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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Online Gender Workshop: Social Construction Workers Rivet Sex to Gender

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

Hopefully, in our last workshop entry, we got an understanding of what social construction is, and what it isn’t. I’m a firm believer, as I said in that post, of people being better educated about social construction theory so that they can understand what is and isn’t being said when someone asserts, “Donkey is a social construct”.

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Online Gender Workshop: Detour, Social Construction Ahead edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

To understand gender, it is vital to understand how it comes about. While the etiology of individual gender identities is very much in doubt, the etiology of gender as a framework, as a concept, that is not in doubt: Gender, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a social construct.

Few feminists would dispute that. However, when I taught courses on gender-related topics to people who already espoused the idea that gender is a social construct, it frequently, even typically, became clear that they didn’t understand the statement at all. So while many might not dispute it, the statement itself is not helping us. Indeed, it appears to be hurting us. So let’s add to the discussion another statement, more commonly disputed among feminists: Sex is a social construct.

There. That should make all the rest easy.

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Gender Workshop: I used to be okay with a “witch hunt” or two

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

There’s been much talk over the last few years about witch hunts. Targeting Dawkins. Targeting Shermer. Targeting Hunt. Targeting anyone who happens to sit near Adria Richards. And though I think it is far from a witch hunt to be criticized by a lot of people, even by a lot of people at once, because your comments or behaviors merited criticism, for a long time I merely rolled my eyes at the inevitable, defensive backlash: “Witch hunt!”

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Gender Workshop: Justice Foreshortened is Justice Only in the Eyes of Jerkwads Edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

Recently prolific news aggregator Lynna brought to my attention a legal case concerning someone guilty of sexual assault out of the Land of Silver that, shall we say, fails to glister overmuch. Unlike the attractive sparkle of a rich acanthite vein (which, it should be noted, was never found in Argentina: a premature naming by aspiring and greedy colonizers), this case burns with the unflickering monochromaticity of a neon sign reading, “ALL THE TRIGGER WARNINGS”.

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Online Gender Workshop: Be Confused, Be Very Confused Edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Veronica Quaife Crip Dyke.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were slogging through the twists and turns of translating “transsexual” into the language of a hypothetical world where sex == gender. As expected, there were some difficulties. Some of these difficulties arise from confusion at the statement, “just what does it mean to say that sex == gender”? While frustrating for those honestly attempting to answer the question, the confusion, I judge, is fair given that actual advocates for using sex in place of gender or gender in place of sex rarely show much of the totality of what they intend to convey by conflating the two.

There are, of course, languages where there is only one term for both sex and gender. Those folks will have had some leg up on the work. Nonetheless, the confusing world of communicating across others’ assumptions that sex == gender does not end at the creation of a definition, not even at the creation of a satisfying one. While the discussion about the implications of those definitions will continue in the original thread, here we will take things just a step further.

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Online Gender Workshop: Put Your Definitions Where Your Genitals Are Edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke

There have been quite a few thoughts expressed, here and elsewhere, about the appropriate uses of transsexual, transgender, trans, and trans*. The separation of sex and gender, while ostensibly default in a number of academic fields and feminist and trans philosophies or movements, is not something challenged only by right wing advocates of trans* oppressive policies. Many non-trans* feminists and many trans* liberation advocates openly oppose the use of these terms as separate. Some of that spills over onto debates about terms such as transgender.

I’d like to attempt to further explain why I believe it is so necessary to separate gender and sex in the first place, and thus at least some of the major reasons why I care about the particular uses of those trans*-community specific terms.

But I won’t.

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Online Gender Workshop: Teaching Gender Attribution for Skeptics and Scientists

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

In a recent thread, Okidemia posed a question that many parents have these days: When and how should I teach my child/ren about trans* folk?

Okidemia framed it this way:

…kids have not been told about transpeople yet, because we don’t know any. Thus an important educationnal question:
at what age would you* speak about it to kids? (certainly, you* should begin before they meet psychologically transgendering acquaintances –as opposed to biologically transitioning which certainly happens later in life.

One of the reasons this question seems so confounding is that, like many confounding questions, it is the wrong question. [Read more…]

Gender Workshop: How to think like you’re not

Redundant posts are redundant

Except when they aren’t.

Here your gender-workshop-taskmistress Crip Dyke encourages you to revisit the douchegabbery of the Minnesota Child Protection League. PZ did an excellent job of illuminating just that in “Two steps forward, one step back” in December of last year, and the discussion on that thread when it was current included a great many useful comments.

I want, however, not to merely rehash criticisms of MCPL (criticisms well-deserved and well-made the first time around) but to use that example to talk a bit about what “centering” and “marginalized” really mean. In the post on the need for transfeminist critiques of other feminisms, I focussed on Katha Pollit and identified places where, quite frankly, I think she employed some bad thinking to construct some bad feminism. I suggested that marginalization had something to do with this bad thinking on Pollit’s part. Here you can learn more about exactly what marginalization has to do with it …and the extent of my criticism of Pollit, rather than merely Pollit’s column.

I didn’t pick Pollit because her work is low hanging fruit. She has written excellently on many topics. She clearly has the writing chops to be clear about the distinctions between political theorizing and political rhetoric. Yet the only reasonable inference is that she was, in fact, talking about rhetoric when she was using the phrase “political analysis”. She also has the analytical skills to make the distinction between gendered terms like the French pronouns ils and elles, and gender neutral words like people. Yet here, too, she fell down.

So what is the problem with this Katha Pollit person anyway? The problem is the same as one in our community: the inability to think like you’re not.  [Read more…]

Gender Workshop: Lecturing at Others Edition

For your perusal, a new Gender Workshop post by Crip Dyke. Herein we discuss how feminists, in particular Katha Pollit, can fail to recognize feminism when it comes in the form of transfeminism. The readers themselves will have to judge the applicability of the title. For more active exercises in the workshop series, this here is a link back.

CaitieCat, a regular commenter here, recently brought to my attention this article, which discusses trans* persons’ reproductive rights in the context of feminist reproductive rights activism.

Along the way, it mentions a recent Katha Pollit piece in the Nation. Together, these pieces have created a good opportunity to explore transfeminism’s role in current feminisms.

Transfeminism, as I have defined it in my teaching, is the integration of feminism into trans* advocacy simultaneously and in coordination with the integration of trans* advocacy into feminism. It is of necessity something that is often labeled “intersectional feminism” (though we’ll critique that in another post). Here I won’t go much further into what transfeminism is. Rather, we’ll take a look at how current feminism demonstrates the need for a strong transfeminist response. [Read more…]