Why are you so mean?

Inherit-The-StarsBeing a lovely chap I have a lot of friends who are either relatively harmless theists/woo fans, or reasonable and moderate agnostics and atheists. Many of them are upset or boggled that I – or anyone else – could be such a strident atheist. They’re often critical of Dawkins and the kind of people who, honestly, mistake Harris’ concerns over Islam for racism.

It can be hard to explain to people quite why you’re so strident and spend so much time fighting, arguing and raising awareness of religious issues and bigotry. They understand why things like opposing male and female genital mutilation or supporting the ‘extension’ of marriage rights are important but they don’t grasp the objections to what they see as harmless – if silly – beliefs, religious education or the comfort and charity supported by it.

Let me try to explain…

It’s Wrong

Religio-spiritual beliefs are just factually wrong. It’s really that simple. There’s no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, no such thing as sin. There’s no god watching over us or devil tempting us. There are no spirits, no ghosts, no monsters under the bed. The world isn’t designed and made with us in mind. There’s no ‘special’ way that we’re intended to live, no divine law, no miracle cures or curses. There’s no magic.

If you want to split hairs then strictly speaking I’m an agnostic atheist and a skeptic. It’s that there’s no evidence for any of these things, so that it’s irrational to believe in them. In lots of cases we can say ‘X’ doesn’t exist or ‘Y’ is impossible but really to all intents and purposes we might as well just say ‘this shit is wrong’.

It’s as wrong as smells causing disease. It’s as wrong as a flat Earth. There’s no reason to believe this absolute bollocks any more.

We know better.

It’s Dangerous

Even if we strip away the specific, offensive, horrible beliefs that justify war, murder, torture, mutilation and oppression there’s the dark heart of every irrational belief system still there.

Faith.

Faith is belief without evidence. The idea that this is somehow a valid reason to believe anything, let alone to act, is supremely dangerous. A belief held to without reason is – usually – immune to reason. A rational belief held because of data can be changed if the data changes or improves. A faith belief will be clung to in the teeth of the evidence and no matter how much harm it causes can rarely do anything but harm.

To be fair this goes beyond religion and into politics. Ideological faith can be just as harmful and just as rife for abuse. It is telling that in liberal countries the generational retention rates of both religious and political affiliations are practically identical. Politics and ‘religion’ would both be served better by the application of some critical thinking.

Accepting the idea that faith is valid allows all this toxic shit to persist. Couple that with either totalitarianism or uninformed democracy and you have a recipe for disaster.

We Can’t Afford it

It is an inescapable fact – unless of course you’re a person of faith – that the world is sliding into a confluence of several crises. Climate change, overpopulation, peak oil (peak energy really), damage to the seas, the forest, mass extinction, the end of useful antibiotics, a shortage of rare earths… the list just seems to get bigger every day. These problems are not insurmountable, with the proper will and sacrifice, if we put our shoulders to the wheel as a species.

The longer we wait to act the harder it will become and the more extreme measures will be needed. Technology, science, human unity, progress these are our ‘outs’ from this developmental bottleneck. So long as we deny we have a problem, or even willingly rush headlong into it as some right-wing religious conservatives in the US do, we have no chance of getting out of it.

Superstition has a very long history of slowing technological and social progress. From the Vatican to Al-Ghazali. Europe won out over the Middle East more because they were slacker in suppressing progress than from supporting it. While religion has held sway advances have been made in spite of, not because of it.

Even in modern times we see this problem in opposition to stem cell research and GM crops as well as climate change denial.

I don’t want to sound too melodramatic but honestly, this is a choice between grubbing in the mud and inheriting the stars and anything that lessens our chances to thrive and survive as a species is hard to justify indulging any longer.

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Male Slut Shaming II

fetish-bettiepage

In a comment in the previous blog on this, I got a rather long reply. Which I’ll address here as a separate topic.

While I agree that men should feel comfortable buying sex toys, etc, I find this part problematic:

“If a man likes violent pornography, rough sex or rape fantasies the expectation is different. The alarm triggers go off and it is going to be thought they’re a risk. It’s going to be thought that because they enjoy the fantasy they’re going to want to do the deed. They are not afforded the same understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy that a woman is.”

and

“You know Christian Bale isn’t Batman. Right? What’s the difference? He beats up the Joker for our gratification, Jenna Jameson takes a facial for our gratification. The entertainment doesn’t define the person.”

1.) I would question what part of a supposedly benevolent, kind, and empathetic man fantasizes about raping women – this is a direct contradiction. If a man fantasized about killing people, beating people, etc, I would feel the same way. The only way you can reconcile this contradiction is if you admit that these fantasies don’t come out of the kindness of a person’s heart; why should I see a man who wants to degrade me as laudable? Utterly illogical.

This is the very point addressed in the previous blog. Not only do critics seem unable to disentangle reality from fantasy in a way that would be  worrying in a consumer of ‘problematic’ media, but they seem to not understand that nice, wonderful people can have dark fantasies. Have you never been cut up in traffic and imagined, in your mind’s eye, pulling a trigger on the steering wheel to machinegun them James Bond style? It’s not a nice thought when you actually consider it, is it? Yes it is arguably a common fantasy.

It’s not laudable, but it’s also not something to be condemned either. It’s neutral, it’s fantasy, it isn’t real. What we do have here is a marked gender difference. While such fantasies aren’t  necessarily accepted by some women, it is a lot more acceptable for a woman to have rape fantasies than it is for a man to express the counterpart.

This seems a little, well, sexist.

If we can understand that a woman’s forced-sex fantasy is only a fantasy and doesn’t reflect a genuine desire to be attacked, then why can’t we accept and understand the same for the other sex?

Prejudice.

There are psychological studies demonstrating a link between violent porn and sexist and rape apologetic attitudes. It’s also fascinating to me how one can try to entirely obliterate the fact that fantasy is influenced by reality. For instance, women aren’t called sluts, whores, bitches, and hoes in porn because of a fantasy. Women are called these terms because these terms (that have no male equivalent with the same connotations) are applied to sexual women in day-to-day life and because we live in a still-sexist society. Nothing fantastical about it.

There are also psychological studies showing the opposite and that porn etc provides a useful and societally beneficial outlet for sexual tension and frustration. If you think there’s no equivalents to these terms, I suggest acquainting yourself better with gay porn, male prostitution and the world outside your front door. There is sexism in society, yes, but it runs both ways. You demonstrate it in your assumptions about men, about talking dirty and in your readiness to uncritically accept evidence that suits your conclusion.

A summary of some of the research showing this within the last five years or so is found here.

This seems to be a similar issue in many ways, oddly, to the abortion one. Countries with the lowest rates of abortion have easy access to it, easy access to contraception and good sex education. Yet, if you look at the US the anti-abortion crowd are against all of these things which, ironically, is pretty much guaranteed to increase the number of abortions and teen pregnancies. For them, the trouble is that it goes against their political orthodoxy, so they resist the unquestionable data.

It’s much the same with decriminalisation and legalisation/regulation of drugs.

With pornography the problem is that feminist dogma cannot accept that it can contribute to a lessening of harm, so an irrational opposition based on politically justified personal distaste rules the day.

2.) Jenna Jameson authored a book called “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” that was quite critical of the porn industry. The difference is that Christian Bale isn’t actually beating up the joker (and hopefully people aren’t actually getting pleasure from another’s pain from a film), while that girl in a porno may or may be enjoying it for your pleasure. One thing worth mentioning is why porn has gotten increasingly more violent and degrading; facials didn’t used to be common at all. In fact, there are pornographers themselves who have gone on the record about needing to produce more shocking porn in accordance to the viewer’s taste, and yes, most of this porn is violent against women. It’s easy to say there’s nothing wrong with it, and I do believe porn portrays sexual acts that aren’t intrinsically degrading as needlessly degrading, but when many men are leaving comments along the lines of “make that bitch take it” and “cum on that fucking whore’s face” on porn videos, it makes me wonder.

And yet she worked in it for a long time, consensually, and made pots of money. As have many others. It’s their bodily and creative autonomy at stake but again, political orthodoxy apparently requires that women who make the ‘wrong’ choices (adult work, homemaking etc) must be criticised and demonised – like they didn’t already have enough.

Bale might not actually be beating up the Joker, but stunt men and fight coordinators are engaging in dangerous physical acts for our enjoyment. It’s really not so different as you have tried to unravel it to be.

I wouldn’t take comments on porn videos any more seriously than I take comments on Youtube or newspaper articles. Again, I think you’re not really understanding ‘talking dirty’. New and more exciting – or less familiar – content is  sought in any and all media. Why would porn be any exception? It also serves, rather than creates, a market per se. Facials are thought to stimulate ‘sperm competition’ and hence arousal. What you need to reconcile is that women are increasingly consuming and enjoying porn – even extreme porn – and not only in the form of 50 Shades. For a great look at this I suggest reading A Billion Wicked Thoughts, which, while already out of date explores this – amongst other themes.

You aren’t addressing any of the negative effects of the porn industry which, sorry to say, exist.

For instance:

http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/7/4/454.abstract

http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/pdf/ResearchOnPornography.pdf

You also may find this interesting:

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/Anti-Porn%20Activist/4

http://www.heyepiphora.com/2011/02/porn-degradation-and-khan-tusion/

While I don’t believe in censorship and think people should be able to do as they please, you don’t recognize intricacies and while I may agree that there’s nothing wrong with finding women attractive, porn is another issue altogether that goes far beyond that. If analyzed, it’s often a sociological study in society’s sexism, and even racism and classism, as evidenced by porn that scorns “white trash” women and utilizes negative racist stereotypes. I don’t believe porn needs to be sexist, either, and there is absolutely porn that isn’t problematic out there.

If you don’t see any issues with porn, deeper issues lie with you.

I believe the first few I’ve addressed. As to the last one, there are shitty people in any and every industry and type of work. Where I used to work my boss embezzled money, ultimately causing me and several others to lose our jobs due to the missing money. I work in publishing now and there’s some real shits who don’t just pirate, but pirate, steal art, reprint and sell books.

To further wear out a tired old phrase, the plural of anecdote is not data.

We live in an apparent age of neo-puritanism that threatens to stifle creativity, sexuality and to fuck up an entire generation or two of men by convincing them they carry around some sort of ‘original sin’ for the crime of having a penis. It’s entirely possible that some of this dominant and aggressive porn is a reaction to that, an outlet. These scare stories about pornography have been around before about comics, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal music and computer games. In every case there’s been no good data to support the idea that the media causes the behaviour and there’s no reason to think porn is any different.

There’s room for fantasies of all sorts, including ‘problematic’ ones. Variety is good in all things, but that’s going to include things that you don’t happen to like. If there’s no demonstrable harm, then why try to interfere in people’s sex lives? Real or fantastical? Why try to deny or interfere in women’s ability to choose a career in adult work? Why judge the consumer and try to shame him in the same way evangelicals do with homosexuals?

Where I have some agreement with you is on the racial thing. I just don’t ‘get it’, but I recognise my cultural and political biases in relation to it. The racism against blacks in American pornography is, frankly, weird to me as a Brit, but it seems to be a powerful fetish there for some reason and the black actors are doing the work willingly so despite my disquiet I have to notch that up to ‘Who am I to judge?’ as well.

Who is really the progressive here?