A Puzzle for Humanism

I should start by saying: unlikely my previous posts, this isn’t properly a book review. The major ideas in the discussion spring out of Kate Manne’s book Down Girl: The Logic of Mysogyny. I do give a general review of the book over on Goodreads; TL;DR: The book is excellent, timely, and thoughtful; people should read it. Manne illustrates a particular problem that I think is worth raising on this blog, given the discussions of ethical positions around humanism, feminism, Atheism+, etc.

Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” is one of the most widely cited phrases in public ethics and social justice, but it is often egregiously misused. Somewhat famously, Chelsea Clinton cited it in discussion of a man casually committing a horrific act of violence; political scientist Corey Robin was quick to point out that this is not the way Arendt was using the phrase. Documentarian Ada Ushpiz has similarly pointed this out in criticizing Eva Illouz. To gloss over these longer responses there, the dialectic goes like this.

Many folks think that “the banality of evil” refers to the attitude of indifference towards humans by the person causing harm; the idea that evil can be regarded as banal by the person committing the evil act because they have dehumanized the victim. This is the wikipedia gloss on Arendt’s view, butthe focus on dehumanization actually gets the point entirely (and dangerously) wrong.

Manne points out, as Arendt did as well, that many callous and casual acts of violence are not the result of dehumanization of the person against whom one directs the violence, but rather the result of paranoid or vindictiveness. The effort to dehumanize Jews holds far less prominence in Nazi thought than the thought that Jews were manipulating the political state of affairs, exploiting gentile Germans, and the like. It was not regarding them as inhuman, though there are tropes that track dehumanization, but rather the paranoia around “the Jewish Question.”

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A terribly backwards take on the Franken resignation

Ugh, New Yorker.

The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply, Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial accusations to Franken’s resignation, is based on the premise that Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be policing non-criminal behavior related to sex.

It’s not at all about sex. It’s about consent and respect. It’s about treating women as people.

If Al Franken had been participating in discreet wild orgies with consenting adult men and women, it would be fine — it would be none of our business, would have harmed no one, and would have been irrelevant to his position as a senator. I’m not interested in “policing non-criminal behavior related to sex” at all. The concern is the casual abuse of power, the expression of mocking contempt for a colleague, and the neglect of that all-important consent.

I don’t know why this is so hard to get across to some people. Your sexual behavior is personal and private, and as long as it only involves consenting adults, we shouldn’t care. It’s the Right that wants to bust into your bedroom and arrest you for your activities there.


The Guardian has a feature on what will happen to several major cities when (not “if”, it’s going to happen) we get a 3°C rise in global temperatures by 2100. Osaka, Shanghai, Alexandria, Rio…just gone. Miami, also, but the response there is simply comical.

A sense of urgency is evident at city hall, where commissioners are asking voters to approve a “Miami Forever” bond in the November ballot that includes $192m for upgrading pump stations, improving drainage and raising sea walls.

The “drainage” suggestion is tragically hilarious. Where are they going to drain the water to?

Even at 2C, forecasts show almost the entire bottom third of Florida – the area south of Lake Okeechobee currently home to more than 7 million people – submerged, with grim projections for the rest of the state in a little more than half a century.

Almost the entire peninsula is going to be underwater. They think they can build a big wall around the city, and run pumps to bail it out. In a region with catastrophic hurricanes…hurricanes that are expected to get more severe.

Miami is a lovely, lively city. But it’s under a death sentence, and some people need to wake up to reality. This is probably the last century that you’ll be able to visit Miami, or the Keys, or the Everglades.

Teams of Memes, bursting from the seams

Image courtesy of the googles.

Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back is a lengthy and winding journey. It is characterized (including by its publisher) as a general explanation of the evolution of minds and various peculiar mental functions, consciousness and language being the two most hotly discussed by philosophers, but there’s a better way to read it. As its best, the book is a tour of Dennett’s personal philosophical repertoire, illustrating how ideas from his books and papers fit together.

Dennett’s general theory of the development of genetics stems from his broad theory of memes, where a meme is any informational entity that can be transmitted and replicated. The rough idea is that minds are meme-machines in the way that organisms are gene-machines (in Dawkins’ analogy of the gene’s-eye-view). This is a fruitful analogy, in some respects, though I think it can and should draw some skepticism from readers. I’ll return to those worries later.

The basic building blocks of Dennett’s view are indicated by gestures and short explanations, which is a challenge since he’s spent so much time discussing and arguing for them elsewhere in his work. In any case, there are really two that it is important to understand.

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Now I know what to do for Darwin Day

I got a notice from LinkedIn, of all places, informing me that my name had been invoked by Creation Today, Eric Hovind’s silly site of nonsense. Sunday is Darwin’s birthday, and they have suggested things you can do for Questioning Darwin Day.

Ideas for celebrating Darwin’s Day:

  1. Invite friends over for finger foods and a movie about Darwin.
  2. Invite a Creation Speaker to come speak to your church or group.
  3. Find an event already planned for your area.
  4. Print “15 Questions for Evolutionists” and distribute in a public location.
  5. Join The Question Evolution event on Facebook.
  6. Use Question Evolution graphics on various social media outlets.
  7. Wear your favorite creation T-shirt.
  8. Engage the culture with tracts or signs about evolution.
  9. Pray for seeds to be sown and souls saved. (Matthew 9:38)
  10. Enjoy a can of Primordial Soup.

Where am I in that list? It’s the first item: he recommends some good movies to watch that day, and here’s one of them.

EVOLUTION VS GOD – Hear expert testimony from leading evolutionary scientists from some of the world’s top universities:

• Peter Nonacs, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA
• Craig Stanford, Professor, Biological Sciences and Anthropology, USC
• PZ Myers, Associate Professor, Biology, University of Minnesota Morris
• Gail E. Kennedy, Associate Professor, Anthropology, UCLA

A study of the evidence of vestigial organs, natural selection, the fifth digit, the relevance of the stickleback, Darwin’s finches and Lenski’s bacteria—all under the microscope of the Scientific Method—observable evidence from the minds of experts. Prepare to have your faith shaken.

That’s about as dishonest a description of the participation of those four people I can imagine, although I’m gratified that my little liberal arts college is listed as one of the world’s top universities. At least he got one thing right. However, none of those four present anything to support creationism — unless you want to claim that the revelation that Ray Comfort will dishonestly edit interviews to be something that will shake your faith.

So here’s what I’m going to do to Question Evolution. I’m going to answer questions about evolution! Leave questions you’d like to discuss here, on this thread. On Sunday, I’ll fire up the ol’ YouTube Hangout machine (say, around noon Central time) and I’ll go through them…and try to address any other questions you might bring up during the discussion. Maybe I’ll also try to dig up a few other biology/philosophy types to also be on-screen for the conversation, or you can volunteer yourself here, if you have some expertise in the field. Of course I will have to wear a favorite evolution t-shirt, but there will be no praying.

Does anyone have a recipe for that Primordial Soup? I’m afraid it would be hot, acidic, and sulfurous, so I might prefer recipes for something I can make from the blood of my enemies.

Gender Workshop: The Joys of Hospitalization

As always, Gender Workshop is brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Crip Dyke.

For the past two months I’ve been staying in a hospital – you know, one of the places where people are relentlessly educated and re-educated on ending the stigmatization of health conditions. Even better, I been staying in a Canadian hospital, where the perfect joy of a Utopian health system goes entirely uninterrupted.  [Read more…]

Fire all these “journalists”

Shameful. Disgraceful. Unprofessional. Repellent. That’s my opinion of our media vultures.

A mob of idiots with cameras rushed into the apartment of the San Bernardino killers, and went on air vapidly commenting on the mundane crap they found. Oh, look: they have a calendar on the wall. The dullard back in the studio wants to know what kind of computer they have. Here’s an uncashed check for $7.98. Let’s go rifle through the child’s toy box.

Fucking christ. These are not journalists, or reporters, or even rational human beings. They are poison on the profession. Fire every single one of the people milling about in that apartment, the studio nitwits giving them advice, and the network executives who approved this mess. They should be embarrassed.

I have kept the cable and broadcast news off for the last few days, because this is what I expect from them.

We are ruled by idiots

Case in point: Representative Brad Sherman, a Jewish Democrat from California. He had some advice for Jane Yellen on the timing of interest rate changes.

God’s plan is not for things to rise in the autumn. As a matter of a fact, that’s why we call it fall. Nor is it God’s plan for things to rise in the winter through the snow. God’s plan is that things rise in the spring. So, if you want to be good with the Almighty, you might want to delay until May.

He proudly tweeted a summary.

So don’t make souffles in the fall. Guys, if you have a disappointing performance in the bedroom, just tell your partner that it was God’s plan. All flags must be at half-mast during the fall. I’m going to start sleeping in — it’s fall, we’re not supposed to rise.

Sherman, despite having a liberal view on many things, is a fool. And his foolishness is derived from his religiosity.