Aug 102017
 

One of the things I really like about the Rationalist community is that it doesn’t care about forcing anyone into any sort of roles. I’ve gotten so used to it, that I was recently shocked to encounter enforced binaries out in the wide world again. (I haven’t been forced to interact with anyone I don’t want to since my lay off).

In the midst of the Google Memo kerfuffle I participated in some interesting conversation that changed my mind about the memo itself. Which is what conversation is for, in my community.

However in some places it appears that much of conversation is to signal loyalty rather than refine knowledge. I guess in the wider world there are only two positions one can have on the memo: it is either a sexist screed, or a brave thesis. This breaks the world into the two political camps – Left and Right.

The interesting part is that one is not allowed to hold to the tenants of the Left – that gender equality is a good thing, that society still has some issues there, and that equal rights are a great thing to fight for – while simultaneously holding that the memo isn’t a clarion call for raging sexism. Even giving the writer the benefit of the doubt, and pointing out that some things being claimed in the media didn’t seem to have a basis in the text of the memo, immediately marks the person saying so as a Rightist by those who believe in the political binary.

The really shitty part of this is that those who believe in the political binary also believe that those on the Other Side are morally reprehensible, and therefore any signs that someone isn’t on Our Side are interpreted as proof of moral decrepitude. Which, nowadays, is license for hatred, blacklisting, and violence. Because apparently the wider world is too damn stupid to think that maybe one can hold that there are some differences between groups while also believing that all people are equally deserving of respect, all rights are universal and inalienable, and someone’s physical characteristics or emotional disposition or intellect has no bearing on their worth as a human.

Well you know what? Screw anyone trying to force me into a political binary like that. If someone’s position is that people deserve equality and respect only because they are indistinguishable in aptitude, they have a horrible fucking philosophy. If someone’s position can be reduced to “sexism is OK if the sexes are different,” than no wonder they have to silence any research into sex differences. It’s like the church tying their position of “Murder is bad” to “The sun revolves around the earth.” It’s only in their deranged minds that someone interested in heliocentricism will cause the collapse of social order and rampant murder in the populace. Any decent person is able to say “Maybe the sun circles the earth, or maybe it’s the other way around, but that is an empirical question and has NOTHING to do with whether it’s OK to murder people, WTF is wrong with you??”

I am politically non-binary. I can question whether the minimum wage is harmful on a empirical level without that implying that I think “the poors” deserve to starve and wealth is a sign of strength of character. They are unrelated. I can state that street violence without due process is a bad idea without believing that minorities should be ejected. They are unrelated. And I can believe God is a figment of the collective imagination without believing that murder and rape are fine if you can get away with them. Those are unrelated.

Stop trying to force me into your political binary.

Jul 252017
 

Stolen from a friend: “Since conservatives are an underrepresented minority in academia, and having more conservatives in academic disciplines would raise the cognitive diversity among researchers in most fields, I think we should probably use affirmative action-ish policies to make universities cheaper and easier to get into for conservatives.”

This is a surprisingly good point.

Of course, AA is primarily meant to help those who have been traditionally disadvantaged by systemic relics of oppression. It’s not actually intended simply to increase diversity for its own sake. But to the extent that diversity is a goal worth achieving, this idea has some merit. I do think diversity is a good thing, something that we want more of, and this looks to help advance that goal.

There’s also the stealth-attack aspect… Higher education tends to make conservatives more liberal, so this would get more conservatives into the ideological killing fields. So to speak.

A different friend objected that this would only be acceptable if and when conservatives start supporting AA for disadvantaged groups. I don’t think this is legitimate though. Should disadvantaged minorities only get AA benefits if they endorse AA policies? And if the principle at play here is “affirmative action programs should not apply to folks who would not apply them to other folks” does this mean we should disallow affirmative action for minority folks if they don’t support it for conservatives?

Of course then someone had to ruin all the fun by requesting actual data. We turn to the great google, and we find:

Since 1980
% of Far Right students remained even at 20%
% of Far Left students increased, from 20% to 35%
% of Middle/Moderate students decreased from 60% 45%

So conservatives haven’t actually decreased in representation… the far left has swelled greatly instead, at the cost of moderates. The rise in radicalism and polarization isn’t due to lack of conservatives at all, but rather an increase in one fringe.

Suddenly I’m of the opinion that perhaps increasing the amount of people on the opposite side isn’t actually a great idea. That may very well simply lead to more radicalization on the right. Which could feed back into increased radicalization on the left, and so forth. If there’s too much weight on one side of a scale, adding more weight to the other side may break the scale entirely, rather than returning it to balance.

The hell of it is, moderates aren’t sexy. “Boring” is the last thing passionate young people want to be. Can we go about creating and popularizing a form of Radical Moderate movement? People who are vocal and passionate about being reasonable and considering consequences and viewing others as incorrect rather than evil mutants? It seems this was what much of the Rationalist movement was about, but I’m too far removed from university life to know if anything is growing there (god I’m old). Has anyone begun a Rationalist and/or Moderate version of campus activist groups?

Jun 292017
 

From Arkansas News Online http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/jun/28/ten-commandments-monument-arkansas-capitol-toppled/

Yesterday a man destroyed the Ten Commandments monument that had been installed on the Arkansas Capitol grounds, less than 24 hours after they’d been put up. He appears to be a fervent Christian who believes strongly in the separation of church and state.

I have a complicated set of feelings with destruction of property for political purposes. And my instinct emotion is to cheer this man. Most of this post is scattered thoughts about my intellectual vs emotional reactions to this.

For a long time I didn’t understand why people would riot in their own neighborhoods. Why destroy the infrastructure you rely on? The businesses you patronize, and/or work at? It didn’t make sense. It was wasteful and self-harming. I heard that Riots Are The Language Of The Unheard, but why aren’t they rioting where it would make sense to riot?

Lou Keep provided my answer. That infrastructure is not an economic asset to those subjected to it. It is the tool of the oppressor. The society was functional for its residents, until an outside force came in and imposed order to make the neighborhoods legible to government. While this certainly improves the economic metrics that the government is interested in, it ignores the social destruction that these “improvements” bring. The riots aren’t just empty rage. They are an attempt to purge the controls and “gifts” brought by a power trying to make the area legible to the state apparatus. To revert the area to local control.

Finally, nearly 30 years after the fact, I understood why I loved a key scene of Do The Right Thing. In the middle of a brewing riot, a Korean shop owner screams “I’m black!” at the mob. And they leave him alone. (clip here) It’s a beautiful scene, and still gives me shivers of frissons when I think about it. I was never entirely sure why, until now. It is an affirmation that society can tell the difference between invasion by the state apparatus, and its own members. It will burn out the infection that poisons it, while leaving unharmed those who are a part of it. It is not random violence, it is an entity that protects itself. That is the power of art – to give us that feeling on an emotional level, to impart that knowledge to us beneath the skin without giving us an explicit lecture.

(yes, I know it’s an idealized version of riots, and things don’t always happen this way. It’s still beautiful.)

But…

I.

Property is blood and sweat

Creating anything takes effort and time. Energy that could be used in pursuit of artistic expression, or enjoying social bonds, or myriad other pursuits. Destroying someone’s property is destroying a small part of their life. It may also be destroying a part of their future, if that property is used to enable someone to make a living or continue living (by destroying the car they use to get to work, or torching their house or workplace). I recently had a large amount of money taken from me, money that I could have used to support myself for well over a year, or embark on adventurous new projects with. It sucks.

And I’m very much on the record as being strongly against extra-judicial violence. This post by The Friendly Atheist states in strong words that people should not take the law into their own hands, and we must stick to the civil solutions of court challenges and public speech. Isn’t destruction of property also violence, used to intimidate rather than convince?

II.

Choice of Targets

I get annoyed when attacks on military targets (army bases, warships, etc) are referred to as “Acts of Terrorism.” A military target is a legitimate target in a war. Such attacks are not terrorism, they’re acts of guerrilla warfare. There’s a huge difference. Many of the weapons and tactics that are banned by international agreements (such as chemical weapons and landmines) are banned because they are indiscriminate in their killing. Their use cannot be confined to military targets, and so they are not deemed acceptable tools of war.

Thus, choice of targets matters. It can add a bit more legitimacy to a tactic if its focus is narrow and its target is chosen for strong reasons. In this case, the target was an object that was placed in direct defiance of the constitution. The very document that functions as the foundation of civil life in the United States. It underlays all our laws, at least in theory. An assault on it can be viewed as an assault on all of us, and by attacking an object that undermines it, this man could be said to be working in the interests of protecting civility. His target was specific and well-chosen. And importantly, it was a piece of art that is not vital to anyone’s life, and paid for out of excess funds. This doesn’t excuse that destruction, but it does make it less morally reprehensible. It is a mitigating factor.

III.

Vigilante Justice is the Worst Sort of Justice

That being said, he still went outside the bounds of the law. The law has the power to protect itself, and was in the process of doing so via court challenges brought by the ACLU and others. For random people on the street to decide they have the power to interpret and implement the law themselves, without going through a court, is a recipe for the chaos of all-against-all. Vandalism can’t be excused just because the vandal feels they have a darn good reason for it, this time. There will always be a darn good reason to destroy the stuff of people you disagree with, just this one time.

IV.

Principled Opposition

Yet there is something to be said for principled opposition to laws that are unjust. Martin Luther King Jr and his supporters intentionally and publicly violated laws that they thought unjust. They accepted arrest and legal consequences, so that all could see how the law is being used to destroy the lives of good people without justification. They were holding a mirror to society saying “Look at what you have wrought!”

This man did not try to hide his actions. He posted publicly about what he was doing, and why he was doing it. He accepted arrest, and is now awaiting trial. He might not have been right in his actions, but he has the courage of his convictions. I admire this. I also consider this to be mitigating circumstances in his favor.

(Yes, I would have admired the Richard-Spencer-Puncher somewhat if he’d stayed at the scene of his assault and accepted arrest and trial for his actions. And no, this doesn’t excuse violence. I still think people shouldn’t be punched. Assassinations are still repugnant, even when done in broad daylight and without attempt to flee. Suicide bombers certainly face the consequences of their actions rather than trying to dodge them. But it does say something if someone is willing to stand by their act of vandalism, and defend it, and take the punishment for what they’ve done.)

V.

Corruption in the System

I believe much of the debate comes down to “What Can Be Done When The System Is Corrupt?” Extra-judicial action is what people fall back on when they have no faith that the system will fairly enforce the laws, or that the laws themselves are unjust. As far as I can see, the system is still strongly against any sort of ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, the system has demonstrated that is has some severe weakness in defending itself from encroachment by the majority religion. After all, the Ten Commandments monument was placed with the local state’s approval, and it is outside parties that are in the process of defending the US Constitution that the state claims to support.

VI.

Alexander’s Principle

Alexander’s Principle states that one should never destroy the tools that society uses to correct errors. Doing so locks you into the errors of the past, without the ability to change them as our ethical systems or knowledge improves. Freedom of speech is a very strong tool used to correct errors. You cannot change what you cannot criticize. So using violence to silence others violates Alexander’s Principle. Destroying the Ten Commandments monument, while certainly uncivil, doesn’t attack the tools we use to correct systemic errors. As far as I can see.

VII.

Conclusion?

While not in support of vandalism or rioting generally, I can understand how they are at times useful as tactics. I don’t think this man’s destruction of the Ten Commandments will achieve his goals. It’s more likely to anger the majority that doesn’t care about that part of the constitution. However, he’s attempting to fight for important principles, against a system that is unwilling to support those principles. He did so in a narrowly targeted manner, openly and in acceptance of the consequences, via a symbolic attack that I believe doesn’t violate Alexander’s Principle. He didn’t harm anyone’s person or personal property, and the target of his destruction isn’t vital for anyone’s way of life.

All in all, I find myself admiring this crazy bastard, even if I think he would have been much better off donating his car to the ACLU rather than wrecking it against a stone monument. I hope this sort of thing doesn’t repeat itself, though. And I’m not firmly set on these opinions, and very open to having my mind changed. :)

Jun 282017
 

Should include sub-checkbox “Have You Been Harmed By This? Yes/No”

A friend recently came across a tick-box in a scholarship application asking if he was gender nonconforming.

An interesting question for him. Because in many ways he is gender-conforming, and in many ways he isn’t. I won’t get into the details, but it was definitely up in the air, which is why he asked for help as to whether he should tick the box or not. It was pointed out that he is literally gender nonconforming, in the sense that he does what he likes and doesn’t conform to gender expectations. It was also pointed out that the doesn’t actively identify as “A Gender Nonconforming Person”, which is what the question really wanted to know.

Except the question wasn’t really even asking that. The hidden question, what the scholarship reviewers really want to know, is “Do you suffer the societal penalties that nonbinary people do, and should we help offset that with this money?”

The question “Do you suffer the societal penalties that nonbinary people do” is subjective. I wish these sorts of surveys would just ASK THAT QUESTION. Because whether you suffer social penalties depends hugely on your society. There are places where being extremely non-conforming doesn’t get you any penalties at all, and there’s other places where simply not being manly enough will get you massive penalties. Yeah, you gotta trust the person to answer honestly, but at least then we’re all clear on what the purpose of the question is. This way we’re just asking people to be honest, as opposed to asking them to guess at the hidden intentions of the question.

I hate the way these questions are currently phrased, as they discriminate against people who only use words as descriptors. A friend said: “I think the correct thing would have been to check the box so as not to participate in the disprivileging of people like yourself who want to use words to refer to underlying features of reality.”

I mean, we literally had to form a committee to figure out what the question was asking and how to answer it. I don’t feel like this is one of those situations where plausible deniability of misunderstanding needs to be preserved for face-saving. The True Question should be made explicit.

I am white, well-assimilated, and raised in the US. I was born in Poland, and my parents escaped when I was an infant, with a suitcase of clothing and aprox 2 months wages in currency. When I am asked on these sorts of forms if I am an immigrant, I check yes. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at me. Now I have to wonder “Do they literally mean Are You An Immigrant? Or do they mean Have You Been Harmed By Not Being A Native Citizen?”

And how do I even answer? I don’t think it’s harmed me in my adult life. I had a funny accent as a kid, and got picked on for that. I had no extended family as a support network. My parents struggled with English as their second language — did these things deprive me of opportunities I would have otherwise had? Why am I second-guessing a question with a factual, easily-verifiable Yes/No answer?

Likewise, I am part of one of the most hated religious minorities in America. Up until 2016 I was the most-hated religious minority in my country. It’s only in the last year that Muslims have surpassed Atheists in unpopularity.  And the advantages of belonging to a religion are well known, and I’m deprived of those. Yet I live in a liberal metropolitan area where people normally don’t talk about their religion, and try very hard not to discriminate. I don’t think that’s ever been used against me when renting or seeking a job. I suspect there are people out there who would object to my identifying as a religious minority.

From now on I’ll try to get clarification when answering these sorts of questions. But when that’s not possible, I will generally default to “answer the question factually.” I hate being forced to answer a question with a falsehood because someone can’t be bothered to actually ask what they want to know.

(In the end, the friend did not tick the “gender nonconforming” box)

Jun 202017
 

I’m somewhat outspoken about preserving a civil society, because I prefer order over chaos. It is important that people not resort to random vigilante justice against targets of opportunity. Determining guilt via the evidence and meting out punishment via an orderly justice system is what separates us from the barbarians. Is what I WOULD say, except for the fact that even barbarians had systems of trials or tribunals to keep personal violence in check.

But for this to work, the system has to actually do the job of punishing the guilty and defending the innocent, at least most of the time. If there is a group that is systematically denied protection by society, there is no reason for them to conform to the restrictions that society requires. A society that denies protection to any group is not a civil society, it is a system of violent subjugation.

We have a huge problem in America. Philando Castile was murdered on camera. Unarmed, seatbelted in his car, his girlfriend and child with him. The prosecution called expert witnesses and other police to testify that a reasonable person should not feel threatened in that situation, and should not resort to deadly force. And yet his murderer walked away without a conviction, because he’s a cop.

How are we supposed to have a civil society if our police are never held liable for murder?? In the past week I’ve reiterated that violence is not an acceptable response to speech. You know what violence IS an acceptable response to? Getting murdered. This is the sort of thing that justifies riots. This is the sort of thing that could justify civil war. Why would anyone respect the law if the law is only used to hurt them, and never to protect them? I do not want to be hurt, I do not want my property or my work place to be burned down. Yet I understand entirely why someone would lash out against a society that is there to subjugate them and protect their killers.

I don’t know how to fix this. If it was just one case I could be convinced this was a single aberration, or I’m not aware of all the facts that came out in the courtroom and maybe the cop really should walk free. But this happens constantly. I hate to say this, but I’m starting to lose faith in the jury system.

Jun 162017
 

I.

As a teenager in the 90s, I spent a lot of time arguing with religious folk. Mainly about atheism and gay rights, as both were very near to my heart. I noticed an astounding trend. Many Christians considered themselves deeply persecuted.

Christians make up a large majority of the population (of the USA). They control every branch of government. At the time there were no openly atheist elected federal officials. To this day all candidates for president still have to swear fealty to some form of christian god. Christians have added “under god” to the loyalty pledge all children are forced to recite in school, and added it to our currency. There are myriad special exceptions written into laws, giving special protection and privileges to christian sensibilities and christian organizations. The claim that they were a persecuted minority was (and is) laughable. The persecuted mindset and psychology that I saw on so many occasions was crazy-making! How is this level of blindness to the real world even possible? They would use “we’re being oppressed” as reasons to defend oppression of other religions!

My own church was one of these. Regularly (on a weekly basis) sermons in church would highlight how oppressed we were. Nazi persecution–from 50 years ago, in a country on the other side of the word–was regularly mentioned. The fact that courts would often force minors to accept life-saving blood transfusions against the wishes of their parents was also frequently brought up. And, of course, there was the constant micro-aggression of being subjected to a state that requested loyalty pledges and military service of a sect that believed both are immoral. If a Jehovah’s Witness missionary was every harmed in a foreign country, every Witness across the world would know about it in a matter of weeks, as further evidence of Satan working against us.

And it turns out, this is a very important part of many Christian sects. The 1st/2nd century christians did endure a fair bit of political persecution (depending on time and area). They developed strong survival memes that directly tied persecution to righteousness. The more persecuted you are, the more it means you are doing good, and God loves you. Satan rules this world, and the more the world is against you, the more Satan must feel threatened by you. Persecution was a direct indicator of moral goodness, and that helped the religion survive under adversity.

Of course that creates a problem when your religion becomes the official religion of the empire and establishes regional hegemony. The Catholics dealt with that pretty handily over time. But the American Protestants rejected all Catholic adaptations and reverted to a mythologized “Original Christianity.” Many of those included persecution myths. So feeling persecuted was very important. If the only way you can tell that you are on the Side of Good is to be persecuted, it becomes very important to see persecution everywhere, and exaggerate it.

(note: I believe that this persecution complex has a number of very important benefits. Primarily – it causes much of American society to strongly identify with and work to defend persecuted and oppressed groups. As far as I know, all non-violent civil rights struggles have taken advantage of this aspect of American culture. Apparently, the most effective thing a social movement can do is hold nonviolent protests that then are violently attacked by their opponents (video). So being persecuted, in addition to being morally satisfying, is also politically useful.)

II.

As we know, Identity Is What It Means To Be Human. So once someone has adopted an identity that includes “Is Persecuted,” it’s important to keep that feeling. In the case of Christians, this can be accomplished by going to church and/or watching Fox News. More marginalized groups have a problem – they have not yet developed a system that assures them they are persecuted. This generally isn’t much of a problem, because there are plenty of places in our society where belonging to one of these marginalized groups still results in negative consequences and hardship.

But the wonderful thing about or society is, we have actually made progress over the last century! All the work and tears of the past decades have not been in vain. :) There are some places in our country where groups that were oppressed, sometimes violently, even fifteen years ago, are now welcoming, safe areas. Places were one would have to intentionally go forth and seek out oppression if one wanted to feel it. This is further exacerbated by how easy it is nowadays to create social bubbles, excluding all the toxic awful people from you life, and surrounding yourself only with those who are supportive and caring. This is, generally, a fantastic thing! We have advanced, and many lives are less miserable because of it. :)

But the need for persecution doesn’t go away. Being Persecuted gives one a direction in life, a goal. It gives one adversity to overcome, and an intense form of bonding with others who are similarly persecuted. It gives you a family, and mortal certitude. Reaching your goal is nice, but it is no replacement for those extremely psychologically-important things. What does one do when one finds oneself without an oppressor, while having a deeply instilled “Is Persecuted” aspect to one’s very identity?

I suppose one could shift one’s goals to now help those in areas that are less advanced. To reach out into the dens of violence and iniquity, and give aid to one’s brothers and sisters still undergoing pain and hatred. But this is hard. I don’t mean that as an insult – the freedom to spend a lot of time and money on going to a foreign place (even if it’s just into the rural areas of one’s own country) is something only a privileged few have. It requires a career that is flexible and doesn’t require you to be on-site 40 hours a week. It requires energy reserves after the daily work of job and children and family commitments is complete. It’s often out of reach for those who aren’t independently wealthy.

(plus it risks being called-out for acting like a “white savior” or “colonizer” or something. Trying to help oppressed people in another culture is explicitly judging that culture as needing improvement in ways you deem important, which is “problematic”)

There is another “solution.” Deliberate assholery.

Text reads: The A in LGBTQA does not stand for allies; and the IA in LGBTQIA does not stand for including allies; not everything gets to be about you, cishet people. 

Instructions from meme poster say: Fun exercise: Be an enormous asshole to every self-proclaimed “ally” you meet to find out who’s actually an ally and who’s just here so you’ll go shopping with them.

I share this meme in particular, because it was shared by a friend who I otherwise greatly respect. This is literally a troll meme. The instructions give it away. Because, seeing as there’s no official body that decides what the letters “officially” stand for, the part about the letters doesn’t matter all that much. The real point is to spark reactions. When I see a meme instructing people to “be an enormous asshole”, it tells me a lot about the person who made the meme and the state of their peer-group. Far more than any sort of spat over what a letter stands for.

They want to be persecuted. They are not sufficiently persecuted. So they are intentionally alienating those around them in an effort to regain that original sense of persecution.

This, to me, explains a lot of why the far left is eating it’s own. Why college campuses, the most left-leaning, pro-diversity, and safe places in our society, are also the scenes of fringe-left meltdowns that scream about persecution and the intolerance of the faculty. Why white-male and cis-het are now slurs, despite the prevalence of both both within the wider liberal community, and as supporters of the community. Too much acceptance is intolerable. If too many people find us acceptable, by golly, we’ll drive them away.

III.

It’s claimed that someone who is only an ally when people are nice to them was never an ally at all. In a very real sense, this is true. Just yesterday I bemoaned the people who are only for freedom of speech when it’s their own speech, and are happy to censor those they don’t like. They obviously never cared for the principle of free speech.

On the other hand, I think it’s just plain disgusting to deliberately attack and insult people to test their ideological purity. No one has to prove their “geek cred” to self-appointed guardians of geek culture, or their “trans cred” to someone claiming they aren’t trans enough. And often the same people who say “I don’t care about principles, I care about consequences” when it comes to violently suppressing hate speech, are those who say “Allies should support us on principle, regardless of how they’re treated.” I detest people who hide behind principle when it suits them, and abandon it when it doesn’t. I get the feeling I’m not the only one. While I’ll never withdraw support for LGBT+ rights, I think spreading this sort of troll meme is a stupid idea.

There are couples in Texas being denied adoptions right now. There a children being subject to “gay-converston” therapy. – HB 3859 was just signed into law.

“HB 3859, which will allow child welfare organizations — including adoption and foster care agencies — to turn away qualified Texans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection.
It also can be used to harm children in care; HB 3859 will forbid the state from canceling a state contract with an agency that subjected children in their care to dangerous practices such as so-called “conversion therapy.””

Gay couples and gay kids in Texas could use aid. They don’t particularly care that some edgelord isn’t feeling persecuted enough.

Jun 142017
 

Here’s the thing about bastards like the Westboro Baptist Church, or Richard Spencer – they LOVE freedom of speech right now. But I’m willing to bet that if they ever came into power (true power – control of govt, much of the populace behind them, etc) they would quickly forget all about their love of free speech and quickly get to the business of silencing their opponents.

I used to think that’s what made my side different. When we came into the majority, we would continue to uphold and protect the principles of civility that we were so enraptured with when we were the oppressed. More and more, it seems that this isn’t the case.

There’s probably people that really do believe in certain principles. Principles like freedom of speech, and that violence should not be used as a tool. They will continue to extend freedom of speech and protection from violence to their opponents, even when they come into power and no longer have to. Even opponents they really hate, even when it would be easy not to. As far as I can tell those people are in the minority. It’s easy to say your are pro-free-speech when free speech shields you. It is hard to be for it when you are in power, and you must expend effort and lose allies (and friends!) in an effort to shield people who are disgusting. All because of something as stupid as a principle.

But the weak! The weak will always hide under those principles, because they don’t have much strength of their own. The allies they can recruit from the Establishment, who believe in the principles, will lend them a fair bit of strength. The strong, on the other hand, don’t need the principles. They are already in control of the establishment. And so the principles are always the refuge of the weak.

Look to who is invoking principles, such as freedom of speech, to defend themselves. These are usually the weaker in a conflict.

I am tired to sheltering reprehensible people. I almost wish for a time when my beliefs were the oppressed minority, because then the people I agree with – the GOOD people – would be the ones I’m supporting when I stand for freedom of expression. I have a number of people who I can’t call friends anymore, because they see me giving aid and shelter to reprehensible people.

But dammit, I’d rather have people who believe in principles as allies than those who simply agree with me on things like who’s the “better” person. Principles are impartial and firm. They protect everyone equally. People can turn on you in an instant if you don’t sufficiently agree with their current political crusade.

II.

Y’all can stop reading now unless you want personal info, this is the diary part of the blog post.

Early today Republican House Whip Steve Scalise was among five people shot at a congressional baseball game, where a bunch of Republican law makers were playing. He was shot by someone described as a passionate Progressive. I was surprised not to see anything about it in my Facebook feed, as generally its full of politics, and even moreso when a shooting is involved. The only thing I saw all day was one person posting that violence is never acceptable without referencing exactly what happened.

Several months ago, when Richard Spencer was assaulted in the street, I got into a bit of a dust-up with a few friends as to what the problem with this was. With the silence in the wake of this shooting, I asked “Can any of my friends who posted approval for violence when it’s punching people explain why they are against violence when it’s shooting people in the hip? I was told more than once that the purpose of political violence was to make reprehensible people scared to say reprehensible things in public. Since hip-shots are probably more effective at that, is violence only acceptable as a tactic when it’s not very effective?”

All the answers I got essentially boiled down to “Its OK to silence people with the threat of a small amount of violence. It’s not OK to silence them with the threat of a large amount of violence.” Someone drew the comparison between a mugging and a serial killer, saying they weren’t remotely on the same scale.

I found this incredibly depressing. No, they’re not on the same scale. The serial killing is far worse. But I’m still of the opinion that mugging is ALSO bad. How is this an argument for the people who are for small-amounts-of-violence? Comparing your position to that of a mugger doesn’t seem like it should be a winning move.

Another person claimed that frightening people into not doing bad stuff is one of the most beloved, rousing forms of extralegal law. Again, I was dejected to discover that there are people on the “good” side – liberal, progressive, pro-equality, etc – who are in favor of and speak highly about “extralegal law”! What in god’s name is my side coming to?

I was told (again) that violence against Nazis doesn’t count as bad, because Nazis are people who’s sole motivation and explicit purpose is violence. I responded that the same was said of Communists once, and this was used to destroy the lives of many people who weren’t actually Communists because their opponents found it useful to label them as such. I was told that this was a false equivalency because Not All Communists are violent, and Yes All Nazis are. I declined to say Not All Nazis, because I know a stupid rhetorical trap when I see one (though why it doesn’t count when someone says Not All Communists I don’t know) and merely pointed out that this didn’t address my concern about creating a sub-human category of person that it’s OK to subject to violence, which I believe is wrong on principle, and the fact that some people will be labeled as that category by their enemies simply as a convenient tool. The conversation ended abruptly. (Tho to be fair, the person I was speaking to said I was misrepresenting their opinion, and didn’t believe it was worth taking the time/effort to correct me)

So yeah. I feel like I was very naive in thinking that certain useful principles matter for most people past the point where they are useful to them. This is distressing to me. :(

Jun 082017
 

A couple years back, when I still identified fairly strongly with feminism, I said “If feminism is losing people like Scott Alexander, we really need to take a look at ourselves and reevaluate what we’re doing wrong.” It was a tragedy to lose him, because he is an ideal feminist (IMHO). This was before I realized that “The Left” I had grown up with had been taken over by a lunatic fringe and was in the process of eating its own.

It’s happened again. Laci Green, for those unfamiliar, is a fantastic YouTuber, who mainly talks sex and sexuality.  I loved her Sex+ show and watched it regularly. She is (was?) strongly liberal, and a feminist… kinda notorious for it, actually. Which, you know, all the hearts from me. :) Eventually I drifted away, when I faded away from YouTube entirely. Now I see she’s back! And in as fantastic form as ever! But the surprise announcement that she’s willing to talk to people with differing opinions has opened floodgates of hate from the lunatic fringe.

It sounds like she was subjected to a lash from the lunatic-fringe left, and is standing up for her principles. I am sad for her that she had to go through that, it’s rough as hell. But it’s fucking awesome that she’s not collapsing under the assault. I wish I could offer support in some way other than the occasional supportive comment and posting on my blog.

In her next video, when she said “I will always be a feminist” I wanted to cheer and cry at the same time. I do not identify as feminist in public anymore. It’s become too toxic and extreme. But I hate that the extremist took our word, and our movement. I, too, will always be one in my heart.

I consider it a duty of people to help police their own groups. I DO get pissed at the Catholics who don’t make a stink about their child-molesting priests. I despise the Republicans who will close ranks and cover their own, no matter what they did. Because no group EVER takes criticism from an outside group. They can only take it from other insiders. I would expect an atheist congregation to kick out an abusive community leader, because there ain’t nobody outside the community who will! A community must be able to criticize itself to some extent or it becomes rancid. I eventually opt-ed out of feminism because nowadays anything less than total devotion makes you the enemy, and that environment is deeply toxic. I know quite a few people who’ve lost many friends and huge chunks of their support network, finding themselves suddenly attacked by people they had counted as allies, for minor infractions. The far left’s auto-cannibalism is getting nuts.

II.

I guess I still haven’t given up entirely, though. Some of my friends are still of the opinion that Twitter and YouTube should ban people who promote what they call “hate speech.”

No. Here is why.

I prefer not to ask corporation to act as our guardians of public morality. In my experience, they ALWAYS default to where the money is. Profit is their lifeblood. Perhaps right now it is most profitable to only censor those that a loud enough faction can successfully label “white supremacist” or “nazi” in the court of public opinion. But that’s a notoriously fickle court, AND it’s possible that some day it’ll be more profitable to only censor those that can be successfully labeled “feminist” or “homosexual”. Trump’s election scared us all because it showed us that’s not as distant as we used to think.

I would rather that companies not get involved in judgements of morality. Mega-phone companies sell mega-phones to anyone who wants them, they don’t vet to make sure they’ll never be used at anti-cop rallies. Concert halls rent out to whoever will pay for them, not just people who sing the “correct” kinds of songs. Printers will print any book a client will pay for, not just ones that aren’t “obscene.” Or that’s the way it should be, anyway.

We are very much pro-Net Neutrality for everything else. ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to decide what websites’ data they’ll allow to get to your computer, or slow down some of it. Right? Communication providers like Twitter and YouTube should be held to the same standard. I don’t want them to be anyone’s morality police, for either side. They’re held to the same law as everyone else – speech that is threatening or an incitement to violence is illegal, and would cover the worst of the terrorist stuff. The exchange of ideas remains protected.

III.

I take it as a good sign that our society seems to be able to pull back from that cliff and return to sanity rather than plunging into violence. It’s wonderful that people like Laci Green, famous for being leftist, is willing to stand up despite losing her support base and many friends, and say “This is going too far.” This is the strength we need to survive, and it looks like our society has it. :)

I am a fan of civilization. I love Laci Green for what she’s doing. Censorship is the purview of villains, and we are no villains! If we’re confident that our views are the better ones, the best thing to do is to promote the free exchange of ideas so that everyone can see this. We don’t NEED to resort to censorship, because we’re right.

Jun 022017
 

I recently found a new insight into SJW worldview that has caused me to radically update a few of my beliefs. This may take a wee bit of set-up, the impatient can probably skip to Part III.

I.

The Austin Alamo Drafthouse is holding an all-women showing of Wonder Woman on Tuesday (5 days after the movie is released). I love this idea! In large part because I grew up in the Xena fandom, which was dominated by women, and I know how important that sort of thing can be. Also, because Wonder Woman has long been a feminist icon. This is a genius idea on aesthetic, thematic, and cultural reasons. And finally, because I’m a strong support of freedom of association. If people want to have all-christian showings of Passion Of The Christ, or all-black showings of Get Out, or anything like that, they should be free to do so. Mad props all around.

Surprising no one who’s been on the internet for more than a week, sexist trolls made disparaging comments on the Alamo’s facebook page. Everyone shrugs and moves on, in the alternate universe were people are sane. In this universe, various Media Dragons turn it into a major event and tell the left how much we should hate these people. A bit of an overreaction, but whatever.

Aaaaaaand then a friend posts one of the particularly awful articles, that highlights a number of these comments and then attributes them to an entire class of human – in this case “men online.” Through a series of unfortunate events, I get sucked in.

II.

Articles that take instances of shitty individuals being shitty, spotlight them, and then spin the headline and article to strongly insinuate that everyone who shares a hated characteristic with the perpetrators are vile. This is a large driver of racism, religion-ism, sexism, hell… most group-prejudices. I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with an article like this one, that singles out “Sexist Trolls” in the headline. At least then it’s putting the blame directly on a group that is defined by their ACTIONS – making sexist, trolling comments. Those sorts of people really are awful. It’s like an article that speaks of “Murders” or “Arsonists” – those groups are identified by what they did. An article that identifies a group by a characteristics that has nothing to do with the action and is present in a large group who are mostly innocent, such as skin color or gender, is an evil article that promotes group-hatred.

Objections mostly took the characteristic of “The articles are only showing actual bad things that were done. Everything within them is accurate. These statements were made, and they were made by men. What is the problem?”

One can always find people who did bad things and share a characteristic, then publish a list of them, and imply that everyone with that characteristic is as bad as they are. That’s literally what all these prejudices – racism, sexism, religion-ism, sexual-orientation-ism – have in common. “Gay Men Are Pedophiles” “Blacks are Criminals” “Muslims Are Terrorists.” And with a large sample size and careful picking, it’s easy to do. Google found me this article that looks to be a direct parody of those “Men Are Going Crazy Over Wonder Woman” articles – Alamo Drafthouse is Doing a Women Only Screening of Wonder Woman and Chicks Are Very Mad – that does the same thing only for women. With nearly 2000 comments (last I checked) it’s easy to find 10 that make a group look bad. I bet one could, with a little extra work, easily write “Alamo Drafthosue is Doing a Woman Only Screening, and Muslims Are Very Mad” with the exact same wording as those other articles, but selecting only comments by Muslim commenters.

In fact, this is exactly what Donald Trump is doing to spur hatred of immigrants. He has ordered the weekly publication of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Everything in these reports is accurate. It is a list of real crimes, that were actually committed by illegal immigrants. Wherein is the problem?

The problem is the implication that the crimes were committed BECAUSE of the characteristic that is being highlighted. And thus outside parties can draw the inference that anyone who shares that characteristic is also likely to commit those crimes. It’s the difference between “Arsonist burns down church” and “Jew burns down church.”

III.

This did not sit easy with a number of people, several of whom are friends. I wanted to find out why.

In my mind, a principle is valid or it isn’t. Either the principle “A group X should not be tarred by the actions of individuals that share (non-causative) characteristic Y with that group” either is valid for all values of X and all values of Y. There is no special exception “unless that group is Jews” or “unless that characteristic is having a tattoo.” So when I gave the previous example and I was told I can never make that comparison, doing so was wrong, and I should apologize, I was confused. Why is it wrong in the case of Immigrants/Criminals, but not Men/Sexists-Commenters?

Hoping to start with common ground I asked – “Why is prejudice wrong?”

I expected an answer based on the injustice of judging a person due to outward characteristics or group membership, rather than due to their individual actions and the content of their character. Instead I was told:

“Because in many cases it hurts people by denying them the privileges experienced by others.”

IV.

This was an authoritative answer, based on years of schooling while securing a masters in Sociology.

Unpacking this in my mind took a long time.

First – everyone has some privilege. Undeniable. And between any two given individuals, it’s overwhelmingly likely that their levels of privileges across all domains aren’t identical. Given that, it’s plausible that we could label one person as more privileged than another.

Second – certain characteristics bring more privilege with them on an aggregate level. White people suffer less discrimination than black people, on the whole. The rich have an easier life than the poor, on the whole. Men have various advantages in many fields over women, on the whole. This is, again, undeniable.

But these privileges aren’t really “granted” or “denied” on a personal level. They are societal-scale issues. Attacking individual sexists on the internet is not going to change anything. It can’t. Perhaps you can change the actions of the men targeted, or onlookers who see the attack, but the vast edifice of privilege is unmoved.

So, Lesson One – my first mistake was thinking that sexism was something that an individual does. If that’s the case, it makes sense to separate those who show sexist behavior from those who do not. But sexism is a thing that a society does. In which case there’s no point in focusing on individual behavior, or differentiating between guilty individuals and innocent individuals.  It was never about individual action or how those actions hurt other people.

Also, Lesson Two – this is why it is important that entire groups are attacked. Privileges are assigned based on group membership. To make the world more just and less oppressive requires the remove or lessening of that group’s privilege. Therefore the actual intent of these attacks is exactly what my principles scream against – tarring a whole group. Even if that means highlighting the despicable actions of a few people and drawing attention to their membership in the target group.

Third – let’s focus on the “denying them the privileges” part. How is it that someone is denied privileges? It’s certainly not due to any individual’s actions, because it’s not about the individual. I cannot deny anyone a privilege. No single person can, privilege is inherent in society. That’s what it means to be a privilege! So someone isn’t “denied the privilege” of being male by anything a male does, they are denied it simply by being non-male. Therefore the more-privileged group deserves to be attacked purely due to the fact that it is privileged. It denies others privilege by virtue of its privilege existing at all.

And now the claim that tarring all men via selective reporting is incomparable to tarring all immigrants by selective reporting makes sense. Men have privilege. Immigrants don’t. Ergo, the two cases are not comparable, and trying to draw comparisons is abhorrent. The principle isn’t “Judge individuals fairly”, it’s “Judge groups by their privilege.”

V.

This does raise the question of “What Is To Be Done?” Just a few days ago I posted about the unfairness of not everyone having equal talent. It’s nobody’s fault. No one can be blamed for not having enough talent, and no one can claim that having lots of talent is due to some intrinsic deservingness. Some people just have it, and it’s damned unfair, but what can be done about it? All I can really do is feel sad and wish things were more fair. You can’t transfer talent from the more talented to the less talented. The most you could do is, like Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron, cripple the talented in proportion to their talent, so everyone is equally bad off.

Oohhhhhh….

Now suddenly the Oppression Olympics makes much more sense. The more Oppressed you are, the less you will require crippling. Obviously everyone will want to portray themselves as maximally oppressed, to avoid those hammer blows.

And privilege isn’t something you can control via your actions. Individual merit and effort don’t matter. Being personally anti-racist or anti-sexist doesn’t matter, if you still have privilege. Remember that prejudice is bad because it “denies people privileges.” Having privilege denies it to others, so if you have it you are morally culpable for its denial to oppressed groups. Of course you want to play up every possible morally good/oppressed group you can lay claim to, and play down any morally bad/oppressor groups you might be associated with. One is morally good or morally bad not due to their own actions, but due to accident of birth.

And so we have come full circle.

VI.

To clarify, my friend is a kind and wonderful person, and wouldn’t endorse the conclusions I’ve drawn from that statement. They simply bought deeply into the standard privilege narrative without really digging into its implications and real-world results, IMHO.

May 312017
 

Reality frustrates the hell out of my sometimes, because it’s so damned unfair.

Take, for example, Deftones. A legit fantastic band. Compare to Chevelle, who are totally acceptable in a pinch, and who–significant for this post–sound like they were influenced by Deftones.

I am not a music geek, so I don’t have the vocabulary or understanding to describe why Deftones is outstanding and Chevelle is mediocre, even though they have a very similar style. All I have is deep emotional draw that gives me the shivers when I hear Deftones, and a lack of that draw that makes me think “Man, these guys must’ve really liked Deftones and tried to make similar music” when I hear Chevelle.

I find that heartbreaking, in large part because my intuition says that Chevelle also doesn’t know what that key spark of difference is either… and that no one really does. I could love Deftones with all my heart, and learn how to play, and practice, and write music. And when someone heard it they’d say there’s something missing.

In a just world that thing would be drive/dedication. It would something like “the members of Deftones spent years upon years learning their craft, and experimenting. And they would spend months slavishly working on each song until it was perfect.” While a lesser band wouldn’t have as much dedication or passion, and would put songs out quickly without too much introspection or work.

And maybe that’s part of the truth. I’m sure it’s a factor. But I’ve been in my local writing community for a while, and it seems that isn’t quite all of it. Some people just seem to Get It. They have something that comes through, and it’s magical. Others, who work just as much, never quite do. They produce passable work, but nothing that crackles with genius. And from an outside point of view, there doesn’t seem to be anything that separates them except some elusive, unquantifiable thing that most people call Talent. Some people have a lot of it, others don’t, and no one knows why.

It’s damned unfair that someone would be good at a thing they love just because. They were lucky and were born with it, or had it instilled in childhood, or whatever. And someone else who loves that thing just as much simply isn’t good at it. For no damn reason.

I know this is “wailing that not everyone is equally tall” territory, but it hurts me that people can be shut out of a passion, a driving force in their life, just because Bad Luck. What kind of a fucked up world is that?

There’s no good compensation. You can’t transfer talent from one person to another until things are equal. You could tax the more gifted and give the money to the lesser-so, but that only gives them money. It doesn’t address the problem of exclusion from what gives their life meaning. Nor can we just give admiration to everyone equally, because that devalues the art we love, and makes love a lie. All anyone can do is say “I’m sorry, that sucks,” and feel sympathy. And continue listening to the good stuff.

The distribution of talent is inequitable, and there is nothing that any person can do to fix that. The best we can hope is that maybe as a social project we can improve everyone’s chances via stimulating childhood environments, loving parents, plenty of resources, and genetic screening/modification. To make people, as a whole, better. That’s a frustratingly un-actionable hope though. It doesn’t let me, or anyone individually, address the “not all people who love producing music are equally talented at doing so, and it’s not their fault, and that’s unfair” problem. :(