How Free Speech was Actually Threatened

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Political comics aren’t just limited to newspapers. You also find them online, related to various issues. This one’s been doing the rounds lately and while all such political cartoons are simplistic, this one is particularly terrible. I don’t think I’ve seen one that misrepresented the issue of free speech so badly since the somewhat notorious XKCD one. That was a shame, as XKCD normally has something of a level head. This one, however, is just ludicrous.

It is, of course, alluding to various online spats from Gamergate to ‘Ghostbros’ to the regular Hugo Awards side show, but it utterly misrepresents.

Panel 1: Title – Ironically, it may well turn out to be accurate rather than sarcastic.

Panel 2: The idea that feminism attacks free speech is meant to be seen as ridiculous, but it does – indeed – happen. There are any number of examples from building moral panics about video games (now the idea is that they cause ‘sexism’ rather than ‘violence’) to collusion with government to ban forms of pornography (Gail Dines and the UK kink porn production ban) to No-Platforming and Safe Spaces. It’s not just limited to feminism, but it is found across a swathe of people who – ironically and laughably – consider themselves progressive even as they attack people’s free expression, sex lives and other fundamental human freedoms they should be fighting for.

Panel 3: Case in point. ‘Calling out sexism in video games’ doesn’t mean that there is sexism and ‘criticism’, coming from the likes of Anita Sarkeesian or Jonathan McIntosh is not ‘criticism’ in the sense most people would understand it. This is not “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work,” or even “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.” This is claiming that these things do harm and should not exist. It is not presented as a matter of opinion or a disagreement that can be discussed, but something that ‘is’, and something that is ‘bad’. It is a bald assertion and any attempt to discuss, debunk or otherwise counter that claim is treated as confirmation of that claim and as a crime or violence in and of itself.

So ‘feminist criticism’ is, indeed, a threat to free expression because it’s not criticism, and it presents calls to action to change, remove and to force artistic works and other expression to change or be removed. If you think censorship is limited to governmental action, this kind of ‘criticism’ works there too, but even so, the ACLU has a fairly up to date definition which includes:

Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.

In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.

This isn’t differences of opinion. They are presented as facts, beyond question and to reiterate – since its important – any rebuttal is treated as confirmation and as an ‘attack’ of its own.

It’s also important to note for later that these kinds of ‘critics’ seem genuinely incapable of telling the difference between thought and action. So they will see a cultural artefact that includes – say – violence against women as violence against women (and approving of and encouraging it). This also works in reverse as we saw in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It allowed many people – even artists and writers – to refuse to commemorate and support Charlie Hebdo because they could not see a meaningful difference between Charlie Hebdo’s criticism of Islam and the ’emotional pain’ it caused, and the violent, actual, physical backlash they suffered.

Panel 4 & Panel 5: One of the great things about social media is that it empowers people to criticise, comment and debunk. This is, of course, not popular in some quarters which is why many sites of various kinds, but tending to have common ideological slants, have taken to removing comments sections or even up and down votes. This stifles the ability of people to point out problems in the assertions directly and such ‘fighting back’ is often conflated with the trolling etc that goes on, making a handy excuse to dismiss, deflect or drown out criticism. The irony here of course is in ‘critics’ lashing out at things people love and then recoiling in terror when they get the same kind of treatment in return. When their ideas are picked apart and tested – as they should be.

Panel 6: Here we see the conflation of criticism and trolls. Anyone and everyone who posts a controversial opinion of any sort online will get blowback and everyone gets trolled. Some people seem to advertise their soft-spots to trolls though, and yet still act surprised when they get attacked on it. A fat acceptance activist will be attacked for their weight, a feminist will receive trolling masquerading as misogyny, black people will receive trolling masquerading as racism. Trolls are not sincere, that’s the definition of a troll – someone who says something horrific or controversial simply to get a response. There are genuine crazies as well, of course, but – again – what happens is that all criticism and rebuttal gets lumped in with the trolls, and the trolls treated as sincere.

Panel 7-8: Nobody is being actively silenced here. They are deciding for themselves to stop speaking. All they have had is disagreement, sometimes strident, online from people they have insulted and tried to censor. The people coming at them have no ‘institutional power’ to do so, while in the reverse you will often find people going to authorities (see earlier) or abusing site rules, DMCA rules etc to silence people. In this instance there is no censorship going on. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone amongst the enemies of these ‘critics’ who advocates that they should not be allowed to speak or present their views. Rather they’re happy to have a free exchange of views, a ‘marketplace of ideas’. This is a very real and important difference. If they truly believed in their ‘criticisms’ they should be willing and able to stand by them, argue for them in the teeth of criticism. That instead they run, hide and attempt – again – to censor dissent suggests that their ideas are indefensible.

Panel 9: Indeed they did. They didn’t silence anyone, they stood up against people who attacked them and forced them to retreat. To any rational and reasonable onlooker who genuinely understands the terms and the differentiations, this is a victory for free expression – just couched in sarcastic terms by someone who knows nothing about it.

Fusion Theism’s New Fallacies

Discussions about religion often end up in the realm of identifying logical fallacies. Typically, as an atheist, one sees the Argument from Personal Incredulity, Argument from Ignorance and Circular Reasoning. Fusion Theism in his post HERE and on Twitter, tried to identify or create new fallacies applicable to atheist thinking and as one of the few polite and reasonable debaters to be found, he’s worth answering.

The Double-Standard Fallacy:” Accepting one form of evidence for your own claims, while simultaneously rejecting this form of evidence for your opponent’s argument.

I confess I don’t know what he’s referring to here as I haven’t seen this occur. It’s possible he’s referring to the way in which we take scientific knowledge as truth, even though it’s relayed to us and comparing that with people taking biblical ‘knowledge’. In other words, the idea that ‘both are from books and we have faith in who is telling us’. All of this is assumption and perhaps he can clarify, but I would point out that science – unlike religion – is subject to peer review, repeat experimentation and has practical real-world applications that confirm its usefulness. IF this were accurate, it would indeed be a problem.

“The Tree-Falling Fallacy:” This argument goes something like this: ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one recorded it, it never happened,’ or ‘If no one wrote a book about Alexander the Great, that means he never existed.’

This is trying to justify the fallacy of Shifting the Burden of Proof. The point missed is that without evidence for something, it is not logical or reasonable to accept it. Trees falling is a regular occurrence and the existence of a fallen tree is evidence that it fell in and of itself. When it comes to historical figures the comparison being drawn is obviously between Jesus and Alexander (there’s other examples people like to use too, like Socrates). Compared to Jesus, the claim ‘Alexander existed’ is supported by numerous contemporaneous accounts, archaeology, the records of conquered nations and it is not an extraordinary claim. So not only is this an attempt to shift the burden of proof, but it’s inaccurate too.

“The Goat-Herder Fallacy:” Attributing automatic falsehood (and rejecting the arguments of) anyone based on their profession or career. Example: ‘I reject the Bible because it is written by goat-herders.’

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone actually say that’s WHY they don’t believe the Bible or dismiss the arguments. Rather it is a snarky way to make a point that people in the past were ignorant of much we know today. If this were accurate you could argue that it’s a sort of inverted argument from authority.

“The Contemporary Fallacy,”(also known as “The JFK Fallacy”): This fallacy goes like this: ‘Any books written about President Kennedy after his death in 1963 must be rejected as myth, since they were not written about him while he was alive.’

Again this seems to be making a false comparison between the religious mythology of Jesus and actual historical events. Books about JFK are drawn from contemporaneous accounts, film footage, recordings etc. There is absolutely nothing contemporaneous in the stories of Jesus.

“Telephone-Game Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that adults cannot accurately relay facts to other adults, based on a popular children’s game.

Well this isn’t a fallacy and oral history does, indeed, have issues. We can’t be sure of distortions 100%, but we can be reasonably sure.

“The Uneducated Fallacy:” Attributing a lack of education to your opponent simply for holding views that are different or opposite from your views.

That would be an argument from authority, but it can be true. Most people who reject evolution – for example – know little or nothing about it.

“The Truth Fallacy:” (also known as “The Mislabel Fallacy”): Re-defining the word “truth” or “evidence” to only apply to the position that you support, or to the kind of evidence which supports your argument, but not your opponent’s argument. For example: ‘Only science can be accepted as truth or evidence,’ or ‘Only the Bible can be accepted as truth or evidence.’

If accurate this would be a fallacy of redefinition.

“The Auto-Myth Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that an ancient book is myth because it is ancient, or automatically assuming a book is myth if it does not agree with your worldview.

Arguing that an ancient text is accurate or inaccurate based purely on its age would be an argument from antiquity and from its modernity an argument from that. I don’t think anyone actually says that it’s merely age that makes something a myth.

“The Bias-Fallacy:” Attributing more bias to anyone who has a different view from yours, than you attribute to the people who hold your view.

Cognitive bias is a real issue. In my experience non-believers are more aware of it while theists embrace it as though it were a good thing.

“Extraordinary-Fallacy:” Automatically labeling something false because it sounds extraordinary to you.

A reference to ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. I wouldn’t say this is a fallacy per se since it still calls for evidence. I think we can also, usefully, define ‘extraordinary’.

“The Born-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is always the one which most closely resembles the knowledge you were born with. For example, ‘Atheism is a much better option than theism, because everyone is born without knowledge of God.’ This would be fallacious since everyone is also born without knowledge of science, logic, math, etc.

I don’t know that anyone has claimed this exactly, rather they’ve pointed out that this is the state of nature and that they remain unconvinced otherwise. Religion is not like science, logic, mathematics etc. We could re-learn all these from scratch and come up with the same answers. IF religion started from scratch, it would be virtually unrecognisable.

“The Raised-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is the one most closely matching the status or knowledge you were raised with.

I’d file this under cognitive bias again, rather than a fallacy as such. It’s also one that very much fits theism.

Mirror, Mirror

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Clicky for original

I’ve been weighing the point of making a post about the SFWA fuss over on Grim’s Tales but in the meantime I had a brief exchange on Twitter which I think illustrates the problem inherent in many of these sexism discussions. The responses of the other party (anonymous and somewhat paraphrased because I bear them no ill will) were almost exact mirror images of the kinds of replies that whip feminists into a frenzy of opprobrium when men reply to them or ask questions. They also show the problem will ‘call out culture’ and how debate is stifled rather than continued in a meaningful fashion.

The exchange began with a retweet:

“Thank god there are men to explain what sexism is to me because as a women I certainly would not know anything about that”

Now, I take offence at that. I’m not saying nobody should be able to say such things or that my offence has any special power to it – nobody has any right not to be offended. What I find ‘problematic’ though is the sexism inherent in the comment. If you are claiming to be against sexism or to be complaining about it, it strikes me as being rather unhelpful if you’re sexist yourself in so doing.

The reason I find this statement problematic is that, implicit within it, is the idea that men, somehow, can’t ‘grok’ sexism or that the experience of sexism is somehow something that only women suffer. I’ll spare you the details, but I find this to be bullshit through direct and indirect experience and through statistics on aspects of both men and women’s lives.

We’re told we should call out sexism when we see it. So I did. Not to the original source – I figured they wouldn’t be open to discussion based on past experience – but to the retweeter, someone fairly new to me but within the Venn diagram of a few of my interests which made me wonder why they retweeted it.

I kept it mild, to the effect that ‘Men suffer sexism too’.

In reply I was told:

“But I doubt you have it mansplained to you.”

‘Mansplained’ is a deeply sexist term and I’m sure there’s barely a man in existence who hasn’t had something ‘womansplained’ to them. When you’re discussing these topics it usually isn’t long before someone with a semester in gender studies pops up and starts telling you all about ‘patriarchy’ or something else. ‘Mansplaining’ is the equivalent of dismissing anything a woman might say as ‘chatter’ or ‘nagging’. It would not be considered acceptable the other way around and frankly I don’t see the problem in trying to understand and explain something in any case or to offer another point of view. It is through exchanges we get to truth.

I explained, as well as one can in a tweet, that this was a sexist term and that even worse, sexism against men is dismissed, explained, excused or even claimed not to exist.

“I hope I’m misinterpreting your intention, because it read as a dismissal of the OP as minor compared to UR suffering under sexism.

Which wasn’t what I said at all. That men can suffer sexism in no way diminishes the fact that women can suffer too. That someone has something worse doesn’t mean the other person isn’t also suffering. Dawkins was – rightly – called out on his ‘Dear  Muslima‘ comment to Rebecca Watson (though I must qualify that by saying I don’t think Watson had anything worthwhile to complain about) on this basis but it seems that isn’t the case the other way around, for some reason.

I pointed out that there is often outright hostility and open-mouthed disbelief when men treat any accusation of sexism, no matter how thin, with skepticism and asked how they would feel if the situation were reversed.

That wasn’t replied to. Though I got this:

“Interesting choice of things to be offended by. Your claim of victimhood is duly noted.”

Oddly enough, calling female sexism caller-outers professional victims is not even remotely tolerated or accepted, even if there’s past form.

Then I was accused of doing exactly what the OP was posting about:

“You have schooled me on what real sexism is, since I apparently don’t understand. Strangely enough, exactly what the OP was about.”

Of course, I did nothing of the sort. I assumed we both knew what sexism was and I called out the sexism I saw in the OP and the later replies. I hoped – rather than expected – to have my concerns treated with the same degree of respect as an accusation of sexism from a woman would be taken. It was not.

Now, I bear this person no ill will and unlike many I don’t think they’re being dishonest. I just think the attempt to have any debate at all on these issues is poisoned beyond virtually all hope of resolution. Discussion is, essentially, not permitted and neither MRAs nor feminists seem willing to accept that the other side may have any valid points whatsoever. As a guy stuck in the middle I seem to get it from both sides (though worse from the feminist side because I have a penis) and view the whole thing as exasperating.

In the wake of the SFWA nonsense this struck a particular nerve and I think it helps illustrate that both sides engage in similar, damn near identical, dismissal of each other.

I don’t hate you

sales-argumentWe argue, but that doesn’t – necessarily – mean I hate you.

You believe in god, magic, homoeopathy or the half-arsed witterings of Deepak Chopra but most of the time this doesn’t come up between us. Sure, there’s exceptions like the WBC hatemongers , the people actively campaigning against gay marriage or the hardline Christians and Muslims blowing people up for one thing or another but by and large you and we are normal people just trying to get along through our lives.

Everyone has to get along with people they disagree with, friends, family, workmates. If we all agreed on absolutely everything then the world would be a rather boring place. We’re not going to agree on religion though and the idea that you subscribe to religion or faith as an idea while still being a mostly nice human being is as shocking to me as a racist outburst from a loveable grandmother.

Here we are in the 21st Century, communicating over a network made possible by science, engineering, human ingenuity and the skeptical processes of science and yet somehow, deep inside, you still subscribe to the idea that believing something for no reason (faith) is a good and worthwhile thing. I’ll be honest about it, that scares me, deeply. If you’ll believe – and defend – the idea of a magic man in the sky who made everything, or a flying horse carrying a paedophile away to heaven, or that ‘magic water’ can cure disease what is to stop you believing that another race is inherently inferior or that god has ordained the death of your child? What is to stop you, in fact, believing anything?

There are many specific wrongs in many religions and woo beliefs but this idea that faith (faith=(belief-evidence)) is somehow desirable, worthwhile or praiseworthy is the universal danger that such thinking represents. Humanity progresses through doubt, questioning, testing, not through blind belief. Faith holds ideas sacred and unassailable, even if they’re utterly wrong. Faith allows the Catholic Church to ignore its predatory and child-endangering actions. Faith allows Islam to oppress women and to try to impose itself on other cultures. Faith is what leads to prayer over a child who could have been saved with medical science. Faith, to cast the net widely, is what has right wing governments dead set on austerity programmes and free market capitalism even though they do not work.

Most of you avoid talking about these things, but they’re not going away. Our growth is outstripping the resources our planet has to offer and we have a finite time to crack the problem. Faith holds us back. In the USA resistance to climate science, green energy projects, science education, contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage are all rooted in a paranoid, religious, right-wing section of the population running on faith. They hold us back. In the UK, previously thought relatively immune to the lure of such non-thinking the UK Independence Party has recently done well in elections with their mix of acceptable middle-class racism and empty rhetoric.

I want humanity to thrive and continue. I want progress to remain. I want us to grow as a species and to achieve wonderful things but that belief you hold, that faith you think so fine, that threatens everything.

I don’t hate you. I fear what your blind-belief, combined with that of billions of others, will cost us.

Racism, Feminism, Eroticism & Porntellectualism.

HERE‘s a link to a really interesting podcast by We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN) which is a prolonged interview with Nica Noelle. It ranges about a lot of interesting issues about the interface between erotic and mainstream culture and issues of feminism, stereotyping, shaming and race which are all topics that interest me as a writer and a game designer of some small notoriety within my niche.

This blog is about atheism and reason but also about the application of rational thought to contentious subjects. So I think it best fits here.

I have come to know Nica Noelle via my friend and colleague Satine Phoenix who is working on the art for Machinations of the Space Princess. Nica is a porn actress, former stripper and current director who is trying to take porn in a different direction with plots, stories, emotions and integrity. What you might call ‘visual erotica’ as opposed to porn per se. She is “beautiful, charming, devastatingly intelligent” and well worth following on Twitter so long as you can stand the occasional naked selfie along with self-deprecation, dog pictures and intelligent meanderings.

This is going to be a long blog post as there’s lots to talk about from this podcast, which lasts over an hour. So it’s going to be a long read. No apologies, but I’ll try to break it up with the occasional picture and I’ll reference the point on the podcast timeline I’m talking about as I go along. I found the whole thing quite thought provoking and drew parallels to culture-wars in nerd culture, games, the trials and tribulations of erotica writers and so forth. I hope you find it as thought provoking and if you can carve out the time, listen and read along with me:

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keyhole-742659[4.00] Chauncey brings up the fact that going into interviews and appearances, most of the time anyone who works in the sex industry at any level – pornography or otherwise – is usually facing judgement and stereotyping. Immediately the interviewee is placed on the assumed defensive because of the prurient interest or agenda of the interviewer. Nica’s fascination with the sex industry mirrors my own fascination with it. People have such mixed feelings about it, it has such a powerful effect on people, there are such contradictions and paradoxes in people’s consumption/condemnation/views on it.

The stereotype which they talk about [5:50] is that of the ‘broken toys’, that something must have gone wrong, that someone must be damaged to get engaged in the industry. As Nica points out this may have once been more true – though never universally true – but it’s becoming less true over time. Like everything else – it seems – porn and erotica are going somewhat mainstream and people don’t have to be broken or fucked up to get involved. It is gaining some small amount of acceptance.

I’ve known people involved in the sex industry in some manner or another for getting on for 15 years and yes, a lot of them are damaged and as Nica points out, being damaged in some way allows some people to break boundaries in a way those with more conventional backgrounds may not. In my experience though many get involved as a way of defining and controlling the sexual aspect of themselves that they didn’t have in their past. Commodifying and selling their sexuality brings it back under their control. Agency, as Chauncey puts it. There’s weight to what Nica says as well though, owning your stigma gives you power and identity – something that’s also very true of the nerd/geek culture. This is what you identify as, it becomes you. You are a ‘Star Wars fan’, or ‘A stripper’ or ‘A porn diva’.

[9:50] The idea of a ‘porn intellectual’ seems funny or amusing and I suppose, in a way, it is. We’re used to seeing people approach erotica and pornography from the view of literary or cultural analysis, from a feminist perspective particularly but an actual ‘porn intellectual’ seems somehow comedic. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s a medium – and a powerful one – that deserves genuine academic study that doesn’t come from axe-grinding or distancing but from a genuine desire to understand, analyse and improve. The argument that ‘it’s just porn’ is the same as ‘its just a game’ or ‘they’re just comics’. One shouldn’t lose sight of the fun aspects or the purpose, but an intellectual examination of any medium can throw up useful ideas and methodologies to improve that form.

masks_by_morgan[10:40] Chauncey talks about his experience with meeting the porn star Sierra. He overheard a conversation she was having about having both a ‘porn me’ and a ‘real me’. This is, perhaps, something that people might not have been able to identify with particularly in the past but now we all have an ‘internet persona’ and a ‘real life persona’ to some extent. Is this distancing oneself from what one does? Not necessarily. Porn is a performance as is writing, painting etc even at a remove. Our performance personalities are part of our work – an important part. Meeting an author, artist or game designer can often be a surreal experience because we form a mental image of that person before we meet them, via their work. The ‘real them’ can be completely at odds. The horror writer might be a quietly-spoken butterball of a person, all affection and gentleness in person, despite the image their work creates. I know that I come across very differently in person.

With a porn star, camgirl or whatever else the experience is reversed. We may be intimately aware of their physicality but the ‘real them’ that we must adjust to is their real personality and mind and that – I think – can be even more jarring, possibly because it takes work to figure someone out and trust for them to let their guard down. Certainly I know that once you get past that shell adult workers are some of the most genuine and bullshit-free people it has ever been my pleasure to know. Perhaps this is because those who survive and thrive there or have the strength to get ‘out’ when they want to have to be resilient and genuine and to ‘own their shit’ to work there in the first place.

The other side is that the construction of an ‘alter-ego’  [12:20] allows one to disassociate one’s ‘true self’ from what you do. That’s an aspect of shame or in better-case-scenarios modesty. Its a reason for pen names in erotica (or even in Science Fiction! Look at Ian M Banks Vs Ian Banks) and for ‘porn names’. I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy though I can understand the desire to shield yourself from the condemnation and judgement of others in any way you can. It can be harsh.

[15:10] It’s interesting to hear Nica talk about how devastating the tube sites and piracy have been to the adult industry and it’s interesting to compare that with how it has impacted other industries. Porn is disposable. People pirate or free-view porn with fewer – if any – moral quandries than they would about anything else. Porn is shameful, using porn is shameful, buying porn is something you have to justify and explain to yourself – and potentially your partner. The porn industries have a public image as being exploitative and ‘evil’ which makes it easier to justify ‘stealing’ from them. A subscription to a porn-site on your account is something that will make you red faced. If you can get your smut hassle free and without having to break anonymity in any way you’re going to take the path of least resistance. So this means porn is particularly hard hit by piracy in a way music, books etc are not.

Nica’s mode for tackling this, consciously or unconsciously is to tap into fandom and, in a way, the distributed patronage model. This chimes with the zeitgeist formed from Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and Amanda Palmer’s TED talk. The quotable Nica here is: “People like to be fans of things” and they do! If you have a strong personality, a strong product, if you do things in a way that stands out in some fashion you will attract fans and the 1,000 True Fan model – while not new any more – still seems to be the way things are going.

Nica puts a lot of effort into engaging with and talking to her fans. She spends a lot of time on Social Media, she reveals her true self, she is almost endlessly nice to people and available. She is a living defiance of so many of the stereotypes about adult workers. She’s doing well on the back of that and on the back of taking a risk in having a product that differs from what else is available by going emotional and romantic, by having story rather than – necessarily – going full on hardcore.

What is frustrating, terribly frustrating to me, is that Nica could go so much further if the tools were available for her to do so. Since crowdfunding took off I’ve been looking at it and thinking that it could be an incredible boon for the adult industry in the wake of the problems it is having with piracy. People do seem to form strong attachments to particular studios, particular porn stars, particular directors in much the same way as they do in the mainstream for particular writers (look at Warren Ellis or Alan Moore for examples from the comics/literary world) and they will go out of their way to support people they care about.

400censorshipUnfortunately for adult work it is often banned from these crowdfunding sites, even IndieGoGo which has an otherwise much more liberal political slant than Kickstarter does. There is – as yet – no platform I’m aware of that provides the necessary crowdfunding tools for adult workers in that it has security, accessibility, credibility and a high enough profile for it to work. Just imagine, though, if the money to make adult films and pay those involved could be raised from the fans, freeing those involved much more to choose who they work with, what they do and to meet the expressed needs and desires of their fans. Exploitation would no longer stick, financing would be in place with no up-front risk and there would be the capacity for Nica and others like her to experiment and push the boundaries more.

Part of the reason this hasn’t happened yet is the desire of these sites to maintain a ‘positive brand image’ but part of it is also the shaming and shunning of sex in our culture. Even with erotica we had this – and campaigned against it at Bannedwriters. Payment services, credit card processing, all of them seem to deem it acceptable to slap on extra surcharges and additional hoops to jump through if you’re doing something ‘naughty’, supposedly on the basis of increased risk to them. Are you more likely to return a sex toy or an adult video? I don’t know. We’d have to study that. Our reticence to argue and expose our peccadilloes allows the companies, meanwhile, to screw adult workers, writers and content providers over.

[26:00] The idea of ‘being yourself with the volume turned up’ resonated and I think that’s true for creators and performers across the spectrum. Interesting that the idea apparently came from wrestling!

[26:30] Nica and Chauncey go into a bit more detail about the different eroticism of The Random Encounter versus the Emotional Context and how each have their own appeal. Nice produces material with emotional context while most other pornographers seem to produce mechanical fucking but, as they both point out even a random encounter has some connection, even if its pure animal lust, which is most often missing from adult material. The nuances that make it work. There’s a fallacy, I think, that men are purely visual/physical and don’t crave intimacy in the way that a woman does and while that main contain a kernel of truth men absolutely do crave intimacy it’s just that acknowledging that is ‘unmanly’ and a ‘sign of weakness’ and – thus – to be avoided. That isn’t to say the purely physical or lusty can’t be great, but it doesn’t meet EVERY need. Many men who hire prostitutes do so as much for female company and conversation as physical relief and the same is often true of women who hire male escorts.

[27:20] This section talks about how porn people are funny. About how they’re hilarious and always joking around. This seems frivolous but I think it’s a hugely important point. We all know about the porn parodies and their (often) silly names which are funny, but not necessarily that sexy. Certainly from my experience in writing ‘adult’ game material it is much easier to sell the idea if you sell it as comedy. Humour is another distancing tactic, like euphemism or persona-creation that somehow makes it more acceptable to talk about sex (or death, or drugs, or cancer or whatever else makes people uncomfortable). This is a shame. I know I was terribly frustrated working on some of the stuff I did for Mongoose because I wanted to examine the material in a more serious vein but there just wasn’t the option. The later work suffered because it ended up confused between ‘Lol’ and ‘Hmm’.

[33:00] Nica and Chauncey start to talk about the impact of pornography for couples but also on teens and kids growing up today where porn is much more accessible and only a Google search away from satisfying your curiosity. I think it’s a bit arse-backwards to say porn creates fetishes and behaviours when it is more about fulfilling people’s desire to see certain things and exaggeration of those already extant desires. It’s hard to convince people they need a product they don’t want, it takes a lot of effort and the only example I can think of, off hand, is the invention of halitosis as a term by Listerine and the promulgation of the paranoia over it that they brought about. In other words, people are turned on by cumshots so they seek pornography that includes it, rather than pornography creating the desire to see cumshots. There are all sorts of complex psychological and evolutionary reasons why such a thing might turn us on despite seeming counter intuitive and for that I’ll refer you to the excellent book A Billion Wicked Thoughts.

[35:00] They touch on the idea of exploitation and the exploitation of women in porn when talking about the hardcore ‘gonzo’ material. This is where I part ways with Nica a little in that I still see such material as being non-exploitative because its fantasy and because everyone involved is paid and consenting and that there are people, men and women, who genuinely enjoy such acts. The lack of connection and meaningful power-exchange makes this material less engaging, interesting and causes it to part ways with such behaviour between consenting adults in real life and that’s where there’s a ‘problem’ with it but really this stuff is scratching a similar itch to BDSM.

I’m glad that Nica goes on to point out the shaming that goes on. That women aren’t supposed to enjoy certain kinds of sex and that this pressure most often comes from other women, telling them that they’re being exploited and used for something that they have agency over. I agree with Nica that such judgement is a way to oppress women and to try and enforce a party line. Certainly for me, growing up, it was a revelatory experience in and of itself that I – as a man – could be desired and pursued rather than the other way around and that a woman might want and desire sex rather than it being some sort of ghastly male imposition. This seems, to me, to be an extension of that.

[37:00] ‘Different strokes for different folks’ is something that needs to be understood across all entertainment genres. Something weird happens in education that you don’t normally see elsewhere, say in food. If someone doesn’t like the taste of coriander or (in my case) courgette then they happily go about their lives pushing it to the side of their plate or avoiding it altogether. When it comes to entertainment though, whether it be porn, games, books, comics, whatever else they seem to want to dictate their personal taste upon others and to justify their dislike beyond ‘this isn’t for me’ by turning it into some moral or social issue.

Historically one found this behaviour on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, generally stemming from religious beliefs. A personal distaste (or shame) would dictate that someone would condemn something on religious or moral grounds. This still goes on but increasingly one sees it from the political left as well. A personal distaste for something will be dressed up in the clothing of feminism, sexuality or other activism in order to justify that personal distaste and to portray the thing being targeted as societally harmful. Whatever side of the political spectrum this comes from it is harmful and shaming and needs to step back and think a little more.

tumblr_mairczhrc01rf10qjo1_500[38:00] Inevitably the discussion gets around to 50 Shades of Grey and how BDSM and erotica has abruptly and suddenly (yet again) popped up into the mainstream. Is 50 Shades giving women ‘permission’ to explore their kinkier or more submissive side? That goes back to the shaming culture that surrounds women who enjoy sex, particularly politically incorrect sex and the necessity of having a means to bypass or avoid the judgement of others. 50 Shades is, of course, awfully written and portrays the BDSM community in an appalling light and a manner in which it has reacted to very badly. This happens to every subculture that gets dragged into the mainstream glare whether it’s punk rock, roleplayers, comic fans or Trekkers and its going to be no different for kinksters. Awful or not, it does raise consciousness and does get people to experiment and explore which – in my opinion – is a net plus. Even if it creates some weird ideas in some people.

[39:00] I self-identify as being sexually dominant (don’t laugh) and briefly flirted with the BDSM scene for a while back in the day, in secret, ashamed of myself and terrified of both my own desires and of being ‘found out’. I still identify that way even if I’m not a ‘practising dom’ in much the same way as Stephen Fry used to identify himself as a celibate homosexual. I still find erotica and pornography along these themes the most intriguing in every sense, including artistry and what Nica says at this point about your sexual proclivity and identity not having to carry over into the rest of your life almost made me applaud the computer.

There are way, way, way too many doms (and dommes) who confuse being sexually dominant with being a jerk or a bully. That domination requires one to be an arsehole. That the power exchange is one-sided. That’s simplistic, stupid and ruins people for the BDSM scene much as it did me. Equally on the other side there are plenty of submissives who think that they have to be meek and useless all the time, to have no spine or desire of their own whatsoever, to defer on everything. There are those subs who forget that there’s no small amount of joy in ‘resistance’ before surrender – for all parties concerned and again, equally, this can be massively off-putting. Reconciling a respect and concern for women with the desire to dominate and control a partner sexually was – and is – incredibly shaming and difficult to process. Especially when people are telling you constantly how monstrous it is to have these desires and that, even as pure fantasy, they are somehow dangerous.

[45:00] Back to 50 Shades again and again about how the writing is awful. Nica and Remittance Girl seriously need to be friends and trade notes as they’re both intellectuals in similar arenas striving to better the craft.

Picture_1[46:00] The discussion gets into race in pornography and honestly this is something that has always really confused me and made my brain itch. I think that’s because I don’t have quite the same cultural cues and history as Americans do. That’s not to say race isn’t a big issue in the UK its just not as big an issue and not as woven into the warp and weft of British society as it is in America. Americans are seriously fucked up about race and this has one of its most open expressions in pornography to a degree that you don’t see elsewhere, perhaps because porn is already seen as problematic and shameful and so racial issues on top of that don’t seem like a big deal.

Part of me sees this issue as just another aspect of taste and fantasy. There are evolutionary reasons for us to be drawn to (and repulsed by) the different and the exotic and there are racial archetypes and cultural trends as well as physical aspects that do tie in – however loosely – to things that attract us. There’s nothing inherently wrong in being attracted to black women, Caucasian women, Hispanic women, Asian women, South Asian women or Arab women (or men) though you may find some of these itches harder to scratch than others, again for cultural reasons.

On the other hand, as Nica points out, often the person is there – at least in the adult film – to be nothing but ‘the black guy’ or ‘the Japanese schoolgirl’ and that is their entire and total character. At the same time I wonder why minority actors and actresses go along with it and that’s where I think it gets even more complicated, especially with African Americans and especially with African American men. The ‘thug’ stereotype seems, to me, to be as much a defensive stereotype, one of pride and masculinity, of threat and power as it is an offensive stereotype. The rapper, the pimp, the gang banger, these are shitty, two-dimensional things but they can be a source of strength. If you scare and threaten someone you have power of some sort over them that you may not, otherwise, have. The other stereotype being the super-hung black, the ‘mule’ (Is twoo is twoo!) which is simultaneously insulting but also affirming of dangerous, powerful masculine agency.

The dynamic in the states is such that many people are threatened by these black stereotypes and cultures and are simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by it. There’s an element of humiliation and despoiling in the interracial pornography, especially when it’s a black man (or men) and a white woman. Its a weird, charged mix and one that porn doesn’t shy away from while in other media this is pretty much unacceptable.

It is still a fantasy though and as Nica talks about there are those actresses who refuse to work with black men in movies, but who date black men in their ‘real lives’. They cannot, then, really be called racist but they know (or at least believe) that such a performance might damage their prospects or change their image with their fans. Equally those who make the films are exploiting a fantasy and a fetish that pre-exists.

Its the kind of problem that really bakes your noodle and needs discussion, discussion which doesn’t happen enough. My visceral reaction is disgust and its definitely ‘problematic’ but at the same time it is still fantasy, at a remove from reality, as much as BDSM fantasies are removed from ‘patriarchy’. To me, I think, after consideration it acts to illuminate just how messed up Americans are about race in the wider culture.

[48:00] As a grumbling old left-anarchist I think that a lot of these problems of white, male, middle class dominance are down to economics rather than race and that makes me realise why, in part, what passes for the American Left is so vitriolic and why it turns to blaming privilege in terms of race/gender etc so much. The argument on socialism versus capitalism is 99% lost in the US. It is not really part of the political conversation. The inability of immigrant and racial minority groups to climb the social ladder to the middle classes and nouveau riche on anything like an equal basis cannot be down to economic failure because freemarket, laissez-faire capitalism and trickle-down economics go virtually unquestioned in the American political conversation. If you work from that assumption then the issue must be down to black indolence (if you’re a conservative) or entrenched racism (if you’re white) and nothing to do with money at all.

From my perspective as a European and a leftist, that is (almost but not entirely) bollocks.

[50:00] Nica has proven her point and increased diversity in pornographic representation not by attacking or trying to eliminate the things she doesn’t like but by creating the things that she does. She has ‘made good art‘.

african-metalheads-in-botswan-pics-3047-1304170176-22[56:00] Chauncey brings up V.M. Johnson and, obliquely, the problems and surprise that racial minorities can encounter in the kink scene. This echoes what one finds in the gaming, science fiction and fantasy scenes where the problem is not necessarily the people who are already part of that tribe but rather those around the atypical person who finds themselves liking, loving, adoring something that is seen as ‘white boy stuff’. Certainly the goth and metal scenes have very few members of racial minorities in them and that’s not so much to do with racism within those scenes but rather the pressures upon minority kids to conform to the community into which they’re born. Owning and identifying with their stigma in a way similar to that Nica described for porn stars.

[57:30] Quoting V Chauncey says – to paraphrase – “That’s the politics of it, but whatever gets you off”. This resonates with my with regard to fan/geek culture, despite being focused on race, in that the assumption is so often that if you like cheesecake art in your fantasy games or comics, if you like to rescue the princess in a computer game that this necessarily says something about your feelings towards women. Merely not condemning such material sufficiently for those who hate it is also grounds for you to be branded a misogynist or whatever else. Sexuality is far more primal and powerful and yet V can make the distinction, even when it comes to so bitter an issue as black slavery, that the one thing is fantasy, the other is reality and the two don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other.

[58:00] Alongside the brain-itch from out and out racial issues in porn there’s also issues that come up with playing into the idea of ‘Americas enemies’. Mexicans crossing the border being caught and sexually used and humiliated or Arab (or Arab) women being the target of gonzo porn in the wake of 9/11 (fascination/revulsion at play again). This is no different to how wrestling brings in a ‘heel’ who is Iraqi – or whatever – when there’s a war on.

[60:00] Nica again reiterates about not judging people for their personal kinks and desires, however dark you might think they are or how harmful you might think they are. As she says, people can be exploring these things in a safe environment. I have known more than one woman who, as a victim of rape, sought out rough sex and rape play as a way to play out, process, deal with and work through their issues after the fact. A way of having a safe harbour where control was there if needed. Where they were reclaiming their own sexual autonomy through exploring these things.

From [64:00] to the end is important and valuable, I think, for challenging people’s stereotypes about adult workers and certainly meshes with my experiences and friendships with people who have worked across the spectrum of adult entertainment.

I found this whole ‘cast interesting, intelligent and it provoked the thoughts I’ve set out above. I think its worth listening to and I think people like Nica are worth supporting. I hope you’ve found it – and my thoughts – the same way. I’m going to end with a link to the brilliant Alyssa Royse talking about sexual shame and how its a load of bullshit.

Apt Description of god Ends Discussions

At some point in a discussion someone will play what they think is an ace card from up their sleeve which they think displays your inherent bias and that you just refuse to believe in god because you are of ‘rebellious spirit’ or some such bollocks. The thing is, rebels do have to admit that they’re rebelling against something whereas, being an atheist, I don’t even believe in the thing they’re talking about.

Regardless, they’ll ask ‘Would you believe in god if he was proven to you?’ to which the answer from just about any atheist is ‘yes’ but is then followed up with ‘would you serve him?’ to which the answer, at least for me is ‘no, and nor should you’.

The god of the Bible, the Koran and Torah is, for wont of a more apt an succinct description, ‘An ‘orrible cunt’. A murderous, savage, pull-the-wings-off-insects, cosmic-scale dickhead. It would behove any moral being to oppose such a creature. However, describe this – still hypothetical – god in those terms and, strangely, people bring an end to the discussion.

Soooo touchy.