joreth: (Bad Computer!)
So, there's a certain type of person for whom my words resonate. I became a pseudo-public figure so those people could hear me, not to gather a large following. It's more like I was just making myself into an available resource. I know that I'm not to everyone's taste, and I'm fine with that. The people who like what I have to say can read what I say, and the people who don't, don't have to.

So I find it interesting that only a portion of my posts get multiple shares. If I'm extremely lucky, the number of shares gets to the 2 digits. Like I said, I'm fine with that because I'm not in this for the numbers, I'm in this to be available to those who want my words and that's it.

But the really interesting part isn't that I only get a handful of shares every now and then. No, the interesting part is that the more angry I get, and the more cuss words I use, the higher my shares go. And the post that I made that starts right out of the gate with cussing and rage? Yeah, over 1,300 shares so far.

So, to those people who think that a message will go further if it's nicer, fuck you. To those people who like the sentiment of an activist, but not the anger, fuck you too. The anger is PART of the sentiment. Even people who were embarrassed by the cussing and preemptively apologized for it in their shares, they still shared it because it was *important*, because it said something that people felt needed to be said.

I know that I'm not going to accomplish very much sitting here at my computer and making Facebook posts. That's why I vote and why I sign reputable petitions and why I contact elected officials. But what I *can* do from my computer is provide people with a voice. I will express that rage and that sadness and that horror that people are feeling even when some people wish I would just shut up and stop causing a ruckus, because I can afford to. I will express anger so that people know they're not alone in their passion, and I will share words for those who need to borrow some.

I don't have very much to give, but I do have my emotions and my words. Those include swear words, ugly words, harsh words, because sometimes, those are the only words appropriate for the depth and the intensity of the emotions they represent. There's a reason why my most angry, most cuss-filled posts get the most shares - they reflect what people are feeling. You can't separate the "bad words" from the emotions. They are the expression of those emotions.

So I will continue to swear when I'm angry. And when I'm happy. And when I fucking feel like it. And you will know that I am offering an honest, raw expression of my emotions. Because I have built a life where I can do that, and since so many people still don't have that luxury, I refuse to modulate my words and my tone on their behalf for the dainty sensitivities of the very people who won't let them do it for themselves. Anyone who is more upset at my use of language than the message itself is part of the problem.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2016/02/the-one-percent-difference/

"My response is that if you think something like this is a minor difference of opinion – that we can differ on this point, and yet our beliefs can still be 99% similar – then you haven’t understood me at all."

This is the basic disconnect between liberals willing to ban, block, or otherwise cut out someone for a "difference of opinion" and conservatives who get offended at the idea that having a "difference if opinion" is a blockable offense.

It's not that we agree on 99% of everything except this one thing. It's that the *weight* of this one thing is way more than 1%, and that the foundations of thought and philosophy that lead us down our respective roads to our "difference of opinion" are actually radically different, to enable us to have reached this "difference of opinion" in the first place.

If you think we agree on a lot except this one little thing like human rights and equality, then you really don't understand me at all.

From the comments of my FB feed, where I originally posted this link, someone suggested that it was sort of like a meme of Michael Shermer saying "In the past 10,000 years, humans have devised roughly 100,000 religions based on roughly 2,500 gods.  So the only difference between myself and the believers is that I am sceptical of 2,500 gods whereas they are sceptical of 2,499 gods.  We are only one god away from total agreement."

So I responded, "Kinda, yeah. Atheists feel that one-god-difference is a big difference, big enough to create a movement out of it. I feel that human rights is a big difference, big enough to make a fuss over it."  We have "singular" differences of opinion big enough to cause huge rifts all the time.  Because it's not a simple arithmetic problem where the difference is 1.  It's a variable algebra problem, where the difference is 1x, and the value of x can be small or it can be so huge as to approach infinitesimal, and where x is influenced by the value of other variables in the equation.  X doesn't live alone, isolated from the other integers.  As someone else said somewhere, it's not like a difference of opinion on whether or not pistachio ice cream is a tasty dessert.  Sometimes it's a difference of "opinion" on whether or not other people are even human beings.  Skeptics and atheists disagree with believers over "1%" all the time, and we often feel it's important enough to argue about, block, try to change their minds, or write scathing screeds on the internet about constantly.

It's just when straight white cis-male atheists & skeptics are on the receiving end of the weight of one of their value judgements being questioned that suddenly they're all "why can't we just get along?  It's just a single difference of opinion when we agree on everything else!"


As it happens, I think this dismissive, minimizing attitude is exactly the problem. When it comes to sexism in the atheist community, the biggest problem isn’t the relatively small (but noisy and persistent) mob of screeching trolls and harassers. The biggest problem is the much larger bloc of people who don’t engage in such behavior themselves, but are willing to tolerate it, and who think that whether a person is sexist should form at most a very small part of your opinion of them. It’s the people who believe that if a celebrity author or scientist is effective at promoting atheism, that’s all we ought to care about, not anything else they say or do. (You may notice the analogy with the way that moderate religion can protect and enable dangerous fundamentalism.)
joreth: (::headdesk::)
Just be honest already. You don't actually want "small government", you want no legal repercussions for your business dealings but you're totally fine with a government big enough to invade every bedroom and every vagina and every poor person's pantry, as well as every country that doesn't provide us with cheap labor and expensive imports that you can profit from.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

Social Media Site: List your relationship status! Even though we've had "open relationship" as an option for years, now you can link to one partner only!

Poly Person: Oh good, now people can tell that I'm poly because they couldn't tell before when I had "in an open relationship" selected, I named everyone I'm dating in the "about me" section, and said the word "poly" in the description. Linking to only one partner in the sidebar will totally clear up all the confusion!

OKCupid's new "poly" feature is, IMO, a step backwards because we could *always* link to our partners' profiles (or anyone's, for that matter) in the open text boxes of our own profiles (which begin, BTW, right under the picture & stats header). This actually reduces the poly visibility and accessibility that OKC had previously given us.  One person argued that people don't read the profiles and therefore missed the part where she identified as poly in her profile.  To that, I submit that anyone not willing to read her profile won't see "open relationship" and her partner's name in the profile either because *they're not reading the profile*.  They also likely won't know specifically what *kind* of "open relationship" they're in (as there are many types, some of which are not compatible), again, because they're not reading the profile.  There's nothing to be done about people who don't read the profile short of either changing the culture to make that practice an aberration or back-end coding on OKC's part to prevent people from contacting anyone without some kind of "proof" that they read it, like passing a quiz or checking an "I have read this profile" box like a Terms of Service agreement with the ability to report people who turn out to have lied on that checkbox which penalizes the account holder, perhaps by removing their ability to contact people at all after a certain number of reports.  Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea.

But I digress.  Point is, OKC already recognized poly folks exist. It already had "open relationship" as an option. Yes, I know that "poly" and "open relationship" are not interchangeable, but it was always friendly to the subset of "open relationship" that is "polyamory".  It already allowed us to link to multiple partners.  It even had forums (don't know if it still does because I haven't been there in a while, but I was quite active on them for a time) and some of those forums were poly-specific where you could go chat about polyamory to poly people.  It already had hundreds of questions to answer that would weed out non-poly folk.  When you answer questions, you rate how important those questions and their answers are to you.  Those answers and those ratings contribute to your match score.  There are tons of poly and open relationship questions to answer, so how you answer those questions affects how well you match with other people on those specific topics.  If you answer enough questions and rate them important enough, eventually you will reach a point where any match above a certain percentage is almost guaranteed to be poly too.  On top of that, you can set a filter to hide any match *below* a certain percentage, so you could use OKC to see and be visible to only people open to non-monogamy.  This has been How This Works for many, many years.

I'm actually quite disappointed in the poly community in general for heralding this new feature as some kind of pro-poly feature.  It's not.  It reinforces couple privilege, it reinforces the trope that poly or open relationships are something that couples do when we ought to be promoting the fact that it's something that *people* do, and it erases every version of open relationships that don't prioritize one partner above all others or that even don't prioritize romantic relationships above all other types.

This is not a boon to the poly community.  This is not actually helpful at all.  It does not add *anything* to our profiles that we didn't already have, but it does take away from our profiles. I've linked to [livejournal.com profile] tacit since we started dating 11 years ago. The earliest other partner that I am confident I simultaneously linked to in the body (and isn't an unreliable memory that could just be wishful thinking) was 8 years ago. I have since edited my profile with each new partner and each new breakup, sometimes even including metamours who had OKC profiles.

Years. Now, suddenly, OKC is all "hey, look, you can link to your partner!" Whatever dude, you're not helping me out any. Not giving me anything I hadn't had before. And, while it's not *removing* the ability to link to multiple partners in the body text, going from "link to other profiles (multiple) in your body text" to "link to one partner in the sidebar" is still less poly-friendly than its other, preexisting features.

‪#‎OKCFail‬ ‪#‎UnicornHunting‬ ‪#‎OpenRelationshipsMeanMoreThanOneByDefinition‬ ‪#‎OneStepForwardTwoStepsBack‬
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
OK secular lefties, here's the thing...

You can disagree with an ideology. You can disagree vehemently with an ideology. You can even believe that the Slippery Slope applies here and is not a fallacy - that the fundamental concepts in the ideology sets up a culture in which the radical extension of that ideology is a natural consequence. You can even hope that some day, reason will win out and that ideology will be relegated to a chapter in a history textbook on "myths previous eras and civilizations once believed."

But what you cannot then do is ACT upon any individual person in the demographic that holds that ideology in a negative way, such as insulting them or physically assaulting them, unless it is a clear cut case of self-defense or it is a clear cut case of addressing their *ideology*, not their person. And I mean clear-fucking-cut, like they're charging you with a meat cleaver shouting "I'm doing this for my ideology!" at the top of their lungs (srsly, guys, entitled white dudes are writing manifestos - it's fucking clear cut race / gender / religion related, not a "loner" with "mental health issues").

When you take "This ideology is bad" and then follow it up with "this individual who uses this ideological label must therefore be bad so I will preemptively beat the shit out of them / call them names with historical or cultural oppressive contexts / refuse them the basic rights of survival and human dignity / bar them from entering a public place on principle just in case they might do something bad even though this individual hasn't actually done anything bad that I have proof of or said anything to me at all", that makes you a fucking bigot and part of the problem.

People are notoriously good at compartmentalizing their beliefs and at dealing with cognitive dissonance. Most people claim an identity label that is associated with a whole passel of shit they don't agree with. While that may actually be one of the problems you might have with that particular ideology or the people who hold it, this means, practically speaking, that you can't predict any given individual's likelihood of acting either harmfully or beneficially just by their identity label.

You need, like, actual proof of intentions for that.

Catholic doctrine, for instance, is very clear that it opposes all form of birth control, sex before marriage, homosexuality, and divorce. It takes a hard stance on those issues. There is no grey area, no wiggle room. Catholic doctrine is definitely, clearly, adamantly opposed.  But how many Catholics do you know who have done one or more of those things? And how many Catholic churches do you know have allowed those members to remain part of the congregation?

Fuck that, how many people are fawning all over themselves to gush at the Pope whenever he gets quoted out of context as saying something that can vaguely be interpreted as not being a total douchenozzle on those topics? Even though, in context, he says nothing of the sort and even though his PR team always cleans up after him and makes an official statement that the Pope didn't mean to sound so liberal but that he really is still a douchenozzle and even though the official policy is very clear and has been so for generations and even though he goes on to say exactly that sort of douchenozzlery in other places with other audiences who don't want to hear the wishy-washy version of the Pope but that the liberal media doesn't cover?

People claim all sorts of labels for themselves. Many of those people do not practice the literal definition of the labels, or they don't practice all the things associated with those labels. In fact, that's something that I complain about often - people who use labels in ways contrary to the label's intent and muddying up the waters for the communicative purposes of labels (and please don't derail the comments with "that's why I don't use labels" - I take issue with that too but that's a subject for another rant).

You cannot tell what actual beliefs a person holds by their labels. You ought to be able to, since that's what makes labels meaningful. But you can't. You can use the labels to give a broad, general idea, but they are not predictive. You cannot predict, by a person's label, which specific beliefs they hold or how those beliefs will express themselves on that individual.

That's why the whole men vs. women thing is bullshit. Even for the legitimate times when we can statistically make two categories of people called "men" and "women", those labels are not predictive and you cannot use a category term to make specific assumptions or predictions about individual people. Even statistically different categories like "man" and "woman" have such a high degree of overlap that they become completely useless terms when trying to guess things about a specific individual. At best, they can be used *descriptively* (as opposed to prescriptively) after that individual has self-identified as such and the people you are communicating with all have the same understanding of the label.

For instance, I often use MBTI as shorthand. I identify as an INTJ, so I might try to communicate to someone that I'm having trouble with their spontaneity because I'm a J. That saves me a lot of time trying to explain that being schedule oriented is an innate trait that causes me distress when upset, blah blah blah, and then the other person can know that I'm not having a *personal* issue with *them*, that this is just a thing about me that makes me "me". So, once we have established this baseline set of definitions for communication, then I and that other person can use the labels as shorthand in the future to reference a broader definition that we don't have to spell out every single goddamn time we need to reference that concept. "I am doing this thing because I am an INTJ, not because of some other assumed motivation or intention you might want to ascribe to me."  "Oh, got it, I understand your motivations now."

However, I once dated a guy who broke a Valentine's Day date with me to go out with his other gf. He used the excuse "but you're an INTJ, and INTJ's don't care about holidays, but she's an INFP, and they do care about holidays, so it's a bigger deal to her than to you."

WRONG! 1) He changed my schedule, which is a huge no-no for a schedule-oriented person. 2) He didn't ask me first, he just assumed I wouldn't mind, which is taking away my ability to control my own life. I might not have minded, but I wanted to be able to make that decision for myself. 3) I have personal insecurities that have nothing to do with MBTI about my poly relationships not being viewed as "real" by my partners and metamours, so couplehood markers like holiday dates are actually important to me even if the holiday itself is not. 4) She wasn't poly and I was having massive conflicts with her over her inability to deal with being part of a poly network that included me, including doing things that put him in awkward positions of having to "choose" between us and of him too often choosing her "over" me and this was just one more glaring example of how I was "losing" in a relationship that wasn't supposed to have "winners" and "losers".

Back to the main point: you can't predict based on a person's identity label how they will express the beliefs associated with that identity label. At best, labels can be used after-the-fact by the individuals who hold them to describe themselves and then to use as shorthand to refer to that description at a later time.

Of course, we're all going to try to make assumptions and predictions based on those labels. That's what our brain uses labels for. If someone tells me that they're a Catholic, I'm going to assume they hold a whole collection of beliefs that are associated with Catholicism. But I'm going to be *aware* that I'm making those assumptions and I'm not going to preemptively attack them or try to bar them from living in my area on the assumption that they might be anti-abortion, which might then prompt them to bomb an abortion provider's office. There has to be evidence that they are actively planning a violent crime before I can take any action, including verbal, intended to prevent the presumed crime.

So when secularists start supporting policies banning Syrian refugees, for instance, based on the argument that Islam is problematic therefore all Muslims should be presumed to be dangerous based on their holy texts justifying violence, you're being a bigoted racist shithead. I am totally opposed to all forms of religion, including Islam. I could go on at length about the problems with Islam and how privileging religion in general sets up exactly the sorts of cultures where radical extremism can flourish.

But refugees from a war-torn nation fleeing for their lives from radical religious wackaloons is NOT the time for philosophical debate on the pros and cons of ideologies. Now is the time for compassion for human fucking beings who are being tortured and killed and who are asking for our help.  Our first priority is to help them as fellow human beings, to protect their lives and their dignity as people. Only then, when their survival is not at stake and their dignity as sentient beings is not being attacked, do we have the ethical high ground for addressing their ideologies in an intellectual debate. 
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/10/02/before-you-claim-the-ucc-shooting-was-about-christian-persecution-consider-all-the-evidence/

This supports the comments I've been making about this issue - that the culture around Those Assholes* is the important factor, and the ideology merely focuses the targets for them. The underlying motivations for these sorts of tragedies are toxic masculinity, entitlement, and the glorification and celebritization of violent offenders. That's what they all have in common. They are ticking time bombs, all they need is some ideology to point them in a direction.

Even if this guy *was* truly atheist, and not one of those pathetic "I am chaos, the Devil bows before me" poser jackasses who chose Christians just because they have the most power in this country so they make the most high profile targets (and therefore are guaranteed to grant him the celebrity status he so obviously desires), we have that same dark underbelly in our own subculture. We have those same dark alleys of entitlement, toxic masculinity, and the glorification and celebritization of violent offenders and violence.

Those dark alleys have been spilling out their filth over the last several years. They're the reason I now identify as Feminist. I was one of those irritating Chill Girls who thought the gender wars were largely over and we had won, so I didn't need feminism. Until I joined the atheist community. Then I saw how bad misogyny still is and how much of it still reigns in our culture. That's how I became a labeled Feminist. Atheists turned me into a big-F Feminist.

If this guy really is an atheist targeting Christians, I won't pull the No True Scotsman card. Atheists can be assholes and atheists can be Assholes. Any woman who dares to criticize atheists on any topic, but particularly gaming, knows this, especially those women who have been forced from their homes because of the public threats of violence. This is why Atheism+ was born and why, even those who didn't jump on the + bandwagon are fighting from within our own ranks to clean up our atheosphere metaphorical "streets" of these dark alleys and the disturbing elements they produce.

But it sounds more and more likely that he wasn't atheist, and that he targeted Christians for their publicity power. Which brings us right back to the original point, that what those asshole atheists and Those Assholes, and This Asshole specifically, have in common is a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement, toxic masculinity, and the glorification and celebritization of violent offenders.

Gun Rights proponents like to trot out countries with high gun ownership, low gun restrictions, and still low gun violence. The *reason* why those nations exist like that is because their culture is different. They don't have the same entitlement and toxic masculinity permeating their culture. Sure "guns don't kill people, people kill people", but those people are products of their culture.

I was raised in liberal-but-rural California where guns were not glorified, but necessary for hunting. Guns were weapons to be treated with respect. They were not part of our identities, but tools - dangerous tools - to be used with caution and limitations. I was raised in a culture that does not produce mass shooters, racism, or the idea that violence is a solution to anything.

I was also raised in gang-ridden urban California, where guns were glorified as a status symbol and a means to power. I was within the physical boundaries of that culture, but I was apart from it, thanks to my family. I knew of children, my own peers, who had been caught in gang wars. I even dated someone who had been removed from the entire school district because he threatened violence on a teacher (which he gleefully admitted at the time). Violence was all around me and my family. Both of us - my family members and the gang members in my neighborhoods - had access to guns. One of us thought guns were a solution and the other saw them as a tool. Guess which of us has a higher incarceration rate for violent offenses?

The *culture* needs to be changed. And until it can be changed, it shouldn't have easy access to weapons. As a child, guns were kept out of my hands until I could understand and respect them properly. I was handling guns at a very young age, because I could understand. But my father would never have handed a loaded weapon to a 2-year old. He introduced them to me as I was able to understand and respect their inherent danger. Apparently, we need to treat our nation as a toddler prone to temper tantrums with no control and no higher cognitive functioning. You can't have the guns until you understand and respect their inherent danger. When you understand that, like your older sibling - the countries who don't have the same violent glorification tendencies - perhaps you can have them back.

I won't pretend to know which, specific, policies will effect the change I'm talking about. I am not an expert on legal policy, so I'm not proposing specific restrictions because I don't know which ones will work. What I do know is that the evidence increasingly shows it's the culture that's prompting these shootings. It's our *culture*. It's *our* culture. We need to stop promoting toxic masculinity, stop excusing entitlement and start owning up to it when we have it so that we can work on dismantling it, and stop turning these shooters into fucking celebrities. Regardless of their specific ideologies that chooses their targets for them, they choose acts of violence because they think it's a good thing to display anger and aggression and violence as signs of their masculinity and that this version of masculinity is something desirable. They choose acts of violence because they feel entitled to remove other people's agency. They choose acts of violence because they crave the fame, the notoriety and WE FUCKING GIVE IT TO THEM.

They achieve their goals. They choose acts of violence because they're fucking successful. And they're successful because we have given them a clear path to their success. WE have. Our culture. Our society. We gave them exactly what they wanted. The number of people they kill, whether they "get away" with it or not, that's all irrelevant. They've asserted their dominance and commanded our attention. They are successful. *We* are the ones who need to change because we are their final targets.

As an atheist, if any mass shooter is actually atheist, I fight to change our atheist culture so that we stop producing Those Assholes from within, not denying that they exist, not distancing myself from the responsibility of the culture that produced them. I don't see the gun nuts doing the same. I don't see men (who aren't already feminists or feminist allies and therefore largely shunned from masculine culture anyway) doing the same. I don't see theists doing the same when it's one of their own. 4-chan, PUA circles, Southern Pride groups - these types of groups are the tinder for these firebombs.

Our larger culture that excuses rape, excuses casual racism, excuses religious posturing, excuses homophobia and transphobia, excuses any sort of dehumanization, objectification, othering, and the removing of agency - our larger culture gives places for these cesspools to thrive and fester. Just like the guy who doesn't actually agree with rape but who laughs at rape jokes so that the rapist standing next to him thinks they are allies, our culture provides the hiding places for those among us who would do such harm. Our culture built those alleyways and is refusing to install safety lights. It's time to root out the dark places, and that starts with us.



*Those Assholes or That Asshole is the term I use in place of the name of any violent offender, as doing my individual part to deny them the celebrity status that is one of the main goals for their actions.
joreth: (::headdesk::)
I just *do not* understand why it's so important to some people that they get to address other people the way they want to address them. Like, of all the things for people to be attached to in society, how we address other people shouldn't be the thing we're fighting over.

Street harassment - it's really important that guys be able to say overtly sexual things to women on the street. Or to compliment them. Or to ask for a date. Or to talk to them, period.

Trans & genderqueer invisibility - it's really important to be able to call people "ma'am" or "sir" or other gendered names, labels, and titles.

Racism - it's really important to be able to call by certain terms that people of various races have asked not to be called.

As far as I can tell, the only time I've ever seen anyone say "actually, I'd rather be called this" and have absolutely 100% acceptance from everyone in society and all walks of life and all relationships from strangers to intimates is when a woman gets married and takes her husband's name (with the extremely rare situation where a woman's parents don't approve of the marriage and refuse to acknowledge it, but srsly, don't Pedantically Miss The Point here and derail). In every single other case, there's someone out there why has to say "well, I just don't want to have to change what I've been saying up until now, because I'm used to it, so I'm going to keep calling you X whether you like it or not."

Just ... fucking hell people, change your goddamn habits. It is literally not costing you ANYTHING. When a woman gets married, you learn to change what you call her. So I know you have the ability to do it. You just have to decide that there are other things worth putting in the same amount of effort as fucking remembering someone's goddamn married name and switching to that.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I think I get one of the reasons why I lose my temper online, and I'll try to expand later (but right now I'm running late, as usual). The things I post are about people's subjective experience, their personal autonomy, their personhood, and their dignity. These things are not up for debate.

Yet people treat the posts in my feed as though it's a stage where two equal ideas with equal merit are to be weighed and considered. The counterpoint to the stuff that I post about does not deserve to share a stage with the stuff I post about. They do not deserve equal time, equal consideration.

My rage is part frustration that I'm not being heard and I'm not making myself understood, and it's also the sheer horror that anyone could even think that these topics are up for debate in the first place.

I post things for people's education and information. Which means that people need to *learn*. Learning involves listening, not talking back. People's autonomy, personhood, dignity, subjective experiences, the right to exist - these things are not up for debate, and if you think they are, you're a horrible person and I will not host a platform that helps spread your position. The Flat Earth "theory" does not deserve to share the stage with real science and rejection of other people as people does not deserve the same stage as respect for those people.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
*sigh* Sometimes I just want to smack people upside the heads. One of the arguments I've seen defending the Kentucky clerk for refusing to sign gay marriage licenses is that her job *changed*. She didn't sign up for a job knowing that she'd have to do something against her principles, that wasn't part of her job when she agreed to work. Now it is. The challenge was made that, should we now expect everyone to unthinkingly and uncritically follow blindly whatever our corporate overlords tell us to do because they're our bosses?

I just ...

Let's see if I can explain this in simple terms. Her job did not change. She was always expected to issue marriage licenses. That is still her job. What has changed is *who* is eligible for them. She has always, from the very beginning, been expected to issue those licenses to whoever qualifies for them, regardless of her personal feelings about the individuals applying. THAT IS STILL HER JOB. She has never been allowed to deny divorcees marriage licenses. She has never been allowed to deny people of color marriage licenses. She has never been allow to deny atheists marriage licenses. She has never been allowed to deny "mixed-race" couple licenses. She has never been allowed to deny Muslims marriage licenses. She has never been allowed to deny gay people marriage licenses as long as one of them is male and the other is female. She's never been allowed to deny 18-year olds marriage licenses. She's never been allowed to deny marriage licenses to one 18-year old and one 78-year old.

Any of these things she might object to. I have tons of opinions on who "should" get married. That doesn't mean that I can take a government job where it is my duty to issue licenses and to use my authority to impose my personal opinion onto those relationships. It is NOT HER JOB and never has been her job to allow her personal preferences to influence her ability to approve or deny marriage licenses. It is her job and has always been her job to approve licenses or deny licenses based on the official criteria given to her from her employer. Her employer, the government, can and does change who is eligible for whatever benefits and it is not within the scope of her job to refuse the mandate. Who is allowed to get married has changed many times over the years. Expecting the criteria for who is eligible to never change, or to retain the right to ignore the change, is not reasonable.

A pharmacist is legally obligated to fulfill prescriptions. What medication is legally allowable for a prescription changes all the time with new regulations and new medical information. A pharmacist is not allowed to take it upon themselves to decide, in contrast to the *law* and to the prescribing physician, what a patient should or should not have access to.  That is not their job.  Their job is to fulfill prescriptions and it's someone else's job to decide what prescriptions are allowable.

I am hired to run a camera. My job duties are to aim the camera and follow my director's direction. If, when I get there, the speaker has canceled and another speaker is replacing him, and I disagree with the speaker's speech, I am not allowed to refuse to aim my camera at him just because I don't support his message and I don't want to contribute to spreading it, and still expect to get paid for that gig. I was hired TO RUN A CAMERA, and it doesn't matter if the person scheduled to speak changes after I've been hired. If I don't like the new speaker, I can quit.  I've had speakers change, I've had entire performance formats change, I've even had which camera I'm told to run change.  I'm still expected to do my fucking job, which is to point the lens where I'm told to the best of my ability or I have to leave so that someone who can do the job can be brought in instead.

Or, as I have actually found myself in the following position, if I cannot afford to quit and I have to implicitly "support" a message that I don't believe in, I can show up for work, perform my job duties, and then spend my free time and disposable income fighting against that message elsewhere.

Now, what this *can* make a case for is getting the government out of the marriage business entirely. If you think "god's law" trumps the government laws, then that is a reasonable position for removing the government's ability to govern over marriages entirely. But until that day comes, it's still her fucking job.
joreth: (Super Tech)
So, I'm new to the Social Justice War. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I spent most of my formative years fighting for environmental issues, and I moved immediately into poly issues, which doesn't really feel like "social justice", at least not in the early days because the level of persecution doesn't even compare to any other social justice issue. Feminism, racism, homo- and transphobia issues, these all came to me recently, even though my *feelings* on the subject have always been for equal rights. So bear with me here, because this needs to be fleshed out.

It has come up in several different contexts over the last week that there is a lot of confusion over what an ally is, what an ally should do, intersectionality privilege and oppression, and related topics. Because I'm so late to the game, I'm sure someone better researched and more knowledgeable than I has already come to this conclusion and written about it somewhere. But this is a new concept *for me*, and I wanted to share it as a way to work through it and refine it in my own head.

People with privilege have come to hate the word "privilege" and they have stopped listening when that word comes up. But we *all* have privilege in some ways, and we are all disadvantaged in other ways. I'm female, so I'm disadvantaged. But I pass as white and I grew up middle class, so I'm privileged there. But I'm currently lower / working class and I'm technically an ethnic minority as well as a religious and sexual minority so I'm disadvantaged there too.

And just because I'm part of a class of people who is *structurally* disadvantaged by *the system*, it doesn't necessarily mean that I, personally, experienced the kind of systemic discrimination or oppression that others in my class have, or of other disadvantaged classes. And just because I'm part of a class of people who, as a *group*, are given *group* privileges by that same system, it doesn't mean that I, personally, haven't had some hard times, or even that I haven't had some hard times specifically because of that same class that is supposed to be privileged.

So I want to stop all this bullshit fear of the word "privilege" and instead I want to just recognize *where* we have it and where we don't - because we all do and we all don't. I refuse to play the Oppression Olympics. My oppression is not worse or easier than someone else's - I've had some benefits and I've had some shit in life, that's just how it goes.  My oppression is not *equal* to others, either, I just don't think the relative level of oppression is relevant here.

Instead of arguing over who has privilege and who doesn't, I want to recognize where my privileges come from, and then I want to *use* that privilege (to steal a phrase from a different issue) to "punch up". Here's where being an ally gets complicated.

People who pride themselves on being allies often find themselves feeling confused and betrayed when, after all their hard work they've done for underprivileged people, those people turn on them and tell them that they're doing it wrong. Some of us might just cross our arms and say "well, fine, then, if you don't like my assistance, then I'll just stop helping!" Others really want to help, but if they've spent any time at all listening to disadvantaged people, they've probably heard "you can't know what it's like to live my experience" somewhere along the line. And if they've heard that phrase, then they might have no idea what they can even do to help, since the privileged person can't possibly know what it's like to be someone who is in a class that they're not in so they don't feel that they can talk *for* that class.

Here's what, in my opinion, it takes to be a good ally: First, listen to the group that we want to be an ally for. That way, we can learn what their position is. Next, take what we hear, and speak about it. But, here's the tricky part. We have to speak to people *in our privileged class*, but we cannot speak *to that group* that we are defending about their own experience.

So that's what I mean by "punch up". We have to use our status as white, cis, straight, male, whatever to be an amplifier for the voices of the non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-whatever that we are trying to support. We have to say the words that are being spoken by the underprivileged group, and we have to say those words *to the privileged group* that we are a part of, because that group only wants to listen to other members of the same group.

But then here comes the next part ... after listening and after speaking, we then have to go back to listening. We have to be conscious that we aren't taking on the mantle of the White Savior. The words we are speaking are not our own. We are only repeating them to people who refuse to hear them otherwise. But if the people we are speaking for don't like that we're speaking for them, or they don't like *how* we're speaking for them, being a good ally means not arguing or defending ourselves against the people we are trying to support. That would be "punching down". In the end, this is not our fight, so it is not our place to decide that we are the warriors the fight needs or that our fighting style is the proper strategy. THEY are the generals, and if we step out of line, it is our duty to be corrected.

We have to "punch up" by punching a hole in the defenses of our own class or higher so that those from beneath can rise up. It is not appropriate to "punch down" by telling those beneath us how they should run their war. We are the support team. We are not the drivers of the movement. And, as part of the support team who happens to have better armor and weapons, we might end up being put on the front lines to absorb some of the attack while we take the more effective shots from the front while others direct us from behind our human body shields.

As someone in a privileged group, I can afford to be put out in front. They can't. That's why they're underprivileged in the first place. As someone in a privileged group, I have less to lose therefore I have less need for additional defenses or reinforcements to watch my own back. Not zero - remember, I am part of privileged groups but I am also part of underprivileged groups. As a woman, I need men to stand up to other men on my behalf because the men they are standing up to *won't hear me* when I speak. As a white woman, I can afford to face down other white people because they will hear me better than a black person when it comes to issues of race.

I have other, related thoughts on this - stuff about how it's our responsibility to sacrifice for those less privileged but to not expect the same level of sacrifice in return, but I'm going to save those for another post. This one was specifically about punching up. That phrase came from criticisms on comedy. Comedy is a necessary tool for discussing difficult issues in the public sphere. But what differentiates a particular joke on a difficult issue from being funny vs. being offensive is whether it "punches up" or it "punches down". Does it make fun of of the privileged class or the underprivileged class? Making the rapist the butt of a rape joke is funny. Make the victim the butt of a rape joke is offensive. Who is being targeted? Someone above, or someone below?  Are we punching out the big guy with muscles and a bullet proof vest or the little guy who is already beaten and bloody on the ground?

In a similar vein, we all need allies in our social justice battles. We need people in higher classes to help us fight our wars. But since people belong to multiple classes, it can sometimes feel like we're trying to rank people when we talk about privilege and who has it worse than whom. And then it can feel like, when we *do* try to help, our help wasn't appreciated. Or maybe we're so conscious about the Savior Complex that we're afraid to help because we don't want to step on anyone's toes.

So I'm proposing some simple rules of thumb to help navigate this complex privilege discussion. 1) We all belong to some classes that might be considered privileged and we all belong to some classes that might be considered underprivileged. Accept that and leave off debating who has it "better" than whom in any area. It doesn't matter if someone is part of 3 privileged classes but only 2 underprivileged classes and someone else is part of 4 underprivileged classes and only 1 privileged class. Pick one category, and if you're in the privileged class, then shut the fuck up and listen to the person in the underprivileged class *on that class experience*.  If we're talking about race, leave out your underprivilege-ness in some class that isn't race.  That's a distraction.  We're talking about race here, and in race (for example), you are not the underprivileged one so shut up and listen.  If you belong to some other underprivileged class, then use your experience to develop *empathy* internally for this group that you are not a part of, but we don't need to compare and contrast our various classes.

2) Use whatever privileged status you have to repeat the words of the group you want to be an ally to to others in your same class. Point those people in your class directly to the source of your words as soon as they are finally able to hear the source instead of needing it filtered through your shared class.  Your responsibility is to get them to listen.  Once they are able and willing to listen, pass them off to the source so that you don't become The Savior.  Our job is to *borrow* the words of the underprivileged class, not to steal them.  They still get all the credit.

3) Never presume to tell someone in the class you are trying to be an ally for what they ought to do or what their experience is, especially if someone is directly contradicting you. Let them debate amongst themselves the best strategies, if there is any debate to be had. If one of them asks you for advice, and you happen to have information on the subject, you can share what has worked for your other underprivileged classes in those fights, but they may not be directly comparable so don't get too attached to the group you're talking to actually adopting your advice.

4) Retain your humility and always be ready to apologize and change strategies when someone of the group you are trying to be an ally for tells you that your efforts aren't appreciated or are contraindicated. Remember, this isn't your fight and if you're doing it for the social cookies, then you're not really an ally. We've all had to adjust our methods as the groups we're defending have matured and tried different tactics over time. We just have to learn to try and keep up and accept that we are not the experts in their fight.

These are the lessons I'm hearing right now from the various groups that I wish to be an ally to.  These are not the lessons I grew up with and I'm trying to change my tactics to accommodate.  I hope that I will be a good enough ally, that when the strategies change again as the culture changes in response to all these social justice battles, that I will be able to rewrite these rules of thumb to better reflect the needs of the communities that I wish to ally myself with.
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: (Kitty Eyes)
I am all about being deliberate. I deliberately choose my words. I deliberately choose my attire. I deliberately choose to do things that scare me for the first time without alcohol or any other inhibition assistance so that I can know that I chose to be that person with intention, not as a byproduct.

I have worked on removing certain words from my vocabulary over the years as part of my commitment to being deliberate. Although I would like it if people noticed and it prompted other people to be more deliberate themselves, that's not my intention - that's a hopeful side effect. I do it to remind myself every day of whatever point I'm trying to make by not saying that word.

I've completely removed "gypped" from my vocabulary because it's a racial slur. To me, it doesn't matter if no one else remembers that it's a racial slur or if the people who are hurt or offended by it can't even hear me to become hurt or offended. Every time I have to choose another word to use in its place, I am reminded to be more conscious and considerate of oppressed people and of my own privilege and to not abuse that privilege. It's easy to avoid certain racial slurs because we have plenty of social reinforcement to help us remember not to use those words. But can I be considerate and conscientious when no one else is even listening? Can I be a decent person even when I don't get credit for it? Choosing to stop using the word "gypped" is an attempt to be a good and considerate person even when I get nothing in return for it, not even appreciation from the Romany people.

I've also changed when I use the word "theory" and when I don't. I have stopped saying "conspiracy theory / theorist" and I now say "conspiracy story / conspiracist" because I want to make a point of separating what a theory *actually* is from the common misunderstanding of "just a theory". A conspiracist is NOT promoting a theory, he's telling us a wildly fantastic story. I've tried to remove the phrase "in theory" to mean "in some dubious thoughts about something that hasn't been proved in the practical sense yet" and I try to only use it when I'm actually talking about scientific theories. Instead, I might say "I agree with that in principle, but in reality..." or "well, that's the hypothesis, anyway, it hasn't been tested in real life yet". I wrote a whole long post about this one a while back.

Many of you have also noticed that I use the term OTG in writing, although I have yet to transition to using that phrase consistently in speech (mainly because I don't say oh-tee-gee / oh-em-gee, I actually say the whole phrase and "their" is a much more noticeable substitute for "my" than the T is for the M). That's another deliberate act to remind myself and others that it is not OK to impose one's religious values onto anyone else, including by affecting the entire culture into casual use of one's own religious views. The pervasiveness of religion is so pervasive that it's not even noticeable to most people, including most secularists, until they try to consciously substitute religiosity for a secular version.

On that note, I am also trying to remove religion from my swearing. Not out of any respect for the proposed deity or its adherents, but as a reminder of how pervasive and intrusive religion is in my life. I've started saying "for fuck's sake" in place of "for god's sake" (I always said both, but now I'm trying to eliminate the latter entirely), and I've been looking for decent substitutes for others.

My most recent additions are Dear Gourd and oh Dog. I just really like the sound of "dear lord", and I like the feel of the word in my mouth. When I say it in frustration, it's a very round sound, with the Rs pronounced way back in my throat (like a Southerner), and it feels very base, earthy, grungy, exactly as I'm feeling when I exclaim that phrase. So I was hesitant to give it up. So I'm trying out the substitution of a rhyming word to see how it fits.

Some people, when they give up religious swearing for these reasons, replace the deity entirely, usually with some other deity that they feel is equally ridiculous but that people of the religious faith they are dismissing will also agree is ridiculous, kind of to make the point that they're all just as ridiculous as the religious person thinks the new deity is.

In other words, when a newly out atheist wants to make a point to "Christianity" (not necessarily any specific Christians), I've often seen them replace phrases like "for the love of Christ!" with "for the love of Loki!" The point, of course, being that the atheist thinks both are equally silly or false, and by equating the two, the atheist's beliefs about the equal standing of the two deities is made public.

I'm all for that trend in principle. But in practice, I haven't seemed to be able to make it stick. If I'm going to start substituting deities, I want to get creative. There are thousands of deities out there to choose from, but I seem to only remember Loki, Thor, and Zeus when I'm in the process of swearing. Since the Gourd substitution has been successful for a brief bit now, I'm trying another rhyming substitution by saying "oh Dog" instead of "oh God" or "Dog damn it!"

I'd also like to incorporate some sci-fi slang, but none of that has stuck either. I did manage to spontaneously yell "frak!" one day instead of fuck, but it didn't feel as satisfying as yelling "fuck". But gorramit might be a decent substitute for "god damn it". The only thing I don't like about that, though, is that I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to find more *polite* ways to swear. The ways I'm substituting are just weird enough to feel "off" to some people, particularly religious people, and that's a side effect I want to encourage. I don't want people to hear me make these substitutions and think I did the equivalent of saying "fudge" or "shut the front door!" I have a whole other rant on cussing and my moral reasons for deliberately using swear words instead of polite substitutions that I won't go into now. I want them to feel off-kilter so that the prevalence of religion is brought to their attention.

But, as I said, that's a side effect, and the more important effect is that *I* become more deliberate in my speech, which makes me more deliberate in my thoughts and makes me more intentionally who I am.

So that's what I'm up to these days.
joreth: (Super Tech)
"If this is the motherfucking law of the land now, what's good for the motherfuckin' goose is good for the motherfuckin' gander. ...
Going to church is a choice, no? Let's make sure they regret that fuckin' choice, however legal it may be for them to make it. Then let's see how quickly they're begging for buffer zones."

The idea of *actually* doing this makes me so anxious that my stomach is tied in knots just thinking about it.  I hate confrontation.  But I will do what needs to be done to show that these laws that I fight for are for everyone's benefit and are the right things to do.
Every time you think about imposing a law that will allow you to practice your "freedom" in a way that imposes on another human, consider how you would feel if they did it to you.  Want religion in school?  How do you feel about Islam being taught to your children?  Want a religious statue erected with taxpayer money on taxpayer land?  How do you feel about a statue dedicated to Satan paid for with your tax money on taxpayer land?  Want to exercise your "free speech" by shouting at women entering legal places to do legal things that you happen to not like?  How do you feel about a bunch of angry feminist atheists exercising their free speech by shouting at you when you enter your legal places to do your legal things that they happen to not like?

We exist by virtue of an uneasy truce - I promise not to hit you in the nose if you promise not to hit me in the nose.  That's how societies too large for our monkeysphere get along.  You can swing your arm all you want, as long as you don't hit me in the nose.  But if you start swinging, I'm gonna start getting nervous and may swing back, just in case.  Sooner or later, one of us is going to punch the other in the nose.

Or you can choose to acknowledge that you have the right to swing your arm but choose not to do it out of courtesy and compassion for how uncomfortable it would make me feel because you know that you would feel uncomfortable if I swung my arm towards you.  We can live in a world where we have an uneasy truce, barely missing each other's noses and snarling at each other, or we can live in a world where we give each other space and nod as we pass by.

I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt and just walk on past you.  But if you insist, I will start swinging back.

The Rude Pundit: You Wanna Keep Harassing Women At Clinics?  Then Let's Play.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I see a lot of people complaining that someone who blocked them just "couldn't handle a difference of opinion". That's not why people get blocked. Ever. Everyone has friends and family who have different opinions from themselves, and they get along with them fine, or at least put up with them.

The reason why people get blocked online is not for their differences of opinion. It's for their attitude or personality regarding those opinions. Every single time, I guarantee you, it's not the opinion, it's because they think you're being a jerk about it. It doesn't even matter if you don't think you're being a jerk - they do, that's why they blocked you, and the opinion that matters when someone is being a jerk is the person who is the recipient of the offending behaviour. Most often it's because you wouldn't drop it when they asked. Respecting consent is important in all social interactions, not just sex (but disrespecting non-sexual consent is a good indicator of that person's attitude towards sexual consent, which is why those of us heavy with the banhammer use it as often as we do).

And I say this as someone who gets blocked. I know when I'm being mean to people. Most of the time, I'm doing it intentionally because that person was a jackass in some way and I'm either trying to teach him what it feels like or I just no longer care about hurting his feelings because I've deemed him not worth my empathy or the cost in spoons for being such a fucktard. But that means that *I'm being an asshole*. Doesn't matter if it's in response to something they did, if they block me, it's not because I'm an atheist or poly or feminist or hold those views, it's because *they don't like me as a person* or they don't like my approach. When I'm being an asshole, that's kind of the point.

I've had plenty of "discussions" with anti-vaxxers, for example, where I thought I was being totally reasonable, calm, rational, in explaining why they're wrong.  And I stand by my belief that they're wrong.  They are, empirically, factually, wrong.  But I wasn't blocked because I am pro-vaccination.  I was pro-vaccination from the beginning when they friended me in the first place.  I was blocked because they didn't like my approach.  *They* thought I was being arrogant and condescending, even if I didn't (and still don't) think so, and they didn't like it.  So, sure, even if there was some way to prove, without a doubt and with completely objective metrics, that I absolutely was not being condescending and they were wrong to think so, the point is that they still did not block me because of my argument; they blocked me because they did not like how I said it.

Maybe it's true that there is absolutely no way to express that opinion in a way that the other person will find acceptable.  That is my position on many of my opinions - I believe that there is no way to express atheism (a personal lack of belief in a deity) that won't offend some people, for example.  There is no magic phrase, no amount of kowtowing or humbling that will make my personal lack of belief acceptable to be spoken about in public.  "I don't care if they're gay, but do they have to rub it in our faces?"  There are times when I believe it is justified to continue to press an opinion even when a listener doesn't like the approach.  This PSA is not a position on whether it is appropriate or not (or when it is or not) to hold or voice a controversial opinion.  This PSA is an EXPLANATION of why people get blocked, regardless of the rightness or moral standing or reasonableness of the action.  It's not the opinion that got you blocked, it was your attitude, your personality, or your approach that got you blocked.

So drop all this self-righteous blathering about how people just can't handle "the truth". What they can't handle is your arrogant, entitled, posturing. Your opinions are not nearly as offensive as you as a person are when you spouted them which resulted in you getting blocked.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I get a lot of shit for losing my temper, getting offended, and blocking people when someone is a serious asshat. I'm often told to "calm down" or "relax" or "I'm just asking questions" or "we're just having a conversation."

No. Fuck you. I'm not the asshole for getting pissed. You're the asshole for pissing me off AND YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO MY ATTENTION, TIME, OR POSITIVE OPINION OF YOU.

From Miri Mogilevsky:


In responding to an asshole on my blog yesterday, I realized that there's a misconception out there that anybody who demands respect and asks someone to stop insulting them is doing so because they have "hurt feelings" or a "thin skin."

1) Even if that's true, there's nothing wrong with that and we must not use "thin-skinned" as an insult. Ever.

2) When I demand to be treated the right way, it's not so much because my feelings are hurt otherwise but because I am worth too much to be treated like shit, and being able to interact with me is not a right granted to you simply because you exist and possess a computer. It's something you get to do only if I decide that interacting with you is fun or pleasurable or simply useful to me (the latter applies mostly to people I don't know personally).

If that sounds egotistical, I don't really care. I'm not here for anyone's entertainment or to serve their apparent need to humiliate and mistreat others.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Much like you are not being censored unless the government itself is actually penalizing or prosecuting you for speaking about something, you are also not being "discriminated against" if you are not part of a marginalized group that is institutionally and systematically prevented from participating in society on the basis of some quality that has nothing to do with what they are preventing you from doing.

So, someone who doesn't want you around because you're a bitch? Not discrimination of people who "tell it like it is". Someone who doesn't want to follow you on Facebook because all you post are pictures of yourself? Not discrimination of good looking people. Female-type person won't go out with you? Not discrimination of Nice Guys or Smart Guys.

A public and commercial establishment refusing to offer you their advertised services at their advertised prices on the basis that they don't take business from people with your skin color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, nationality, or level of ableness when those qualities have nothing to do with the services being offered such as a restaurant or office supply store? That's discrimination.

You are entitled to being allowed to participate in society to the best of your abilities. You are not entitled to any individual providing you with the opportunity to irritate them.
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)

"I might not be the same but that's not important
No freedom til we're equal
Damn right I support it"

Too often, disadvantaged groups use the strategy for acceptance and equality of closing ranks against everyone else and appealing to the majority with "we're not that different from you! We have this one thing different, but we're not like THOSE freaks over there!" We are pitted against each other in our scrabble for inclusion to the club, like Survivor contestants or pledges being hazed. Because it's in the interest of the ruling class to keep us bickering and squabbling amongst ourselves. It prevents us from banding together and finding our own power. It keeps the ruling classes in power above us while we content ourselves with victory over their table scraps. Separate But Equal is not equal, it's a grudging concession that they deign to relinquish, hoping it'll keep our eyes off the banquet on top of the table.

It's the same hate that's caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins
It's human rights for everybody, there is no difference

The exact same thing that made whatever class you're in a disadvantaged class, an oppressed class, a second class is what you are turning around and doing to someone else when you discriminate against another. But what if we all banded together? What if all minority groups linked arms, faced the majority squarely in the face and said "we are all one and when we add us all up together, you are no longer the majority"? Would we finally find equality? Would we finally know freedom?

I might not be the same, but that's not important. There is no freedom until we are all equal. Damn right I support it.



joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
"I've never been there, but I once met someone who talked about it and I didn't like that person, so I'll just assume that he's representative of the entire experience there and say that it'll probably suck."

When it's not a subject with objective data that can illustrate, contradict, and/or remove our own logical fallacies and cognitive biases regarding experiences, I'm going to take a pretty dim view of any review that includes "I didn't experience it myself", especially when combined with "because I don't like a person who likes it".

Now, if the objection is "the entire content is this subject I don't like" or "the target audience is people I don't relate to", it's probably a safe assumption to make that you're less likely to like it yourself.  But...

"I don't want to go to an adult store because only losers go there" and

"I don't want to go to Kentucky because my cousin is a redneck and he lives there so it's filled with rednecks" and

"I don't want to read Shakespeare because elitist snobs read Shakespeare" and

"I don't want to listen to country music because I once heard the joke about listening to it backwards gets your dog, your wife, and your truck back so it must all be filled with stupid lyrics" and

"I don't want to go to the ballet because I once saw a picture of a guy in tights so I assume there's nothing there but men in tights" and

"I don't want to go see your dance performance because I know a guy who pops gum and likes the theater so the audience will probably have people there who pop gum and I can't stand that" and

"I don't want to try Indian food because I was once in an Indian person's house and it smelled funny"

are all examples (from real life, I might add) of people being prejudiced, close-minded, and in some cases just stupid.  Telling others not to try the experience without having done it yourself (again, with experiences that are enjoyed or disliked subjectively, not that make truth claims and have objective data to verify those claims) only lets those around you *see* you acting prejudiced, close-minded, and in some cases just stupid.  And since I know no one thinks of themselves as prejudiced, close-minded, or stupid, I know that none of you will want to APPEAR that way even by accident, right?  So don't do that shit.

This is not to be confused with reading several reviews about an experience from people/organizations that have a stable pattern of having similar opinions as your own and reporting "I heard/read that This Person didn't like it for these reasons".  I want to be very clear that I am complaining about a specific thing - criticizing an experienced based on association with another person that you don't like, not for the content of that experience, which can be verified even second-hand, and assuming content of an experience based solely on the presence of another person that you don't like without verifying that content is, in fact, the content.

I have a habit of liking movies that get poor critic reviews, so I might decide to go see a movie just because all the critics said it sucked.  If my close feminist friends all say a particular movie was sexist and offensive, I might give it a miss.  But if one of my coworkers, who happens to be sexist, likes a particular movie, I won't assume that the movie is sexist just because he likes it unless he actually SAYS something about the content.  Him just liking it is not enough for me to assume anything about the content.  I need some other data point, like WHY he liked it or the demographics of the entire audience who liked it, to give me a clue as to whether or not I might like it.

And even then, I often surprise myself by discovering things I used to swear I hated and would never like.  Hummus, for example.  Absolutely hated it until about a year ago.  Tomatoes are another thing.  I've hated the texture so much that my mom had to puree them in pasta sauce before I'd even look at it.  Now I love them both.  I also used to really love the Chronicles of Narnia, even though I was an atheist child.  But back then, I lived in a liberal bubble where my atheism wasn't the target of oppression.  Now that I'm more aware of oppression, I can't help but feel turned off by the obvious religious apologetics in the series.  My tastes change over time, and the more I deliberately test my assumptions about my opinions, the more aware I become of who I am and I am better to more accurately predict what I might like or dislike and in what direction I might change.

And the more I find to like where I previously assumed I wouldn't like.  The universe is a vast and wondrous place, far more interesting than any individual can really comprehend.  And there is far too little time to discover all its wonder, so I don't want to waste time avoiding things that might turn out to be amazing just because some other jackass also happens to like it.

“Your true self can be known only by systematic experimentation, and controlled only by being known.” Francis Bacon
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
There's this thing that otherwise reasonable, intelligent people do that just really pisses me off. I've started calling it Missing The Point Pedantry. This is when someone who is a generally intelligent person with a reasonable amount of social skills decides to argue some pedantic, specific little detail that someone, who is also fairly intelligent with social skills, said in a conversation or online post that completely misses the point of what was being said. It requires the pedant to overlook context, any knowledge of the person speaking and/or their past track record or tendencies regarding either the subject or their conversation/speaking/writing style, and any social conventions involved in speaking/writing.

So, for example: let's take Devon. Devon is a college graduate with an interest in the hard sciences but a vast experience with the arts and pop culture. Devon can use "totes" and "adorbs" in conversation and not sound like my dad sounded in the '80s when he tried to say "that's totally radical dude!" in an effort to connect with "the kids these days". Devon is well-read in popular fiction, the classics, and non-fiction in some specialty areas of interest. Devon is sex-positive and active in alternative communities like the Ren Faire and the local indie club scene. In other words, Devon is a well-rounded person with general knowledge, some specific expertise, and social skills like current slang and local/cultural body language.

Now let's take Quinn. Other than the specific areas of specialty that Quinn focuses on or hobbies and interests that Quinn has, Quinn is basically the same as Devon - well-read, intelligent, average size social group, etc. Maybe Quinn is a sci-fi geek instead of a Renny or maybe Quinn listens to goth instead of industrial music, but otherwise, they are fairly well-matched people. They also know each other through overlapping social circles and have had direct interactions with each other, but maybe they don't know each other quite well enough to call each other "friend" in the can-call-each-other-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-rescue sense. They probably show up at some of the same parties if they're in the same area and they are probably friends on Facebook or something.

So Devon and Quinn are at a party one night and Devon is speaking with some people on a subject that most of the people mostly agree on. Maybe it's the conflict in the Middle East, maybe it's about immigration, maybe it's about pc vs. mac, maybe it's on the inherent privilege that blondes face in this country at the expense of redheads. Whatever, Devon is reasonably certain that most of the people have similar, if not identical, views on the subject and that there are probably people at the party who disagree, but that's not who Devon is talking to right now, although Devon is aware that those people could probably overhear the conversation. Quinn is at the party and generally agrees on the subject, but has different personal experiences of the subject so might have a slightly different perspective, although they both agree on the important points.

Devon starts relating a story about a study on the subject that suggests some really interesting and suggestive trends among, oh, I dunno, blondes. It turns out that when you prime blondes by having them read pro-blonde jokes, they have a tendency to become more hostile towards non-blondes. They answer questions about crime committed by redheads with harsher penalties than blondes, and they want harsher penalties than the blondes who weren't primed for it. The study, and a series of related studies, show some shocking revelations about the privilege of blondes in our country that lend weight to the redhead accusation that hair-colorism is not yet over, it just moved to a more subtle form. Blondes aren't burning redheads at the stake for being witches anymore, but they still aren't given exactly the same treatement as blondes in society, and the redheads aren't just being "overly sensitive" about "seeing hair-colorism everywhere".

Since Devon is not a research scientist, was not personally involved in this study, and is speaking at a party and not a science forum, Devon is playing a little loose with the language. Devon sums up the study instead of quotes it, uses anecdote as illustration to connect with the audience, speaks in the common vernacular and not necessarily precise, scientific language, sometimes uses humor to relieve the tension, sometimes gets a little angry at the injustice of it all and the anger seeps into the tone every so often. But Devon is speaking to peers, who understand the same common vernacular, who are swayed by anecdotal illustrations and have not spent their life-long careers training themselves to recognize personal bias (although some do it as a hobby, they all still understand that they're all at a party and not being hired to review this study), who are also there to just converse with people they like and if they happen to learn an interesting new tip, even better.

As Devon finishes with an anecdote that supports the study's conclusion, in an effort to better connect the audience to the dry data and to illustrate the point and maybe to connect the study to something that was said previously that is related but not necessarily the exact same thing, Quinn jumps in with "well, I'm blonde and I like anti-redhead jokes, but *I* certainly have no problem with redheads! Therefore you can't say that blondes are anti-redhead. If I were to follow your logic where you used a personal anecdote to support hair-colorism, then my experience as a blonde who had a hair-colorist redhead father should lead me to make sweeping generalizations that all redheads were anti-blonde!"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call Missing The Point.

Of course we shouldn't take our personal experiences and use them to make sweeping generalizations. That's not what Devon did. Devon used a personal anecdote to illustrate a trend that a scientific study suggested. The point of using anecdotes in this context is to make the subject matter relatable to the general audience. People use analogies, similes, hyperbole, alliteration, allusion, and other literary tools to create an emotional response in the audience. That's what people do. The scientific and the skeptics communities are both terrible about not utilizing these tools, and it's one of the reasons why we have a culture of anti-intellectualism. The religious and the woo crowds are experts at these tools and they use them liberally to sway the public away from science, away from reason, away from critical thinking. Science, critical thinking, and reason are hard for humans, in general (don't anyone fucking dare comment about how easy it is for you, personally - that's exactly what I'm talking about). But tell people there's a quantum flux theory that totally explains why hospitals fill up on nights with a full moon because your sister once had a dream about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at exactly the same time you were making one, therefore water that remembers the medicine you filtered out of it but not the poop totally cured your autism, and they'll think you're making absolute sense.

When an individual makes a claim, such as "women are just naturally more nurturing than men" and backs it up with a story about how "every single" woman they know is better with children than "every single" man they know, and has been that way since birth, therefore they can make the claim that women in general, or all women, are naturally more nurturing than men - that's a logical fallacy. The counter to that is a combination of actual science research that says otherwise as well as any examples that do not fit the claim. If the claim is that "all people of X group", then only 1 counter example is sufficient to falsify the claim. If the claim is "generally people of X group", then anyone whose personal experience is that most people of that group do *not* is sufficient to falsify the claim - especially when either case is backed up with scientific data.

In other words, if you say "all dogs have 4 legs", then all I have to do is produce 1 dog without 4 legs and the claim is bunk. If you say "dogs are generally mean and vicious animals", then all I have to do is say that I've worked with thousands of animals in an animal shelter and the vast majority of dogs I've worked with were lovable and sweet, and that the only mean and vicious dogs I encountered were raised by asshole owners who trained them specifically to be mean and vicious to counter the claim that meanness is a species-wide trend.

But when the scientific evidence suggests a particular trend, and a person shares an anecdote to illustrate what the trend is, or to help the audience connect or relate to the conclusion, or to say "I can believe that because this thing that supports the conclusion happened to me", that is not a logical fallacy. That's called being a part of a social species that uses complex language filled with nuance and social context to share ideas with each other.

Most of the time, this Missing The Point Pedantry takes the form of a strawman argument. I have an ex who did this constantly. He once got interested in dating someone that I felt would be problematic because she was opposed to polyamory. I was concerned that she would do typical cowboy or cuckoo things to break us up or drive me away so that she could have him all to herself. I was concerned because she exhibited such behaviour in the past. His reaction was to scoff at me and tell me that he was anti-marriage, so I shouldn't worry because it's not like he was going to run off to Vegas and marry her, he just wanted to fuck her.

Well, no shit Sherlock, I didn't think he was going to run off to Vegas and marry her and that's not at all what I was concerned about. It doesn't take something as drastic as a vehemently anti-marriage man completely 180-ing on his lifelong, somewhat pathological, anger at the institution of marriage to make me concerned about how a new partner is going to affect my existing relationship. Things like refusing to be in the same room with me even at parties forcing him to routinely "choose" between us, calling in the middle of our date night for her weekly emotional "crisis" to have a 2-hour long argument about whether or not he should come home *again* to take care of her, showing up at my house at exactly midnight because "my night" with him is now *technically* the next day, which isn't my night, so he has to come home with her right now, spinning private stories in a negative way to mutual friends to gradually turn those mutual friends away from me and onto "her side" - these are the kinds of things that I'm afraid of. These, by the way, are all things that have actually happened to me and not hyperbole, exaggeration, or strawmen or pulled out of my ass. I don't need to be worried that she's going to kidnap my boyfriend at gunpoint, force him to marry her, and never see me again to be concerned that my life is about to be unpleasantly disrupted by someone with a history of being disruptive.

So sometimes the pedantry is used to pick on a specific detail or pull a loose form of speech to focus on at the expense of all the rest of what was said - the context, the cultural influences, the history of the speaker, and even the non-spoken implications revealed by the language used - to pick out that detail and blow it up to exaggerated proportions so that the original speaker would have to backtrack or renege the point in order to not be associated with the caricature now presented.

But sometimes it's another logical fallacy, and I don't particularly want to attempt to cover every possible fallacy that someone could make in these circumstances. The point is I really hate Missing The Point Pedantry because I have to explain, in great detail and at great length, why this is a misdirection in order to get back on track, which, in effect, is exactly what I'm trying to avoid - being misdirected. Instead of discussing the topic, we get sidetracked onto this other niggling little detail. There's no good way to handle this problem that I am aware of. If you don't address it, a falsehood or a fallacy goes unchallenged, and all that results from that. If you do address it directly, you get off the main topic and start arguing something that wasn't your point in the first place. If you address the fact that it's missing the point, you still get off the main topic and start arguing something else that wasn't your main point, only now you're arguing about arguing.

The people I know are intelligent, reasonable people, for the most part, and, contrary to the mainstream perception of intelligent people, are not actually all socially maladapted misfits like Sheldon Cooper. They are people who understand humor, sarcasm, double entendre, can tell when someone shouts "fine, whatever!" and storms out of a room that she's probably not actually fine and is likely pissed off, can identify "I'd love to but..." as a polite rejection even if the word "no" was never spoken, and a whole host of other social interactions. But, for some reason, all of those interaction skills go right out the window when they seize on a detail that might not be an absolutely, literal, 100% in all cases down to the fractal level, perfect phrase or example.

When most people say "I'm going down to Miami for the weekend", most other people understand that "down" is a cultural slang term that means "south-ish from this point", not that the speaker is literally moving in a downward direction into the planet and pretty much no one tries to correct the speaker. Even when someone says "I'm going down to New York for the weekend", and we all know that "down" means "south-ish" but the speaker will be traveling "north-ish" or "east-ish", most of the time people still don't try to correct the speaker because we grasped, from the context, what the important point was - that the speaker is going somewhere for the weekend. But when Missing The Point Pedantry happens, suddenly I'm faced with, for example, anti-sexist men who want to argue that "she didn't say the word no so it's not rape" or "but men have bad stuff that happens too" or "what's wrong with wanting to protect my primary relationship?" or "if she just knew self-defense, she wouldn't be a target" or "I agree that religion is actively harmful, but do you have to be so aggressive about it?" or "you know that aspirin comes from willow trees, right, so don't do the opposite and assume everything that's natural is harmful" or a million other wacky things that completely miss the point.

No, I haven't actually counted out one million examples. That's a figure of speech and is intended to convey "a lot" in a way that impresses the reader with "really a lot". And that's exactly what I'm talking about - Missing The Point Pedantry. Everyone knows that "a million other things" doesn't literally mean exactly one million other things, and "everyone knows" doesn't literally mean that every person on the entire planet that has ever or will ever live understands that figure of speech. And you, who is doing this, also understand that, in most contexts except for whatever it is about this one that prompted you to point this out. I'm not speaking to Rain Man here, or Sheldon, I'm not speaking to or about anyone who has any kind of actual neurological condition or complication that makes them actually have trouble with abstract thought. I'm talking to and about people who, in most cases, get this, but couldn't refrain from "not getting it" now. I know you're not stupid and I know you're not an asshole, but for fuck's sake, stop acting like it and, by implication, stop acting like I'm stupid by ignoring all the context around whatever detail you picked out to focus on.
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: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)

Back in 2010, the Pew Forum did a survey about how much Americans know about religion.  In a 32-question phone survey*, they asked people about Christianity & their bible, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, atheism/agnosticism, and American legal issues about religion.  They found that atheists/agnostics scored the highest average, even after controlling for education & other demographics like race & sex, and did particularly well on the legal questions, questions about non-Christian religions, and questions about the Bible specifically.  One of the results that I find particularly amusing is that US Southerners scored worse than those from all other geographic regions on the religious knowledge questions, even after controlling for the demographics

The Pew Survey is completed, however you can take a 15-question version of the survey at Pew's website.  Your results do not affect the survey's conclusions and are not counted as data.  But you can see how well you do compared to Americans in general and compared to several different demographics including religious groups.  The 15 questions are taken directly from the 32 questions used in the original survey.  http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/

You can also take another survey with all 32 questions, just to see how you'd do, but it's hosted by a Christian website and called Are You Smarter Than An Atheist? and provides no way for you to indicate what your religious affiliation is.  Judging purely by the way other Christian groups have doctored online polls before, I suspect that they will take the results of their totally unscientific survey (which has atheists as well as people of other religions answering it) to show that "their" respondents (the presumption being that the respondents are all Christian) are smarter than the national average and/or the atheists who took the Pew survey.  But I took the survey anyway, just to see how I'd do http://m.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/0105/Are-you-smarter-than-an-atheist-A-religious-quiz/

I scored 30 out of 32 on the full survey (the highest average being from atheists at 20.9 correct out of 32) and 15 out of 15 on the smaller Pew survey (better than 99% of all other respondents - no religious affiliations given).  I'm archiving the results behind the cut because I'm rather proud of my knowledge and understanding of religious issues.  Don't click the cut if you want to take the surveys yourself and see what you actually know, because the answers are given.  Also don't bother clicking the cut if you don't want to be inundated with survey data - it's a boring list of numbers and stats that I'm only archiving for my own records and most people are not going to care how well I did compared to other religions on each question.


Survey Answers Archive )

*Technically, the phone survey was way more than 32 questions, but that's because it included demographic questions (i.e. age, race, religious affiliation, political party, how often they attend church, etc.) and a handful of "control" questions about non-religious stuff like what is the vice president's name and which party holds the House majority and whether lasers work via sound waves and whether antibiotics kill bacteria and what movement is Susan B. Anthony associated with and who wrote Moby Dick.  But there were 32 questions on religious knowledge and the survey's goal was to determine who knew what about religion.

joreth: (Bad Computer!)

Saw on a Facebook picture today:


No matter which [religious] symbol you follow, if you respect mine, I'll respect yours."


I'll try to keep this short, because I addressed this in my last rant on the COEXIST sticker.  These kinds of bumper sticker slogans annoy me.  I get the desire for peace and cooperation that drives the slogan (and agree with it), but there are two things that are very wrong with slogans like these.

1) Some of those symbols represent philosophies/religions/worldviews/mindsets that are inherently exclusive to the other symbols.  If the very foundation of what that symbol represents is "everyone who isn't exactly like me is wrong and should be converted" or "everyone who isn't exactly like me is wrong and should die", there is no coexisting.  Period.  Any belief system that says it has the Truth is mutually exclusive to any other belief system, so therefore the beliefs cannot "coexist", although the people who hold them might.  And so far, every belief that science has been able to investigate has always provided an incorrect answer, again, making science & every supernatural belief system mutually exclusive (there are now some bumper stickers that include science in the collection of symbols).

2) I think it is reasonable to respect everyone's right to believe whatever they believe, but I do not think it is reasonable to respect those beliefs themselves.  Frankly, some of those beliefs are fucking terrifying and do not deserve respect - even the ones that do not demand the immediate assimilation or death of everyone who is different.  And the beliefs that aren't terrifying are just ridiculous.

It is not reasonable to expect me to respect a belief that says I am a filthy whore who deserves to be raped.  Even if the person holding that belief doesn't actually do anything about it just because we've reached some cease fire agreement.  

It is not reasonable to expect me to respect a belief that says I am going to burn for eternity because I didn't buy the totally implausible idea of a supernatural being impregnating a teenager with himself, and then having himself killed in order to take the punishment that was supposed to be mine for something I didn't do.

It is not reasonable to expect me to respect a belief that says water carries the memory of the poison we put into it, but not all the poop that was in it, and uses that memory of poison to cure us of things that cause the same symptoms as the poison.

It is not reasonable to expect me to respect a belief that says aliens are living at the center of our galaxy and trying to communicate with us telepathically, but the spinning of the galaxy is interfering, and they are trying to tell us how to create a Utopian society while other aliens have possessed our bodies and are making us feel "bad" and undermining the center-of-the-galaxy aliens' efforts at world peace.  (I swear I'm not making this up).

It is not reasonable to expect me to respect a belief that says you can take a machine that detects electricity into a house (with electrical wiring) and it will not detect the electrical wiring but it will detect the presence of a ghost, and jumping at house creaks in the middle of the night with the lights off is proof of an afterlife but not done for the purpose of getting ratings.

"Beliefs" are not worthy of respect.  People are.  But individuals can also deserve to have lost respect from others.

I really don't think people understand what the word "respect" means.  Either that, or they just don't understand the variability of "human nature" and refuse to accept that some people are capable of atrocities and are not worthy of respect.

joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I can't tell you how much I hate the phrase "Don't Be A Dick".  I greatly admire & respect Phil Plait & Wil Wheaton, who have made that the catchphrase of the Nice Guy Skeptical Movement (TM).  I will go so far as to say that I even happen to agree with their point - that people don't tend to change their minds when you're insulting them, so if we want to change someone's mind directly, we shouldn't call them names on the internet when we disagree.

The reason I hate the phrase is because it is subjective.  There is no criteria for what being a "dick" means.  So it gets used every time anyone says anything that anyone else disagrees with.  Sure, we can point to examples where one person is clearly being an asshole, clearly being antagonistic, and not at all interested in dialog and an exchange of viewpoints.  But that's not usually under debate by either side in the DBAD debate.  

To clarify: Don't Be A Dick is not when you complain about someone doing something harmful and you call him out on it, like calling the sexist asshole who fired a movie reviewer for daring to write a movie review about Snow White because it propagated "alpha females and beta males", a sexist asshole.  You're not a dick for calling an asshole an asshole.  Don't Be A Dick is also not when you complain about a person holding a harmful, offensive, or dangerous position or worldview, like the fucktard who thinks children should be killed for disobeying their parents and calling that person a fucktard.  You're not a dick for being appalled by someone's harmful and offensive worldview.  Don't Be A Dick is not when someone says something sexist/racist/bigoted/offensive and you try to tell them that it was sexist/racist/bigoted/offensive and they shouldn't do that - you are not a dick for trying to eliminate racism/sexism/bigotry.

Don't Be A Dick is when you hold some position or make some claim, and you are told, sometimes by someone who actually agrees with you, to adjust your delivery so as to not offend the people who disagree with you without necessarily changing the message.  This is when you say "you're being racist" and someone says "you are correct, but you should say it nicer, without using the "r" word, so that he doesn't get upset and he will be more likely to listen to you".

There are 2 times when I see this catchphrase being used:

1) Nice Guy Skeptics talking philosophically about tactics for converting people to skeptical or atheist viewpoints, but not giving any specific examples or pointing any fingers.

2) When one person says something that another person finds offensive, regardless of how the original message is phrased or the intent of the speaker, simply because the offended person doesn't like what was said, and the original person is told to change how he phrases things without changing the message, as if that would fix the offense.

There is no clear-cut way to determine when one is being a dick or how to avoid being a dick, when these are the 2 instances of use for the phrase.  I admit that I can be an asshole.  There are times when I lose my temper and I have ceased having a productive conversation and have resorted to expressing my anger without using that anger as a tool to motivate others.  One such noteworthy exchange is when I asked, and then demanded, that someone stop tweeting at me & demanding that I engage with him in a religious debate, and after he refused to stop, I spent the next 2 days tweeting nothing but insults at him to get him to block me.  I was not being productive or trying to have a dialog, and there was never any illusion that I was.

But then there are times when I just state something, not even an opinion sometimes but a statement of fact, and I am accused of being an asshole, a dick, "aggressive", mean, bullying, etc.  If I happen to say something, and someone out there on the internet doesn't like the statement, whether it's an opinion or a fact or even when I sympathize with them, I will be accused of being mean and of hurting someone's feelings, or worse, hurting "the community/movement".  Confidence and pragmatism are often confused with arrogance and aggressiveness, especially online.  Someone who seems confident to me will seem arrogant to someone else.  How do we know which one is correct?  Most likely, the answer is both and neither.

Take the most recent post, for example:

Natalie Reed
@Joreth @RichardDawkins @michaelshermer Why are you sharing Justicar's nasty, petty little video and tagging it "shared by Natalie Reed!"?!

...

Joreth ‏@Joreth
@nataliereed84 I'm not, the automated online make-your-own-newspaper paper.li is. It sees what links ppl posts & aggregates them


Joreth ‏@Joreth
@nataliereed84 Please do some research before you get angry & start falsely accusing ppl of things. I have no idea what you're talking about


Joreth ‏@Joreth
@nataliereed84 I didn't watch the video, I didn't choose that particular link. If you posted it, paper.li picked it up


Joreth ‏@Joreth
@nataliereed84 But I'll be happy to remove you from the list of respected skeptics & scientists who provide news & links to twitter

...

VixenVivienValentine ‏@vae_victae
@nataliereed84 paper.li does automatic aggregation of links. Since you posted that video it attributed that to you. It's not @Joreth fault.


Joreth ‏@Joreth
@vae_victae I did try to tell @nataliereed84 that, but she seems to prefer to jump to conclusions & get angry at supporters. Shame.

...

VixenVivienValentine ‏@vae_victae
@Joreth indeed a shame. While I understand your aggressiveness to her, I feel that maybe if you had responded differently it'd be different

...

Joreth ‏@Joreth
@vae_victae I'm not sure if you read my responses to her, but I was the opposite of aggressive. 



It's hard for me to even see where someone could have interpreted what I said there as "aggressive".  Natalie asked me, angrily, why I was sharing some video and associating her with it.  I told her, immediately and clearly, that I wasn't doing so and I explained about the link aggregate service.  I didn't cuss, call her names, or use emotional language.  I was also limited to 140 characters.

Some of you will remember another post I made a couple of years back about the polyamory.com forums, in which someone made an offensive statement. I and a couple of others pointed out the factual inaccuracy of the statement & the offense in making it, several people responded angrily & emotionally, those on my side again pointed out the inaccuracy (calmly, I thought), and then those on my side were accused of being angry and hurtful, apparently without irony to the original angry and hurtful comments that prompted our responses.  Only after I lost my temper at being insulted, did my posts get deleted, but the original offensive posts never did, nor did the insults that caused me to lose my temper.

Then there are the numerous times when someone just doesn't like me personally, and they will disagree with me no matter what I say, even while I am agreeing with them.  We end up in this "duck season / rabbit season" argument where they say something, I agree, then they argue with me over it.  For instance, someone posted something not too long ago about Unicorn Hunters that was derogatory.  Someone else jumped in with "I see nothing wrong with unicorn hunting, because I do this thing that is totally not unicorn hunting".  So I said something like "it doesn't sound like you are the kind of jerk that the OP is talking about, so don't worry about it".  And they proceeded to defend their right to call themselves Unicorn Hunters and insist that unicorn hunting isn't bad.  I believe my response was something along the lines of "I'm trying to explain to you why you're not an asshole, but if you want to keep insisting you are, I'll stop defending you".

[livejournal.com profile] tacit gets this all the time too.  The Polyamorous Misanthrope once made a blog post that was, essentially, the exact same kind of post that [livejournal.com profile] tacit makes.  Or maybe it was even a re-post of his, I don't remember.  One of her followers complimented her on the post, and she responded that it was the same thing that [livejournal.com profile] tacit always says.  They replied that they can't stand [livejournal.com profile] tacit.  She posted on [livejournal.com profile] tacit's page that she doesn't understand why people like her but don't like him, because she says the same thing, and in no less of a blunt, holds-no-punches sort of way.  Same message, same delivery, yet people like her and don't like him.  Sometimes there is no helping this.

This, by the way, is primarily the problem happening in our Congress at the moment.  The Republicans in office are doing their damnedest to disagree with Democrats, even when the Democrats agree with them.  They seem to want to disagree on principle, not because they actually disagree.  Consequently, we have one of the most fucked up Congresses ever in our history, with decisions being made to the detriment of our country, deliberately and intentionally, out of spite.

Then there is when I, fairly regularly, post exchanges where I am accused of having some emotional state that I do not currently have, and I have posted several examples of the differences between a calm difference of opinion ("what you said was incorrect, here is the evidence") and an emotional outburst ("you fucking shithead! I hate you!")

And yet, every time I have a difference of opinion to someone, regardless as to how calm I state my position or how much to the facts I try to stick or even, on occasion, when I try to be conciliatory, I am accused of being the one to have some emotional outburst, some angry reaction, some feeling that I am not feeling.  

So I strongly disagree with the whole "Don't Be A Dick" meme, not because I disagree with the underlying premise, but because I think it is subjective and, ultimately, futile.  If people don't like what you have to say, someone will think you're being a dick no matter how you say it, and having this ambiguous, undefined moving goalpost of "dick" that we're all supposed to follow won't change that.  

I can try to hold myself to a certain standard of exchange, but in the end, we all usually feel justified in the position we take (or if we change our minds, then the willingness to change further confirms our own opinion of ourselves as being Good Guys), and besides that, the phrase "Don't Be A Dick" is a message from one person to another, not a personal standard.  It's not like [livejournal.com profile] edwardmartiniii's Bue Button project - a reminder to ourselves to hold ourselves to a standard that we, ourselves, set.  Don't Be A Dick an admonition from other people that you are not behaving the way THEY think you ought to behave.

As an aside, even though edwardmartiniii's Blue Button is intended as a personal standard, even that gets used as a weapon with which to bludgeon those with whom people disagree.  In some other disagreement that I had online that I don't even remember the details of, some friend of his told me that I needed a blue button for daring to hold a position that the commenter did not hold - again, people trying to tell others how to behave, and mostly surrounding "tone", not actual behaviour - completely contrary to the spirit of edwardmartiniii's Blue Button, which is about protecting one's community from bullies by making a personal vow to stand up to bullying when one sees it and explicitly not trying to "stop other people from being creepy".  In fact, telling other people that they need to wear a blue button is, again explicitly, against the rules for how this concept is to work.

There is a quote that I can't find, so I can't give you the exact wording or proper attribution.  But it says, essentially, that there is no nice way to tell someone that they wasted their entire lives on a lie.  Which is, essentially, what one is saying when one claims that religion & the god myths are not true.  But it's even less world-shattering than that.  There is no nice way to challenge any belief that a person holds strongly, whether it's something as deep and profound as our purpose in life or as ultimately unimportant as who is the best football team in the NFL (seriously, I watched this argument nearly come to blows last week when a customer at Little Ceasar's asked the cashier who her favorite team was, and he, shall we say, did not agree).  

If the other person has a strong emotional attachment to their position, you can try different tactics to get through to them, but, ultimately, you are telling them that you think they are wrong and they have an attachment to the belief that they are right.  Because some positions are, by their very nature, mutually exclusive - you can't hold one without simultaneously believing the other is false.  If you think the moon is made of green cheese, then, by necessity, you have to think that anyone who thinks it's made of rock is wrong.  Even if you refuse to go so far as to use the words "they are wrong".

And sometimes, with some people and some tactics, it won't be a big deal.  If you think I'm wrong to have been a fan of the 49ers back in my sports days, I won't really care, unless you try to attack me over it.  And then, I'll only care that you're attacking me, not that you like the Steelers (that's still football, right?).

But other times, with other people, and other topics, the tactic won't matter - especially if part of their position is that *you* are A Bad Guy for holding that position in the first place.  Someone, sometime, somewhere, will think you're a Dick, and if we insist on flying the DBAD banner, we will forever be derailing into the Tone Argument, when we should be focusing on the topic under debate.

And I am fucking sick to death of having the motherfucking Tone Argument or having people tell me that I'm feeling things that I'm not feeling, especially when I have gone out of my way not to lose my temper or devolve into yet another flame war.  Your feelings are your own, and just because you have them, it does not mean necessarily that I am the reason you are feeling them.  There is only so far anyone should be expected to go to make *you* feel better about what they're saying.

If you don't like my message, then you don't like my message, but for the love of all that is good in this universe, STOP fucking derailing the argument into whether or not I was properly conciliatory when I said that thing that you didn't like.  Maybe I wasn't being a dick, maybe I wasn't being aggressive or rude or mean or an asshole.  Maybe you just didn't like what I had to say, or maybe you had an emotional reaction to the topic and misunderstood what I was saying, or maybe you don't like me personally and it doesn't matter even when I'm agreeing with you.  And maybe the message is actually something worth being a dick about - maybe the message is something that the messenger ought to be angry about or posting in angry, emotional language.

Just please stop telling people when they should or should not be angry, stop accusing them of being angry (or any other emotion) when they have said that they're not, and stop this bullshit meme about "don't be a dick" - it is a totally subjective standard that cannot possibly be enforced.  Even the honorable Phil Plait & Wil Wheton have gone into "dick" mode when they were sufficiently pushed, and they will defend those times as "but that's different!"  

Yeah, it's different - a different perspective.  When it happened to them, it was either justifiable, or they salvaged their opinions of themselves as Nice Guys by later admitting that they were wrong.  But when it happens to someone else, that someone else is being "a dick".  Just like when you cut someone off in traffic, it's because you're in a hurry, but when that guy does it to you, he's an asshole.  

We are all "dicks" to someone else, and there are times when it doesn't matter how you phrase it, holding the position that you hold makes you the "dick" and there are no collection of pretty words to make the other person see it otherwise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLX5dwy8Leo#t=3m50s


(if it doesn't start playing at 3:50, skip to that point - that's the only part that's relevant)

joreth: (being wise)
"This paranormal thing is fake. Here's the evidence."

Believer: Bummer! I hate it when the fake ones make all the real ones look bad!

True Believer: Shut up! You don't know anything! If you just weren't so close-minded, you'd see this Logical Fallacy and this Unscientific Anecdote proves it's real! And here! A flawed and poorly conducted study/investigation that I totally believe because it supports my belief, but your well-done & scientifically rigorous investigation I will dismiss as crap because it says something that I don't like!

Skeptical "Believer": Oh, hmm, well if I could be fooled by that one, I wonder what else I can be fooled by? I better go back and re-examine some similar events and look up this psychological trick they're talking about to see if the other events are real or I was fooled by those too! I'm disappointed, but I didn't know that they could do that, and that's pretty cool! And maybe a little bit scary.



I came up with this example after a recent incident on Facebook, where I explained to someone that a certain famous "haunted" house I used to work in wasn't really haunted.  Her reaction started off pretty mildly, but she eventually took to "schooling" me on the nature of truth and reality, and why her favorite ghost hunters were the Real Ghost Hunters who "debunk" the crap I was explaining to her.

As I said on Twitter, "debunk: I do not think this word means what she thinks it means".

I used to be a believer.  I was probably even the first kind of believer listed above.  But eventually I learned that I can be fooled.  And I also eventually learned that reality is far more interesting that the ghosts and goblins that I used to believe in.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without believing there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
joreth: (being wise)

Carl Sagan said that we are made of star stuff.  We are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself.  In the movie The Ledge, the atheist protagonist talks with a Christian woman about the nature of the universe.  She wants to believe in a god because she wants to believe in something bigger than herself.

So he lays down next to her on the apartment rooftop and shows her the night sky, and says something to the effect of "you want something bigger than yourself to connect to?  There, the whole universe, how much bigger can you get than that?"

So she says, basically, that it's a pretty concept, but she wants more than just to be connected to a cold and uncaring universe.  She wants to be loved.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have a good answer to that.

I turn back to Carl Sagan, and Neil de Grasse Tyson, and all the other science popularizers out there, and that's comforting to me.  I am made of star stuff.  I am part of the universe and therefore I am connected to the whole of the universe.  I am the part of the universe capable of understanding itself.

But there's one more part to that.

If we humans are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself, we are also the part of the universe capable of loving itself.

If I want to be connected to something larger than myself, what's larger than the universe?  If I want to be loved by something greater than myself, what's greater than the universe?  Except that the universe doesn't love.

But people do.  And people are part of the universe.  We are star stuff.  We are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself.  We are the part of the universe capable of loving itself.  We are the universe, and we love.

There is one thing greater than the will to live, and that's the will to love.  We are star stuff.  I am connected to something greater than myself.  What's greater than the universe?  I am loved by something greater than myself, and that is because I am loved by people, and people are star stuff.

joreth: (sex)
http://www.violence.de/prescott/bulletin/article.html

I'm reading a very interesting article that doesn't really tell me anything I didn't already suspect, but you know how confirmation bias can be, so I'm fascinated to read someone approaching the subject from an actual scientific point of view.

The article's conclusions, based on evaluation of various studies & data, suggests the following things:

1) There is a reciprocal relationship between pleasure & violence - as a person gets more of one, they want less of the other.
2) Infancy physical affection + permissible sexual behaviour after puberty = non-violent individuals.
3) Remove the physical affection from children & you get violent adults. But give them positive sexual experiences as teens & you can circumvent the violence as adults. In other words, you can compensate for a shitty childhood by giving someone a decent sex life.
4) Keep the physical affection as children but remove the happy sex life post puberty & you still get violent adults.
5) This suggests that it's the sex life / sexual attitudes that strongly affect the level of violence in individuals.
6) Cultures that have strong mores and taboos against physical pleasure (i.e. sex & drugs) have equally strong interests in violence.
7) Cultures that have dualistic philosophies tend to have those strong mores against physical pleasure.

Western (Judeo-Christian) philosophical thought is that "man was not a unitary being, but was divided into two parts, body and soul. The Greek philosophical conception of the relationship between body and soul was quite different than the Judeo-Christian concept which posited a state of war between the body and soul. Within Judeo-Christian thought the purpose of human life was to save the soul, and the body was seen as an impediment to achieving this objective. Consequently, the body must be punished and deprived. ... Aristotle did not view a state of war between the body and soul, but rather envisioned a complimentary relationship in which the state of the soul or mind was dependent on the state of the body. In fact he stated that "the care of the body ought to precede that of the soul." (Politica) Aristotle also appreciated the reciprocal relationship between pleasure and pain, and recognized that a compulsive search for bodily pleasure originates from a state of bodily discomfort and pain."

So, basically, cultures that believe that the soul is somehow separate from the body tend to discourage either infancy physical affection and/or sexual and physical pleasure. When they deprive their people of sexual pleasure, they tend to have more incidences of violence.

Vs. cultures that tend to believe that the soul & body are linked have a tendency to support physical pleasure, including sex. And when cultures support their people having sex, they tend to have lower incidences of violence.

Bottom line: philosophies that encourage more physical affection & more sex for pleasure lead to non-violent societies. Religions that prohibit sexual pleasure lead to more violent societies.


I did find it irritating, however, that every time the author broached the subject of multiple sex partners, he was quick to dismiss the motives for casual sex or multiple partners as being pathological. For instance, he defines promiscuity as quickly moving through partners in search of pleasure that one can't find with anyone, and group sex as "not a sharing, but more often an escape from intimacy and emotional vulnerability".

Clearly, he has not really looked into why people choose casual sex, multiple partners, or group sex. Rather than group sex being an escape from intimacy, I quite often don't want group sex precisely because it's too much intimacy for me at that moment. I have to be in the mood to be intimate with everyone in the group, and if I'm not, I can't have the group sex. Most of the poly people I know who enjoy group sex, do so because it can be a form of intimacy with several people at once, not just lots of slippery bits rubbing together all at once.

He does, however, go on to support multiple sexual partners in general, as well as premarital sex, and even teen sexuality.  He also goes on to condemn gender inequality & fear of female sexuality, stating pretty unequivocally that women need to be considered equal & fear of losing dominance over women when they're allowed to express their sexuality is harmful to everyone.
joreth: (polyamory)
I think this is one of those movies that Netflix recommended to me based on adding some other "similar" movie. I wasn't even entirely sure, with a title like that, if the movie was on the list to review for polyamory or for skepticism.  But with the happy surprise of the last movie, I was actually kind of hopeful about this one. It was the story of two young men who were best friends as kids, growing up to become a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest, and the tomboy who was also their best childhood friend coming back into town as a successful, beautiful, corporate CEO. Because it had big names in it, the movie was most likely to be not-poly, but the setup had some potential.

Unfortunately, it flopped.

Not that the movie wasn't good (that's debatable, based on whether you like romantic comedies and movies that involve secrets), but it wasn't poly at all and it should have been.

These two men love this woman - she was perfect for them both. But because the rabbi is allowed to have sex (and because he is being pressured to find a wife before he becomes head of his church, or whatever), he immediately acts on his crush when the priest does not because of his vows of celibacy.

So the girl spends about half the movie developing a romantic relationship with the rabbi, but keeping the priest safely in a box labeled "do not touch". And as anyone who spends any time in the world of the Monogamous Mindset knows, when a girl puts a guy in the Friend Box, he's stuck there for life, no matter how strong her feelings for him ... those feelings are just very strong "friend" feelings.*

So, anyway, by the time the priest confesses his love and he has just about talked himself into leaving the priesthood for her, she is already thoroughly immersed in her relationship with the rabbi and totally oblivious to his growing attraction to her. So the priest has to swallow his embarassment and go back to thinking of her like a sister.

Now, you might be able to put this movie in the poly analogues category, because the three of them remain a strong group throughout the whole movie. The priest somehow manages to only be angry at having their relationship hidden from him, but he doesn't seem to feel any major jealousy. Well, there is the one fight where he gets drunk and yells at the rabbi that the rabbi stole his girlfriend, but mostly the priest seems to recover from his one- or two-night bender and move right into compersion for his two best friends, only nursing the hurt feelings of being lied to (which, frankly, I can totally understand).

****SPOILER ALERT****



The movie ends happily ... for a monogamous movie ... with the rabbi and the girl back together and the priest happy for them both and everyone is one big happy (monogamous & platonic) family. So it might fall under the category of poly analogues, where the only difference between them and us is that the girl would be sleeping with the priest too if it was us.

But the reason why I didn't like this movie is because I get upset at plots that put a convenient excuse in the way, blocking a poly relationship from happening. Usually, it's death, but in this case, it was vows of celibacy.

See, in the world of the Monogamous Mindset, a person can only romantically love two people at the same time if one of them is dead. It is only acceptable for a woman to say she loves two men if she is referring to her dead husband and her new husband whom she met a safe time-distance after the death of her first husband. So most MM movies conveniently kill someone off to allow the person torn in the middle the freedom to love them both and to force her to make a choice (Pearl Harbor).

In this case, the priest's celibacy interfered with his ability to pursue a relationship with the love interest and his religious faith gave him something to hold onto after he was rejected and allowed him to remain in the picture. Whereas with most romcom love triangles, when the love interest rejects one guy for another, he just disappears somehow (maybe he's a bad guy & goes to jail, or maybe he's a good guy and walks away voluntarily, whatever). But because this is a Catholic priest, he is safe enough to keep in the picture and safe enough for both the rabbi and the girl to continue loving because his faith and his vows make him a non-threat. In any other movie where he isn't a priest, the "other love" has to disappear because you can't have the "other love" hanging around your new wife. Or something.

This kind of thing can often be more tone than something specific. It's not very easy to quantify why some movies that end with a dyad still make it to the poly list but other movies don't. It's something in the way the actors and the director interpreted the lines that affect the tone of the movie. These movies never have a bit of dialog where someone says "Whew! It's a good thing my husband was killed in that war, so I can safely love you now without falling out of love with him or having to choose!"

So, in the last movie, where one partner had a serious illness that sort of forced the characters into a position where a love triangle could happen, the tone of that movie didn't strike me as negative. It suggested, to me, that these are people who live in a world where nonmonogamy was Just Not Done, so they needed some kind of extraordinary circumstances to leave them open to the possibility, to give them the impetus to even consider something outside of the norm.

But this movie just didn't have that same feeling. The way it was portrayed suggested more of a situation where three people happened to love each other in a world where they shouldn't, so they wrote the circumstances in such a way as to give them a monogamously acceptable way to do that.

Basically, they had to neuter one of the characters in order to keep him in the picture, which isn't the same as killing him off, but it belies a tone sprung from the same well.

I would love to see this movie re-written, where the priest and the rabbi are forced to re-evaluate their religious faiths in light of their growing love and attraction for the same woman (of no particular faith). Where the priest and the rabbi both decide that their mutual love for this woman is incompatible with what they have been taught about religion, which then makes them question everything else about religion, and which leads them to the realization that they have always been a happy threesome so there is no reason why they can't continue to be a happy threesome in a much fuller sense of the word. I'd love to see this movie where the woman does not put one of her best friends into the Friend Box, but allows her love for them both to flourish, and where she comes to the same realization that they have always worked best as the Three Musketeers, and breaking off into a dyad + 1 would change the dynamic in an unacceptable way.

Unfortunately, that was not the movie I watched.



*Once again, the Monogamous Mindset is a particular set of beliefs and viewpoints about monogamy that create the society in which I live. It does not mean that everyone who happens to be monogamous has this mindset, nor does it imply that people who are non-monogamous are automatically free of this mindset. MM is a set of rules and boundaries and mores that dictate how relationships ought to be, many of which are inherently contradictory, selfish, and harmful. One such set of contradictory MM rules is the rule that you are supposed to marry your best friend, but you're not allowed to be involved with your friends because that would ruin the friendship.

And that's the one I'm referencing here. There is this weird rule out there that people, women especially, can't get romantically involved with their appropriately-gendered friends because that would automatically (or could most likely) ruin the friendship. Men's magazine articles and lonely guys online like to lament about the dreaded F word - "friend". Being called a friend is like the worst thing a woman can do to a man who is interested in her, because it means he will never have a chance.

Of course I know this doesn't always happen and that there are exceptions, which is why I speak so condescendingly of the MM and of this rule in particular, so please don't leave a comment like "but I married my best friend and it's the best relationship I've ever had!" I know, that's what makes this rule so stupid. But it's out there, and it permeates our society, and is quite possibly responsible for a significant amount of unneccessary heartache.
joreth: (religion)
People who don't know me very well might not know that I used to be a wooager. I mean full-on, hardcore, drunk-the-Kool-Aid woo. I grew up in Northern California - I think it's something in the water there. They add it along with the flouride. Seriously though, if it was magical or occult, I believed in it. I read palms and tarot cards, I believed in ghosts, I was absolutely positive that I could tell the future, had a psychic connection with certain people, and even had some minor influence over the elements. I still have my magic amulet - a small leather bag that I made myself, to wear around my neck and carry magic items, symbols, and the physical representations of my guiding totem spirits. I blame that last one on the Clan of the Cave Bear book and the white, middle-class guilt that is so prevalent in liberal areas like the California Bay Area. Oh, and I could psychically command my dog. Sometimes.

It pains me just to write this all down, before I've posted it and before any of ya'll can read it.

Now, losing one's faith rarely actually happens in a single moment, or even on a single day. Usually, there is a long time and many instances leading up to the final step, and usually quite a few remnants hanging around in the brain like cobwebs to be dusted out for some time afterwards. Sometimes that final step isn't even noticeable as distinct from the others, so that the loss of faith feels more like a gradual fade. But sometimes it is an actual turning point, a moment when everything changes, a "click" in the brain, a lightbulb turning on. Mine was just such an event.

One of my "psychic powers" was the ability to tell when something out of the ordinary was going to happen to me before it did. Now, I had a very good education - I even was enrolled in the smart-kids program at my school, what we called Gifted And Talented Education. And in our GATE classes, where they took us geeks out of regular classes once a week and dumped us all together, all grades, into a single room, we learned about stuff that the rest of the school didn't - we covered art and music and history, and yes, critical thinking.

And yet, I managed to make it all the way to adulthood with very good logic skills and a deep internal sense of skepticism, but a shocking lack of critical thinking skills. In fact, my GATE program had an entire section on ESP and UFOs, from a completely credulous standpoint.  I value the city planning section and the American Sign Language section and the "how to write instructions for complete idiots" section (otherwise known as communication & lessons in assumptions in writing), and also the day we dissected a cow's brain.  But c'mon, UFOs and ESP?  As reality?  I wasn't equipped to tell the good lessons from the bunk at that time, creationist senator's beliefs of kid's abilities notwithstanding.

So I didn't have the tools to understand probability, particularly with respect to just how ordinary "out of the ordinary" actually is. I didn't understand logical fallacies or cognitive flaws like confirmation bias. I didn't know how to ask the types of questions that yielded realistic answers. When you start with faulty premises, you will get faulty conclusions, even if your logic is sound.

So, when my stomach started to flutter, and I started to get a little nauseated, and I became hyper-aware of my surroundings, I thought that I was having a premonition and that something unusual would happen to me soon. I had no idea that when you go anamolie hunting, unlike deer hunting, you are pretty much guaranteed to bag one and bring it home.

Finally, I made it to my mid-twenties. I met a guy who seemed so incredibly in synch with me that I just knew it couldn't be coincidence. I mean, we could read each other's minds! I could have a thought and he could say it out loud before I even opened my mouth! Given my past experience with psychic phenomena, this was totally possible (I thought), but it was kind of spooky just how tight our psychic connection seemed to be!

Then I took him home to meet my family for the holidays. I have never been a really big fan of air travel, but as a kid, I was mostly OK about it. I can read pretty much anywhere, and I can sleep pretty much anywhere, and I can also hold the contents of my bladder for a frighteningly long time. But as I got older, I got more and more bothered by riding in airplanes. Again with the lack of grasping statistics (I could calculate them in my head back then, but I didn't quite grok them, if you know what I mean - I didn't understand their implications), I became more and more uncomfortable at being out of control as a passenger in an airplane. I also started to develop motion sickness that I never had growing up, but I didn't recognize that for what it was until years later.

We boarded the plane and got our luggage stowed away and I sat down in my seat. Suddenly, I was overcome with heat, and that familiar stomach-flopping sensation tripped in my mid-section. I started to sweat and tremble and I could swear that I could hear the creaking of the joints in the plane.

I was going to die.

This flight would be my last and my parents would be waiting for me at the airport, only to be greeted by the news of the death of their eldest daughter. I could see my fate as clearly as if I were watching it on a movie screen. There was going to be a malfunction in the plane and it was going to fall out of the sky. I was going to die.

I jumped out of my seat and started speaking really fast and low "I have to get off I have to get out this plane is going to crash I can't be here I need to leave I have to get off the plane ohgodohgodohgodIhavetogetoff ..." My then-boyfriend tried to calm me down and asked what was wrong. I explained that I was having one of my premonitions and my premonitions were never wrong. He offered to let me up and we would miss the flight together if that was what I wanted to do.

That made me pause. What if I was wrong? I will have missed the flight, I will have lost all that money on the tickets, and I will look incredibly stupid to everyone who finds out why I got off that plane. But, if I'm right, I'll die.

I took a deep breath and decided to stay on the plane. Then I promptly put my head in my lap and cried. And I prayed. I prayed with all my heart to whatever benevolent deities were listening to please deliver me safely. The lady on the other side of me asked my boyfriend if I was alright. He told her that I get motion sick but that I would be fine. I cried and I mumbled to myself - to the powers that be - and rocked in my seat, absolutely positive that these would be my last thoughts on this earth and that I wouldn't be able to tell my parents that I loved them one last time. That is pretty much always my "final" thoughts before my impending demise. I've had more than one brush with death, and that's always the last thing I think before realizing that I'm actually going to survive.

As you can probably guess because you're reading this now, I did not, in fact, die in that plane crash. I meditated myself to sleep (a trick I learned years prior to combat my sleep disorder), and when I woke up, I felt an embarrassment so deep, that I don't think I had ever been that embarrassed before ... except for maybe the time I wet my pants in elementary school because I wanted ice cream from the ice cream truck and my dad didn't want to go out and get it for me, so I chose to wait in line at the truck instead of going to the bathroom and I didn't get either the ice cream or the bathroom.

The sureity that I was going to die had completely lifted by the time I woke up. My premonition was wrong! They're never wrong! Or, were they? Really, how many times had I had those premonitions? And how many times were they actually true? And out of those times, how many of those "out of the ordinary" events were really out of the ordinary? I mean, they were unusual, but how often does unusual really happen to people?

That day, I came face to face with the realization that my magic powers were gone ... or, more likely, I had never had them in the first place. Once I started to question the supernatural events in my life, I had to question them all because they were all connected. I was wrong. I had no magic powers. Magic powers didn't exist.

As I said before, the loss of faith is rarely an isolated event. I mentioned reading palms and tarot cards. I did that until I studied with a psychic medium in Lake Tahoe back in high school. I'll tell that whole story another time, but the punchline is that she told me outright that the cards and the palms are not where the truth lies. The cards and palms are merely a distraction, something for the client to focus on. What she reads is people, and the cards keep the people from realizing that she is just reading them. But learning that lesson still didn't teach me that magic wasn't real. It just told me that magic might not be exactly what I thought it was.

After the plane incident, I started questioning other things. Another story for another time is how I found out that my "psychic" boyfriend and his amazing mind-reading ability was really more computer-magic than mind-magic and that he was just spying on my internet use. But I discovered that because of the plane incident. Once I started questioning, I started finding answers. Once I no longer took magic as a given, but started insisting on evidence for it, I started to see reality.

I also learned what a "panic attack" was and discovered that I probably just had an anxiety attack and that all my "premonitions" were just anxiety that led to me post hoc-ing so-called "unusual occurrances" as the predicted event. Now that I know what anxiety attacks are and what to look for, I have only had 1 since, and I was able to get it under control fairly easily, and I have been able to keep the early tremors of anxiety from blossoming into full-blown anxiety attacks by better understanding what is happening to me. Knowing the reality of my problem led me to solutions that actually work to help me manage it, rather than allowing it to run my life.

I have to say that losing my magic powers was a boon I never would have thought it could be. If you had told me as a teenager that I would lose my magic powers and asked me how I felt about that, I would have been horrified. That would mean that I'm not special anymore, that there isn't anything about me that sets me apart from everyone else, or that makes me better than those lowlife assholes that I was hoping I could use my magic on in retaliation if I could just develop it enough. Life would be ordinary, and then there would be no hope for extraordinary. If this was all I was, then this was all I ever could be.

But I didn't understand what "this" really was. I didn't understand the sheer majesty of it all. I didn't understand how much more potential I had without my magic powers; how special I really was, how unique, and yes, how much better I was than those assholes who used to beat the crap out of me. I wanted to be connected to something greater than myself. I had no idea just how great was the "greater than" that I was really connected to. The daydreams of a bullied, frustrated, impotent, awkward teenager paled in comparison to the reality before me, just waiting to be discovered. Don't get me wrong, I still daydream of being able to fly, of knowing what is inside the heads of other people, and of justice being doled out to the assholes of the world. I still think the world would be more awesome if I could do all those things. But I no longer underestimate just how awesome the universe is without them. And I no longer underestimate just how awesome I am without them either.

That was the day I lost my magic powers, but the day I gained something much more powerful. That was the day the blind became sighted and I was granted access to the universe.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
What bad thing happened to you to make you hate god so much?

Well, besides the fact that it is impossible for me to "hate" something that I think of as a fictional character in a particularly poorly written collection of essays, nothing.  I've led a pretty charmed life.  My monogamous parents got married after my mother graduated high school and they've been married ever since.  They're still together and they still love each other.  I had a younger sister, I grew up in the suburbs, got good grades in school, had great teachers, a best friend, and a dog.  I went to private school for high school and got accepted to the college of my choice.  I started dating when I was 16, but I had "boyfriends" as early as 13.  I wasn't abused, I wasn't beaten, my parents loved each other and they loved us kids, I had both sets of grandparents until I was an adult, I had aunts and uncles and cousins to grow up with, I went to church every Sunday and I sang in the choir in high school as well edited the church paper and was a youth group leader.

There was really nothing very exceptionally wrong about my life at all.  It wasn't all roses and candy either.  I had all the usual troubles that middle-class kids do who happen to grow up in one of the wealthiest nations in the world in one of the best economies in its history.  I got bullied, but no more than many other kids at my school and I also had friends who stuck up for me.  I struggled in some of my classes, but way less than most kids and I pulled a 3.33 GPA throughout my scholastic career.  I wasn't particularly gifted at sports, but I wasn't the last to get chosen for teams either, and I even took home a couple of ribbons and trophies.  I argued with my parents and got grounded and spanked but mostly I had a pretty good relationship with them and I consider my parents to be people I can talk to and people I can trust.  I had extended family die, mostly people I didn't know very well, and I had pets and even a couple of good friends in my own age group die, but everyone faces death at some point in their lives, and I was old enough to understand death by the time anyone close to me died.

I just never believed in god.

Oh, to be sure, I did believe in all kinds of wacky things growing up.  Some of those wacky things didn't get dispelled until well into my 20s.  But I just never believed in a personal, sentient god who could be personified or who cared about me in particular.  I desperately wished there was one, but I didn't believe there was.  I suppose, since I believed in Santa Claus, there must have been a time that I believed it when I was told there was a god, but I lost that belief so early and so non-traumatically that I have no memory of ever having believed in a god.  In fact, my lost belief in Santa was far more traumatic (that's a story of how I started on the path to skepticism, but that's a tale for another time).

I do happen to remember the day I stopped believing in the church as an institution of good, though.  I can't tell you how old I was, except that it was prior to 4th grade.  The only reason I know that is because we switched churches when we moved during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, and my memory of leaving the church is associated with the layout of our first church, and the second church was very different in appearance.

Also, prior to 4th grade and that move, I was a frequent visitor at the public library.  It was in walking distance of our house, and my babysitter's house, so I went often, but was too far to walk after the move, so I didn't go much again until I got a car.  Normally, a kid my age had a child's library card, that restricted us to a certain limit on books and kept us out of the adult book section.  But I had actually read everything in the kids section and I got a special dispensation to have an adult library card.  That upped my limit to 25 books checked out at one time (which I always had maxed out) and introduced me to Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  One of the reasons why I wanted the adult card was because I had completely exhausted all the children's "scary" books, including one old tome of classic scary stories that exposed me to Edgar Allen Poe.  When the librarian learned that, not only had I read all the Poe in the library I could find, but I wasn't scared and I understood it, she let me check out the adult horror.

This is related, I swear.

I remember sitting in the pew in church sometime prior to 4th grade and we had reached the part in the service of the Responsorials - that's the part where the priest says a line and the congregation says a scripted line back to him in response:

Priest: "Lift up your hearts"
Congregation: "We lift them up to the Lord"
Priest: "Give thanks to the Lord our God"
Congregation: "It is right to give Him thanks and praise"

So there I was, sitting in the pew, dozing off, waiting for the next round of songs (the only part of mass that I liked), when I heard the responsorial.  Of course, I'd heard it before - I'd been hearing it every weekend for my entire life.  But for some reason, that week it occurred to me that the congregation sounded just like a Stephen King novel.  I looked up, and everyone was reciting the same words, in the same monotone, with the same glazed look on their faces as if they weren't even aware of what they were saying.  No, I didn't become convinced that I had just woken up to Attack Of The Body Snatchers, but the comparison to a mind-stealing horror story was very clear and distinct in my mind that day.  It was that last line that really did it: "it is right to give Him thanks and praise" - how creepy is that?

When I was in first grade, I devoured the Ramona Quimby books, and continued to do so until I reached the end of the series.  In the first or second book, Ramona goes to first grade and learns to sing the national anthem.  She was so proud of herself to be like her big sister, Beezus, whom she idolized!  In the song, Ramona falls for a mondegreen, which is where you mistake the lyrics to a song for something else.  "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" is the most often cited mondegreen, for Jimi Hendrix' lyric "excuse me while I kiss the sky".

Anyway, Ramona thinks the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner include "dawnzer lee light", which she thinks is some sort of lamp, instead of "dawn's early light".  In her haste to prove what a big girl she is and what she learned in school that day, she suggests to Beezus that she turn on the dawnzer when her sister complains that night is falling and it's getting dark in the house.  When Beezus has no idea what she's talking about, Ramona gets all puffed up with self-importance that she knows something her smart big sister doesn't know.  When it all comes out where the miscommunication is, Ramona is mortified and humiliated.

That story always stuck with me.  I hate being wrong, so I don't like to make very many declarative statements without checking and double checking.  So, back to being in 1st grade, where we learned the Pledge of Allegiance.  We were taught the Pledge by rote, without being explained what we were pledging to.  I don't even think anyone bothered to explain what a "pledge" itself was, nor what "allegiance" was.  So, with the story of Ramona in the back of my brain, in 1st grade I decided that I did not understand this thing called the Pledge of Allegiance, and I could not, in good conscience, recite it until I understood what it meant rather than just parroting back the appropriate sounds.  How did I know I wasn't saying "dawnzer lee light" somewhere when I was supposed to be saying "dawns early light"?  Because of that, I have never pledged my allegiance, although I can recite it the way I can recite many song lyrics and movie lines.

Fast forward to that day in church with the zombie-robot responsorials.  I thought that no one in that church really understood what they were saying.  Maybe they knew what the words all meant, but they didn't sound like they meant them.  And if the grownups were all just saying things by rote, then how could I possibly understand what I was saying?  With a precedent already set from the Pledge situation 3 years earlier, I decided that I couldn't recite any more church stuff until, not only did I understand the meanings of the words, but until I fully and wholeheartedly believed in what I was saying.

And that was the last time I ever said a recitation in church again.  The older I got, and the more I understood the meanings of the words, the less belief in those words I had and the more disgust I had in the church itself, for its apparent hypocrisy and attempted dominion over its congregation, including contradictory and outright immoral teachings.  That was sometime before fourth grade.  But I continued to attend church with my family (I really loved the music and I looked forward to the doughnut and orange juice every week), and I voluntarily joined another church in high school to sing in the choir.  While in the choir, I volunteered to perform on special occasions when the priest felt a "play" was better than just him reading from the book, and I also volunteered to edit their paper and to lead the youth ministry.  All without believing in any gods, and all with the priest and the entire choir aware of my lack of belief.

There was no scandal in my church that I ever knew about - no priest raping kids, no hidden love child, no gay "luggage boy", no embezzlement.  The priests were kind and compassionate and forgiving and funny and approachable, the choir and the congregation was tolerant and friendly, and the youth ministry even specifically sought me out to give the safe sex class (I was already studying marriage counseling by then and had quite an extensive education on human sexuality, which my priest knew, and it was felt that the younger kids would listen to an older teen more readily than an adult, so I gave comprehensive sex ed to my youth group - none of this abstinence-only shit).

I wasn't the only atheist at church either.  In fact, I wasn't the only atheist in my choir.   But we sang our songs and went on retreats and ministered to the other youth and engaged in philosophical debate with each other.  Nothing bad ever happened with relation to church or god, and nothing really bad ever happened in general to make me blame a god or get angry about it.  I just never believed, and as I got more exposure to the doctrine, I stopped having faith in the goodness of the institution too.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I'm listening to a podcast episode right now that's really bouncing around a variety of topics, but the main theme is how we cannot have logic without emotion and how thought is a physical process. I don't want to get into such a science-heavy topic because that's not the point I want to make and I'm fuzzy on the nitty-gritty details. But within the larger topic, the host and the guest got to a point of conservativism vs. liberalism. And the guest (whose name escapes me) said something that kind of boggled my mind. And I'm still thinking it through.


Anyone who is familiar with the Skeptics Movement(TM) knows about the so-called schism between the "militant atheists" and the apologists (and, I just have to point out how much I fucking hate the term "militant" with regards to atheists. "Militant" is taking up arms in support of your cause, not writing fucking blog posts and books, no matter how loudly one yells "there is no god!" Ahem.) So, in the one camp are those who say we should say it loud, say it proud and stop being wishy-washy, nambsy-pambsy, mealy-mouthed cowtowers to the conservative Right. The other camp says we should be nice and try to find common ground and just accommodate them a little bit because we don't want to alienate anyone.


Ya'll should know which side of this debate I fall on.


The camp that sides with volume and strength has pointed out that the conservative Right has been incredibly successful at winning their battles by using these exact methods. The difference is, the argument goes, that we aren't *just* being loud, we're also backing up our shouting with facts that support what we're yelling about, so we're loud, but we're also right. The other camp says that no one likes to be yelled at, so the middle ground will side with the conservatives just because they don't like our tone. And besides, we don't *like* the other side, so we shouldn't emulate them! We should be distancing ourselves from them, not copying their methods.


Well, according to this scientist, there's a reason for for all this. *He* says that fMRI tests suggest that the reason why people can hold contradictory beliefs in their minds at the same time is because when one section of the brain that corresponds to one type of belief is firing, it cancels out the other section, the one that corresponds to the contradictory belief. It's like a breaker - if you activate conservativism, you shut off liberalism and vice versa.


So, he says, when a conservative wants to convince a middle-grounder who holds a some liberal and some conservative views (which is pretty much most of us) of the conservative position, the conservative doesn't try to find middle ground. Instead, he moves further to the Right because he's trying, basically, to deactivate the liberal portion of the listener's brain by pounding it with conservativism.


Yeah, seriously.


Oh, I'm sure the conservative isn't aware that he's doing this - it's not some rational, science-based game plan. Somewhere along the line, the fundies noticed that the more extremely conservative they got, the more followers they got. And they exploit that trick. So when they're shouting from the pulpits sounding like complete lunatics to people like me, others are hearing them and their liberal breaker gets flipped, and the conservative side of their brains kick in and start thinking "y'know? That guy kinda makes sense!"


Frightening.


The guest then went on to say that the Democrats just haven't figured this out yet. The Democrats (he specified them) are doing the apologist/find-common-ground method to try and win converts. So they moderate their message and tone it down and go a bit more conservative in their effort to sound friendly towards conservatives. And that doesn't win them converts, it just increases the ranks of conservatives. Which is why we have the Wingnut Party and the Republican-Light Party.


So, because I don't know who this guest is, and because I don't know the science behind this, I hesitate to actually endorse it. But, and I'm fully aware of confirmation bias here, this certainly fits my own observations of the world. I continue to be baffled, no, shocked absolutely dumbstruck, at how these wackaloons can get such large followings. I listen to these idiots and the pure bile that comes out of their mouths and I think "how in the world can anyone hear this shit and take them seriously?" And I have no explanation for that, because there really is no lack of intelligence on the conservative side. In fact, quite a lot of conservatives are extremely intelligent. So I just don't get it.


The fundagelicals and the Rethuglicans (I use those slurs intentionally, because not every theist or Republican is the barking moon-bat crazy that these terms more accurately describe) appear to actually be winning converts and followers by doing exactly those things that make my jaw drop - by being extreme and totally out there. That also explains why, in spite of the reasoned arguments of the Don't Be A Dick lobby claiming that "people are swayed by niceness", the biggest names in the skeptics, atheist, and/or liberal movements are considered dicks - PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and all the most well-known comedians who are most certainly Not Nice to religionists such as George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Billy Connelly, Eddie Izzard, Tim Minchin, Matt & Trey, Penn & Teller, etc. It's true that there are plenty of nice and famous people too, but if the apologist argument was true - that nobody likes to be yelled at (which, technically, is not what's happening, but that's another rant) and people prefer nice guys, then these famous Dicks shouldn't be so popular.


And, according to this podcast, the reason why is because inundating a person who holds a combination of liberal and conservative viewpoints with an extreme version of one or the other viewpoint activates that side and deactivates the other, so that the listener's decisions are then made using the emotions that are more prominantly featured by that particular viewpoint. In other words, the more extreme conservatives win converts while the moderate liberals trying to be nice just chalk up more points for the conservatives.



And that's a scary thought.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I originally made a list of podcast episodes that I was compiling for a sample CD of skeptical topics. I have been unable to produce a small enough file containing all the audio in the list that I could reasonably upload or have people reasonably download. But I have put together my discs and I handed out my first one today.

I have made 3 discs - one for religious episodes, one for pseudoscience episodes, and a DVD with video episodes of both. I also rearranged the episodes so that they were grouped together by topic, instead of by show. I believe it will be easier for people to find the episodes they want to listen to, since they won't have any idea who the show producers are anyway, so "Skeptoid" or "Quackcast" won't mean anything to them. This way, they also may have a couple of shows to choose from on the same topic that they can find easily, and can switch to another show's episode if the one they're listening to isn't doing anything for them, like if they don't like the format or the host or something.

In case people are interested, here is my recommended episode playlist, with all the episodes in order )

HUGE list

Dec. 22nd, 2010 03:09 am
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)
of atheist charities:

http://techskeptic.blogspot.com/2007/12/atheist-charities.html

Also, http://www.charitynavigator.org/ Charity Navigator, to help you choose the proper charity for your needs.

Data Dump

Dec. 15th, 2010 10:24 pm
joreth: (authority)
I've had these tabs open for ages, meaning to write a post about them, and I never seem to get around to it.  So I'm throwing them all in one post:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-discovery-may-offer-cure-for-human-papillomavirus-hpv-110968774.html - New Discovery May Offer Cure for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). "Test results confirming two of our lead compounds showed excellent in vitro antiviral activity and no cellular toxicity at dose levels tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Testing was performed using the HPV 11 strain, which along with HPV type 6, is responsible for ninety percent of genital or anal warts."

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-12/uovm-mie121510.php - Marinomed's iota-carrageenan effective against H1N1. "In animal experiments, Carrageenan demonstrated equivalent efficacy when compared to the drug Tamiflu".

http://www.pnas.org/content/107/45/19195 - Evolutionary history of partible paternity in lowland South America. "Partible paternity, the conception belief that more than one man can contribute to the formation of a fetus, is common in lowland South America and characterized by nonexclusive mating relationships and various institutionalized forms of recognition and investment by multiple cofathers."

http://www.journey-quest.com/ - "JourneyQuest is a fantasy comedy web series from the creators of "The Gamers" and "The Gamers: Dorkness Rising"."

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/enemies-reason/ - "The Enemies of Reason is a two-part television documentary, written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. ... Watch the full documentary now"

http://atheistmusicblog.blogspot.com/ - " aggregate all the Atheist, Pro-Science and Free-Thinking Songs, under the one roof." (I need to comb through this and add songs to my Atheist Music YouTube Playlist

http://bababrinkman.bandcamp.com/album/the-rap-guide-to-human-nature - The Rap Guide to Human Nature by Baba Brinkman "Immediate download of 19-track album in your choice of 320k mp3, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire. Buy Now name your price"

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1160-martha-speaks-the-truth.html - Rationalist Kids Show Martha Speaks The Truth
joreth: (Xmas Kitties)
 So, it's the holidays, and being a member of several minority groups, everyone wants to know how I handle the traditional holiday season as a non-traditional person.  I was interviewed for a UK magazine about how polys spend the holidays, because apparently the idea that we spend them pretty much the same way monogamous people do is an unusual concept.  I'm also reading The Atheist's Guide To Christmas, a book I have been curious about for some time.  I know it's difficult to imagine, but atheists, and polys, are actually made up of more than one person, and sometimes we actually have different thoughts, ideas, wants, likes, and dislikes!  Shocking, but true.  So that means that there isn't a single way to exist during the holiday season, for either polys or atheists.  But with everyone reminding me that I'm "different", it got me to thinking ... how does a skeptical polyamorous atheist deal with a holiday that is more or less seen as a religious family holiday?  Apparently, people want to know.

I can only answer for myself.  Everyone else will have a different story, just like every monogamist and every religious person will have a different story.  Because, and here's another shock, they're not all the same person either!

How do Polys spend the Holidays? )

Shouldn't I be out in the trenches, fighting the War On Christmas? )

So, Happy Holidays everyone, whichever holiday you celebrate!  And if you refuse to accept my wishes for a good holiday because I didn't specify *your* holiday, then you don't deserve my wishes for a good holiday anyway.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Because I like lists, I made a new list. My favorite Skeptic, Science, and Atheist Podcasts list. I made a post a while back with specific episodes of specific podcasts for a Podcast Sample CD as an introduction to skepticism (either pseudoscience/paranormal or religion), particularly for people who do not listen to podcasts or have an iPod, but this is just an overall list of my favorite podcasts.

If you click on the link that takes you to the Listal page for each list, you can get widges and embed codes to include these lists in your own blog or webpage.  I will be posting this list on my website soon as a resources that will hopefully be easier to find than an LJ entry lost in the archives. But for now, it's here:



Skeptical, Science, & Atheist Podcasts at Listal



My other lists include:

Skeptic Movies
also found at www.theinnbetween.net/atheistmovies.html

Pro-Skeptical & Pro-Science Movies at Listal


Poly-ish Movies
also found at www.theinnbetween.net/polymovies.html


Polyamorous & Poly-ish Movies at Listal


Poly Books
also found at www.theinnbetween.net/polybooks.html


Polyamory Books at Listal
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: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Q: What is your motivation to live a moral, upstanding life without the guidance of the rules of God and the Bible? I know you guys do this, but I'm not sure I understand how it works without concrete guidance.

A: "I live a moral life for the simple reason that I empathize with my fellow human beings and have a desire to avoid doing them harm that's almost as strong as my desire that they avoid harming me" ~PZ Myers

That pretty much sums it up for me.  That, and the fact that the rules of so-called God and the Bible are pretty horrific, if you actually bother to read them.  Frankly, I'm not sure how anyone *can* live a moral life WITH the guidance of those rules.  Stoning women, killing children for the sins of their parents, sending daughters out to be raped ... there are some passages about love thy neighbor in the bible, but there are a lot of passages about killing thy neighbor too, and I don't see how anyone can justify the cognitive dissonance of "morality" found within the pages of the bible.  I find it a lot easier to be "moral" without that sort of concrete guidance, personally.  

I like my morality the way I like my entertainment - internally consistent and logically plausible.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
The depth of science is so great that no one brain can even grasp the whole of a single subfield, so we trust our colleagues — at least, we trust them as far as they demonstrate cooperation with the tacit rules of the institution of science, which safeguard to some extent the reliability of a scientific claim. The relevant scientists say the earth is 4.6 billion years old, and they are all willing to show their work, so I'll provisionally accept it until I see a reliable source provide cantrary evidence." *

This. This is what it means to "trust" science. It is not faith, it is not dogmatic, it is not the Argument From Authority.

It means that no one can know everything, so we provisionally take scientists at their word who have demonstrated the ability to comply with the rules of science, which include the Scientific Method, falsifying information, and peer review, among other things - those things that are specifically designed to reduce human fallibility - and we maintain the null hypothesis which, in this case, means we go with that answer until something better comes along.

It does not mean we believe any guy with a lab coat unconditionally, unprovisionally, automatically, faithfully, in the face of contrary evidence, because the Almighty Has Spoken.  It doesn't even mean we believe specific guys in lab coats who happen to have Spoken the Truth in the past.  It means, if you show your work, and others who have the background to understand it say it's good, I'll agree with it until someone else comes along with a contrary claim that provides enough evidence to justify contradicting a previously-accepted claim.

This is the difference between science and religion. This is the difference between skepticism and denialism. This is the difference between critical thinking and faith.

*(quote from PZ Myers [livejournal.com profile] pharyngula )
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: (arrogance)
I finally created a facebook page. Some friends ONLY use facebook for communication, so apparently I was missing out on party invitations because they were being sent through FB and not being sent out through email, Evite, or even phone and SMS. So I created one for the sole purpose of receiving communications from friends who won't use any other method (I did the same for myspace when it got popular).

Also, this year was the 15th anniversary of my high school graduation, and a couple of old friends had come out of the woodwork, making me nostalgic. So I created another FB account with my real name for family & schoolmates to find me who wouldn't know to search for "Joreth" if they wanted to find me. I've spent my entire online life not using my real name (because in the beginning, it was "dangerous" for a young woman to put too much personal info on the web where "anyone", i.e. rapists & serial killers, could see), so anyone from before the internet would have no clue who "Joreth" is.

In my real-friends account, I am also connected to some co-workers, since some of them *are* real friends, but through them, ALL my coworkers found me. That's not too much of a problem, since I don't intend to do anything with that account other than receive invitations and a big part of my job is networking, but my facebook *does* have a link to my website, LJ and Twitter feeds. I also have caught myself casually mentioning tweeting while at work, and some coworkers have asked for my Twitter name.

Those of you who don't follow me on Twitter - I use it in much the same manner as I use LJ, only 140 characters make my comments sound even more brutal, since I have to pack all that condescension and sarcasm into single sentence soundbites. Even when I'm not picking on someone, a text-only medium tends to make plain and to-the-point speech patterns "sound" angry, arrogant, or cranky. And, of course, I do get into flame wars, which ARE angry, and sometimes arrogant.

I have tweeted a couple of things, one of them very recently, only to realize afterwards that the people I was tweeting about either do or might read my Twitter feed. The things I have said were snarky or condescending, basically making fun of people who might be reading what I'm tweeting.

But, I need some kind of outlet for the things I am faced with that are silly, stupid, or frustrating. And that's what the internet is for. In an industry like mine, we are often friends, friendly, or social, with our coworkers, and networking is a HUGE part of my business, as I mentioned. So the internet makes it more difficult to play the politics game (which I sucked at to begin with). I am unwilling to give up the freedom and the luxury I have enjoyed with my personal online spaces, like LJ and Twitter, which give me places I need to let off steam.

I fully believe that people should be judged by their employers on actual skills & co-worker compatibility, and what people do in their off-time should have no bearing on their status and position at work (unless, of course, they are plotting to undermine the company in their off-time). And I will not censor myself in person or online when I am breaking no laws and not naming clients for the sake of appeasing a close-minded or conservative employer or co-worker. So I decided to write a disclaimer for any coworkers who have recently started following me online. The following is adapted from my Disclaimer on Twitter:

DISCLAIMER:
Some of my coworkers may be following me on Twitter. I will occasionally say things that might offend you. This is Fair Warning.

I will say it directly to you if you want, but usually I make my overall position known & leave it at that that to keep peace on jobsite.

I make no secrets about being atheist & my position on supernatural beliefs & alt. med (or anything else, for that matter), but LiveJournal & Twitter is where I go to vent & make fun.

This is why I said on FB that people really shouldn't follow me on Twitter or LJ.

If my opinions here insult or offend you, you're better off not following me. I will not say anything here I wouldn't say to you directly, but unless you are actually getting in my face about something, I tend to keep those kinds of comments to myself while at work & laugh about them to my friends and partners later.

We have to work together, and we will end up working together again in the future, so keeping the peace is important. I will never lie or pretend to like someone I don't, but I will be polite and civil & try to avoid an argument if you are also not trying to start an argument (however, yelling or insulting me is never taken passively, even from coworkers or employers).

I will state, plainly, my position on the subject once, maybe twice, and then let it go. If you continue to talk about something I find silly, but you aren't being insulting, I will mostly just smile and nod.

However, if I compliment you or say something nice, it will always be sincere & I am not being two-faced. I can like & even admire someone while thinking certain beliefs are silly.  No one agrees 100% with anyone, and disagreeing with you (or thinking something you just said is ridiculous) does not mean I don't like you or wish you well.

If you're content to agree to disagree at work, then so am I. I won't get in your face unless you insult me at work first :-)

Topics I'm likely to rant about or make fun of here:
religion, alt. medicine, ghosts, aliens, conspiracy theories, gender differences, homophobia, anti-gay, racism, sexism (in either direction), monogamous drama in r'ships, narrow views on sex & relationships, undeserved arrogance, mistakes at work due to negligence, laziness, or stupidity, anti-intellectualism, pulling attitude or "rank", refusal to do a certain task because it's "beneath" you, reliance on education w/no real-world experience, one-up-manship, and thinking you know better than the veterans in the industry just because you have a degree (so do us veterans, btw).

I will call you out for racist or sexist remarks and just plain incorrect facts while in person, and how you receive that correction will determine if I push the issue or let it go.  But for everything else, once I've indicated I do not share your belief, I won't keep picking on you, but I will laugh about it here, on Twitter, and with my friends who share my views.  If you don't like to see your beliefs mocked, particularly by someone who is friendly towards you in person, I suggest that you do not follow me on Twitter or LiveJournal.

Feel free to make fun of me in your own online spaces (I know plenty of people do, especially for the polyamory & kink stuff), just be civil at work & don't sabotage anyone's career just for personality conflicts, because we are talking about personality quirks or personal beliefs, not actual skill or ability on the job. Actual issues of safety or skill should be taken up with supervisors in a professional manner within the proper chain of command.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
There's a great quote going around Twitter right now (courtesy of @hemantmehta):

Radical Muslims blow up buildings. Radical Christians shoot abortion doctors. Radical atheists write books.

The "New Atheist" movement is gaining speed, and it's all about equal rights for atheists and being "out" about being atheist. Atheists are tired of being denied the right to run for public office because of their atheism, tired of being the category that people are most likely to disown their children for if they marry us, tired of being accused of immorality and nihilism and having that justify persecution of atheists in the absence of any actual criminal activity. We're also tired of seeing immoral and criminal activity going excused and unpunished when performed under the blanket protection of "religion" and "religious freedom".

People like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are accused of being "strident" and "shrill" for publicly declaring their atheism and for not backing down from holding people accountable for their actions just because they claim belief in magical sky fairies. We are told "it's OK if you don't believe in god, just don't rub your atheism in everyone's face."

Sounds a lot like "I don't care what you do in the bedroom but don't rub our noses in it".

Basically, we're being told to shut up about our ideas. Even certain atheists have been known to tell us to be more polite to the religious because talking about it to religious people is "rude" and not likely win any converts, or even any battles for civil rights.

Keeping quiet about our lack of faith only served to get us executed in the past and kept as a powerless minority, so I don't see why I should continue that tactic now. It didn't work for us then, but those "strident" atheists are making us more visible, so that we cannot be as easily discriminated against anymore.

But, the point I'm trying to get at, is that people complain when atheistic ideas are even mentioned at all. Even when those ideas are simply "I am an atheist" and not even direct complaints or accusations towards other religions. I only want to be allowed to talk about my worldview in the same manner, and with the same respect, afforded to everyone else, and that is not currently the case.

And I think that's because religious people don't realize just how often their religion is "mentioned" in public, and how much automatic acceptance there is for their religious views. Even among contentious religions, it is assumed that one *is* religious to some degree. When a Christian wears a cross around his neck, or has Jesus tattooed on his forearm, it is a blatant proclomation of his faith. When a Muslim wears the veil, or wears a turtleneck and jeans in 100 degree weather, it is a proclomation of her faith. But when I wear a t-shirt with a giant A on it, I get an email saying that shirt is not welcome in the home of a Christian acquaintance because it is personally insulting to her & I have invaded her sanctuary, in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any statements about her religion, nor did I do so verbally, and it was known I was an atheist before being invited to the home.

Polyamorists and other people with alternative sexualities get the same kind of double-standard that, I believe, is the result of the privileged class not noticing their privilege, or that they announce their privilege all the time. There is this enormous sense of entitlement of privilged people that they deserve this privilege and others don't. Wearing a wedding band announces to everyone who can see what your marital status is. When a gay man is told he cannot hold hands with his lover in public, or a polyamorist is told that no one wants to hear the details of their disgusting sex life, a monogamous heterosexual is allowed to announce to the world, through his wedding band, that they have a regular sexual partner of the opposite gender - particularly if they have kids.

No, I'm not saying I should be allowed to talk about the orgy over dinner in a public restaurant with kids running around. I'm saying that certain groups of people, because of the privileges they enjoy as being part of a perceived majority, are, in fact, "rubbing our noses in it" in this context. Which is to say that actions, gestures, symbols, and speech that they don't even notice, that they take for granted as allowable, give the world the exact same information about them that they wish to silence from those who are not them.

You may not want to imagine two gay men having sex, and the sight of two men holding hands brings that image to your mind, so you accuse homosexuals of "rubbing your nose" in their homosexuality (trust me, if your nose were being rubbed in teh gay, you wouldn't mistake it for hand-holding!) because you cannot help picturing something you find personally unpleasant.

I hate to break it to you, but your heterosexual wedding band, holding hands with your spouse of the opposite gender, putting pictures of your children on your desk at work - all these things are symbols of a relationship that our society makes certain assumptions about. And those assumptions are that you are doing exactly those things that you don't want to imagine other people doing. It may or may not be true, but your wedding band *implies* that you have a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite gender, and it would be reasonable for someone to make that assumption, barring any other clues to the contrary. It may or may not be true, but your cross around your neck *implies* that you believe a whole host of ideas that are collected around a certain poor Jewish man who may or may not have existed several centuries ago. Your cross announces, loud and clear, some things about you that maybe I don't want to have my nose rubbed in.

And it is your right to wear that cross. It is not my right to be protected from people I find annoying, nor is it even healthy for me, from a sociological standpoint, to insulate myself from contrary ideas. However, as a member of the privileged class, people don't call you "strident" or "shrill" for wearing your cross, reading your Bible in public, or even writing a blog on how to be a good Christian husband. People have to take drastic action, such as the pre-meditated murder of another human, before they are classified as "radical" or "militant" or even "immoral".   Gays and Polyamorists are accused of being pedophiles and preemptively penalized and punished, yet Christian pedophiles are merely shuffled off to other parishes where the people don't know of their past and can't adequately protect their children from suffering the same fate - and demanding the management responsible for this atrocity be held accountable is the "insulting" part.  People have to actually stand in front of me and call me names before I'm allowed to be "insulted", and even removing my civil rights is not always enough to be considered "discriminated against" but asking for a religious-neutral holiday season in government offices out of respect for the Founding Fathers' intention of a separation of church and state is somehow a "war on Christmas".

All I have to do is wear a red letter A, a heart and infinity symbol, hold hands with 2 men at the same time, or make a simple statement "I am an atheist/polyamorist/insert-non-mainstream-label-here" without even addressing someone else's beliefs or lifestyle choices, to be accused of "insulting" someone else. All I have to do is be unapologetic about being atheist, in order to be considered "strident" or even "militant". When someone of a religious faith claims, either through words or symbols, that they absolutely know, without a doubt, that their beliefs are completely true and everyone else is wrong, that person is not allowed to be questioned or doubted or challenged, because that would be rude. But if I claim that I am *reasonably* certain that my own beliefs are true because the evidence suggests it, however, I am willing to change my opinion if new, compelling evidence surfaces, that is *also* rude, usually because people feel that I am *still* challenging, questioning, or doubting someone else's faith.

I don't see how making assertions that one's religious faith is the true one is not any more "challenging", "questioning", or "doubting" the beliefs of others than my own lack of religious faith is. If you are allowed to make a statement about yourself, such as your religious beliefs, your marital status, your orientation, your political views, whatever, then I should be allowed to make my own statement in equal situationally-appropriate methods. Whether you, personally, choose a particular method or not is irrelevant - you are allowed to choose. You may not wear a cross around your neck, but you could. You may not hold your wife's hand while walking down the street, but you could.

And that's the point. You can choose. You can choose your religion and your expression of such, you can choose your relationship structure, and you might not be able to choose your orientation but you can choose to act on it or not. You have that freedom. I am asking for no more or less than that. The only way for you too keep your own freedom to choose is to allow me to have the freedom to choose. Because once we allow for the possibility of removing individual liberties, there is nothing stopping anyone from removing yours for no other reason than because they disagree and they happen to be bigger or louder than you.

Wearing a Scarlet Atheist pendant is no more "strident" than wearing a cross pendant. Putting the Darwin fish on a bumper is no more "shrill" than putting on the fish. Holding hands with someone of the same gender, or with multiple people, is no more "rubbing your nose in it" than holding hands with your spouse or partner of the opposite gender. Demanding the right to hold public office, to not lose a job because of some archaic and biased "morality clause", to being taken seriously while under oath, to not suffer harrassment, to not be denied public services, to being allowed to write a book that outlines my ideas, is not "militant" or "radical" anymore than you demanding the same privileges. Killing people is radical. Proposing the takedown of the government by force is militant. Publicly declaring "I don't believe I'll go to Heaven when I die" and "I love two people at the same time and they're OK with that" is not.

If you don't like my ideas, that's OK, we don't have to be friends. My feelings aren't hurt by that. You don't have to invite me in for tea and biscuits. But you do not get to claim the privilege of having your ideas protected from the very actions you subject mine to. When you remove your cross or wedding band, defer all comments and expression about your religion, your spouse, your children, and any interest in the opposite gender, out of respect for me and my differing opinion (either in public or as a guest in my home), I will do the same.

However, it would be easier all around if we did not censor ourselves to such a degree, and you just learned to get over the fact that not everyone is like you, and being oneself, simply expressing the nature of ones choices, beliefs, and preferences, is not a personal insult *to you* any more than expressing yourself is a personal insult to me. If it is, well, I'm not insulted at the mere expression of you, I tend to get insulted at the expression of your misguided perception of me.

If you feel you need to tell me that I cannot express who I am when I'm around you, then we have far too many differences to socialize together. And that's perfectly reasonable to avoid interaction with someone whom you feel is unpleasant to be around. But it is not reasonable to tell me to censor behaviour, ideas, or symbols that would be acceptable coming from someone of your own preference, or even different but less offensive preferences. If you can wear the cross, I can wear the A. If you don't choose to wear a cross but allow others in your presence to wear a cross, or a star, or a triskelion while simultaneously telling me that my symbols are "insulting" to you, then you are being a sanctimonious hypocrite with an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement to your privleged status.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Much like the poly community, the pro-science and skeptical communities are suspiciously lacking representation in culture and art.  Obviously, this doesn't mean there is NO art or culture with a science base, it means that, in the general population, entertainment and art seem to favor mysticism, supernaturalism, ignorance, and fear.  

Now, like most skeptics I know, I can enjoy a wide range of entertainment and art, even that with a supernatural bent, providing it's at least internally consistent.  I mean, in a universe where thinking really hard really does make lightning shoot out of your fingertips, I'd probably be inclined to believe in mysterious forces too - after all, there would be evidence for them.  

But what bothers me is the sheer preponderance of movies and books and other forms of art and entertainment whose moral is to punish for curiosity and scientific advancement.  Even with our predilection for trying to kill ourselves with ever more advanced technology, we have ALSO managed to increase the quality of life for every human on this planet when not blocked by conservative, superstitious, fearmongering dictators.  In spite of our ever-increasingly devastating methods for death, our wars have gotten progressively less bloody, & with a lower body count.  The higher and messier death tolls remain with older methods of war.  Of course, war, by its nature, is bloody and deadly, so please, let's not get off on a tangent debating war - I'm not saying I'm in favor of it, regardless of how advanced the battle technology is.  The point is that technology, in addition to being used for evil, has, by and large, been used for good and every time something new is discovered & the troglodytes cry out "it's the end of the world, you'll destroy us all", it hasn't been and we haven't, even when we could have.

So, I bring you two things.  The first is a new Pro-Science & Pro-Skeptic Movie list.  I'm creating a Movie List on Netflix - movies that I have personally watched, or can take on very good authority, that show things like: the hero using science or skepticism to solve the day; the bad guy being a proponent of mysticism, woo, pseudo-science, magic, or religion; the bad guy NOT being a Mad Scientist who will destroy the world because of his tinkering; a message of enthusiasm for responsible science; etc.  I will include TV shows, but for the sake of brevity, since Netflix lists each season individually, I'll just list the first season & let ya'll figure out that the entire show is probably more of the same.  I like using Netflix lists, in spite of requiring you to have an account to view it, because people can immediately put suggested movies in their queue, rather than going out to find it on Amazon or Blockbuster and purchasing something they don't know if they will enjoy.

I suppose, like my Poly-ish Movie List, I will include documentary or non-fiction - for those exceptionally entertaining examples like Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Mythbusters, but I'd like to focus on fiction.  There are entire networks devoted to nonfiction, pro-science stuff, and tons of educational materials, and that would completely overwhelm the list if I included all examples of non-fiction.  So let's focus on *entertainment* and *art* that happens to be pro-science or pro-skepticism or uses science/skepticism as the vehicle for the story.  There are some good ones out there.  This is intended to be a growing, dynamic, list, so keep checking back.  I welcome suggestions!

The second thing is a comic strip that illustrates and supports my point.  What would sci-fi movies look like if cavemen made movies using our sci-fi plots?  We, as a society, are constantly yelling about the threat that science is to us, our culture, and our planet, and we make movies that exaggerate this perceived threat, which only adds to the fear the public has about science.  Yet, every time we go back and watch a sci-fi movie from a past era, those of us in the "future" laugh at the totally wacky fears portrayed in the movie.  Of COURSE it wouldn't happen like that!  With our 20/20-hindsight vision, we can see how ridiculous that fear is!  But then we go right back to accusing today's scientists of "playing god" and "messing with nature" and "things we can't possibly understand".

http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/



And, because it ALWAYS happens, yes, I KNOW that sometimes science screws up. Sometimes we create medicines that do more harm than good. We create weapons of mass destruction. We fuck up the environment & lose species to extinction. That's not the point. I, and all proponents of science, are not now saying, nor have we ever (to the best of my knowledge) said, that science is a utopia of technology, always done for the betterment of mankind, etc. I am saying that more good than harm has come from science - that the good that has come out far exceeds the harm that has happened, and the fears that science will be the destruction of all have been unfounded every time they've come up so far.

Out of all the tragedies that science has actually contributed to, it was science that managed whatever corrections were developed in response. Wars kill people, but medical technology advances at a faster rate during war & are built upon after the war ends. Environmental disasters happen, but technology is what is ultimately used to clean up the mistake and prevent it from happening again. People live longer, eat more, are overall healthier, and with more leisure time, can afford to help people not of their own tribes (who are often prevented from enjoying the same luxuries as health and longer life span by superstitious leaders) and choose more conscientious environmental endeavors. These things would not be possible without scientific advancement, and refraining from scientific advancement has never prevented death and destruction and, in many cases, encourages it.



**UPDATE**

Stupid LJ and their stupid no-javascript rules! I am unable to post any rss feeds anywhere in LJ, after searching for a way all day. I did, however, finally manage to build an rss feed reader onto my website that I am happy with. So, here is a list of Skeptic Movies and here is a list of Poly-ish Movies, both of which are pulling content directly from the Netflix lists and will self-update so I don't have to maintain multiple lists.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
Many times I've been asked for a list of URLs about polyamory or the various issues surrounding skepticism, only to suddenly draw a blank on all my favorite websites.  I'll be talking with someone, introducing them to a brand new concept, and they'll ask me where they can learn more about it, and I won't be able to remember.  I've written about this most recently in the post about making Skepticism CDs to hand out for this purpose.

I've also been asked, on more than one occasion, what other people who find themselves in this situation should do when *they* are asked for more resources.  My solution to the poly issue has been to add a handful of URLs to the back of my Poly Tees business cards, but this isn't necessarily a good solution for other people who are in this situation.

So, I have created Reference Cards - one set for polyamory and one set for skepticism.  These PDF files can be printed onto standard white business card paper that you can buy at Walmart, Kinkos/FedEx, and any office supply store.  They are double-sided, with a definition of the term on the front and a list of URLs on the back.  Feel free to download them, print them, and hand them out to whomever you want, or use them as a template for creating your own.  I am now keeping a couple of each in my wallet, and bringing a bunch to poly meetings for the newbies.

The Polyamory Reference Cards:*



The Skeptical Reference Cards:


*The Poly Reference Card image has the old, incorrect Purple Mobius, but the file itself has the correct Mobius.  I was just too lazy to take a new screencap.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
***LIST UPDATED BELOW***


 I routinely get into conversations with people IRL that end up with me rattling off a list of podcasts that explain something I'm trying to explain, such as why taking megadoses of vitamin C doesn't make your cold go away faster or what a logical fallacy is or the difference between atheism and agnosticism or why crop circles are hoaxes and not evidence of alien visitation.  I find myself needing to reference books whose names I can't remember, prominent experts whose names I can't remember, and podcasts whose episodes I can't remember.  

The last gig I worked was for a super-food pyramid scheme which, fortunately, most of my coworkers saw for the fraud that it was, but it tended to spark conversations about how they were fake but this other wacky belief wasn't (like the guy who tried to convince me that eating a teaspoon of pure cinnamon would make you vomit because he saw it on YouTube and flat out refused to believe me when I said I used to munch on cinnamon sticks all the time as a kid without getting sick), or the girl who thought all that was bunk, but crop circles really made her think there was something spooky going on.

My long list of references is hard enough for me to remember, let alone the person I'm arguing with, and one person I was talking to sounded interested in hearing all this "evidence" I had for why her beliefs were wrong and wished there was some way she could just get a sample of all the podcasts and a list of books.  So I thought, "if only I had a CD with all the podcast episodes I most commonly reference when I argue with coworkers.  I already have several saved in a playlist on my iPod, but then I have to play my iPod for them, and with a CD, they could take it home and listen to them all!"

So I am now putting together a list of audio files that I can burn to a CD (hopefully one of those mini discs) and carry a bunch around to hand out to people.  I've decided to make 2 separate playlists - one to address woo and pseudosciences and the other to address religious claims.  Here's what I have so far:

Religious claims:
  • What is Evolution? (Evolution 101)
  • What is NOT Evolution? (Evolution 101)
  • What is Irreducible Complexity? (Evolution 101)
  • Mr Deity and the Magic
  • Mr Deity and the Identity Crisis
  • Mr. Deity and the Magic, Part Deux
  • Eugenie Scott - The Dover Trial: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (Point of Inquiry)
  • Edward Tabash - True Meaning of Church/State Separation (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - The Relics of the Christ (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - The New Idolatry (Point of Inquiry)
  • Alan Dershowitz - Blasphemy (Point of Inquiry)
  • Skeptoid #10: An Evolution Primer for Creationists
  • Skeptoid #65: How to Argue with a Creationist
  • Skeptoid #76: Who Kills More, Religion or Atheism?
  • Skeptoid #82: What Do Creationists Really Believe?
  • Big Thinkers: Why Does Evolution Matter? (NOVA scienceNOW)
  • This American Life #290: Godless America
  • audio of me recommending my favorite critical thinking books & html file with hyperlinks to my book recommendations

Science, woo, and pseudoscience:
  • Carol Tavris - Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me (For Good Reason)
  • inFact: Wheatgrass Juice
  • inFact: New Age Energy 
  • inFact: Fast Food Phobia 
  • inFact: Nuclear Energy 
  • inFact: Ghost Hunting 
  • Joe Nickell - Skeptical Inquiry vs. Debunking (Point of Inquiry)
  • Andrew Skolnick - The Dangers of Alternative Medicine (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - Aliens and Abductions (Point of Inquiry)
  • James Randi - Science, Magic, and Future of Skepticism (Point of Inquiry)
  • Bill Nye - Changing The World With Science Education (Point of Inquiry)
  • QuackCast 2. Echinacea 
  • QuackCast 3. Homeopathic Theory 
  • QuackCast 5. Placebo Effect 
  • QuackCast 7. Theory of Acupuncture 
  • QuackCast 8. Acupuncture's Efficacy 
  • QuackCast 9. Lies, Damn Lies and the use of alt med 
  • QuackCast 11. Evidence to Support Efficacy and Complications of Chiropractic
  • QuackCast 22. Boost your immune system And die 
  • Quackcast 27. Acupuncture and Chiropractic Update 
  • QuackCast 28 Vitamin C and the Common Cold 
  • QuackCast 29. Reiki and Theraputic Touch 
  • Quackcast 30. Lets Kill The Children or A Defense of Vaccines.
  • 'The Baloney Detection Kit' featuring Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine (Richard Dawkins Foundation TV (RDF TV))
  • Skeptics' Guide To The Universe #109 - Aug 24 2007 Perry DeAngelis 1963-2007; The Psychology of Belief
  • Skeptics' Guide To The Universe #118 - Oct 24 2007 Interview with Joe Nickell; News Items: Autism and Vaccines, Ben Stein on OReilly, James Watson Followup, The Dangers of Pseudoscience; Your Questions and E-mails: Honey, Flu Vaccine Myths; Science or Fiction; Skeptical Puzzle
  • Skeptoid #01: New Age Energy
  • Skeptoid #06: Wheatgrass Juice
  • Skeptoid #19: Organic Food Myths 
  • Skeptoid #34: Homeopathy: Pure Water or Pure Nonsense? 
  • Skeptoid #37: How to Spot Pseudoscience 
  • Skeptoid #42: Whacking, Cracking, and Chiropracting 
  • Skeptoid #47: Free Range Chicken and Farm Raised Fish 
  • Skeptoid #53: Inside the World's Most Haunted House 
  • Skeptoid #61: Irradiation: Is Your Food Toxic? 
  • Skeptoid #73: A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies - Part 1 
  • Skeptoid #74: A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies - Part 2 
  • Skeptoid #78: Medical Myths in Movies and Culture
  • Skeptoid #81: Ghost Hunting Tools Of The Trade
  • Skeptoid #83: The Detoxification Myth 
  • Skeptoid #85: World Trade Center 7: The Lies Come Crashing Down 
  • Skeptoid #86: MonaVie and Other "Superfruit" Juices 
  • Skeptoid #88: Super Sized Fast Food Phobia 
  • Skeptoid #92: The Terror of Nuclear Power
  • Skeptoid #93: Apocalypse 2012 
  • Skeptoid #109: Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?
  • Skeptoid #112: Genetically Modified Organisms: Jeopardy or Jackpot? 
  • Skeptoid #117: How Dangerous Is Cell Phone Radiation? 
  • Skeptoid #127: The Truth about Aspartame 
  • Skeptoid #151: The Placebo Effect
  • Skeptoid #157: High Fructose Corn Syrup: Toxic or Tame?
  • Skeptoid #162: Locally Grown Produce 
  • Skeptoid #166: Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture 
  • Skeptoid #180: Vaccine Ingredients 
  • Skeptoid #200: Buy It!
  • Skeptoid #227: Boost Your Immune System!
  • Here Be Dragons - video about critical thinking by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid
  • Tiny Holes (on the LHC) (Nova scienceNOW)
  • The 2012 Hoax (Nova scienceNOW)
  • audio of me recommending my favorite critical thinking books & html file with hyperlinks to my book recommendations
**I've had to update my list.  There is too much data on the Woo list to fit on a standard CD and I didn't want to put it all on a DVD because I want it to play in the widest range of players (computer, car CD player, etc.).  So I am removing the video files (fortunately, all the inFact episodes have an audio Skeptoid episode to replace it).  I am considering making a separate DVD for only video files.

Do you wish you had a CD like this? Steal the list and download these episodes to make your own CDs! All are available for free on iTunes (you can download just the specific episode if you don't want to subscribe).

Possible Video Podcast DVD:
  • inFact: Wheatgrass Juice
  • inFact: New Age Energy
  • inFact: Fast Food Phobia
  • inFact: Nuclear Energy
  • inFact: Ghost Hunting
  • inFact: Vaccines
  • 'The Baloney Detection Kit' featuring Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine (Richard Dawkins Foundation TV (RDF TV))
  • Here Be Dragons - video about critical thinking by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid
  • Mr Deity and the Magic
  • Mr Deity and the Identity Crisis
  • Mr Deity and the Magic, Part Deux
  • Mr Deity and the Planes
  • Mr Deity and the Skeptic
  • Mr Deity and the Science Advisor

I'm also adding the following booklist to the CD in the form of an audio file of me naming the books and authors, with some Symphony of Science music remixed underneath

joreth: (Default)
 I'm kinda sorting something out here, so the position I'm about to present may not be the best defended position, but it's a starting point.  There has been a big bruhaha in the Skeptical community over the whole Pope Palpatine Ratzinger being accused of covering up a child molestation case (or several ... hundred).  the details are not important for the sake of this post, since I'm not going to talk about this case in particular.  The question on the floor is, should the Skeptical movement *as a movement* care, and why?

The two sides are, in a nutshell:

A) child rape is child rape and is always bad, no matter who does it, so we as individuals should be up in arms, but that has nothing to do with skepticism, and the skeptical community is just yelling because it's a religious figure - where was the skeptical community for all the child rapists that aren't priests?

B) Being the head of a major religion is relevant and makes this a skeptical issue on top of the fact that we should be up in arms as individuals over the child rape thing.

I want to make clear that both sides of the debate are equally in agreement that child rape is bad and there is no category of person for which raping a child is worse or less-bad than any other.  The question is whether or not this is a *skeptical* issue *on top* of the whole child rape is bad issue, so let's take as a given that we all agree child rape is bad, period, no exceptions.

I would like to pose one possible reason for why this might be considered a skeptical issue, but I may word this poorly, since this is my first attempt to put it into words.

The Skeptical Movement (TM)'s agenda is on skeptical inquiry.  From what I can tell, the bottom line for the movement is to encourage scientific / skeptical inquiry in all things.  This has a very broad reach, covering topics from religion to cryptozoology to alien abductions.  The reason why it has become a movement, and not just a personal philosophy for how to view the world around us by individuals, is because public policy is often not made based on evidence or reality.  Encouraging skeptical inquiry results in utilizing the tools of science and rational & critical thinking when it comes to big questions of policy, like the separation of church and state, climate change regulations, medical research and funding, lawsuits, civil rights issues, etc.  These things take the issue out of the realm of personal choice or philosophy and make how these issues are decided *everyone's* concern.

One of the things that those most concerned with skepticism cover under this large umbrella of issues, is the idea that certain people and ideas are held exempt from skeptical inquiry.  Some of us believe it is very dangerous to allow any issue to be considered "off limits" from skeptical inquiry, and that once we allow it in our own minds, we then allow it, collectively, as a society, and once that happens, it is a small step from there to allowing exemptions from skepticism for popular, though unfounded, ideas to pass into legislation.

Religion, of course, is the giant elephant.  It is considered socially awkward, at best, to engage in critical analysis and skeptical inquiry of religion and of religious figures.  It's "rude", and in some cases, cause for lawsuits for attempting to "deny religious freedom", and in other cases, justification for infringing upon the rights of others.  In many variations, religion itself prohibits critical analysis and skeptical inquiry of its tenants and of its leaders, and relies, instead, on the Argument from Authority as its very foundation.  By not holding its ideas or its authoritarians up to the light of critical examination, religion has, historically, gotten away with some of the most atrocious acts the human race is capable of.  The US government was founded on the idea that ultimate authority was a supremely Bad Idea and was intentionally created to avoid giving any individual person or group that kind of unquestionable power.

In the case of the Pope and his alleged cove-rup, this is exactly what happens when an individual, an office, or an elite group are given carte blanche authority, when they demand unquestioning faith and allegiance, and are allowed to operate with no transparency or accountability.  So, on top of the horrible crime of child rape, the Skeptical Community itself may find this issue relevant because it is an example of what happens when skepticism is hampered or discouraged.  

When an individual rapes or molests a child, it is no more or less tragic or horrendous than when a priest rapes or molests a child.  But when an individual in our society does so, he does not have the support of millions of people around the world turning a blind eye and approving of his actions to cover up the crime, nor do people or societies attempt to justify the crime with such blatantly bullshit excuses like "demons have infested the Vatican".  Make no mistake, I am not saying our current system of justice, nor our society, has all the bugs worked out.  Oftentimes the molester does have a support system, oftentimes neighbors and other observers do turn a blind eye.  And, of course, oftentimes the crime is kept undiscovered so we *can't* raise up in arms even if we wanted to simply because we're unaware of it.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who had been regularly molested by her father since she began puberty.  Her mother alternately ignored it or blamed her for capturing the father's roaming eye.  When I finally found out about it, I convinced her to talk to our school counselor, who convinced her to press charges.  She did, her father was brought in for questioning, but ultimately released on the condition that he not leave the state before his upcoming trial.  He booked passage to Canada that night (where he and his family had dual citizenship & he had male relatives that all came from the same culture that approved of subjugation of female family members and the family agreed to put him up and hide him and my friend so he could continue to molest her and now punish her - the rest of the family was staying behind).  My friend called me in tears, terrified that she was about to be abducted.  I immediately drove over there with a mutual friend, and her mother let us in on the pretext that we were sharing homework.  The moment her mother went into the kitchen for something, I and the other friend grabbed our friend and yanked her out the door, threw her in the car, and drove off. 

She stayed with the mutual friend for a few days until we could get in touch with the school counselor again and ask what to do.  The counselor took her in for another few days until she could be processed in the juvenile system that housed kids with no parents.  Eventually, her father did get prosecuted, she went back to live with her mother who screamed at her night and day about what a slut she was and a homewrecker, and she finally went into foster care to escape.

So, believe me when I say I COMPLETELY understand that the system is broken, and that many of the flaws of religion that are relevant to this issue are not unique to religious establishments.

What's different is that we do not have a socially sanctioned agreement that all parents or all boy scout leaders or all teachers are off the hook for punishment and social unacceptance when they do rape or molest a child just for being a member of the club.  When he is found out, legal and/or disciplinary action is often pursued.  When an organization seeks to cover it up, the organization is held accountable.  When the police come knocking on the door to arrest a molester, he is not usually in a position to laugh at the cop, claim illegal diplomatic immunity, and leave the area.  Yes, often the bad guys get away, molestation goes unreported, and individuals attempt to cover for and assist these people.  

But they do not have the power, money, and prestige behind them of an international organization that demands the unquestioning faith and subservience of millions of people around the world, and the collective willful ignorance of entire governments.  The very same unquestioning faith and willful ignorance that the skeptical movement is dedicated to pursuing and eradicating.

And it is *that* part which the Skeptical Movement, I think, can lay claim to having a vested interest in the Pope and his cover-ups when we don't see the Skeptical Movement up in arms over every other child rapist who is just some guy who happens to have access to kids.

Now, I'm not saying there isn't a point to be made about letting our own emotional reaction and dislike of the church being at least partially, if not wholly, motivating for the Skeptical Movement, or by some individual skeptics, in this issue.  I do see where certain individuals ranting and raving about the Pope while being completely silent on the issue of child rape when it happens to anyone *not* connected to the church can appear hypocritical or, at least, using it as an excuse to do more hating on the church.  I think that's a valid concern and criticism.

I just also see the fact that it *is* the leader of an organization that is the very antithesis of the Skeptical Movement, and it is for those very reasons why it was allowed to happen, allowed to be covered up, and will probably allow it to go unpunished - and this is a direct result of unskeptical behaviour and mindsets perpetuated by this very organization.  The Catholic Church created the environment that allowed the scandal and corruption to spread as far, as wide, and as high as it has and will suffer no serious consequences for it, when a society that embraced skeptical inquiry would not have allowed this environment to flourish.  I have no doubt scandals like this would have still occured had we lived without the influence of the Catholic church and others of its ilk, but the environment the church created of anti-skepticism is tailor-made for corruption and crime.

The Pope will most likely remain largely free of consequences for his role played in this crime, just like all the various priests who have been found out recently have remained largely free of consequences for their crimes.  And the reason for his lack of consequences is directly related to the Skeptical Movement - a society built upon generation after generation of bullying and intimidation and torture until even the mere act of questioning the motivations and actions of an authority figure is frowned upon by those who don't even share the views of that authority figure, in some places and in some cases punished (i.e. Simon Singh & the UK Libel laws), and the perpetrators of crimes are heralded as leaders, heroes, and martyrs.

As skeptics, it is our responsibility and our interest to shine the light of inquiry into the dark crevices of superstition and myth.  The Catholic Church, with its secrecy, it's authoritarian-based structure, it's antagonism to inquiry and doubt, it's refusal to change its stance in the face of evidence, the Church utilized those very concepts the Skeptical Movement is opposed to in these crimes.  The very nature of the church creates an environment that is a breeding ground for such crimes, and it is the very nature of the Church that the Skeptical Movement is opposed.  The issue of the molestation charges is, in addition to being heinous in their own right, the spotlight into exactly *why* the Skeptical Movement is opposed to the Church in the first place.

And that's why I think it is not unreasonable for the Skeptical Movement to concern itself with the issue of the Pope, specifically, with regards to abuse.  This position, however, is not without its own, legitimate, concerns.

*A disclaimer: I am speaking of organized religion, not necessarily about the inevitablity of crime and corruption in any individual religious person.  An individual religious person, even one who is part of the organization, can be transparent, honest, responsible, accountable, and skeptical.  The organization, however, bases its policies on the exact opposite, and it is about the organization I am speaking, not any given individual.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
The Texas school board has had a long history of changing textbooks to reflect inaccurate information. And because Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks, whatever they want to be put in them is what the rest of the nation ends up getting by default.

This is not simply a conservative vs. liberal issue. Even other conservatives do not all agree with the changes being made. They are removing or reducing actual historical and scientific data from the textbooks which will give future generations an inaccurate understanding of history and science.

In order to compete in the global market and as a leading nation, we need our children to be well-educated on those subjects that will keep us as global leaders in politics, in business, and in science and technology. It does no one any good to rewrite history in our textbooks because some extremists don't like the story.  They actually want to completely remove Thomas Jefferson's writings on the separation of church and state because it will be easier to convince people that this country was founded on religious principles if future voters never learn that the Founding Fathers explicitly and intentionally separated church and state.  That is not the only proposed change either, but it's a representative example.

Please sign this petition to encourage textbook publishers to refuse to make nationwide changes to their textbooks to the detriment of all our children on the basis that a handful of extremists with no historical, scientific, or academic background think they know better than the "experts". Pass this on to your friends and family - even people without children or with grown children are affected by the future of our Nation's children.  Email it, Tweet about it, blog about it, post it in Facebook.

www.change.org/petitions/view/dont_let_texas_rewrite_history
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
 Sometimes, woo quacks, IDiots, and Newagers are so far wrong that the only way to fix things is to take a time machine back to their kindergarten and start all over because their wrongness is hopelessly entangled in the very basics.



http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com/2010/01/this-is-worst-ranger-since-turbo.html

Take Mike Adams, aka HealthRanger, for example.  Last week there was something called the Shorty Awards, where anyone on Twitter could vote for their favorite other Twitter user for, well, pretty much anything. At the end of the contest, the winner got a "Congratulations! People like you!".

Like everyone else, HealthRanger massed his minions to vote for him. Except, according to the stated rules, votes coming from Twitter accounts that were created just to vote (i.e. created immediately before vote tweet, having no other tweets except the vote tweet) would be disqualified.

Well, one of the supporters for HealthRanger's main competition, an actual doctor from Australia named Dr. Rachie, notified the Shorty Awards of the fraudulent votes & HealthRanger got disqualified. Although I got a hefty dose of what The Bad Astronomer calls "shadenfruedalicious", I have to agree with Orac that HealthRanger shouldn't have been disqualified because there was no hard evidence that he was the one responsible for the fraudulent votes. Instead, all those votes should have just been removed in the audit that is part of the Standard Procedures for the Shorty Awards.

Anyway, HealthRanger wrote a scathing article on his blog (I don't have the url) where he accuses the skeptics of lying and cheating (I <3 Irony). He then also wrote an eye-bleedingly long and wrong blog post about What Skeptics Believe. As the critic in the URL I linked to above says, there are more Straw Men in this essay than a Wizard of Oz convention. His idea on how the world works is so fundamentally wrong, that the only way to even hope to correct all his wrongness is to go back in time and start over from scratch. "It's turtles all the way down" takes on a whole new meaning here. It's WRONG all the way down.
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)
In October, 2009, we lost a great man. Basava Premananda was a skeptic from India who spent his life fighting woo, pseudo-science, and so-called "magic". He lived in a time and place where skepticism is met with true harm to life, including death. His lost battle with cancer is a terrible loss to our cause.

One of his last gifts to humanity was to write a letter from his deathbed to continue to fight woo by declaring that, faced with his imminent death, he has had no deathbed conversion to spirituality. One of the things the religious insist on claiming is that there are no atheists in foxholes and that any life-threatening situation will spontaneously create a belief in the divine. The idea is that atheists aren't really atheists, we don't REALLY disbelieve in god, we're just mad at god, and as soon as we have to face the reality of our death and possible non-existence or eternal punishment, our hidden belief in god will pop back and we will beg forgiveness and to be saved. Which is patently untrue.

So, anyway, on his deathbed, Premananda wrote a statement denying any such deathbed conversion. And I archive it here for convenience.
 
TO WHOMEVER IT MAY CONCERN

Declaration of attitude and temperament

I, B. Premanand s/o late Sri Basava Prabhu, 80 years of age resident Chettipalayam Road, Podanur, sound of mind though suffering from physical complications caused by metastases in many organs caused by carcinoma of the stomach herein solemnly wish to place on record the following:

I have been closely associated with the rationalist movement from 1975 onwards and have been a rationalist of full conviction since then and continue to be so.

It is common for the purveyors of superstitions and such anti rational forces to start spreading rumors about rationalists turning to god and other supernatural forces at the end of their lives and becoming devotees of gods and god men of various types.

It is also claimed that at times of crises that we staunch rationalists through the major part of our lives, turn to spiritualism and religion.

I wish to clarify that as on today the twentieth of September, 2009 I remain a staunch rationalist and wish to place on record the following:
  • I continue to be a rationalist of full conviction.
  • I do not believe in any supernatural power. All the powers that we encounter are in the realm of nature and nothing exists beyond that.
  • I do not believe in the existence of the soul or rebirth.
  • I have not turned to any religion, god or any sort of spiritual pursuits.
  • When I pass away I shall be leaving only my body which is to be donated to a medical college and no spirit or soul to cause problems for the living.
I want to convey to all that the struggle against the exploitation by god men and so called supernatural forces is a long and hard one but the ultimate victory will be ours.

My very survival has been a challenge to astrologers and their so called “science” of astrology, as they had all predicted that I would die soon after birth and refused to cast a horoscope for me.

I wish to convey to my colleagues of the rationalist movement to continue the work that I have been doing with renewed vigor and that will be the best of tributes for me.

Abhirami Hospital
Podanur
(B. Premanand)
Witnessed by: Dr. Maya Prabhu and Suneera

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