joreth: (Purple Mobius)
On this most recent episode of Poly Weekly, on Rules About Beds, [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx shared a story that actually triggered a particular pet peeve of mine, but in a good way.  It's this thing about "but it works for us!"  That's usually a huge red flag for me, and almost always follows something toxic or harmful that people are justifying.  But [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx's story was an example of when it's legitimate.

She told of a compromise that came about between her, Lusty Guy, and Elle regarding morning sex.  Elle apparently heard Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx having sex one morning in their spare room and she felt, well, I don't want to put words in her mouth, but it sounded like a description of possibly envy - she wanted to do something that other people were doing.  So she asked that, from now on, could she have "right of first refusal", where if Lusty Guy wanted sex on Sunday mornings (the day of the week that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx slept over), could he ask Elle for sex before he asked [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx.  This was an acceptable arrangement to everyone involved, so that's what they instituted.

Now, the problem I have is that people are going to hear that story and think it justifies them making rules or giving certain partners "priority" (or, rather, power), over others.  Because this arrangement "works for them".  But, here's the real distinguishing factor - Lusty Guy then went on to explain *why* it "works for them".  You see, just prior to this story, [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx and Lusty Guy talked about how [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx can't share sleeping space with Lusty Guy because of his snoring, so she always sleeps in another room.  That's why they were separated - not because she's the "secondary" and she's not "allowed" to sleep in the primary couple's bed or because he is "required" to always sleep next to his wife.  This arrangement "works for them" because it's something that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx genuinely needs for her health and happiness.  She was an equal contributor in building this arrangement, and it was her own preference, not a concession she made to Elle in order to date Lusty Guy.

So, now that it's established that they are in separate rooms, and *why* they are in separate rooms, let's look at why "right of first refusal" is a legitimate use of "it works for us".  Lusty Guy and Elle have been together a really long time, and their personal preferences and connection with each other has resulted in a, I guess you could call it efficient form of sex that they are both pleased with.  According to the podcast, they can have a very good, enjoyable time in about 15-20 minutes.  I totally understand that - I am not a fan of marathon sex myself.  I love being teased for a long time (and I mean, *long* time - like start flirting with me days ahead of time if you can, and I won't be able to control myself by the time we finally get together), but then when it gets down to the slippery bits, I'm an in-and-out sorta gal.  I want to get to the penetration and hopefully but not necessarily the orgasm, and then either eat something or roll over and go to sleep.  Or *maybe*, if I have things to do, I want to get back to those things if I can fight off the post-sex fog.

So, Lusty Guy and Elle aren't likely to take a very long time in the mornings.  But [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx says that she's more likely to go an hour and a half or longer.  So, if Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx had sex first in the mornings, Elle would be waiting all day before she got a turn.  But if Elle goes first, they'll be done before [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx is even really awake enough for sex.  Add up all these details about their sex life and sleeping habits, and you get an arrangement that "works for them".

But what too many people are actually saying when they say "it works for us", is "I have this insecurity and this is how I want to manage it, how dare you tell me that I'm not being considerate towards other people while in the grips of my insecurity and how dare you tell me that my insecurity is causing me to act in ways that might harm other people!"  As I and many others have said before, if everyone naturally just wants to do this thing, then you don't need a rule making people to this thing.  If people really don't want to do the thing, a rule isn't likely to stop them, at least not forever.  Also, as [livejournal.com profile] tacit and [livejournal.com profile] margareta87 say in More Than Two, it's really really hard to be compassionate when all you feel is fear.  When people are managing an insecurity, then they are extremely likely to be inconsiderate towards other people in their efforts to manage that insecurity.  They're just not very likely to see *how* they're being inconsiderate because that fear is whispering nasty little lies in their ear and rationalizing and justifying everything done in service to the insecurity.  But just because they manage to find someone willing to agree to their method of managing, it doesn't mean that it's OK.  It just means that they got lucky and found someone with boundaries that just happen to not cross the line that the person managing the insecurity is crossing.  For now.

So, if a V similar to Elle, Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx were to make a "rule" saying that no one in the house is allowed to have sex before the wife has sex with the husband, and the wife, say, was actually more of a night person but the husband and girlfriend were both morning people, then even everyone agreeing to the rule is not "this works for us".  Technically, people could say "this works for us", I guess, because of that agreement, but in my opinion, and what those of us who dislike that justification mean when we complain about it is, this isn't "working" for everyone, this is "managing".  This is way too likely to lead to coercion, if it isn't already coercive just by its nature.

What would be "working" for that kind of V would be for the wife to work on her insecurity so that it didn't bother her if the husband and girlfriend had morning sex in the first place.  That would be the three of them working together, accommodating and accepting the nature of who they are as people, and giving everyone the power to design the relationships that they are in according to their own needs and preferences and natural interests.  If the husband and girlfriend didn't *want* to have morning sex, then they didn't have to have morning sex.  But deciding that they *can't* have morning sex because the wife wants it first even though she actually doesn't want it (because she'll sleep until noon, whereas the husband and girlfriend will have been up for hours by then, and likely sexually frustrated, as well as lacking in agency because the person with the power to decide what Hubby and GF do is Wife) is not "working for them".  Again, even if everyone technically agrees.

This is the difference between "priority" and "power" that I'm always talking about.  No one, and I mean no one, who is complaining about hierarchy or couple privilege or primary/secondary is saying that there is anything wrong with relationships that look different from each other, as long as that difference happens organically.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a married man having a "secondary" if that partner wants to, say, remain living in her own apartment, or only see him one day a week, or has no interest in meeting the wife, or whatever.  No one, and I mean no one, is demanding that all relationships must be life-partnerships even when the people in those relationships are not interested in a life-partner arrangement with each other.

If the two people (i.e. Hubby and GF, in this example) are *happy* with GF living in her own place and only seeing him every other Tuesday because she has too many things on her plate anyway and that's all the time and emotional energy she has for him and Hubby has kids and his weekly D&D night and karaoke on Thursdays so that's all he wants to see GF too, then they don't need any rules telling them that they can only see each other on every other Tuesday and GF can't move in.  That "works for them".  All relationships look different, that's kind of the whole point.  The entire reason why it's possible to love more than one person is because everyone is different, and no relationship is going to look exactly the same as any other relationship because the people in those relationships are different people.  So yes, by all means, go out and have relationships that have different priorities from each other.  No one, and I mean no one, is complaining about that.

When couples (and it's usually couples, but occasionally I hear it from male-headed poly-fi groups too) say "it works for us", they're very rarely describing *priority*, even though that's almost always the examples they trot out to justify "it works for us".  Usually, what they're saying is that the *rules* "work for them" BECAUSE the people involved have different priorities or needs or whatever.  So, to keep using the morning sex example, I almost never hear "it works for us" the way that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx and Lusty Guy told it - their individual sexual preferences naturally led them to a pattern of first sex for Elle whereas trying it differently is inconvenient for everyone involved.  Instead, I hear people saying "we made a rule that the wife should get sex first because she's the primary, and it works for us because our secondary doesn't object".

Can you see the difference?  If not, then you're probably part of the problem that so many of us have with the poly community.

Let's try it this way.  I don't eat breakfast in the mornings.  I have a sleep disorder and waking up before noon fucks with my biology, but of course I have to wake up before noon sometimes because life.  So I wake up, but I can't eat food that early or that soon after waking or I'll get nauseated.  So I don't eat breakfast.  Other people can't function without a good breakfast first thing in the morning.  A lot of people try to talk me into trying different kinds of foods for breakfast because they think that not eating must be worse for my health than eating.  It's not.  Skipping breakfast and having something sugary (like orange juice) about 3 hours after I wake up works for me.  I'm not imposing on anyone else, I'm following my own dietary and biological needs within a set of social constraints that I'm forced to accept.  There is no need for me to pass a rule on myself *making* me skip breakfast, that's just what I want to do naturally.  And every once in a while, when a certain set of circumstances happens (that I'm aware of, but I'm skipping over those details for brevity), I'll feel the desire for food first thing in the morning.  So on those days, I eat something.  No rule is broken because I don't have a no-eating rule.  This gives me the flexibility to have control over my own eating habits as circumstances change and "what works for me" doesn't happen to work under these particular conditions.

If one person is a morning person, one person is a late-riser, and the person in the middle has no strong preference, then the morning person asking to be given the option of morning sex first because it's the option that would inconvenience the fewest people, that's "working for them".  That's not eating breakfast in the morning, except on days when I want to eat breakfast in the morning.  That's "priority".  That's when two different relationships just naturally look different from each other.  What that is NOT, is hierarchy, couple privilege, or rules.

But if one person is a morning person, one person is a late-riser, and the person in the middle has no strong preference, and the *late-riser* is the one who *decides* that they get the option of morning sex first, especially if the decision is based on relationship status (I was here first / I'm the legal spouse), which is usually a sign of some deeper, unaddressed insecurity, then even if the other two people agree to it, that's not "working for them" in the sense that those of us who complain about these sorts of things mean by "working".  This is me not eating breakfast in the morning because I, or someone else, decided that I shouldn't eat breakfast in the morning even though I'm actually really hungry in the morning and I can't really function until I get something solid in my tummy.  Sure, I might have "agreed" to it, but it's not really in my best interest and it inconveniences, not just me, but everyone who has to deal with me not at my best because of this rule.

The big problem that I see in the community is that people look at the end result - not having breakfast in the morning, or getting first crack at morning sex, or living alone, or whatever - and see no difference.  Either way, I'm not having breakfast and you're getting the option of morning sex so what's the big deal?  Well, intentions and motivation and agency are the big deal.  The outcome is *not the issue*, that's why no one is complaining about different priorities or relationships that look different from each other or any of those other things.  The outcome is not where the problem is.  The problem is in the way we arrive at the outcome, is the intentions and motivation and agency.  And if you've never had your agency taken away, particularly when the removal of your agency was justified by shady or hidden intentions and selfish motivations, then it may be difficult to understand why this is such a big deal if the outcome is the same either way.

Consider yourself extremely fortunate and just believe us when we say that it's a big fucking deal.  If you can't understand what the big deal is because you've never experienced it, then I hope you remain ignorant for the rest of your life.  I hope you *never* have to learn first-hand what the big deal is with having your agency taken from you.  But what we need you to do is to just accept that coercive structures, even if you don't *mean* to be coercive or don't understand why it's coercive, accept that coercive structures are not "working" for anyone, even when people "agree" to them, the way you might just accept something Stephen Hawking says about Hawking radiation because he is more familiar with the subject than you are.  If your partner doesn't want to eat breakfast in the mornings, they don't need you to make a rule telling them not to eat breakfast in the mornings.  Because, maybe one day, they might.  Rules only work, until they don't.  And you will be a better, more compassionate partner if you design your relationships to accommodate when your partner might someday want to have breakfast in the morning and if you really examine why them not eating breakfast is a big enough problem for you to think you have the right to tell them that they shouldn't, so that when the day comes that they want to eat breakfast in the mornings, it doesn't bother you and they can make the decision for themselves whether to eat that breakfast or not.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
It boggles my mind how many people conflate "I forbid you" - which is a position of authority over another human being that denies their agency - with "I recognize you as an autonomous individual and I have some steep concerns about this thing in your life, what it represents, and how it affects me as a person and us as partners and I'd like to encourage and support you in moving in a direction where this thing is not a part of your life anymore, and I do so with your full cooperation because you recognize the validity of the claim that your life is better without this thing in it and you take full responsibility for the decision to accept my support and encouragement in your efforts to make this change."

"Forbidding", like "veto", ends the discussion and transfers the responsibility for the decision onto someone else as well as transfers the consequences for said decision outside - usually to a third party who is affected by the "forbidding" or "veto" or whatever.

The second option does not take away autonomy even if the outcome is the same. The second option requires the person who would otherwise be the one "forbidden" to do something to instead say "I have two choices - one where this thing is in my life and this person I care about is unhappy about it, and one where this thing is not in my life and this person I care about is happy that it is not in my life. I am making the choice myself to prioritize the happiness of this person and I agree with them that my life will be better without this thing in it."

There are two kinds of people, I've discovered. One kind of person sees the huge gulf between those two options. To them, these situations are like apples and jet planes. Another kind of person sees that, in both scenarios, the individual loses whatever the thing is and therefore sees no difference between the two scenarios.

These are people who don't understand autonomy or agency. These are people who frighten me. Without being able to understand the difference between agency and authority, they lack the basic, fundamental principles to understand why rape is wrong, why slavery is wrong, and why all the other things I fight against are related to these things, like why abortion is so important and why Planned Parenthood is important and why #BlackLivesMatter is so important and all the other causes big and small that get my ire up. They're all related by issues of agency.

If you can't understand agency, if you can look at the above scenarios and only see similar outcomes and not understand how things can look similar on the outside but have very different foundations underneath, then you can't understand how all these other things I argue about are related to each other and why they're important and I really don't know the right words to make you understand. Even if you happen to agree with me that some of these things are wrong, if you can't see the issue of agency in the two scenarios, you won't understand how all the things I think are wrong (whether you agree with me on them or not) are related and how they affect each other when any are prohibited.

And I noticed those people have a tendency to be the sorts of people for whom their agency is never questioned or never taken away in the first place.

There is a third kind of person, who says, "I forbid people, but it doesn't mean that they're not allowed to do something, it means that we start the conversation and discuss it rationally and they're allowed to make their own decisions, so you're just wrong because I'm making up definitions for words that go contrary to their generally accepted use and I'm going to argue semantics with you just because I feel entitled to make shit up and don't like the cognitive dissonance you're creating by your judgmental posts". If that kind of person feels the need to comment below, I'm just going to delete the comment because fuck you. Also anyone who caveats D/s or M/s relationships because a healthy power exchange is actually an example of the second option where the sub or slave retains the power to make the decision to transfer power in negotiated ways (just with fantasy-based language like "control" and "authority" and "forbid" to set an illusory scene) and also retains the power to amend, halt, or end said power exchange at any time in spite of the superficial trappings of authority - that's what makes it not abuse.

Back to the point. It reminds me of a scene from a movie I just watched again recently. Bedazzled is a remake of a movie where a guy sells his soul to the Devil for 7 wishes, mostly to get a girl he likes to notice him. In the negotiation scene with the Devil, she tries to convince him that his soul isn't worth hanging on to, so might as well sell it for something good.

She says things like "have you ever even seen your soul? What is it good for? What has your soul done for you lately? You won't even notice that it's gone."

Obviously, as an atheist, I don't believe in souls. But agency is a lot like that dialog in principle. When you live in a world that doesn't even question that you have agency, and never tries to take it from you, what is there about agency to notice? Have you ever even seen your agency? What has it done for you lately?

But spend your life fighting to have your agency recognized, let alone have control over it, and you'll sure as hell be aware of it then. To most of the people I've talked to who struggle to see the difference between acquiescing to "I forbid you" and making the autonomous choice to forgo on your own, they tend to be people who, if someone ever *tried* to say "I forbid" and they disagreed, there is literally nothing that could come of that. They recognize "I forbid" as essentially toothless and a command that requires compliance. So they can't see a difference in the two scenarios because, to them, their agency *can't* ever be compromised, therefore this is not a question of agency and but of goals and both scenarios have the same goal when you remove the question of agency - to get rid of the thing and make a loved one happy.

But those of us who are in a position for someone to "forbid" and there are either no options to refuse or the consequences for refusal are worse than compliance, we can see the apples for the jet planes. The goal is *not* the same. The goal is not to get rid of the thing, the goal is power and control - of the body, of the self, of the mind, of the decision-making process, of that which makes us a person. With our very souls on the line, we have to consider carefully if those 7 wishes are worth signing for. And some of us do end up signing away our souls agency, either because we're manipulated into it by increasingly stepping past our boundaries just a little bit at a time so that we don't really notice until we're in too deep to get out, or because we're held at pitchfork-point and forced to sign using brute force and intimidation.

While some of us fight the Devil even as the rest of the world thinks we're delusional as we scream about things that they aren't even aware exist. Unlike my soul, I'm confident that my agency exists and that I am an autonomous individual and I will continue to point out every time the Devil shows up in a cop uniform that she isn't the good guy she appears to be and she is trying to steal people's agency and the 7 wishes you get aren't worth the price.  And some people will continue to ignore me and think I'm crazy because the Devil never made a deal for *their* agency so they don't even know what it's good for but they just assume they have it.
joreth: (Bad Joreth)
This week's episode of Poly Weekly is on abuse in relationships. EVERYONE NEEDS TO LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE, not just poly people. It's not about abuse in poly relationships, it's about abuse in relationships, because poly relationships are really just relationships like any other.

In addition, everyone needs to read this blog post on the community response to abuse: http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-community-response-to-abuse.html

"When I first tried to articulate what I thought the community response to abuse should be, the only thing I could really think was that abusers need good friends. The kind of friends who are willing to tell them when they are not being the best that they can be."

I knew an abuser*, only I didn't know he was an abuser at the time. He had very good, close friends. But his friends were not willing to tell him when he was not being the best that he could be. After stumbling into a handful of roadblocks with him myself, some of his friends actually contacted me privately to tell me that they supported me, they thought he was being unreasonable, they wanted me to know that, but they wouldn't tell him about it because it "wasn't worth the argument".

Each argument I had with him resulted in him going to his group and telling them about the argument, then coming back to me to say "I talked to everyone else, and we all agree that you're wrong." Even knowing that wasn't always true, it's a horrible, isolating feeling that drove a wedge between me and our mutual friends. When I broke off contact with him, I lost my entire social circle because of the isolating effect that siding with an abuser has on his victims, and I wasn't even a "victim" because his abusive tactics never took a hold on me. But I wasn't immune to the effects anyway.

"Both survivors AND abusers need community support.

Specifically, survivors need protection and validation and abusers need support for accountability.

Abuse does not always look like what you think it should look like, and it usually occurs behind closed doors. As a community member, it is important to get rid of the idea that you will know abuse when you see it. It is ignorant to think that we will always be able to spot abuse in our communities."

I thought I knew what abuse looked like because I've been on the periphery of relationship sociology and psychology my entire life. And yet, when it happened RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I missed it. I couldn't see it, and as a consequence, I contributed to it - I enabled it. To my horror and shame, I didn't hear and I didn't see someone very dear to me being abused right in front of my own eyes.

"People who don’t want to change will often tell you that they don’t change because of the way that you are asking. This is horse puckey. Change is a personal matter, and it’s hard no matter what. If you want to change, no amount of assholery will be able to stop you. If you don’t, no amount of gentle crooning will make it happen. ... The methods that will get through to someone are varied. I don’t buy the idea that if we were just all nice that we could stop the bullying."

There are 2 basic camps in the atheist communities - those fire and brimstone atheists and those who walk around telling everyone not to be a dick. The thing is, the fire and brimstone atheists are not telling the DBAD guys to shut up. We know that it takes a wide variety of methods to change the minds of a wide variety of people. Go with your strengths. Mine is anger.

"Be willing to distance yourself from people who display abusive behaviors

Sometimes you can’t be a friend of someone who is abusive unless you support their beliefs. It’s hard to fracture your community that way, especially when it is already small. It’s hard when you realize that maybe you can’t just invite everyone to your party."

I'm glad there are people out there with a softer touch who are willing to be that bridge and try to help others back on the path of Greatest Courage and Integrity. I, however, am the one who will throw the party who doesn't just invite "everyone". When I created the local poly discussion group, I deliberately held our meetings in our local LBGTQ center because our previous community had a problem with homophobia. I created an environment that made homophobes uncomfortable. They were not invited to my party.

Sometimes, I *am* in a position to be connected to both sides of a toxic relationship, because the circumstances give me enough space to do so safely (I am not a target, I am not personally affected by the abuser so I can maintain my temper and be that "softer touch", the victims have enough distance with me to not be overly affected, etc.). But when there is a conflict, I am choosing the safety of the victims of abuse.

"'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'"

This is SO SO SO SO important. I cannot stress enough how important this statement is. This is the difference between real abuse and entitlement. This is the difference between racism and "reverse racism". This is the difference between misogyny and "misandry". This is the difference between oppression and privilege.

As someone once told me, the victim in an abusive relationship is the one who is struggling to escape. The one holding on is not the victim. This is *obviously* an oversimplification, because there are plenty of reasons why victims remain with their abusers, as even a cursory glance at the #WhyIStayed and similar hashtags will tell you. But, underneath all the complexity and all the confabulations and all the confounding factors, if you are being hurt by acts of control, then you are being harmed. If you are being hurt because someone is resistant to your attempts to control them, then you are doing the harming - both to your victim and to yourself. Theists are not being oppressed because gays want to get married.  Those theists are feeling hurt because gay people are resisting their control.  When you attempt to impose rules on your partner, and your partner says those rules are hurting them and they behave in ways that are resistant to those rules, and you feel hurt because they are rejecting your attempts to restrict their behaviour, you are the one doing the hurting, even if you are doing it out of your own feelings of pain or insecurity.  You need different types of support. And I will hold you accountable.



*I've actually known quite a few abusers, and have been in relationships with several abusers. I have a whole post in the can elaborating on this very subject. I have a particular quirk that leaves me somewhat resistant to abuse - not totally immune to their effects, but abuse tactics tend to backfire when people try them on me. So, for much of my life, I was not aware of what emotional abuse looked like even when I saw it first-hand because I do not react to attempts to manipulate and control me the way that an abuse victim does when the abuse attempts are successful. So it is only much later that I learned to recognize what emotional abuse looked like in my previous relationships, and I am still learning. What I have learned so far is that I have actually had numerous encounters with abusers throughout my life, and that thought is rather chilling. Pulling the wool over my eyes, tricking me, and making me not see what's right in front of my nose tends to make me angry, and when I get angry, I get stubborn and impatient, so I have very little compassion or tolerance for abuse now that I know some things to look for. I'm sure many of my regular readers are familiar with my low-tolerance reaction by now.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
or The Misuse Of The Argument From Authority Accusation

First, a couple of disclaimers. 1) I'm going to use the word "skeptic" in this post to lump everyone from the skeptics, secular, humanist, and atheist communities into a single label. Those communities are absolutely not interchangable, let's get that straight right up front. Being an atheist doesn't make you a skeptic, as everyone's go-to example, Bill Mahr, can attest. Neither does being a skeptic automatically make you an atheist, as our resident non-atheist skeptic, Pamela Gay, proves. Irrelevant for my point here. I don't feel like listing out all the groups every time I reference them, so I'm going to lump them into one place-holder label, and I chose "skeptic" because I say that word often enough that it comes out easily.

2) I am a skeptic, and damn proud of it. I love the label, I love what I learn from both the community and the process of skepticism. I am in no way considering dumping the label. I'm uncomfortable in skeptic spaces because there are certain problems I encounter, but I want to fix those problems so that I can continue to be part of the skeptics community; I don't want to split off into a whole new group that has the exact same premise as the skeptics community but who refuses to be connected to skepticism because of the bad association.

3) This is not the only problem with the skeptics community. In fact, it's not even one of the top 10 worst. It could be considered a symptom of one of the more major problems, but I don't want to hear "that's it? That's your big problem? Why are you bitching about that when there are real problems with the skeptics community that need to be addressed?" This is an irritation that has real-world implications, and this is my journal where I specifically set it up to bitch about things. So I'm going to bitch about it.

So, on to the problem.

Skeptics, overall, tend to be a fairly well-educated, intelligent group of people. When you have a group of well-educated, intelligent people, the arguments have a tendency to take a particular form. People tend to try to remove all emotional content from the argument and argue everything academically, even when the subject is about emotions, is personal, or is subjective. Many times, they will argue something just for the sake of academically arguing it - it won't even be a subject they're particularly invested in exploring, they just want to argue. If that subject happens to be something that their opponent is invested in, then because the skeptics aren't, they have a tendency to, not only be totally unaware of how damaging it is to academically argue about something the opponent is personally invested in, but to also be completely dismissive of the emotions of their opponent because, hey, it's just an intellectual exercise, no need to get your panties in a twist over it.

Now, as an intellectual exercise with no emotional investment in the outcome other than being right, skeptics will tend to throw accusations at each other, and anyone they're arguing with, like they're in the middle of a Logical Fallacy oral exam in school. Except that these dispassionate skeptics are not actually unemotionally invested in the argument. They are, just not in the topic. They're invested in the idea that they're well-educated, intelligent, and not emotionally involved. So any criticism of this really irritating way of arguing is taken personally and defended with great vehemence and their own set of logical fallacies.

Final disclaimer, I'm not immune to the subject of this rant. But I can still be irritated when I see it happen.

So, the one I'm going to vent about today is the Argument From Authority. There are a handful of logical fallacies that are easier to identify and remember than the others, so every time they come up, skeptics immediately jump to accusing their opponent of using said logical fallacy. The Argument From Authority is one of them.

The Argument From Authority Fallacy is when a claim is deemed to be true simply because the person who made the claim is an authority figure of some sort.

The Misuse of the Argument From Authority Fallacy is when someone is accused of using said fallacy when it's actually a legitimate argument.

So, for example:

  • Quinn: Acupuncture TOTALLY works! You should try it!

  • Devon: Uh, no it doesn't. Here are citations from well-regulated, double-blind, placebo-controlled, large sample population studies from a variety of research facilities that all confirm there is no measurable effect from acupuncture.

  • Quinn: Psshhh! My acupuncturist is a guy I've known for 20 years and he's a karate sensei  so I believe him, not your studies. Science gets things wrong all the time, but THIS guy knows karate! I think he knows what he's doing with acupuncture!

  • Devon: *blinkblink*

You might now want to accuse me of Strawmanning by pulling out a ridiculous argument, but this is, I swear, a conversation I actually had with someone. It was a person I know in real life and had the conversation face-to-face so it's not a troll either. This is actually how it went. In order to keep the peace, I had to end the conversation simply by advising him to make sure that his sensei at least uses brand-new needles and wears gloves because of the recent hepatitis scare among acupuncture patients in Florida. Even the thought of getting a life-threatening illness didn't phase him, because his guy is a guy he "knows", who would never do anything dangerous. Karate. Acupuncture  Nothing dangerous. OK, I'm done.

So this is an example of a legitimate accusation of the Argument From Authority. Quinn believes the claim that acupuncture works because "a guy" said it does, with complete disregard to the mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Here are some examples of legitimate USES of the Argument From Authority:



  • Paula: As a black trans woman, I've experienced sexism, racism, and homophobia in skeptic communities, so I'm less likely to want to attend skeptic events.

  • Paul: That's ridiculous, there's no sexism, racism, or homophobia in skeptic communities! We're a rational group of people, we require evidence to hold beliefs, and there is no evidence supporting the unequal treatment of other genders, other races, or other sexual orientations. Therefore, you couldn't have experienced any of those things because we're just not any of those things.

  • Paula: Look, I'm telling you that I've experienced all of those things. Just because you weren't there or you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It does, and I've felt it, and so have a lot of other people. That's why there are so few women, people of color, and people of alternative sexualities at your little events - we get treated poorly and we'd rather just not go.

  • Paul: I don't see you citing any rigorous studies supporting your claim, therefore you're just spouting anecdote, and anecdote does not equal data. You're wrong, it doesn't happen.

  • Paula: I think I get to be the authority on my own personal experiences and you can't tell me that I didn't have them.

  • Paul: That's the Argument From Authority! Your argument is invalid!







  • Jordan: Polyamory is a legitimate relationship style. I love more than one person at a time and polyamory is a valid way to ethically explore those feelings.

  • Sam: You don't love more than one person at a time, you only think you do. Real love doesn't let you love more than one person at a time, so if you think you love multiple people, you don't really love any of them. If you did really love any of them, you couldn't have feelings for the others. QED.

  • Jordan: You can't tell me what I do and don't feel! I know what I feel, and I feel real, true love for each of my partners!

  • Sam: You're just deluding yourself, that's not real love. Dictionary.com says love is exclusive, therefore what you feel isn't real love.

  • Jordan: No one gets to overrule what I say about my own feelings. I have feelings that I can feel, I am part of a community you've never even heard of before today, and I have an academic sociology background. I am the final authority on what I feel and anyone who says different is wrong!

  • Sam: Aha! That's the Argument From Authority! Your claim is now invalid - polyamory is not real because you can only support it with logical fallacies!

Before anyone tries another accusation of Strawman, these are also both absolutely real conversations. And both are absolutely misuses of the accusation. There are times when it is completely valid to take an authority figure's word on a subject. It can, and should, be provisionally accepted, but it should still be accepted. When the authority figure is an authority on a subject with actual experience in the subject and not just "I read Wikipedia for hours about it" or took some classes on it, and you're not, you can provisionally accept his word. When the authority figure is telling about her own personal experiences, you can provisionally accept her word. When the authority figure is telling you about their internal feelings, you can accept that they do, indeed, have those feelings (even if you remain dubious regarding the nature of what caused those feelings - i.e. just because one feels attacked, it doesn't mean someone actually attacked them). Especially in the third example, their word automatically trumps everything else.

I have been feeling more and more uncomfortable in skeptic spaces over the last year or two, and the smug and dismissive attitude when it comes to topics the speaker has no experience in that is so prevalent among skeptics keeps me away. I don't even want to bother attempting to educate them, because they're so confident in their own intelligence that they don't think they need education on anything they have already formed an opinion on, even if they formed that opinion without the benefit of any education on the subject or with speaking to anyone relevant to the subject. Even worse is when they claim to have done their own "research" on a topic (it usually means they've Googled it or read Wikipedia) and think they're fairly well-read, but they have no personal connection or experience with the subject and dismiss anyone who is actually living the subject but who hasn't done any formal research on it.

Take Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory - he is constantly lecturing Raj on Indian culture, even though Raj was born and raised in India and Sheldon has never left his own apartment, let alone the country.  But Sheldon has read stuff and is smart therefore Raj's personal experiences don't count.


So misapplying the accusation for the Argument From Authority pisses me off. If you aren't kinky, poly, female, transgendered, non-white, poor, or anything else that is as much "experience" as academic (if not more), and when someone who is talks about their experiences or their feelings or their own community, your ability to recite all the logical fallacies by heart and have an argument without getting "emotional" does not make your opinion as equally valid as theirs. "There is no authority and all opinions are equally valid" is a classic logical fallacy among pseudoscience cranks. Don't fall into the same trap and don't dismiss personal experience when the subject is a subjective one. We're not talking about the chemical makeup of water or the physics of gas planets. Those have yes/no answers - either something does or does not, and we can test it and find an answer that is right and an answer that is wrong (insert appropriate error bars here, for those who are pedantic). But a physicist with credentials and published papers and a university behind him is probably more right about physics than the guy who hasn't left his basement in 5 years spouting Deepak Chopra and Dinesh D'Souza is, because the physicist is an authority on the subject, and we can provisionally accept his word that cold fusion is highly improbable and that we will never develop a free energy machine that sucks electrons from the ionosphere but that could turn into a doomsday weapon with only a small modification to the plans (again, true story).
joreth: (polyamory)
I just finished listening to Poly Weekly's recent episode on advice for opening up a couple. I particularly enjoyed it because it was advice aimed at a couple from the point of view of the potential new "third" coming into the relationship. There are lots of advice floating around there telling couples how to open their relationship, like talking to each other and establishing The Rules before doing anything. But there is not much being said from this perspective.

Actually, there are quite a few sources telling couples what it feels like from the prospective Third, including me. But these sources consistently get shut down as couples defend their methods of "protecting [their] relationship". Now, it seems to me that if a group of people (and for these purposes, we'll include 2 people under the heading "group") want to attract another person or group of people, it would be in their best interest to actually heed the advice of said incoming person or group.

We see this in the skeptics and atheist communities too. And we see it in the larger poly community, not just first-time couples looking for unicorns. We have groups here of predominently white, educated, middle- & upper-class men (and women in the poly community) looking for more diversity. But instead of reaching out to the classes of people they wish to attract and asking them what they want from a community, what would convince them to try us out, and how we can improve their experiences with us, my communities of atheists, skeptics, and polys, continue to close ranks with locked arms, telling these other classes that they just need to deal with the communities as-is because that's how we like it, and then putting our own heads together to brainstorm ideas without input from the ones these ideas will most impact.

Back to the poly couples, they do the same thing. These two people (and sometimes it's a poly group about to open up for more) put their heads together and start discussing rules and regulations and future stuff without any input at all from the one person these rules will impact the most. And they defend it by saying that they don't want anyone who doesn't like these rules anyway and it's no different from pre-weeding out potential candidates based on other conflicting things like "I don't date guys who beat up kittens".

And then the poly couples and the atheist & skeptic organizers sit around and whine and moan about how hard it is to find people to join them and how mean everyone is being towards them and their policies.

[livejournal.com profile] tacit and I have also faced this phenonemon before, where we suggest that certain methods have better success rates than others (as well as being more humane and considerate and compassionate), and couples who can't find their unicorns belligerently defend the need for rules by calling them "training wheels" - things you do when you don't yet have compassion and empathy and consideration and relationship and communication skills in order to start being poly first and learn the "advanced" techniques as you go. And yes, I have been accused by people for being "enlightened" and "advanced" - this is not me tooting my own horn, these are the things other people have said about me and the reasons people give for not following my advice.  Frankly, I started out as poly with these same skills and have improved over time, so I have a hard time thinking of them as "advanced" or "enlightened" - as far as I'm concerned, being considerate towards those in your chosen family and thinking about what I bring to the table instead of how he will adequately fulfill my own needs are basic skills, not advanced.  But I digress.

It seems to me that if one wishes to be successful at something, and that something is attracting new people, one ought to be following the advice given by the people one wishes to attract and those who are successful at attracting them, not telling those one wishes to attract how wrong their advice is for how to attract them.  I'm pretty sure that I know better than anyone else what will attract me to that person or group, so if you want me in your group, you ought to listen to what I say will get me there.

So I liked this episode, and although I still don't agree with every single little itty bitty thing [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx said, I very much appreciated having someone with as big of a voice as she has saying these things in no uncertain terms and without bending over backwards to accommodate and pander to the couples, who already have an unequal distribution of power in the community, living in a heteronormative, couple-centric society to begin with.
joreth: (polyamory)
[livejournal.com profile] cunningminx recently did an episode called What Would Monogamists Do? and I have coined the phrase "it's not a poly problem, it's a people problem". The basic premise is that being polyamorous is really not very different from being monogamous. We have to deal with all the same issues that monogamous people do and very, very few issues that they don't.

For instance, "what about the children?" How do you handle nosy school employees and multiple parental figures? Well, the same way my single-mother sister handled multiple parental figures and her kids' schools. I've told this story before - my sister is raising her two kids while living with our parents. Her two kids have two different fathers. So, right there, the oldest kid had 3 adults on his Approved For Pickup & Emergency Contact lists (his father was not in the picture & not allowed to pick him up) and the youngest kid had 4 adults on his lists (his dad is an involved dad).

Then each kid had daycare, so add +1 for each of them. Then I lived at home while the oldest kid was a toddler, so add +1 to his count for me to pick him up. Then my sister's best friend was practically another mother to the kids, especially when she had her own kids and they were sort of a psuedo-lesbian-without-the-lesbian-sex family. So that makes another +1 for both of them. Then there was the other single mother-friend that my sister lived with for a while, to combine incomes and share resources, so that was +1 for the oldest kid, but they "broke up" in a pretty ugly, dramatic manner, so she had to be removed from the lists after about a year. Then there were the 2 or so years my sister lived with her oldest son's grandparents (the father's parents) in another town, who was across the street from our 2 cousins and down the street from another cousin and 2 blocks over from an aunt & uncle and around the corner from our grandfather, so add +8 for him while subtracting all the previous pluses.

So, let's see, that makes 6 adults on the kids' Approved Adults Lists for school, 1 person who was on there only briefly, and 8 adults who were on the oldest kid's list for about 2 years while the other 6 taken off and then switched again when she moved back. Wait, are we talking about poly families again?

My sister is monogamous. The kid-school problem was simple. She just told her schools that these people were allowed to pick her children up and could be called in an emergency. If they insisted on listing a relationship to the children, we were all either listed as family friend, babysitter, or some family name like "aunt" or "grandmother", whether it was true or not. For example, all of our cousins (my sister's and mine) are listed as "aunt" to my nephews, even though they're actually second cousins to the kids. My sister's best friends are also called "aunt" by the boys. I, as the only actual aunt, am called Auntie, to distinguish that there is a different lineage happening. But I also live the farthest away & the boys have more contact with their "aunts" than their "auntie" (although I am my oldest nephew's primary source of tech support).

People like to ask "how will the kids know who their 'real' parents are?" Well, how do my sister's kids know who their "real" parents are, or their real aunts, for that matter? It's pretty simple ... she tells them. The oldest kid knows he has a different father than his brother, and he knows that I am his mom's sister and all his other aunts are actually his mom's cousins or best friends. The younger kid will learn that after he actually masters whole sentences.

My sister and I were both adopted, and we knew who are "real" parents were - they were the two people who raised us and sat up with us when we were sick and helped us with our homework and disciplined us when we acted up. My sister and I both knew that there were some other people out there somewhere who had actually put together our genetic material, and we knew that the two people whose DNA I had were not the same 2 people whose DNA she had. It wasn't confusing at all. In 3rd grade, I actually got in trouble because a kid was teasing me for being adopted and my retort was "at least I wasn't an accident - my parents wanted me!" So yeah, I knew and I understood. It really wasn't that hard. Even after meeting my bio-mom & siblings, I'm pretty well able to keep it straight in my head who is who. Even bonobos can tell each other apart in spite of living all communal-like.

Which brings us to today. I get a lot of questions like "who do you spend holidays with" and "it must be expensive trying to give that many people holiday gifts" and other things that imply that the person asking the question can't fathom how to juggle schedules and finances when there is more than one person who might be the recipient of important celebrations.

Ever since my extended family, the neophytes, got on Facebook, I have started a tradition of posting an old photo of them on their walls related to whatever holiday it is. For example, on their birthdays, I post an embarassing baby photo. On their annversaries, I post an old wedding photo. On Mother's & Father's Days, I post an old photo of them being mothers & fathers. I thought this was a sweet tradition ... until more and more of my family got online. Now I'm faced with three problems - 1) I'm running out of old pictures; 2) I wasn't around or didn't know some of my family long enough to have the appropriate pictures; 3) I have so many people in my family that if I did this for everyone in order to not make anyone feel left out, I'd spend days uploading pictures for each holiday!

I was raised in a monogamous, Christian, non-divided home. If I narrow the criteria to just my most immediate family, I can hopefully escape the jealous "why didn't you post a mother's day wish on MY wall?" from all the cousins and aunts and family friends and old school friends on my Facebook. But that still leaves 2 mothers and 3 sisters. Then, off Facebook, I still have to call 2 grandmothers! And that's only this year, since I recently lost my godmother and my third grandmother (I have a fourth grandmother, somewhere, but she denies my existence so she doesn't get my holiday wishes either).

So who do I spend holidays with and how do I handle gifts for so many people? First, I evaluate who is actually in my vicinity/budget to spend physical time with. Then I narrow down the list to those I have a first-degree relationship with in order to cut down on time & financial expenses. That leaves me with 7 people to do *something* special to acknowledge on this special day.

I'm talking about my monogamous, Christian, bio/adopted family, not my poly family.

Fortunately for me, none of my partners have kids (and they're male) so I never have to wish any of them a happy parent's day, and only one of my partners' other partners (my immediate metamours) has kids, so I actually do not have this problem as a poly person. For me, this whole scheduling around holidays & managing the gifts thing is pretty much exclusively a non-poly issue!

By the time the winter holiday season comes around, and all 6 of us who live within driving distance of each other want to spend the day all together and there are only 2 parents of the group who also live within driving distance, this whole holiday scheduling/gift-giving thing is pretty effortless! Sometimes things can get a little complicated, but any time the complication ratchets up as a poly person, it's really no more complicated than what I had to deal with as a mono person with mono relatives. It's the exact same set of complication and the exact same skill set to deal with it.

"But I'm not having sex with my siblings!" Of course not, but nothing we're talking about here has anything to do with sex. I don't have to be having some incestuous relationship with my sisters to make one feel jealous or left out if I give the others more attention or a better gift than her. I don't have to be sleeping with my mothers to want to tread carefully and be compassionate when doing stuff for the other mother so that each doesn't feel abandoned or excluded or usurped. I'm talking about people's feelings and maintaining loving relationships. Sex is not required to make either someone feel a special connection to you or to make them feel hurt by you. And to manage everyone's feelings and expectations in a reasonable & compassionate manner, those are skills that I learned from interacting with my parents, siblings, cousins, and family friends.

If you think there is some novel and exclusive set of relationship skills for managing poly relationships, I think you are making things way more difficult than they need to be and you are just trying to reinvent the wheel. Take the issue of sex out of the equation and just think, "how can I be compassionate and considerate to this other person without neglecting my own emotional or physical health? How can I be compassionate and considerate to these several other people without neglecting either my or everyone else's emotional or physical health? What kinds of compromises can we find to solve the conflict that will either meet everyone's needs, or at least distribute among those involved the amount of sacrifice & compromise that needs to be made in order to have a resolution?  How can I do this without imposing limits on other people's behaviour or devaluing one relationship in favor of another?"

I can't upload photos for every single mother I know on Mother's Day. I don't have the time, nor do I have the photos. It is reasonable for me to limit my largest efforts to those I have the closest and most direct relationship to - my own mothers & sisters with children - and my extended relatives will not feel slighted because of the nature of those relationships (and not because I told them "hey, you knew the deal when you signed up to be a cousin - you are less important than these other people here" - a cousin is still a person & sometimes it will be necessary to prioritize the cousin if I want to maintain that relationship.  My sister, for example, is very close to our cousins, close enough that she treats them as sisters, but I moved away a long time ago & our cousin relationship just didn't grow in that direction.  The "closeness" is about emotional connection, not about them being "cousins" & therefore relegated to a lesser status).

Because those close relationships are ones that I value, I make it a priority to extend the effort to all of them even though there are still several people left after narrowing the criteria. I get to express my love for them, they feel loved, everyone's happy. Yes, it took more time out of my day than if I only said "happy mother's day" to my own mom and no one else. Even if I only said it to both mothers. That's an exchange I'm willing to make because I value those relationships. Notice that I didn't say "a price I'm willing to pay".

Oh, but wait, was I supposed to be talking about poly relationships? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. And I think that's one of the keys to having successful poly relationships.

I Do Too

Feb. 25th, 2011 02:09 pm
joreth: (polyamory)
There are 3 totally separate events that prompt this journal entry:

1) Minx made a comment in Poly Weekly, episode 264, "Wait, We're Monogamous?" where she addressed some drunk redneck who hit on her. The redneck, upon discovering that Minx had multiple partners, made some comment about how HE ultimately wanted someone to commit to, to count on, to be there for, etc., implying that Minx did not, by virtue of having more than one. Minx responded, "well, I do too." The assumption here is that one cannot, and is not expecting, to have any kind of permanence, future, or intimate relationship if you have more than one romantic partner at a time. Last time I checked, the word was polyAMORY, not polyfuckery, and poly people are generally looking for loving relationships. People who want to have superficial sexual partners on the side are swingers (yes, I know there's a spectrum, that people can do both, bla bla bla, I'm making a point here, move on) and people who just want to "have a good time" are "monogamous" people who aren't ready to "settle down".

2) I have a friend, whom I'll call Cindy, who is one of those tragic isolated polys. By that, I mean that I believe she is naturally polyamorous, but does not have a support network, is not part of any community, has not read any books, listened to any podcasts, or generally has not participated or followed the efforts of other polys. So she's pretty much reinventing the wheel as she goes. She claims to have dated other poly people in the last couple of years, but her description of them doesn't sound like the poly that *I'm* familiar with, and so she makes all the classic newbie mistakes that we've all made, but shouldn't have to at this point in the movement, what with forums and meetups and the like.

Anyway, my point here is that I believe that she is capable & desiring of multiple, simultaneous, intimate, loving relationships AND capable & desiring of her partners having the same. After all, I like to say, the test of really being polyamorous is not how excited you feel at getting all the attention, but how excited you feel at your *partner* getting attention.

So, we were chatting the other day, and she asked me if I ever thought that someday, I might change my mind and decide that I want someone to grow old with, to live with, to support me & to be supportive of, to build a life with. After all, she said, we're still young, so it's all well and good to be living it up now, having fun, but didn't I think I might want something more substantial eventually?

*blink blink*

Uh, I already DO want that, I responded, and that's exactly what I'm building. [livejournal.com profile] tacit is a permanent part of my life, and I expect to grow old with him. I don't live with him now, due to circumstance, but he is someone I can count on to support me and I have that level of intimacy with him. I also said that my other two partners, [livejournal.com profile] datan0de and [livejournal.com profile] zensidhe and their wives, although a much more recent addition to my life, are feeling pretty permanent too. We would all dearly love to live closer together (my preference is for an apartment complex, or a cluster of dwellings within walking distance, cuz I need my space, but a giant communal house that is large enough to give me the space I need would work well, & is certain other people's preference), and are actively looking into the possibility in the future. Coming from someone who, after several years of conversations that led me to my conclusion that she is a natural poly, the assumption that multiple partners necessarily precludes that sort of lifetime partnership & companionship is just mind-boggling.

3) A coworker showed me a picture of the engagement ring she just put a deposit on for her girlfriend and talked on and on about how she couldn't wait to propose, because she was confident of the answer, and to begin their life together as a "married" couple. So, since we were talking lifemates & wedding dresses, I shared with her a little story of my own.

Just this past weekend, there were at least two independent conversations amongst the FLAN (the Florida Local Area Network branch of the Squiggle - my romantic network) wherein it was decided that pretty much all of us view this group as permanent or at least very long-term. We are beginning to make assumptions about long-term plans, as if it is expected that we will still be together next year, or in a few years, when that event is scheduled to happen.

My coworker's response was: "Ya know, I know that people think the whole lesbian thing is kinda different, but Joreth, you're REALLY different!" She went on to say "I think we ALL have dated or fucked more than one person at a time before, but those aren't serious relationships. But you're livin' it, man! I don't know how you do it. I'm just shocked at the idea that your multiple thing is permanent!"

I give these three examples, but they are certainly not the only anecdotes. It seems to be a pretty unanimous assumption that we can't build a LIFE together with more than one partner. Hearing that I have friends who live in a 6-adult poly household for more than two decades & have raised children & grandchildren just floors people - it's so contrary that most people just ignore that little factoid and erase it from their data pile.

"I'm looking for someone to build a life with; someone I can come home to and share my day with; someone I can count on; someone to raise a family with; someone to share the bills with; someone who will understand me intimately and I will understand them; someone to share in all the joys and sorrows of life; someone to grow old with; someone to BE with."

Yeah, buddy, me too. Only I'll have several somebodies to build that life with, to come home to, to share my day with, to count on, to share the bills with, who understand me, to grow old with. I'm not just fucking around, passing the time until someone better comes along. Someones better HAVE come along. I'm not just "sowing my wild oats" or refusing to be "tamed". I've found people committed to enjoying my "wildness" just as it is. Freedom, independence, intimacy, companionship, these are not mutually exclusive goals. A good, solid, fulfilling relationship actually encompasses and provides several or all of these traits. And I happen to have several of just these sorts of relationships. How lucky am I? Oh, that's right, I'm not lucky at all - I worked damn hard to be the kind of person I am and to find the kind of people I have in my life and to structure my life to accomodate all of these variables.

Where everyone else is wandering the planet, randomly hoping to bump into The One who will be the exact perfect blend of every single trait expected who has been fated for them, I have been doing the work on myself to be the kind of partner to provide a stable ground for an intimate relationship, and doing the work to find people who can provide that same stability on their end. My life is what I have made of it, and the end result is that I have not one partner I can depend on and build a life with, but several (and my metamours are also my partners, in this sense of building a life together, if not necessarily in the romantic or sexual sense).

Frankly, I think I got the better deal.
joreth: (arrogance)
We all know them, those people who say "I don't like labels. I can't be summarized by a couple of terms", and they steadfastedly refuse to use certain terms. Maybe even some of us are those people. I know that I've been known to say things like that in my time.

But lately this has been driving me up the wall. See, we have this thing, it's called "language". It's a collections of sounds that, when put together in a certain order, represents things, people, places, actions, concepts, etc. We make these sounds when we exhale air deliberately while vibrating our vocal chords and contracting the muscles in our tongues, jaws, lips, and even face. We make them to convey ideas. We make them because we want other people to know something. And the reason they know what we're doing when we do this strange thing called "talking", is because we have collectively agreed on the meanings of these collections of sounds.

Now the meanings are pretty arbitrary when it comes right down to it. Oh sure, we can take a specific word, and trace it back to its roots and say that this is why these particular collections of sounds mean that concept. But the original set of sounds, the ones that didn't come from anywhere else, doesn't really mean anything to the rest of the universe ... or to people who did not agree on its meaning, such as people who speak a different language. Certainly other people in other places didn't require making that specific collection of sounds to mean that concept when they try to convey it to others, and no other species of life on the planet requires that particular collection of sounds when they try to convey that concept to another. Although there are some similarities - we are all related, after all.

But to get back to the point, "labels" are what we use to communicate. Without them, we don't communicate. Period. If I were to ask a guest to have a seat on the sofa, the word "sofa" is a label. We all generally understand what a "sofa" is, although I guarantee that every single one of you has a slightly different picture in your head when you read that word. And, when you really stop to think about it, sofas are pretty diverse. They come in different sizes, different fabric covers, different colors, some have cushions, some have padding, some have beds folded up inside of them. Really, how on earth does anyone actually know what I mean when I say "sofa" if we have this much diversity among sofas?

Because humans like to classify things, to categorize them, to organize them. Maybe individual people do not, but humans as a species do. It's how we learn anything about the universe. We group things together, like with like, and we separate things that are different. Doing this has led to a collective understanding of the universe that allows you to stare at a glowing box and understand the thoughts of someone like me, who may be on the other side of the planet from you without ever having physically seen me or heard my voice, as I rant about the meaning and usage of labels. This entire LJ post is predicated on the fact that everyone reading it has a more-or-less similar understanding of the meaning of each of these words - the collections of symbols that we have, again, arbitrarily chosen to represent those collections of sounds, that we have chosen to represent concepts.

But taxonomy is messy, it's imprecise. Things do not fit neatly into little boxes and categories, as any biologist or sociologist will tell you. And there are often more than one way to categorize things. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. It means that we factor that into our usage of the system. We assign meanings to those collections of sounds that are sufficiently broad enough to include the entire diverse range of things that *are* that concept even if they're not exactly the same, but specific enough to exclude those things that really are *not* that concept.

And the distinction between those that are and those that are not is not a line. It's sort of a fuzzy fade or gradation. Some gradations may be wider and softer than others. And there will also almost always be exceptions, things that *are* a particular concept even though they don't fit the category defintion. Such as penguins and ostriches. When I say the word "bird", you all have a pretty good idea of the animal I'm talking about. Most of you will immediately think of something that is warm-blooded, egg-laying, smaller than people, covered in feathers, and flies. But some of you will think of an animal that does not have all of those criteria. And the rest of you will come up with animals that are technically "birds" but that do not have all of those traits too, only later, after the first image you came up with.

But I can tell you a story about walking along the beach and coming across these little birds on the sand, running back and forth towards the ocean and away from the ocean with the waves. And most of you will know what I'm talking about, even if you've never seen these particular birds before. It's not actually important, in this story, to give you the exact, biological classification for these specific birds. That's not the point I'm trying to make. All that matters is that you have a general idea of what a bird is, and can imagine something kind of close to what I saw so that you don't lose the thread of the story.

Now, if the specific type of bird is important, we can have a futher discussion, in which we get into the dirty details. For instance, if I tell you that one was flying in the air and suddenly dive-bombed me and landed on my head, it might be important to know how big this particular bird was, and whether it was a raptor sort of bird with sharp claws and a flesh-rendering beak. Those sort of details change the whole tone of the story. In that case, it would be useful to further define what I meant by "bird". And once I have further defined what I meant, I can continue to use the word "bird" as a shorthand to summarize everything we have discussed about this particular bird, so that I don't have to say "so then this small, feathered, flight-enabled, warm-blooded, egg-laying life-form that was approximately 4 inches long from beak to tail with blue coloring and short, spindly legs, landed on my head and started walking around on the top of my head! The small, feathered, flight-enabled, warm-blooded, egg-laying life-form that was approximately 4 inches long from beak to tail with blue coloring and short, spindly legs looked at my friends and emitted a short, high-pitched sound from its open beak..." You can see how that would get tedious.

So when I get into semantics arguments, it is because language is so important in conveying ideas and concepts to one another ... communication (imagine that, a polyamorist interested in communication). Terms that are too narrow exclude things that should rightfully be included. Terms that are too broad render that word useless. The trick, I think, is to give a term sort of a checklist of criteria. And if something has the majority of items on the checklist, then it's probably safe to include it under the umbrella of the term.

Labels for people serve this same important purpose. They summarize us in a general sort of way, they shape our identity, and they provide a common point for which others can identify as "similar to me", which often leads to that sense of community that seems to be so important to humans (as a species, clearly not to some individuals). Expecting them to be exactly accurate for every single detail is expecting too much out of labels. But throwing them away as useless entirely is to discard the very foundation of how we communicate. This is, of course, not the same thing as adopting a label as part of your personal identity. A person can be, for instance, a feminist while not identifying as a feminist. And there may be some very valid reasons for not choosing a label as a personal identity. But if a label has a checklist of criteria, and you fit the majority of them, then you technically *are* that label, whether you choose to identify as it or not.

Polyamorist/monogamist/swinger, atheist/deist/theist, straight/bi/gay/queer, feminist/mysoginist, wooager/rationalist, orinthologist/couldn't-identify-a-robin-if-it-told-me-so-itself-ist, whatever. Words have meaning. Their meaning is important. While it may be important in some cases to try and remove value judgements when using certain labels (particularly labels that identify people who are not yourself, but then again, sometimes it is important to have a value judgement for certain labels, y'know, like murderer), removing the label itself from one's vocabulary is not usually the answer to removing value judgement. In fact, some groups of people have successfully reversed the value judgement attached to a particular label, and continued to use it.

The word "queer", for instance, means strange, odd, unusual. It became a derogatory label for homosexuals some time ago (I have no idea when, it's not important for this point, but it was a long time ago), since homosexuals were considered strange, odd, or unusual. And since being strange was supposed to be a bad thing, calling someone strange, odd, or unusual - queer - was an insult. Well, getting people who hate you to stop calling you a particular word, especially if you're a minority who is not protected by law, is a pretty daunting task. So instead, someone or someones chose to change the tone rather than the word. It *still* means strange, odd, and unusual, and it *still* is a label used for gay people. But now it doesn't necessarily mean "bad" (which, incidentally, was not part of the actual definition, just the cultural association), it doesn't necessarily convey that negative tone, and some people wear that label with pride.

This is sort of a sidenote, but when people talk about taking back a word, this is how it's done. Taking back a word doesn't mean changing its definition, it means changing the tone attached to the definition. When people claim to try and "take back the word" by making it mean the exact opposite of the definition, or worse, making it mean its original meaning and the opposite simultaneously, not only is this incorrect, but it's pretty damn-near impossible, and it actually renders the word useless. So I have a problem with that. But, I digress.

Labels. You don't have to choose any lable to make up part of your personal identity. But the phrases "I don't believe in labels" and "I don't fit in any boxes or categories" and like sentiments are just silly and pretentious. Of course you believe in labels, otherwise you couldn't communicate with anyone beyond basic emotional concepts like fear, danger, and sleepy, (which, incidently, the rest of us are labeling). People who "don't believe in labels" A) just don't like the fact that taxonimy is messy, and if they don't fit exactly, precisely, and without exceptions, they want to throw the whole system out; B) don't understand what is meant by "label" and its necessarily fuzzy borders; or C) dislike association with other people who happen to also fit that particular label and are seeking to distance themselves from Those People.

So, by all means, don't identify as a particular label if you don't want to. I don't, at this time, identify as a transhumanist, in spite of the fact that all of my partners are, and everything they have to say on the subject is something I agree with. The main reason I don't add "transhumanist" to my collection of identity labels is simply because I don't feel as though I know enough about the label to justify accepting it, although I may, in fact, actually fit that label. But don't summarily dismiss all labels as useless or misleading because that would be deeply incorrect.

Labels are the very core, the foundation, of how we communicate. But you may be expecting too much from them. Remember that they are shorthand and a common point of connection to build communities. They are not exact, but they should be specific enough to exclude those concepts that, were they included, would render the label meaningless. They are not meant to displace discussion and explanation. They are meant to summarize it, to give concepts a focal point. Removing a label from your vocabulary requires you to explain each and every time you want to communicate a particular concept. Maybe it's not clear from my lengthy and verbose LJ posts, but I would find conversation like that tedious and repetitive if I had to explain certain concepts over and over again, and I'm sure my listeners would quickly tire of listening to me.  In fact, my "me manual" LJ tag is precisely because I get frustrated when I have to explain certain things over and over again, so I can just point someone to that tag if they want to learn some commonly-explained concepts in dealing with me.

So go ahead, don't attach a particular label to your identity. But don't look down your nose at everyone else who uses language as the tool it is meant to be, by claiming that you are too complex to be labeled. I have news for you - you are labeled. Pretentious, tedious, holier-than-thou ... you have far more labels than you realize.
joreth: (polyamory)
Because there are some people out there who forget the first rule in the Game Theory, Tit For Tat*, and assume from the outset that whatever I said must have been meant in the worst interpretation of my words possible, I want to expand just a little on my joke at the end of the latest episode of Poly Weekly.

At the end, we strayed into the concept of individuality within a relationship and how some people tend to lose their individuality or sense of themselves and instead, merge completely into a relationship, only to be devastated when that relationship ends.  [livejournal.com profile] tacit said that he would like to think that it wasn't impossible to retain one's individuality while being in a relationship.  Clearly, as one who holds so fiercely to my individuality and independence as I do, I agree that it's possible.  But I also think that an awful lot of people seem to think, feel, or believe that it's difficult or undesirable to do so.  Phrases like "better half" are indicative of a societal mindset that we are not full people on our own, but partial people, only complete once we join with another person.

As most people here should know by now, I have a rather crass or base sort of speech style, and in person, it's even worse.  I'm a stagehand, I hang around with stagehands.  I drop my gs at the ends of words, I use slang, and I use a lot of cuss words.  Basically, I sound like a construction worker.  I also use hyperbole when I'm making a joke or telling an anecdote to sort of lighten the mood.

So, when [livejournal.com profile] tacit said that, I responded with "of course it's possible, but I'd betcha money it's the minority".  [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx responded that she's known a lot of monogamous women in particular who fall into that trap of losing themselves in a relationship, then when it's over, they have no sense of who they are and they immediately jump into another relationship without taking time to be just themselves or to learn to survive alone.  So I pointed out that a lot of males I have known do the same thing, so I don't think it's a gender thing.

But what I said was, "a lot of my male coworkers do the same thing and it drives me up the friggin' wall!  Cuz they all keep coming to me when they break up with someone 'oh my god what am I gonna do?' Be alone! For a little while!  Learn how to fold your own fricken' underwear, please!"

So I was concerned that my throw-away comment would be taken out of context.  I want to state clearly and explicitly that I am not talking about the pain that comes from the loss of a relationship and that I don't actually say or think that a person should just "get over it" when they break up with someone.  I am referring ONLY to the issue of what does a person do with themselves now that they don't have a partner anymore because they have no concept of who they are other than "Mary's boyfriend" or "Jack's wife".  These are people or situations where grown adults don't know how to do things like pay the electric bill on time or find food for themselves, or even have basic laundry skills because someone always did it for them.

The joke was not meant to be insensitive of the pain that comes from a broken relationship, but was frustration at the tragedy that comes when a relationship ends and the individuals have so little sense of themselves that they can't even care for themselves.

I've written before about my grandmother who, when my grandfather died, did not know where the checkbook was kept, did not know how bills were paid, and did not even know how to operate a telephone because my grandfather always did it for her.  He answered the phone and he dialed the outgoing calls, and then just handed her the handset when it was her turn to talk.  This is a travesty.  The woman cannot care for herself and is now shuttled around from house to house as her adult children attempt to care for her.

The sad part is that I see this all the time, in men and women, in old and young people.  As [livejournal.com profile] tacit said earlier in the episode, you can walk out the front door one day and the number 32 bus loses its brakes and suddenly you're alone and there's nothing you can do to protect yourself against things like that happening.  Someone who is grieving over the loss of their partner, either through death or through a breakup, should not have to compound the heartache with a fear of basic survival.  There are a few basic skills that every adult, who is not physically incapable of learning, should learn to do even if they have a partner who performs that task for them.  Every adult should contemplate how they will survive if they find themselves without their partner and, if possible, every adult should actually have the opportunity to try it.  And I say "opportunity" because it is one.

Learning these types of skills does more than just knowing how to write a check or lookup the phone number to the water company does on their own.  Learning these skills comes with 2 additional benefits over and above mere survival should one find oneself without one's partner.  First, it is not necessary to master every single survival skill you can think of, just in case the apocalypse happens (although I'm a big fan of attempting to learn as many of those as you can, y'know, just in case).  But learning these kinds of skills actually gives people confidence, the confidence of the knowledge that we *can* do something if we need to.  As my first lighting instructor told us on the first day of class, it's not what you know, it's whether you know how to learn what you need to know.

I'll give an example.  I learned how to start a campfire using only sticks and a knife when I was in high school.  It's a pain in the ass, but I learned how to do it.  I haven't yet needed that skill, and I seriously doubt I ever will, especially since I never go camping anymore.  But learning how to start a fire taught me something more valuable than just how to start a fire.  It taught me that I was ABLE to learn how to start a fire.  That means that if I ever find myself in a situation in which I need to learn a new skill, I feel confident that I can learn it.  I am not afraid to be thrown in a new situation, and my ability to learn those necessary skills means that I actually have a better chance at learning it simply because I assume I can learn it.  Thinking that you can't learn something (when you're afraid, not when you actually have an impediment) is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

But I can guarantee that I will, someday, be thrown into a new situation where I will not be familiar or have the skills necessary to handle it. I don't need them. I need the confidence that I can learn the skills and the skill I have already learned of how to learn new tricks.

My mother is an intelligent lady.  But she is often crippled by fear of new things.  She worked for years for an employer who put her down and held her back.  As late as the '90s, he refused to allow a fax machine into the office and my mother, his secretary, had to go down the hall to a neighboring company and use their fax machine to conduct their business.  He grudgingly allowed her the use of a DOS computer to handle the accounting, since she did that too.  But my mother was convinced that she could not keep up with technology and this was the best job she could get with her skills.  She was underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated.

After years of family begging her to find another job, my mom's friend convinced her to apply to the city where she worked for a similar position.  It required some computer knowledge, but by that time, we had a computer at home and I excelled at the basic office programs she was expected to know.  My mom's friend convinced her by explaining that the worst that could happen was that she wouldn't get the job and nothing would change.  But actually, that wasn't the worst.  The worst thing that could happen would be that my mother wouldn't get the job and her fears of being worthless and stupid would be confirmed.  And that's really what held her back - she was afraid to fail and she was afraid to be proven that she was a failure.  So, she stayed at her dead-end job for years.

But thankfully, we all prevailed and my mom took the first test for the position.  She did very well and was called back for the second test.  Then the in-person interview.  And then she was offered the job.  It paid better, had better benefits, and better hours, plus the supervisor was nicer.  My mom's confidence went up, she finally started losing weight on her Weight Watchers program, she was happier, my dad was happier, and she didn't bitch at me and my sister so much.  Now, when a promotion offer comes up at work, she goes for it.  She doesn't always get it, but she occasionally does, and she's overall happier with life.  

The other benefit to learning to be an independent person and how to survive on your own is that it makes you a better partner.  Being an individual, knowing who you are and being secure in who you are, makes you more attractive to those around you and makes you a better partner in your relationships - better able to participate more fully in the relationship.  The better you know yourself, and the more confident you are in who you are, the more rich and fulfilling you will find your relationships and the more you will add to your relationships so that your partners' experiences with you will be more rich also.  

There's an old trope that we only find relationship partners when we aren't looking for them.  But that's not exactly true.  Someone who is insecure and afraid of being alone, who gives up out of a despondent depression that he is not worthy of anyone's love and affection is not likely to find a partner just when he gave up.  Of course, it happens occasionally, but it's not really a recipe for successful relationships in general.

The more accurate line is that someone who is an interesting person, whose life is rich and fulfilling all by themselves, makes an attractive partner because they are an interesting person whose life is rich and fulfilling.  People like that tend not to go seeking relationship partners very often because their lives are rich and fulfilling.  But they are probably open to experiencing a relationship, and that openness to new experiences combined with confidence, self-assurance, lots of interests, etc. draws other people to them with very little effort on the person's behalf.  A person with a lot of interests and who is self-confident tends to go out and do things where they might meet people, and, having met them, tends to do things with those people, who have now formed relationships based on shared interests.  

Of course, exceptions to the rule do happen, but when you look at someone who seems to not try at all to seek romantic partners end up with people falling at his or her feet and whose relationships seem healthy and happy, the odds are likely that the reason is because that person is self-confident, sure of who he or she is, whose life is filled with interesting things, subjects, and activities, and who treats their partners with dignity and respect, not as a savior or housemaid or substitute parent to care for them or prop up their own flagging self-esteem.

So when I quip "learn how to fold your own fucking underwear, geez!", I am speaking ONLY about developing a person's individuality, independence, and sense of self.  I do not mean to downplay or disregard the emotional loss of a relationship.  That is painful, and different people have different ways of coping with it, and the recovery time will vary from person to person (and relationship end to relationship end even for the same person).  

Although, even the pain of losing a relationship can sometimes be lessened by positive and proactive steps to regaining one's independence.


* Tit For Tat is a game theory that was used in a computerized Prisoner's Dilemma game. In short, the scenario is 2 players, where if both players cooperate, they both gain something, but if one player cooperates and one player defects, the player who cooperates loses and the player who defects gains. Contestants were required to write a computer program to play the game against another computer program. The one that won consistently was a program called Tit For Tat. It had very simple rules: On the first round, cooperate. On the next round, do whatever the opponent did last round. People tend to "do whatever the opponent did last time" in real life versions of Tit For Tat, but then tend to forget step 1, which is start out by cooperating. For some reason, that's really hard for people to do.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
There's been some interesting hullabaloo on the atheist/skeptic front lately.  Two separate events come to mind, but they have some things in common, and things that I've seen in other areas as well and will probably continue to see.

The first was a forum thread in which I was called "arrogant" and "condescending" (two words that atheists in general are very familiar with being called) for my interview on the Does Polyamory Make You Atheist episode of Poly Weekly.  For those who didn't listen to the episode, there was a very specific question - does polyamory make people atheist.  Minx kept wanting to get off track and wander into the land of "I don't want to say anyone's beliefs are wrong because I think whatever makes sense to you is OK with me", which wasn't the point of the episode.  I took special care to address only the question, and to not touch on any belief system or even to explain what atheism is, let alone my own brand of atheism.  I pointed the listeners to my LJ atheist tag to learn more about that.

The question was, does polyamory make people atheist.  My answer was very simple.  No.  I had only a few minutes of talking time in which to explain why I am both atheist and polyamorous and what, if anything, they had to do with each other, partly because the episode is only 30-45 minutes, partly because my interview was only a portion of the total episode, and partly because this segment was half-taken up by Minx going on about her acceptance of any and all belief structures, which was besides the point.

In this episode, I outlined the path that I took to both polyamory and atheism.  I said that the same tools that led me to my version of atheism are the same tools that led me to my version of polyamory.  In both cases, I looked at the evidence that the world around me presented to me with regards to religion and with regards to relationships, and I reached a conclusion using a logic and reason applied to the subjects of religion and relationships.

I was called "condescending" because I said I used logic to arrive at my conclusions, so some people claim that this necessarily implies that anyone who arrives at another conclusion must therefore be illogical. I was also called "arrogant" because I spent no time asking or learning about other people's beliefs. In an episode about how atheism affects polyamory, I was arrogant for talking all about atheism & not talking about paganism or Christianity.

This was the path, in a nutshell, that I took that led me to both polyamory and atheism.  It's called "skepticism".  Skepticism means, literally, inquiry.  To be skeptical is to inquire.  Skepticism is at the heart of the scientific method.  It is often mistaken for "doubting", and for "cynicism", but those are not correct.  Of course, some skeptics can ALSO be doubters or cynics, they are not mutually exclusive (I tend towards cynicism all too often), but they are also distinct from each other.

People can reach either conclusion (polyamory or atheism) via other means.  I would not call Bill Maher a "skeptic", since he is not rational and does not use the scientific method, but he is most definitely an atheist.  And people can use the tools of skepticism, or rational inquiry, and reach other conclusions, as I *did* imply when I said "No, I think it's more that skepticism and rational inquiry CAN result in both atheism and polyamory."  We're not talking about something as simple as the claim "there is oxygen in this room".  That's easily testable and can have only one answer - either there is or there isn't, and doesn't change depending upon the beliefs or prespective of the tester.  We're talking about whether a person believes polyamory is the right relationship style for himself, or whether a person has belief, or lacks belief, in a deity.  These are very complicated questions, and a person's perspective, which is naturally subjective, is a valid and important criteria in logically evaluating the questions and determining a conclusion.  These are not empiric questions, they are subjective considerations.  Questions about economic and politics are also very complicated questions and one can arrive at different conclusions using the same tools of logic and reason, depending upon one's priorities and subjective experiences.  These are issues of value judgments, not purely empirical facts.

The validity of atheism is an empiric question, but that's not the question at hand.  Is it possible to be polyamorous is an empiric question, but that's not the question either.  The question is, are YOU an atheist or a polyamorist and how did you get there, not how correct is your position.  My reasons for being a polyamorist may not apply to your position.  Maybe you think you probably can love more than one person simultaneously, but your love and your devotion and your commitment to your existing partner is a higher priority than your commitment to polyamory - it's just not that big of a deal to you.

With that criteria, it is entirely logical and reasonable for one person to choose a monogamous relationship structure.  Using logic, a different person may arrive at a different conclusion than I have because that person has information that I lack or vice versa.  Much like my rant about the Fanboys, who want to insist that they have the answer for me without having all the information about the situation, or who have different priorities than I do & refuse to accept that another set of priorities are valid for other people, this is a matter of perspective and two people can arrive at different conclusions, even if they use the same, or similar, tools, such as logic.

Skepticism is a process.  It requires that one investigate a claim, no matter who is making that claim.  The scientific method is inherently skeptical in that it investigates claims, using a process that is designed to reduce human bias and come to conclusions that are reasonably empirical and free of human fallacy.  It is a long, slow process that requires many different people and many different tests precisely because of the possibility of human error.

And one of the things that humans are prone to do, is to apply their skepticism inconsistently.  A person can be a logical, rational, analytical, skeptical person in general, and still have one or some subjects about which they do not apply their logic, their rationality, their analysis, or their skepticism.  In fact, that's pretty much everyone.  Albert Einstein, noted brilliant scientist, refused to accept the idea of a universe based upon probability at the quantum level, which prevented him from doing any significant work in quantum physics.  His entire life was devoted to the pursuit of scientific inquiry, which, as I've already pointed out, has at its heart skeptical inquiry.  And yet, this was an area he was quite irrational about, in his refusal to accept the evidence presented to him.  He died, still refusing to accept quantum physics.  

Linus Pauling is a Nobel Prize winner.  Pauling was included in a list of the 20 greatest scientists of all time by the magazine New Scientist, with Albert Einstein being the only other scientist from the twentieth century on the list. Gautam R. Desiraju, the author of the Millennium Essay in Nature, claimed that Pauling was one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the millennium, along with Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. Pauling is notable for the diversity of his interests: quantum mechanics, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, protein structure, molecular biology, and medicine. In all these fields, and especially on the boundaries between them, he made decisive contributions.  However, Pauling got sucked into the idea that megadoses of vitamin C can cure cancer.  He published lots of papers on the subject, all of which were refuted on the basis of flawed methodology and his conclusions were not repeatable when others tried to replicate his tests.  In the end, it was concluded that vitamin C, in regular or megadoses, did not cure cancer and did not prevent colds.  Pauling, who megadosed until his death, died of cancer.

Both examples are men who are considered brilliant scientists, and as I've said, skepticism is inherently at the core of science.  And yet, both men held in reserve some subject for which they would not apply their skepticism.  This does not invalidate their contributions to science and they deserve the accolades they have been given for their advancements in science.  Their ideas are valid, regardless of what *other* wacky ideas they might also hold, because their valid ideas stand up no matter who is making the claim.  Unlike faith-based, authoritarian systems, claims are not true because Someone said so, claims are true no matter who says so, and true claims are accepted even if the Speaker is batshit crazy on all other subjects (but maybe we'll reserve acceptance until someone a little less batshit crazy comes up with the same conclusion using legitimate testing methodology).  For instance, Phrenology was the first discipline to claim that the brain had specialized areas.  Of course, bumps on the head don't tell us jack shit about the brain, but the idea that our brains are not just one big lump of grey matter was tossed out when evidence came to light.  Scientists didn't ignore phrenologists because they were crazy, they ignored them because they were wrong, but the itty-bitty part they got right was accepted even though the wacky phrenologists claimed it.

People are admired and revered for their contributions, but the science and skeptical communities know that people are still just people, not 2-D movie heroes (watch the Star Trek movie First Contact, where the crew goes back in time to discover that the inventor of warp drive, and consequently the father of their entire society, was a drunk bastard with an attitude problem, who just happened to also be a brilliant physicist, who hated hearing that they built a statue in his honor and taught about him in school, and who was nothing like what the textbooks said he was.  Also watch the Jaynestown epsiode of Firefly, where an entire town makes a hero of the most disreputable, selfish, ego-centric members of the crew because he happen to drop a load of money on an impoverished indentured slave town - the good works was good works, but the people are complicated & not as equally good as their works).  People are complicated, and even the most dedicated skeptics can be unskeptical about some things they hold dear.  That's why we have science, to discover the truth even when we really want to believe in something false.

Which brings us to the other event.  A particular astronomer has been singled out because she is a good astronomer, a science popularizer, and a Christian.  Some people in the skeptical community want to make skepticism an atheist movement, which would necessarily remove all skeptics who have some sort of religious beliefs.  I'm reminded of a Babylon 5 episode where a culture built some technology that would weed out the alien influences that had been seeded in the society to destroy them.  The technology was designed by religious zealots and designed to kill the "impure".  The problem is, there was no possible way to define "pure", since *everyone* had something different than everyone else.  So the technology destroyed the entire race.

Some people want to cry hypocrisy of certain skeptics for allowing a religious believer into the ranks.  And then there are others, like me and PZ Myers and DJ Grothe, who say that people are not skeptical of all subjects, all the time, and what matters are the claims.  If a person is in favor of science, advances science, and promotes skepticism, they are, by definition, a skeptic, even if they hold a sacred cow, or, as Penn & Teller say on their show, a gris gris.  Their legitimate claims benefit society and the scientific and skeptical communities as a whole.  The individual should be welcomed in, but that does not mean that their beliefs or claims will not be scrutinized.  

For the most part, a skeptic can and will respect a person, and fully believe that a person has the *right* to hold any particular belief, but this does not equate to respecting any given *belief* that the person in question might hold.  That's how science gets done.  If we just sat by in awe because someone famous said something, we'd never have corrected the flaws in their theories and claims, bringing us to an ever greater understanding of the universe.  This astronomer is a respected astronomer.  She does good science.  She promotes science education.  She leaves her religious beliefs out of the classroom.  We respect her for that and we welcome her into the folds of the skeptics.  But we are not required to also leave her religious beliefs untouched, especially when they come out into the public sphere.  We can hold her in high esteem while not hiding our opinions on her religious beliefs.  And we can have a conversation with her about skeptical topics without bashing her repeatedly for her religious beliefs when that's not the topic at hand.  There's nothing hypocritical about treating people with respect while not respecting a belief, nor about sticking to the topic at hand about which we are in agreement while we disagree about other topics.  
  • A skeptic can respect a person who holds other beliefs, including beliefs that the skeptic does not think are "rational".  
  • A skeptic can disagree with, and even not respect, a set of beliefs while respecting or befriending a person with those beliefs.  
  • Holding a particular worldview in common with a skeptic does not automatically make that person a skeptic - plenty of people are atheists who are not skeptical, either about atheism or about other subjects.  It's the process that makes someone skeptical, not whether they reached the same conclusion.
  • Being skeptical or rational does not automatically mean two people will reach the same conclusion, depending on the subject, particularly those subjects for which subjective criteria are valid for informing one's conclusion.
  • No one, including skeptics, are 100% skeptical about everything they do, think, feel, believe in, or choose 100% of the time.
  • Some skeptics *strive* to be skeptical in all areas, and others are willing to section off a subject as outside of their skepticism, and both can be called "skeptical", or be under the umbrella of the "skeptical community".
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what skepticism is, and a knee-jerk response to be offended at skeptics just for being skeptics:   When a skeptic speaks her mind, she must necessarily be insulting everyone else around her, especially if she claims to use logic as her tool of choice.  And a skeptic can't possibly be friends with someone who isn't a skeptic.  And, of course, a skeptic is always a skeptic about everything, all the time.  So if a skeptic *doesn't* bash in a friend or colleague for his non-skeptical beliefs, she's necessarily a hypocrite, but if she does bother to mention her own atheistic beliefs or point out where the non-skeptic might be wrong, then she's rude, arrogant, and condescending.  It doesn't matter what the atheist or the skeptic says or does, we are wrong, mean, hateful people who should go sit down and shut up, so as to not make anyone else feel bad about themselves.
joreth: (anger)
... and I also deserve the right to get pissed off when someone insults me and that person ought to feel the effects of pissing someone off.

There has been some discussion in several venues lately about primaries and secondaries in the poly community.   We did a Poly Weekly segment about it (coming out next week), it's been a discussion topic in several online and in-person discussions, [livejournal.com profile] tacit wrote a post about prescripting primary/secondary in order to create a delusion of control against change, and then RedPepper started a thread about it in the polyamory.com forums.

I had decided to rant about the primary/secondary issue because it kept coming up and I kept getting angry over it, but what sparked the *direction* of the following rant was the argument in the polyamory.com forums.   I've had a few run-ins with the members of the polyamory.com forum members, and this last one was the final one - I'm dropping my account the way I did when the old PolyMatchMaker forums had the same kind of people. I hear PMM has changed now, so I may re-sign up, at their request.

I've had it up to here with passive-aggressive and ego-centric behaviour.  I am sick to death of people who take every mother-fucking statement as a personal attack, whether it was directed at them or not, and whether the "attacker" even said whatever it was that got their panties in a bunch.  I am sick to death of getting into a discussion or debate on an important topic only to spend the next 8 fucking pages saying "I didn't say that, I said this and I was responding to [your quote here]".   And I am royally sick of moderators allowing people to be repeatedly insulting and offensive, as long as they say it with nice words, even after it has been repeatedly, politely pointed out that it was insulting, but when I'm fed up with being insulted, getting MY posts blocked because I didn't bother using nice words to express my frustration.

Sorry, but using cuss words is not the only way someone can make a "hostile and inflammatory attack".  I don't appreciate the way everyone else has to pacify and pander to a handful of the most vocal members because they get their feelings hurt everytime someone disagrees with them and they take it as a personal attack.  Being forced to defend myself every time I make a statement because someone thinks I was personally insulting *that person* is tiring and puts me on the defensive from the outset as I try to out-think how someone might possibly interpret something I said as "offensive" when I know damn well that I wasn't talking to or about whoever it is that will throw a hissy fit, or when I am talking to someone in particular but there's just no way to cushion the truth any more and still have it resemble the truth.  Especially when I and 2 or 3 others have already rephrased it as many ways as we can think of and people are still misinterpreting, or worse, outright saying the opposite.

I'm sick of people making generalizations like "all monogamous people are inherently selfish" and "a mono mind will read a book about polyamory and interpret its spirituality content differently than a poly mind" and "all women are bi and all men are straight" and "all men take flirting as a promise while all women naively take flirting not seriously", while those same exact people read a post that says "Poly people who make rules out of fear are insecure" and say "hey, not all people who make rules are insecure, you shouldn't generalize like that!"  And I'm fucking sick to the point of blind, spitting, rage of people saying that my relationships "don't count" because they're long-distance or not live-in or I wasn't there first, and that the primaries are more important than the secondaries, whomever they designate as "secondary" by whatever arbitrary limitations they place on relationships they're not in.

What strikes me most about this topic is that, over and over again, people don't seem to see any problem with saying "My life is more important than yours, therefore if we start dating, we require you to rearrange your life to suit our issues so that you make no meaningful impact on our lives.  We have it just as we like it and we don't need you coming in and messing that up, so we're going to limit your impact."   People continue to justify treating their future partners like threats, like criminals guilty until proven innocent, like dating is an adversarial relationship and all efforts must be made to preserve the status quo at all costs.  The new guy is the enemy and we have to protect the primary relationship against possible and unknown CHANGE, whether we know if that change will be good or not.  

"We want to have a relationship with you, but we don't want to, y'know, CHANGE anything about our lives to accomodate that new relationship.  Our lives should look exactly the same as it does now, except we get sex from you and we get to say we're dating you (but only when we want to say it, you're not allowed to decide when we say it). You do all the changing to make sure our lives stay exactly the same while still giving us sex and dating privileges with you."

And I have a BIG problem with that.  Why the fuck are you getting involved in any way with someone you view as a threat to your existing life?

Like non-religious folk for centuries, poly people who find themselves as "secondaries" (i.e. second-class citizens) to these selfish, self-centered, ego-centric, solipsistic assholes have been saying politely "um, y'know, I'd kinda like to have a say in my own relationship here, but since this whole relationship is new, I'm not going to insist that I be treated like a human being with equal rights because that might cause you to dump me".  OK, the non-religious or other-religious folk have been saying "uh, look, I have rights too, but I'll sit quietly over here, not demanding my rights, because you might kill me."  But the point is still the same. Things don't get changed when only one side is being polite and the other side goes on happily tromping all over the other side's life, liberty, and dignity.

So I'm not going to be polite.  In this post, I'm going to get angry.  I'm going to get emotional, raging angry.  I'm going to cuss and I'm going to be mean.  I'm going to call names.  I'm going to talk in the second person because it more effectively illustrates my anger, so if you don't personally do this (even though you're in a pre-existing couple or you use the words "primary" and "secondary), then assume I'm not talking about you. If you don't do this, pretend you came across a letter to someone else because I don't want to hear "I do primary/secondary but I don't do it like this".

I don't fucking care.  If you don't do this, I'm not talking to you (but it might benefit you to be more aware of how other people might perceive you).  If you *do* do this but are in denial, the last thing I want to hear is your justification and rationalization for why it's *different* when you fuck someone over.

I think you people need to hear just how insulting, just how offensive, just how HURTFUL you are to the people you date.   Too many people who become secondaries are not allowed to get upset or angry, or if they do, it's after you've already dumped their ass and you don't see it.   If you do happen to get a glimpse, you get all self-righteous and defensive, saying that the other person just didn't respect your relationship. Well why should they? You don't respect them!

So I'm going to show you what your actions do to other human beings.  I'm going to lash out like the secondaries you treat like non-people aren't allowed to.  I'm going to attempt to hurt you with my words the way you've hurt them and the way they aren't allowed to hurt you.   I'm going to show you the hurt feelings, the rage, and the emotional tantrum THAT YOU CAUSED with your insensitivity and lack of empathy because I think you need to see.  Because those people you hurt are unlikely to show you themselves, and because those who have been burned by you and others like you are afraid to speak up publicly because we have to be polite and respectful of your oh-so-special primary-bond, because there isn't "One True Way" so no one is allowed to say "you're doing it wrong!"

Maybe if you had to suffer through the fallout of your actions, you people would be a little more sensitive and think about your partners a little more and yourself a little less.  Since you're already partnered & looking for those single polys whose lives are unimportant enough to be absorbed into yours, you won't ever feel what it's like to be in this position, so I'm going to yell and scream the way these secondaries can't ever do themselves in the hopes that SOMEONE will look at this and say "I never realized I hurt another human being so badly."  Ya'll seriously need a Breakfast Club detention session where you have to come face to face with the people you're hurting and SEE their pain.

Of course, the ability to accept that we contributed to another's pain is a sign of true maturity, and those who treat secondaries like this are still stuck in the kindergarten-phase of life, where the world revolves around them and everyone else's feelings are incidental, if noticed at all, so I'll be shocked if I actually achieve my goal.  Oh well, at least shouting makes me feel better, since I can't actually knock you people upside the heads to beat some sense into you.  Believe me, if that method showed any evidence of working, you'd all see what kind of physical temper I traded for this verbal temper I now express online.


Make sure to put on your flame-retardent suit first because I'm going to piss a lot of people off )

joreth: (Default)
Someone on the Poly Weekly forums asked if those of us who are atheist have our atheism affect our polyamory, and that sparked a Poly Weekly discussion topic.

It was an interesting discussion, but there were a few points I did not have time or opportunity to make, so I'm going to make them here.

One of the problems with the argument "the 'experts' just KNEW that the world was flat, so we shouldn't trust that the 'experts' KNOW anything they claim to know today" (besides the fact that the flat-earth hypothesis is a myth) is that the "experts" being brought up are usually "experts" before we developed the scientific method. It was also mentioned in passing how surprising it was that "we used to believe" that smoking was healthy. That's not true either. The use of the slang term "coffin nail" to refer to cigarettes dates as far back as the 1880s. What we see in the fictional universe of Mad Men was a time in our history when the Advertising industry told everyone a lie to sell a product that had very little in the way of actual scientific data one way or the other (although it was *believed* by many to be harmful, we just didn't have scientific data to support that conclusion prior to the development of the scientific method). The advertising industry is notorious for skewing, biasing, fudging, and outright lying to sell products and always has been. But thankfully, we now have agencies in place to investigate fraudulent claims and hold those committing the fraud accountable (although, like any human endeavor, it is not perfect).

It is true that "experts" are human and therfore make mistakes, and we do not know anything with 100% but ... well, Greta Christina has an entire blog post about that, so let me just point you there:

http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/01/the-100-solutio.html

One: You can never be 100% certain that you're right about anything.

Two: Therefore, all ideas are equally likely to be true, and equally valid.

(Three: Therefore, my idea is right. But I think it's pretty obvious why that one's wrong, so I'm not going to bother shooting that particularly slow fish in that particularly small barrel.)

Okay. First of all, Two does not follow from One. Yes, it's true, we can never be 100% sure of anything (except perhaps our own existence). The history of knowledge is full of mis-steps and false assumptions... and besides, everything we see and experience could all be an illusion. We could all be in the Matrix, or something.

But the fact that we can't be 100% sure of any idea doesn't mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely.

The fact that we can't have 100% certainty doesn't mean that we can't assess which ideas are more or less likely. We can't know for 100% certain that the earth orbits the sun -- it could all be some horrible Satanic deception, or space aliens playing a practical joke -- but we can be pretty darned sure that it's very likely indeed. And we can't be 100% sure that Bertrand Russell's china teapot isn't orbiting the sun -- maybe it's too small to be seen by our telescopes, or maybe it's an intelligent teapot and is playing a cheeky game of hide and seek -- but we can be pretty darned sure that it almost certainly isn't.

And of course our beliefs are influenced by our preconceptions and assumptions, biases we can never completely filter out. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. That's the whole point of the scientific method. Everything about it -- control groups, double-blinding, placebo controls, peer review, transparent methodology, the expectation of replicability, all of it -- is an open acknowledgment that scientists are just as prone to seeing what they want and expect to see as everyone else. It's an open acknowledgment that scientists are fallible... and that they therefore need to try to screen out fallacy, as much as they can. These techniques don't eliminate uncertainty -- but they reduce it, and by a fair amount. They give us a significantly better chance that our theories might be right. They can’t give us absolute truth, but they can give us a pretty good approximation of the truth... an approximation that gets better and better over time.

AND


http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/04/professor_brain.html

Science keeps changing -- so how can we trust it? One of the problems is that people who distrust or dismiss science often say things like Layne did, that "history is also littered with disproved and discredited science" -- and that this somehow discredits science.

But people who value science don't see this as a sign of science's failure. On the contrary -- we see it as a sign of its success, of science working exactly the way it's supposed to. When enough evidence comes along that contradicts a theory, that theory gets discarded and replaced by a better one. A theory is only as good as the most recent results.

Now, obviously, there's a limit to this "most recent result" thing. As a science professor of mine once pointed out, if one of his students got a result that the density of helium and the density of lead were identical, that professor would not be rushing off to publish the results in "Science." He would, instead, be checking to see whether that student had turned on their scale.

That's where the whole "extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence" thing comes in. If a theory has stood up for decades or centuries, if it's explained all the evidence so far and done a good job of predicting new evidence, then one anomalous result won't be enough to make everyone question the theory. And it shouldn't. Anomalous results happen too often -- and they too often turn out to be explainable by something in the "they forgot to turn on their scale" department. A really solid theory that's held up for a long time needs a metric shitload of evidence for it to be discarded and replaced.

And here's the thing: Of course it's true that scientific theories have been discarded and replaced. But they've consistently been replaced with other scientific theories, other naturalistic explanations of the world. This is the point I was making in The Unexplained, The Unproven, and The Unlikely -- not that naturalistic theories never get replaced, but that they never get replaced by supernatural ones. (Not ones that are supported by mountains carefully collected, carefully controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated, etc. evidence, anyway.)

Anyway, this problem still doesn't contradict the central assertion -- that the scientific method is the best method we have for minimizing human error and bias in observing the world and trying to explain it.

Another problem with the argument is that, when we *do* find something that is flawed or incorrect, we are not usually swapping out chunks of theorys 1:1. Usually, the overall theory remains accepted, and it's only certain details about it that get refined, and the amount of information we have recently discovered is actually being ADDED to our body of knowledge, not necessarily replacing it evenly.

For example, using the argument that learning something new that contradicts existing theories, one could say that the Theory of Relativity basically "disproved" Newtonian gravity.  But it also explained why Newton's equations worked.  i.e.- Newton's laws work perfectly for the world in which we live, and can be used to make accurate predictions in environments where you aren't dealing with extreme speeds or extreme masses. In those situations Newtonian gravity no longer makes accurate predictions. Relativity explains both Newtonian gravity and also works in the more extreme situations.  This is an example of adding to our existing knowledge.  A new scientific theory only gets accepted once it is proven to work AND it covers all the same things the theory it is replacing covers.  So we didn't just throw out Newton's Theory of Gravity because we discovered something new that contradicted it.  We added to our understanding of the world by adding Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which confirmed Newton's Theory for a set of conditions, plus covered a few things that Newton's Theory didn't cover.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothesis#Evaluating_hypotheses

...under a well-crafted, well-controlled experiment, a lack of falsification does count as verification, since such an experiment ranges over the full scope of possibilities in the problem domain. Should we ever discover some place where gravity did not function, and rain fell upward, this would not falsify our current theory of gravity (which, on this view, has been verified by innumerable well-formed experiments in the past) – it would rather suggest an expansion of our theory to encompass some new force or previously undiscovered interaction of forces. In other words, our initial theory as it stands is verified but incomplete.
 
Of course, we don't know EVERYTHING, and what usually makes the news are those topics that are on the frontier of science, where we particularly don't know everything about that topic. But, then again, those topics are not typically stated with reasonable certainty either precisely because they are so new and they haven't stood up to the same tests of time and rigorous investigation that other ideas have. We are aware of, and admit, that different ideas have different amounts of certainty, it's not an all or nothing dichotomy.  It's not "we either know this for sure or we don't know it at all", rather it's "we're about 98% certain this is true" or "this conclusion has only a 48% chance of being true" (OK, that's not the language used, I'm paraphrasing for laymen).  In other words, we can be pretty damn sure that something is true and we can also find something interesting that might be true but that needs more research.

As Richard Dawkins says, "there are no cultural relativists at 30,000 feet". What that means is that we can safely say that we KNOW that we're in an airplane and we KNOW how to make an airplane fly. If you want to get all solipsistic and insist that we can't KNOW for 100%, you can say that, but these are things we know with a high enough degree of certainty, with a probability close enough to 100%, that we can behave AS IF it's 100%.

Of course planes crash, but those are mechanical failures, which we ALSO know about, not flaws in the knowledge of how planes fly. When a plane crashes, we don't look at the engine and say "well that's strange, we had no idea that a torn fuel line would result in loss of fuel and subsequently a crash.  That was totally unpredictable and totally against all that we know of mechanized flight".  We might not immediately know what the problem is, but when the problem is discovered, its result fits quite squarely in with our understanding of how planes work.  In other words, we might not immediately know that the fuel line had a hole in it, but when we discover it, loss of fuel is exactly what we'd expect from a hole in the fuel line.  

We can predict with an extremely high degree of certainty what will make a plane fly and what will make it fall out of the sky and what, specifically, will happen when any individual component fails during flight. When we step onto that plane, we are betting with our lives that a handful of scientists really did KNOW their numbers, and the concept of reality being subjective and we all have our own "reality" based on what "makes sense to us" does not apply.  If that were true, then anyone who thinks that heavier-than-air flight just doesn't make sense would be able to get on a plane and that plane wouldn't fly because his "reality" is different from mine, and in his "reality", heavier-than-air flight doesn't "feel right" to him.  But the reality is that the plane flies regardless of our personal, subjective, feelings or even individual understanding of plane mechanics.  This reality exists outside of us, it is empirical, and it exists whether any person wants to believe in it or not.  And empirical truths are something that we can "know", with a reasonable degree of certainty, and those that we do claim to "know" are extremely unlikely to be proven wrong by future research.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory#Pedagogical_definition

Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena, ... A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world.

So to say that everyone has his or her own "reality" is not true at all. There are objective and empirical truths, and it is possible to KNOW them. 100% certainty is not required, we can be certain ENOUGH with the scientific method as our process for learning the world around us and for reducing the effects of human bias. What I FEEL is not a good indicator for what actually IS because of all the crazy things our brains do to trick us(1). I can FEEL attacked, but that doesn't mean anyone necessarily attacked me. And we can have empirical evidence and observations that are not subject to our personal perceptions (like outside observers, a video camera, even a rational analysis, in the "attacked" example) that can confirm how well our "feelings" actually match reality.

http://darwinwasright.homestead.com/14thFFoCPt2.html

But science dispels propaganda because it eliminates bias by design; it has to because it’s an investigation, not a predetermined conclusion like religion is. So every proposition must be requisitely evidential and potentially falsifiable, and must be subjected to a perpetual battery of independent and unrestricted tests wherein anyone and everyone who thinks they can is welcome to try and find and expose from flaw in it –to correct it. ...

Science is necessarily rational and empirical. That means that whatever we believe isn’t a matter of choice; its an obligate condition imposed upon us by our knowledge of the evidence, and that position will only change in accordance with our understanding.



There are an awful lot of individual subjects to look at skeptically, or to ask how skepticism and rational inquiry play a part in decision-making processes or in everyday life, far more than I could possibly cover in a single journal post, or even several.  There are some great podcasts that cover exactly these kinds of topics, from what the scientific method is, to how it's used, to specific topics that are evaluated.  These podcasts do a much better job of explaining what I tried to say here, because they can go into so much more depth and nuance over time and over a series of episodes than I can get in this single post.  They're also more entertaining to listen to than I am to be read.

All of the following recommendations can be downloaded through iTunes, although I am providing links to websites for convenience of those who do not use iTunes or have iPods.  It is not necessary to have either to listen to podcasts, but installing iTunes (free) will allow you to subscribe to a podcast, which will download each new episode automatically to your computer, to be listened to at your leisure.  Individual names are linked to their Twitter accounts, most of which I also follow.

I STRONGLY recommend listening to Skeptoid, which is kind of like Snopes in that it takes a look at specific topics in pop culture and investigates the myth or reality behind the legend.  These are particularly great because the episodes are only about 15 minutes long.  The host, Brian Dunning, has also started a video podcast of the same topics, called In Fact, which is appropriate for use in the classroom and great for visual learners, like me.

Next, take a listen to The Skeptics Guide To The Universe, which is a panel of 5-6 people with various science-y type jobs and backgrounds, as they discuss current news items & pop culture.  This is a GREAT way to learn how the scientific method is used in practice, in every day life.  The Skeptics' Guide 5x5 (on the same page) is five minutes with 5 people on topics that aren't covered in the longer show.

I also recommend Point of Inquiry, which is more of an interview show with DJ Grothe who does a fantastic job of playing "Devil's Advocate".  He talks to leaders of the scientific community, authors, philosophers, and pop culture members of the media who support rational and skeptical inquiry and asks them the hardball questions, often the questions of the opposition, but without coming off as belligerent or rude or antagonistic (something I have yet to learn).  He really gets to the meat of the matter.  DJ has recently gone on to become President of the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation), and will be hosting a new podcast called For Good Reason.  I recommend going back through the PoI archives to listen to old episodes, since DJ is worth the effort & won't be hosting PoI any longer.  I'm not sure who will be taking over, but I'm sure he'll be just as great, if different.

Mr. Deity is a deliciously sarcastic, snarky video podcast that pokes fun at Christianity specifically, using biting humor to illustrate the logical fallacies and circular reasoning so often found in religious beliefs.  My absolute favorite character is the Devil.  Watch it, and you'll understand why, especially when you get to the Magic episodes.

For a more practical, day-to-day what's-the-harm look at non-scientific beliefs, listen to Quackcast with Mark Crislip.  He is an infectious disease doctor and he also uses snark and ridicule, along with actual scientific research, to investigate the claims made by alt-medicine.  This is a great podcast for seeing exactly what harm can befall someone for not using rational inquiry and critical thinking and substituting that with magical thinking.  

Also visit What's The Harm, a website that highlights exactly what's the harm with just letting people have their wacky beliefs, live and let live, if they don't do it to me then leave it alone.  Problem is that it's so often live and let die, and they *do* do it to me, but What's The Harm will cover all that in detail.

I have yet to listen to these following podcasts (or I've listened to one or two episodes only), but they all come highly recommended by the same people who first turned me on to the podcasts I recommended above.  They are all on my list to start listening once I've caught up on all the others in my queue:  Skepticality, Reasonable Doubt, The Naked Scientists, The Non-Prophets (out of Austin, Texas), and The Skeptic Zone (out of Australia) with the AWESOME Richard Saunders & Dr. Rachie (of the recent Shorty Awards incident).

1. I strongly recommend reading books like "How We Know What Isn't So" and "Why People Believe Weird Things" and "How To Think Straight" and "How to Think About Weird Things" and "Demon Haunted World" and "How We Believe" for a better understanding of why what we "feel" isn't a good enough reason to believe it is so and why it is so important to use critical thinking and the scientific method to sort out reality from subjective perception.

I also recommend visiting my YouTube Channel for Awesome Science Stuff and good Atheism videos.

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