A Tale of Two Universes

When you go over to the “other side”, meaning Trump supporter central it’s eerie. I look at the conversations and it looks like a mirror image of the type of discussions I have. It isn’t full of anger or racist messages, but simply full of the same style of criticism, and sarcasm that one would see on my side. People are civil and casual as they discuss what they consider liberal/democratic points of view.  I am not saying that I agree with what they are saying just that it’s like looking in on another world that’s just like ours, but more like the universe in the classic Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror.

I find this alarming because it means we almost can’t be further apart if you watch the conversation happening on social media.  I hope that social media isn’t a good representation, but if it is, I do understand why many worry about the breakdown in conversation in our society. Even more concerning is the fact that it is very much like looking into a world that is built on fictions. Once the fictions are accepted as true, the rest appears rational and logical. In this way it’s very much like religion in which the unknown premise, that there is a God, is accepted as true a priori and the rest follows.

As much as I pride myself on my analytical skills, knowledge of the scientific method, and ability to think logically, when you see millions of people operating on a totally different set of assumptions it does make you question your sanity. Because it is possible that me and my friends are the ones living in the delusion. So, who has the better grip on reality? Are there elements of truth in both worlds and that we really need to look at a composite of those worlds? Who is qualified to be an arbiter of this? Is there anybody we can trust or believe to look at both sides objectively and determine what is real?

I base much of my morality on the simple idea of cooperation.  We are a social species; we bond with others through reciprocal altruism (i.e. the golden rule) and we survive better because we work together. Which side violates this more?  The problem is a bit of a numbers game. We can easily see how in an 8-person rowing team, one person acting in discord is noticeable. We can that person is certainly not coordinating efforts with others. In a tribe of a few hundred, discord will also stand out likely from a survival standpoint. However, we are millions of people.  We are in discord and this impacts how we function as a nation, but not as a species. A million racists can all work together to solve problems, grow food, and propagate the species just as well as a million people who oppose racism. And what about building bridges to the other side of the political aisle? Is there one side of the aisle who is better at doing that? Right now, I would argue that there isn’t. If kindness is what connects us to people, then we need a lot more kindness that what it seems like what is currently out there, from both sides of the political spectrum. Thus, at an evolutionary level we can determine truth, because the truth is both sides can survive. Perhaps one side is happier than the other, but survival doesn’t have to be happy.

In the end I must look at bigger concepts like empathy, compassion, and humility.  None of these things necessarily make one universe more real than another, but they matter if we are going to someday be a unified human race working to improve the well-being of all life on this planet. If the other universe is the real one, it is one that separates people into groups, it is based in non-existent fears, categorizing and stereotyping groups, and limiting their rights.  It seems to me that they are far too often making the mistake of believing their rights being limited when most of the time it’s just privileges being lost to those people who were previously oppressed and exploited.  If I’m wrong and my reality is illusory, I feel like I’ve at least tried to:

  • see women as equals
  • see race as a social construct
  • appreciate science and how the best tool we have for knowing works
  • try and be mindful of the words we use and the jokes we make because being considerate of feelings are important
  • that learning and growing is important
  • to have a society where we take care of each other better

These values seem good to me. I can’t shake it.  In my understanding of liberalism, that’s the philosophy I see shaping my political values. Conservatism, at least represented by society today does not demonstrate these values.  While I do think it’s important to be cautious and measured in moving forward the very idea that things are great the way they are and never change is ludicrous to me. Change is inevitable. As a species we continue to learn to try to ensure the safety and health of more and more of our people. We’ve fought and died for it. With time I do believe we’ve done a better job of giving more people a chance to flourish and having more people live that would have died a 100 years ago or more. Our story is one of change.

CONSERVATISM QUOTES [PAGE - 4] | A-Z QuotesPerhaps it is human nature for those who fear change to battle those who welcome it. I like to frame that struggle as the battle between comfort and risk.  Both have their merits and perhaps arguing about it is the only way to reach a compromise, to find a way to move us forward where everybody gets to come along.  It seems once again a numbers game. If we were our hunter-gatherer selves, we would all know each other and how many shades of difference in worldview could we have from one another. However, when you’re talking about billions of people the perspectives vary greatly. And even if some of those perspectives are based on fundamentally unsound principles, when it’s all you’ve known it’s hard to even know that the boundaries that shaped your life can be broken at all. But there is some element of truth in everybody’s story and we’ve really got to do a better job of preserving the essence of someone’s lived life that can instruct, that can be beautiful, and/or weep at the tragedy that unfolded on them.

In the end we live in a time of vast inequality with numbers of people living in abject poverty that we can’t even fathom.  But every time we get a glimpse into that well of inequality we all know that there are some on this planet who have more wealth than they can possible spend, while children literally die of starvation. I’ve heard from economists who pay attention to history that capitalism helped raise people out of poverty. I’m not going to dispute that. However, at the risk of sounding cynical, I worry that even though less people (as a percentage of global population) live in abject poverty than in the past, our drive to give people the barest of wealth to get by is not because capitalism cares about people, but because capitalism realized that more people means more labor and more consumers. Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men ...Capitalism was never an ethical system, it is an engine to generate wealth and nothing more. We better come up with answer to what all this wealth is for, because capitalism is moving on without human labor. Automation is coming. More wealth will be generated by corporations and the need for labor decreases. Eventually the system has to collapse in on itself because if people have nothing to do they will not have any money to buy things. The narcissism of greed is our real enemy.  I think there are people on both sides of the aisle who feel they don’t have value and what they do has no value. The people with the money want you to believe that some other group is to blame. Some group who’s just trying to live their life and hope that things stay secure enough so they can raise a family and have a little fun along the way.

I’m trying to be my optimistic self during these times, but it’s a great challenge.  I don’t know the answer to how we can come together, but I do know if we don’t start being a lot kinder to each other it’s never going to happen.

Why Star Wars is Good

So why have we invested so much time and money into this movie series over the years? We can understand why kids love it and our nostalgia for it when we’re older. But let’s get down to the bare bones of it.  There are really only three reasons why we watch these movies.

Revenge Of The Sith Fighting GIF by Cheezburger - Find & Share on ...The first reason is light sabers.  Light sabers are the coolest things ever. The light saber toys they have now are so far superior to what they used to be that it’s hard to not be a little jealous, but even those toys aren’t where I’d like them to be. Look, I don’t know how light which radiates away from a source forever and ever could be contained like that to only extend several feet, but this technology has to be figured out.  I also don’t think it’s slicing through things that people like about light sabers. It is the humming sound they make whether in motion or not.  The way they sound when they clash together.  The fight choreography also improved vastly in the later movies. I am not certain if doing a big spin move is what you should be doing when someone else has a weapon aimed at you, but it all looked pretty awesome.  I could watch light saber fights all day. I mean I think most people agree that Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie of the franchise.  I think it was. But I haven’t watched it again.  Why? Not enough light sabers.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi - Speeder Bike Chase - HD ...This brings us to our next reason which is chase scenes. Lots of chase scenes in these movies.  Whether by ship, by pods, by speeder, or by foot there a lot of chase scenes often at speeds that defy human reflexes but are a lot of fun.  We all like chase scenes.

Starwars Porkins GIF - Starwars Porkins Jek - Discover & Share GIFs
By the way does anybody feel really bad that this guy was named Porkins? Fat shaming in a galaxy far far away.

The main reason why Star Wars appeals to people, I believe, is because it is full of underdog situations.  Almost every scene that isn’t a light saber battle is full of scenes in which the enemy vastly outnumbers the good guys.  There is no scrape they are trying to get out in which the odds aren’t against them by and often by fairly substantial margins. Humans love to see good guys beating the odds.  Hell, that’s even one of the more famous Han Solo lines when C3P0 is telling Han the odds and he says “Never tell me the odds!” This is sound advice throughout the 9 movies, where the odds would end up depressing people fairly substantially.  Whether it’s 1000s of droids, legions of star destroyers, inexhaustible armies of storm troopers, or apparently untold amounts of Sith disciples spending a lot of time in the dark on Exegon, the odds are never in the favor of the good guys.  But time and time again, the “let’s not hurt people” crowd comes out on top. Almost to the point of being kind of unrealistic.  Nevertheless we love these situations.

Top 30 Deathstar GIFs | Find the best GIF on Gfycat

But there are reasons that we should appreciate Star Wars even more for.  While I liked that they brought in more human races into the last movies, I’m not sure it was entirely necessary.  They had aliens and droids aplenty in the movies on both the good guys and bad guys side and race or language didn’t seem to play any sort of role. Whether a band in a bar, as co-pilot, as admiral (we love you Akbar and I can’t believe they killed you so unceremoniously!!), a helpful group of muppets, or an annoying sidekick, the fact that people look differently seems to be of no matter. All that matters is if they are good or bad.  And I think that was pretty awesome.

Admiral Ackbar GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

The most important reason why we should love the movies is for what I think is some pretty positive feminism.  First you got Queen Amidala.  She’s smart, strong, and has genuine compassion and care for her people.  Though she lived a short life, her last task was to make sure that her children were hidden and protected from their father.  There are many strong women in the franchise, Jyn Erso, Rose Tico, Vice Admiral Hodo, and even Anakin’s mother seems like a very strong woman. And we can’t forget Rey, who I really enjoyed taking the lead in final 3 movies. What’s great is that they aren’t just there for love interests for male characters. They just kick ass.

Game Statistics - Star Wars Girls and Female Characters
Not sure why 2 droids are pictured here, but for now we’ll just assume they self-identified as female.

But there is one woman, who I’ve saved until last. She deserves her own paragraph. As great as Amidala was, she is nothing compared to her daughter. Princess ”fucking” Leia.  This woman is out there leading the rebels while in her early 20s while Obi Wan and Yoda are still in hiding. She is already infamous enough at that point to have got the Empire’s attention…and they have a whole galaxy to pay attention to. She gets captured by Vader herself and put in jail. She doesn’t take any shit from womanizer Han Solo, and basically forces him to become a better man if he wants any piece of her. She’s good with a blaster and becomes even stronger in the force than Luke. Now one could argue that compared to Luke she grew up with much more privilege and education.  That may be a factor, but they take that away pretty quickly by blowing up the entire fucking planet she grew up on, included her parents. She just shakes it off and keeps fighting. And where is she at the beginning of Return of the Jedi?  She’s a sex slave mole in the service of Jabba the Hut. Getting out of her conservative attire to suddenly wear a bikini and have a chain around her neck.  She suffers grave humiliation for the cause. At this point you might be thinking, “oh this is just another movie degrading women”, but she ain’t no floosy. A whole bunch of fans might have found it sexy as hell, but she didn’t do it for cat calls, she did it to save someone she cares about and someone who is a leader to the rebel cause. It doesn’t take long before she’s got that chain around Jabba’s neck and is choking the life out of that fat, disgusting, keeping women in chains motherfucker. This is no delicate flower. She’s a leader, a fighter, a mother, and an inspiration to the entire rebel movement. Carrie Fisher really is the marvel of the Star Wars franchise in my opinion, and arguably the star of it over Mark Hamill.

If you can’t find any good reasons from all this to watch the movies, but want to feel knowledgeable about the movies, I’ll give you a quick rundown so you can still be part of Star Wars conversations:

Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Two overconfident Jedi pick up an annoying CGI physical comedy expert and then get stranded on Tatooine where they believe too strongly in destiny and end up bringing back a child who will eventually cause great death and destruction to many by insisting he be trained to use his off the charts skills. Dance party and award ceremony complete the movie.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Here we see why Yoda is a Jedi Master and get an explanation for why there is an endless supply of Storm Troopers. (Hint: unethical cloning). Amidala starts falling for Anakin now that his voice has deepened.  Dialogue and acting are extra terrible in this movie.

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Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – We are never told what the revenge is for here. To my knowledge the Jedi never tried to hunt down every last Sith and kill children in Sith kindergartens.  Anyway Amidala misses her period and Anakin falls to the dark side. Gets his ass kicked by Obi Wan, but is saved by the Emperor sans arms and legs, and is made it to a mechanical juggernaut and transforming his voice into James Earl Jones.

Episode IV: A New Hope – The new hope is a whiny brat who complains about never having anything to do, and ends up going on a space adventure. In the end he rejects the technology that got him there to use the force to blow up a rather poorly designed planet destroying station. Award ceremony at the end.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Definitely the best of the 9 movies. The rebels are forced to abandon Antarctica. The first black guy is introduced to the films. Luke experiences the tutelage of a grammar impaired Jedi master on a swamp planet. At the end of the movie he gets a robot hand and develops daddy issues.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – It should be noted that Jedi is very singular here, despite the fact that Jedi can also mean multiple Jedi. It should have been called Return of A Jedi. Despite all the Imperial technology, they still get outwitted by a band of fuzzy muppets with rocks and sticks, and the better designed death star is still compromised by ineptitude. Luke believes in the good of his father and as he’s writing in electric shock therapy, dad throws the emperor down a long long way which leads to his demise. Dance party and celebratory ceremonies ensue.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - Ending - HD 1080p on ...

Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Mysterious girl is mysteriously connected to brooding son of Han and Leia.  Some Sith dude called Snokes comes from nowhere. Rebels are still in the same position they were at the end of Return of the Jedi. Everything from Episode IV pretty much happens again. Kylo Ren kills his dad just for believing in him and wanting him to be a better person. Award ceremony of course.

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – Kylo Ren defeats Snokes to become the new head bad guy. Connection between Kylo and Rey grows. The out of nowhere Jedi power of astral projection saves the Rebels from being completely destroyed as there numbers unnecessarily dwindle from 200 to about 50.

Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker – Skywalker doesn’t really rise up here. Perhaps spiritually since they all die. We all had every reason to believe the Emperor was dead, but apparently they couldn’t think of a real new bad guy and the Emperor is still alive and has to be defeated once and for all. This also makes the celebrations in Return of the Jedi less meaningful. 😦 He has become even more decrepit and evil. Of course his penchant for trying to corrupt Skywalkers ends up being his downfall. The movie does have a dance party, but award ceremonies were not included in this one. I imagine they would have been impressive.

Star Wars Rise Of Skywalker GIF - StarWars RiseOfSkywalker ...

Look, these aren’t great movies.  But they have their moments and there are very real reasons to get attached to them. You can still have fondness and feel a nostalgia for it while watching and enjoy them even while knowing they also kind of suck. May the midichlorians be with you!

Where is the Liberal Support for Feminism in Islam?

I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago where Sam Harris was interviewing Yasmine Mohammed.  It was a wonderful interview and even emotional.  For those of you who don’t know Yasmine she is an ex-Muslim who immigrated to Canada as a child, and ended up being raised by a very strict Islamist (who incidentally had multiple wives) and was forced to marry a guy who turned out to be a Muslim extremist.  She experienced a lot of abuse from her biological father, adoptive father, and her husband.  Her husband was actually part of ISIS and now supposedly resides in a prison in Egypt although she has been unable to confirm it.  The long and the short of it is, that she has had the full experience of what many women go through in Islamic society as second class citizens.  I would argue that citizens are humans and I am not sure that many women qualify even as human in traditional Islamic communities.  What they go through is absolutely dehumanizing.

But I am not here to talk about the problems with Islam.  What I found really interesting about the interview was the discussion about how in the west, the left rarely criticizes Islam for how it treats women.  We can criticize Christianity’s patriarchal values, have TV shows like Handmaid’s Tale which show just how oppressive Christianity can be, but the rules are different for Islam and how they treat women.  Yasmine finds it despicable that they even try to use the hijab as some sort of symbol of female empowerment in Islam, when that is really not what it is at all.  She says that Muslim women are “othered” in western society, like they are not equally human as white women, that they don’t want the same freedoms that white women have.  And I have to say, that I agree.  I think any practices, whether they be in the context of a religion, culture, or society at large that demean and/or oppress women should be open to criticism.  And women in the west, who enjoy a great deal more freedom than many Muslim women, should be joining Yasmine’s fight again a very patriarchal religion.

However…

So I wanted to support Yasmine and followed her on Twitter where she is fairly active. In many ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense why feminism in the west would be on opposite sides of this battle.  And if I consider myself a feminist, then Yasmine is absolutely correct, she’s just human and humanist values should apply to her.  I see feminism as fitting into the larger umbrella of humanism.  But when I started making comments in support and in defense of her points I noticed something quite interesting.  When I would look at the profiles of many of the people who liked my comments, I was surprised to find that many of them were Trump supporters, conservative white males who consider themselves libertarians, and a lot of people who I would consider to be politically alt-right.  It made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me wonder, what type of person am I supporting here if all these people who I would disagree with on almost about everything else are seeming to be on the same side as me?  So while it doesn’t change my stance that we should be just as critical of patriarchal ideas embedded in any religion, I started to see what the left might be rejecting here.  If supporting an ex-Muslim fighting religious patriarchal values is putting you on the same side as conservative, alt-right racist types, what is the answer to effectively supporting people like Yasmine?

So then the question for me became, okay so what is going on?

  • Is it simply that these people aren’t as racist as they are Christian xenophobes who fear other religions, races, and cultures invading their space? Is it basically just the enemy of the enemy is our friend?
  • Did, as Sam Harris has argued, that the space the left has vacated has simply allowed the right to elevate people like Yasmin in status and use her to spread their more hateful message? We see this phenomena not only in the case of religion here.  But we see women who support men’s issues get support from misogynist members of MRA or incels. Even Sam Harris, who I would argue is at heart liberal, often gets his words used by alt-right people when they want to reinforce Muslim stereotypes.
  • Many white liberal women are of the liberal Christian kind.  They want religious Muslim women to be seen as strong as empowered because they then don’t have to acknowledge the oppressive practices in their own faith?  Would this mean that it’s Yasmine’s atheism that many liberal women are reacting to?
  • Do we have more in common with people who are alt-right than we think?

I don’t really think the last one is true, but I think it’s important to consider the question.  Where do we go from here?  Now I’m not sure whether Yasmine is politically conservative or not.  Certainly I think it’s possible to want equality for women while still supporting fiscally conservative issues, but I would say certainly Yasmine is socially liberal based on what she has said.  Perhaps if more people on the left spoke up in support of Yasmine, all those alt-right followers would flee from her side, not wanting to be allied with us because they would have the same uncomfortable feeling I had!

While I sympathize deeply with what Yasmine Mohammed went through, I do think it’s also a reality in the west that minority races and religion can experience a lot of prejudice and racism, and so in some ways I understand perhaps not wanting to critique a religion that is largely followed by darker skinned people so as to not feed stereotypes that can be used by people that would oppress them.  I also think that if we are concerned with things like freedom of speech, gender equality, LGBQT rights, we have to be constantly fighting against bad ideas, and Islam, just like Christianity has a bunch of bad ones.  Islam is a huge religion and I can only imagine that the amount of women and girls is in the 100s of millions who need liberal voices fighting for their rights in the same way we fight against Christian patriarchal values.  I believe it is possible to fight against both prejudice against Muslims, and also still criticize the oppressive practices that Islam advocates and are practiced daily around the world.

The Unwise and the Immoral

The title of this post is related to another incident of victim blaming that was in the news not too long ago.  The incident involved model Bella Thorne having her computer hacked and the hacker making off with a number of private nude photos.  Bella Thorne, to sort of give a big “fuck you” to the hacker, released the photos herself on Twitter.  On The View, Whoopi Goldberg criticized Thorne saying essentially that one has to know in this day and age that storing such photos on a device connected to the internet (and you are a famous beautiful celebrity) is setting yourself up for this type of theft.  Goldberg then received a ton of backlash including some strong words from Thorne herself for being criticized when it was of course the hacker who was the person who did something wrong and that Goldberg “should know better”.  I suspect Goldberg does know better.  There is nothing about her that makes me think she isn’t a good feminist.  She has always had a no nonsense, blunt style and her comment here I don’t think is meant to give the hacker a pass.  I’ll go so far as to say that I think she makes a good point.  A point we should be able to talk about if framed correctly.  Before I get accused of victim blaming, let me go into more detail about what I mean.

Hacking is a reality of this day and age, and Thorne isn’t the first victim of this type of attack.  This has to be part of our consciousness.  There are laws against hacking, which is invading someone’s privacy and stealing personal property, and their should be.  It is theft and violation, plain and simple.  We can say that the hacker is immoral in his actions.  I think we can say that we all wish we lived in a world in which there were no hackers, and in which a woman’s body wasn’t a commodity that someone could profit on, such that this hacker could ostensibly get leverage over Thorne or other victims of this crime.  As a society we must continue to strive to fix this bigger problem.  Since we don’t live in that kind of society yet, we must also act wisely.  To do so requires us to be able to have conversations about wise and unwise actions to keep people and property from harm.  I am sort of reminded of that old joke where a guy meets a doctor at a social gathering and tries to get some free medical advice and says “Hey doc, my arm hurts whenever I do this. (Imagine whatever arm motion you like).  What should I do?”  And the doctor responds “Don’t move your arm like that.”  Clearly there is a bigger issue to solve Image result for moving arm gifwith that person’s arm, but in the short term, not doing a motion that causes you pain might be wise.  We should be able to simultaneously talk about short term solutions to protect ourselves, while also addressing bigger issues that increase equality and safety for all people rendering this short term acts of caution more irrelevant over time.

If there is a neighborhood where you have an increased chance of being mugged or harmed, all sorts of people will tell you to avoid walking through that neighborhood.  It is not meant to say that they condone violence or theft upon you or anybody else, it is simply meant as advice to keep you out of harms way.  We don’t get all bent out of shape by such advice, but the conversation goes south when women are blamed for their decisions in these types of incidents, or worse crimes like sexual violence.  And I think for good reason.  There have been some criticisms of social media for the fighting that erupted between two women who are likely on the same side of the fight against the patriarchy, but I’m actually not too upset about social media here, because maybe this is a conversation that needs to be had more often.

We have an older and wiser Goldberg, criticizing the wisdom of a younger Thorne.  Perhaps Goldberg feels like she was helping young girls everywhere be wary of putting compromising pictures of themselves in less than secure places based on what can happen to them.  Goldberg’s mistake however was that she also lacked some wisdom here.  As much as I’d like to live in a society where we could have honest conversations about what is a wise or unwise decision when crimes happen, when it comes to crimes against women there is just a long history of the “unwise” decision of a woman being used as an excuse for a man’s immorality and criminal behavior.  If a person is beaten and robbed in that unsafe neighborhood, the police will still arrest and charge the perpetrators, but too many men have gotten off Scot free because of what was deemed a woman’s unwise decision.  Furthermore the basis of what was considered unwise for a woman, does not apply to a man.  In fact very often their unwise decisions are used to further excuse them from wrongdoing.  A woman drinks too much at a party?  Well then of course she kind of Image result for victim blamingdeserves to be raped.  A guy drinks too much at a party? Well clearly he didn’t really mean to rape her, he just had too many beers and didn’t know what he was doing.  Let’s just sentence him to talk about the dangers of drinking.  It’s a huge problem and women have a right to absolutely tired of it.  Goldberg could have said what she said in a much better way that made it clear who the bad actor was in this situation.

Let me also add that the best people in our society are ones who could take advantage but don’t and instead help people be more safe.  Thorne was already punished and probably knows by now what she should have done and doesn’t need Goldberg’s advice after the fact.  So the timing of the comment is also unhelpful.  Like Fareed Zakaria’s advice to Sam Harris after another rant about Islam being the mother lode of bad ideas “Yeah, you’re right, but you’re not helping.”  Being right, and being helpful are often two different things.

What the World Might Be Like

I was watching Monty Python on Saturday and as always I am just captured by their brilliance.  But a thought occurred to me and it showed me how much I have changed from the 16 year old Monty Python addict I used to be.  I watched these 6 comedy geniuses and wondered do I only know them because at the time they made the show, it wasn’t possible for 6 female comedy geniuses to share the airwaves.

When I look at the figures in history who have amazed and inspired me.  All of them are men.  Then I thought about all the many scientists who have changed the world, the famous artists and musicians who we still herald as the greats of all time, the great and wise leaders, philosophers…99.99% of them are men.

I guess I don’t doubt that many of these historical greats would still rise to the top, but what would history look like if, through millennia women were allowed to compete too?  How much more textured would our world be when the other half of the population were actually allowed to participate?  So many opportunities for competition and collaboration lost.  Right now our world is shaped by men, and I think that a history in which women had an equal say in it’s direction would have been a better one.  I hope humanity does make it another 10,000 years at least so at some point someone can look back as I am doing now and see a much more pluralistic history.  One that has been truly shaped by all that humanity has to offer.

Cloister the Men!

I was pondering the other day about biological differences between men and women.  While I am certain there are average differences in many categories, as I explained previously, a difference in mean does not imply that we can make any a priori assumptions about the individual nature of any woman or man we might meet.

But it is often been a common argument from men who aren’t interested in gender equality to say that a patriarchy is simply because of the difference in the nature of men and women.  The world is as it should be at the women must accept their place and not interfere with the nature of things.  In thinking about history and the state of the world today, I thought, if this were in fact true, the conclusion one must arrive at if we are to at least acknowledge the humanity of women is that men are a serious threat to safety and well-being.

From a purely statistical view point, the damage done by men in this world is astounding.  Let’s look at political leadership. In 2017 only 8 women held the highest political office in their country.  This is a drop from the highest number which was 17.  That’s less than 10%, at our best, of all the countries in the world.  Only 22.8% of elected offices are held by women.  This is up from 11.3% in 1995.  The picture gets bleaker the further back you go.  Through war and bloodshed, throughout human history there is one commonality among these stories.  Men.  Male leaders, male generals, male soldiers.  Now I am not saying you won’t find some women scattered in there, but the percentage is overwhelmingly low.

The picture doesn’t get much better when you look at religions.  Most deities are men, most males play prominent roles in religious stories, and women are usually the troublemakers, tempting men to their end and punishing us all in kind.  Clergy are largely men from Brahmans to Pastors. And yes things have got a bit better, but research shows that currently in the U.S. only 10% of congregations are led by a female.  And again it gets worse if you go back into the past.  So if you’re looking at a history of religious persecution and oppression, the cloistering of education and literacy which typically only happened at religious institutions where women weren’t allowed, the common denominator is once again men.

Let’s now go down in scale, away from the level of nations and large institutions.  About 90% of murders are committed by men.  Like all those stories about mass shooters?  You know what they have in common?  It isn’t jihad or domestic terrorism…it’s…you guessed it.  Men.  About 75 percent of all legal felonies are committed by men and 96% of domestic violence convictions are of men.  Before you say that there are men being physically abused too by spouses and aren’t being believed, let’s just call it a wash with other women who are being physically abused in similar situations and can’t report because they are too afraid, are not being believed, or lived in a culture that supports men’s right to beat their wives.  When it comes to rape, 1 and 6 women report being a victim of rape.  Compare that to about 1 in 33 of men report being a victim of rape.  And at least half of those rape victims are being raped by other men.

And it doesn’t get any better for child molestation.   Ninety-six percent of the child molestation incidences reported to police were perpetrated by males.

Now if any MRA members are reading all this, I’m sure you are getting ready to weaponize yourself with facts on the under-reporting of the bad women out there.  Again, I don’t doubt that there are, but any claim that the proportions are anywhere close to equal, you are simply going to lose that battle.  Once again, the proportion of under-reporting for violence committed against females is still very high.  From a percentage standpoint, you aren’t going to gain much ground.

Based on history and present day, it would seem the best thing to do, for the protection of all people is to cloister men.  Keep them at home, doing house chores to occupy their time.  Their obsession with power mixed with apparently too much free time seems to have terribly violent ends.  Perhaps spending more time with children will help them understand why all the excessive killing is harmful.  I have no doubt there are some good men out there and this seems really unfair to them but I think when you really look at the violence that has been perpetrated by men to women and even other men, leaving the house is something you should probably ask permission for from a female. And you should probably only be out with a female so they can keep an eye on you to make sure you don’t pull out any weapons, or try to rape somebody.  I’d say you’d need a female boss or foreman at work, but the jobs men should get are very limited owing that having too many men in public seems to be extremely dangerous.  When out, men should stay in well lit areas, and perhaps some sort of secure undergarment so you don’t whip it out casually in hopes that a random woman on the street will want to see it.  Curfews and modesty are the key I think.  If it’s true that we recognize women as humans this seems like sensible policy.  I suspect that the long history of dehumanizing women is the reason why this hasn’t happened.

Is it true that given equal education a woman could have just as easily come up with the First Law of Thermodynamics or the Universal Law of Gravitation?  This seems likely, but I’m not sure that our world of violence isn’t largely the cause of men.  You may say this isn’t true, and you may be right, but I for one am happy to give women the reins (and reigns) for awhile and give them a chance to see if they can do it as badly as men.  Only then can we have an honest conversation about the true nature of men and women and who is fit for power, rather than just who has power.

“Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Discussion: Re-framing Rape

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness month, I wanted to shareA friend of mine sent me a link to a very interesting talk by Susan Brison.  She is a Philosophy Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Dartmouth College.  I encourage to watch the talk for the full breadth of her argument (and also to hear her excellent singing voice) but if you are short on time I will summarize her main points.

Her principle argument is that rape, while important in a legal sense, is perhaps an unhelpful way of addressing the problem in general.  Dr. Brison suggests that rape be re-framed as gender-based violence.  She argues that outside of the prison system, rape is a crime that is almost entirely committed by men.  She makes an excellent analogy to racism at one point.  Which is a word that we talk about bigotry against people of certain races at a societal level.  She argues that we have no similar word for sexual violence perpetrated by men, even though it is just as prevalent (if not more prevalent) than racism.

In relation to this she also talks about how we define rape, which is “sex without consent” and that this is a harmful definition. While again she admits the value of consent especially from a legal point of view, she also argues that this might not be the best way of addressing rape as a gender-based societal problem.  She makes a number of compelling arguments, but there were 3 that really caught me:

1.  We don’t view consent as relevant when it comes to murder.
2. Having sex in the definition of rape individualizes the act and implies a connection.  And the act of rape isn’t just an individual harm, but instills fears among women or males that might be victims of rape.
3. In surveys of middle school and high school women, they sometimes report that they will consent to sex because they are afraid of being raped.

For me, the last point really muddied the waters of consent for me.

I can’t do her entire argument justice here, but I will transcribe a bit of what she said which I think is really important:

“If we lived in a world without pervasive sexism, where women and men were genuinely held to be of equal worth a victim would be able to perceive a gender-based crime against her as an anomaly…something truly random.  But in the actual world, in which because of pervasive sexism, victims of gender-based violence are often viewed as lacking credibility and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, a sex crime, for a victim can be a brutal confirmation of an already unjust status quo.” 
-Susan Brison

Thoughts?

Men Not Being Believed? Blame the Patriarchy, Not Women.

A friend of mine linked me an article that she said pissed her off, and when I responded she asked me to turn the response into a blog post because she said I articulated her thoughts better than she could.  I have elaborated on my response a bit here for more clarity.  The article in question is here.  Reading at least a portion of it will put my response in context, but I suspect many of you have read posts by the men’s rights and so my response might just make sense on those grounds.  For the record, I think the article has some valuable points that are worthy of further discussion.

My response:
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As is often the case with these types of arguments some valid points are mixed in with just some unnecessary vilification which makes me less apt to take it seriously. I would agree that if we are going to tear down men for their inappropriate sexual behavior then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have those same standards apply to women, and in the article he discusses an incident involving Mariah Carey.  I do think there is a case to be made about men not being believed when they are victims of domestic violence or harassment. However when this argument is framed in devaluing the experience of what women have gone through I think this is where this person and others like him begin to lose my sympathy.

I think one can see part of the reason why the person feels the way they do because they sort of give the game away with rejecting the idea of systemic oppression. The model isn’t flawed it’s just more far reaching than he is able to recognize. First, his analogy about terrorism is a poor one, because he’s the reason why we don’t take Muslim deaths at the hands of Christians seriously is because of systemic anti-Muslim prejudice, not because terrorism isn’t systemic oppression. In a way his analogy actually contradicts his argument about systemic oppression of women. More importantly what all such people like this lose sight of is that the systemic oppression of women does oppress men as well. And a lot of feminists get that. For instance, if we value some hyper-masculine version of man the result of this is that it defines both women AND men in a certain way.  In a binary view of gender, whatever a man is, a woman therefore is not.  Any deviations outside of those category definitions results in criticism and a loss of freedom for both genders.  Both genders suffer.  The man holds the power to be sure in some respects and this is his advantage, but his humanity is diminished. Want to be emotional? You can’t. Want to think football is stupid? You can’t. Hate cars? Too bad. Want to become a florist? You’re being a pussy. So men do suffer in at least some ways (maybe not as many ways) from the systemic oppression against women.

I would also suggest that most of the “disbelieving” of men comes not from unsympathetic women (and sure there are likely some) but more likely from other men who maintain this hyper-masculine view of society.  I mean let’s ask why you might not be believed as a victim of sexual harassment or domestic abuse.  The arguments might go something like this:

“I mean you’re a man, you’re supposed to be tough.  Just hit that woman back, show her whose boss.  And if you did get hit, well you’re a man, you’re just supposed to suck it up.” 

“Did you get sexually harassed?  You’re a man you’re supposed to like women touching you, anywhere and at anytime.  It’s sexy when women want you.  You must be gay if you don’t like women coming on to you.  I mean every man wants to be as irresistible to women as you are.”

Such attitudes are the result of systemic oppression of women in which hyper-masculinity is valued and femininity is not valued.  The quote on the cover photo here is about a male victim from another male, but one could easily see how such a dismissive attitude would even be enhanced if the perpetrator was a woman. Complaining about sexual harassment, being the victim of violence inflicted by a woman, these are all considered feminine qualities and are devalued in a patriarchy.  Thus you are treated just like a woman.  Disbelieved at best, and at worst ridiculed for being essentially a traitor to your gender.  The attitude can even be bore by women, because we are all born into a society that normalizes the patriarchal structure.

As I’ve always argued, being feminist has advantages to both men and women.  The sooner we tear down the patriarchy, we improve the condition for all genders and sexual orientation.
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Braving the Storm

For centuries your hurricane raged,
I’ve studied,
I’ve seen,
I’ve felt,
So much damage wrought,
I’ve watched your lightning split them asunder,
Your winds bent us to the ground,
Some just snapped,
Or were torn up by the roots,
And your waters swept them out to sea,
Their suffering erased from history,
A monster disguised as nature,
Fooling even the most benevolent,
Who were wise enough to be part of the storm,
Instead of under it.

We who did not break,
We who had a moment to breathe,
We gathered up our energy,
And we began to turn,
A counter-swirl to their spin,
Our storm grew,
We needed to show them,
That we could be as mean and nasty,
Since they refused to subside,
So we matched their maelstrom,
Roaring in a different hemisphere,
They called our storm the enemy,
A crime against nature,
But the more their vortex spat at us,
The more weary they became

And still our hurricane answers the call,
The only way we know how,
Chasing each other around the globe,
But vigilante justice still looks like devastation,
Too angry to be beautiful,
Too easy to draw in survivors,
Fueling the anger,
How can we be peaceful?
But before judgment is passed,
Remember who they destroyed,
For we only scoured the earth,
From the rubble and the ruin,
Of foundations callously laid,
Now you can rebuild civilization,
And humanity can be strong and beautiful

The Wrong Standards – Arguments against the relevancy of biological differences between men and women as having meaning in society

In my last post I talked about a hoax perpetuated by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, which I argued was not only a bad hoax that didn’t prove what it set out to prove, but seems to be indicative of misogyny in higher academic circles as well.  I’d like to use this as a launching point into two future posts.  This one I am going to address James Lindsay’s claim that gender studies ignores biological differences completely and whether or not this is even important, and then I thought it would be interesting to look in more detail at the gender imbalance that does exist at the higher echelons of intelligence,  and academics.

So let’s begin our investigation into biological differences between men and women with the assumption that such differences exist.  There are clearly some genetic differences and if it’s a collection of genes that go into our various behavioral qualities it’s plausible that there are differences.  But let’s go a step further and say some of the stereotypical ones are true.  An employee at Google reminded us of several of them.  So let’s say men or more aggressive/assertive, more competitive, they are about things, and have a high drive for status, and let’s say, and I hate to even pretend this is the case, that men handle stress better and are less neurotic.  Anybody who’s seen the typical working mother knows that it’s probably more likely that men just don’t have as much stress, but for now let’s assume this is the case.  So conversely this assumes that women are more agreeable, cooperative, don’t have a high drive for status and prefer to have a more balanced lifestyle, are more about people over things (this sort of translates also to the stereotype of women being better nurturers than men), and don’t handle stress as well.

The first thing that matters of course is how different are these things.  In a previous post I talked about some basics about statistics and that any trait is distributed about some mean value.  If the difference between men and women in some trait like aggression is small, there is a lot of overlap.  Meaning there are many women who are as aggressive as men and increased probability that some women will be more aggressive than some men. The main difference is that you will only find men in the hyper-aggressive end of the distribution, and only find women at the far opposite end of the aggression distribution (super timid?).  Whatever metric you might use to measure aggression the closer the averages between men and women the less presumptive you could be about any particular gender having that trait.  It’s arguable though that even if there is more separation if you were interviewing applicants for a job this would not be something you could simply assume and use as a basis for making your decision.  That is still discrimination.  Even if the odds are in your favor there is still a chance you could be unfairly punishing somebody solely based on their gender instead of their individual qualities.

But let’s say the differences were significant enough to have some meaning.  Are any of the traits that women are supposed to have bad for any reason?  Our friend at Google actually doesn’t consider them bad, but simply wants to say that maybe there is just some natural reason for why there aren’t more women in tech and hey who are we to fight nature?

Imagine a society that was built valuing the traits that are so “obviously” female.  What would that world look like?  Could we say it was worse?  Let’s say you were a man going in for a job interview at a corporation.  In this world where the feminine traits were valued, where they are the ones that society was built around you might hear things like this at your interview:

EMPLOYER:  Now you list here on your application that one of your strengths is competitiveness.  How do you think you would fit into the cooperative philosophy we have here at our company?

EMPLOYER:  I’m a bit worried that your aggressiveness might be a problem in a leadership role.  We’re looking for someone who is more thoughtful before making decisions and listens more carefully to ideas that come from their team over making decisions unilaterally.

EMPLOYER:  As a man we know you are more about things, but things are used by people, and so really what we are looking for is a more people focused person.

EMPLOYER:  We think it’s great that as a man you can handle stress really well, but our company has gone to great lengths to creating a stress free environment so that’s not a quality we are looking for.

EMPLOYER:  As you know children are the future and the key to a child’s development is having a parent home in those early times especially.  Given that men aren’t interested in a more balanced lifestyle you’ll simply be expected to take on more responsibilities as your female colleagues go on leave without compensation for those extra duties.  And given that we are playing an important role in our children’s welfare, those extra duties you take aren’t considered as additional experience when being considered for promotion.

A female friend of mine were talking and she just said to me, “I am not exactly sure what life should look like, but if I were to build it all back up from scratch, it wouldn’t look like this.”  I think another thing we have to consider when we are analyzing studies that purport differences between males and females is how much of our society is structured with maleness as the standard.  If women and men have different traits as a result of their biology then much of what we see in society will naturally show women as being disadvantaged as compared to men in a society that is built on traits they on average excel at.  There is nothing inherently better about favoring competitiveness over cooperativeness, there is nothing inherently better about favoring things over people.   Why should assertiveness be more rewarded over being agreeable?  These are all examples of a male standard that women are being forced to meet for no reason other than this is a man’s world.  Even the way we do education could be argued as being structured with male education in mind, given for a long time educating women wasn’t a priority as they weren’t expected to utilize that knowledge in a career.  So if men and women learn differently, maybe we are forcing them to conform to a different style of learning.  Now, I’m not saying that biologic differences don’t exist, but it seriously casts some doubt on any study that is trying to disentangle biological differences between men and women in a world that still uses maleness as the gold standard that everyone must meet.

Finally the onus is on those who purport biological differences in traits between male and female to demonstrate that they are significant and useful in any way.  There a lot of reasons to doubt that this is the case.  In a series of meta-studies and research findings by psychologists by Janet Shibley Hyde, Elizabeth Spelke, and Diane Helpern indicate little to no difference between cognitive abilities in language and mathematics among men and women.  Their results are summarized here.  From this same summary, Spencer (1999) found:

“… that merely telling women that a math test had previously shown gender differences hurt their performance. The researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equal to men.”

In another study by Gneezy et. al (2009) differences in competitiveness between women and men is challenged.  Participants from villages that are matriachal (Khasi) and patriarchal (Maasi) in India were asked to take part in a game of throwing tennis balls into a basket:

“They were given a choice of a simple payment for the task—about 40 US cents—or they could earn three times as much if they beat they the other player. Among the Maasai, half the men chose to compete, while only a quarter of the women chose to. Among the Khasi, not only were the results reversed, but Khasi women were even more competitive than the Maasai men: 54% of the women opted to compete, as did 39% of the Khasi men.”

The clear role that socialized gender roles plays in differences between men and women is highlighted in a paper by Guiso et. al (2008) where employers were asked to make quick decisions about who to hire for a job based on performance on a 4 minute math sprint exam:

“Men and women employers alike revealed their prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical ability. When the only information that the employers had was a photograph of the candidate, men were twice as likely to be hired for the simple math job, no matter whether it was a man or woman doing the hiring, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The hiring bias did not disappear when candidates self-reported their ability on the task, in part because women tended to underestimate their ability while men tended to boast. And even when the employers received accurate information about the actual performance of the candidates, the bias did not fully disappear. The more prejudiced a person was, as measured by the Implicit Association Test, the less likely they were to correct their bias.”

Confirming the findings from this study as well as outlining the difficulty with pointing to biological differences as any sort of major cause for the  presence of women with high levels of cognitive abilities and leadership roles, I strongly recommending reading this article by Halpern et al (2012) published in Scientific American.

The article will make a nice launching point into my next post where I talk about the intersection of feminism and atheism or lack thereof.  What seems clear is that there continue to be strong biases against women in both academia and in the work place.  While such bias still exists in our society it seems more apt for the Boghossians, Lindsays, and Shermers of the world to spend more of their time worrying about that imbalance instead of mocking a field which may not be as bereft of scholarship as they claim, and which may have some valid arguments to make.  And if they are the scientists they claim to be and going to rail against a field which denies biological differences between men and women, they should also make sure that all the findings out there fit that assertion.  It seems far from clear that those differences are significant enough to be meaningful in any gender make up of any corporation, tech company, or university.

It may be that at some point biological differences do give us important information that can help men and women achieve better states of well-being in reaching their full potential, but it seems clear we are far from that stage in our society.  Only once we truly see that there is no career or field that women are less qualified for, and that we live in a world that puts emphasis on good human values, not male values, should biological differences really be part of the discussion.