advice on education? Ken Miller discusses the situation, and points out that his key advisor on education reform and potential VP pick is…

Bobby Jindal, creationist governor of Louisiana.

Jindal has an elite résumé. He was a biology major at my school, Brown University, and a Rhodes scholar. He knows the science, or at least he ought to. But in his rise to prominence in Louisiana, he made a bargain with the religious right and compromised science and science education for the children of his state. In fact, Jindal’s actions at one point persuaded leading scientific organizations, including the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, to cross New Orleans off their list of future meeting sites.

What did Jindal do to produce a hornet’s nest of “mad scientists,” as Times-Picayune writer James Gill described them? He signed into law, in Gill’s words, the “Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which is named for what it is designed to destroy.” The act allows “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” to be brought into classrooms to support the “open and objective discussion” of certain “scientific theories,” including, of course, evolution. As educators who have heard such coded language before quickly realized, the act was intended to promote creationism as science. In April, Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Science at Louisiana State University, testified before the Louisiana Senate’s Education Committee that two top scientists had rejected offers to come to LSU because of the LSEA, and the school may lose more scientists in the future.

And now Jindal is poised to spend millions of dollars of state money to support the teaching of creationism in private schools.

But don’t panic! Jindal is currently just one possibility for VP, and there are plenty of other Republicans Romney might pick…like Nikki Haley, or Rick Santorum, or Michele Bachmann…

OK, panic. There’s no way we’ll be happy with anyone he chooses.

What? Am I going to have to vote for Romney after all?

He just praised a universal health care system.

"Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the G.D.P. in Israel? Eight percent,” [Romney] said. "You spend eight percent of G.D.P. on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our G.D.P. on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, compare that with the size of our military — our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of G.D.P. We have to find ways — not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs.

Why does Mitt Romney hate America?