Why do you care what I believe?

PriestsAztec“Why do you care what I believe?”

A common objection from many varieties of the faithful from many religions.

“What business is it of yours if I believe a magical space fairy farted the universe out after eating the primal beans?”

Here’s a little roleplaying exercise to help you understand.

Imagine I come up to you and say:

“I believe that by cutting out your heart with this obsidian knife and offering it to the gods I can ensure a bountiful harvest.”

I submit to you that, at this point, it becomes REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT what you believe. Especially as it relates to me.

Maybe you don’t want to actually kill anyone, but keep in mind that your irrational beliefs can and will have an impact beyond yourself. Think of the position that gay people find themselves in with regard to marriage rights. Consider the abortion rights of women. Consider the dangerously ignorant teaching of creationism in schools.

People with irrational beliefs vote, protest, act, agitate. They try to enforce their own beliefs over others who do not share them – and not for the common good.

Quite apart from anything else, the perpetuation of the idea that faith is a valid reason for… well… anything is dangerous in and of itself. Belief without evidence is completely nuts and once someone has abdicated reason in such a way is hard to dislodge from it because, having rejected evidence they’re unlikely to accept it in refutation what they believe or to show something else as true.

I care what you believe because it directly and indirectly harms us both.

False, False Consciousness

cartoon030111tFalse Consciousness is a concept originally from Marxism (Engels) in which the idea is that society – under capitalism – is set up in such a way as to mislead the proletariat. The gist of which is that it misleads the average working man as to his prospects within that society in order to keep him docile and make him think he can become part of the dominant social class.

A prime example of this idea would be the meme of ‘The American Dream’ which is so far from reality that it couldn’t see it on a clear night with a telescope. The idea that the average American can ‘pull himself up by his bootstraps’ and is a ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaire’ (as Steinback would have it) is possibly one of the most insidious and widespread tools of social control imaginable.

Still, in the current age, sans McCarthy, with access to the internet and broad – if inadequate – education it’s not really fair to assume that people adhere to ideas simply because they’re ignorant of others and are divorced of choice. While indoctrination and societal influence plays a role it’s hard to separate stupidity, indoctrination and genuine belief.

The concept has been transferred to feminism in which it serves as an adjunct to the concept of ‘internalised misogyny’. False consciousness here is used to undermine women who claim they’ve never experienced sexism, that their choices of ‘traditional gender roles’ are their own and so on. This is possibly even less kosher than claiming it to be the case with laissez-faire capitalism. Traditional gender roles have been disrupted and challenged, arguably since the 1960s, moreso for women than men. At least, in the west, it’s hard to argue that women haven’t been exposed to a panoply of different ideas and concepts and thus a little insulting to the women who don’t choose suitably ‘liberated’ modes of life and roles to assume that it’s due to ignorance or them not having a mind of their own.

False Consciousness can, thus, be shown to have certain issues from a political/economic and gender perspective but it’s not completely without use. It’s a very problematic concept, especially when it comes to religious indoctrination. Unlike these other topics, religious indoctrination is powerfully and forcibly advanced virtually from birth and with a degree of absolutism one doesn’t – so much – find in ideologies outside of extreme radicalism.

How, then, are we to approach – for example – the issue of the hijab or burqa? Within Islamic nations there is genuinely zero choice, it’s cooperate or – in some cases – die. In the west it becomes a little more nuanced. Can someone living and working in a western country be said not to be exposed to alternative points of view on religious dress? Does a controlling subculture exert the same level of enforcement as a religious monoculture? We do get young women killed in the UK on matters of ‘honour’ and lack of modesty, or even simply being ‘too western’. At the same time we do get women who break free of this and choose not to wear these forms of religious clothing. Choice is, therefore, possible.

If free choice was not ever possible under any regime or degree of indoctrination there would never be change, revolt, revolution or innovation.

I don’t think we can adhere to the idea of False Consciousness as any sort of guide but, rather, must assess the context and degree of control in each instance. There’s no doubt that some people freely and of their own volition choose to put up with working for nothing, to be a 1950s housewife or to express their faith by wrapping themselves in a duvet to show their piety just as some people choose the opposite.

If a choice is a genuine, informed choice we need to find a way to accept that and not write off the person’s agency, while at the same time not letting that preclude us from making our own arguments and, even, trying to change their minds. Good, accurate, ideas should win out in the end.

Patriarchy? What Patriarchy?

Guys

I recently stopped following Laurie Penny on Twitter because in the aftermath of Trollmageddon no amount of political agreement on broader topics was worth putting up with the disagreement on ‘feminist’ issues (scare quotes used with reason). Laurie is normally on the more reasonable side of things but in the context of the stupidity going on (which you can see me discuss in earlier posts) it was simply too much and not worth the anger and frustration.

Still, lots of people I follow have time for her and retweet a lot.

Today she’s asking:

Which on the face of it is a good question to ask, but betrays a certain bias in the use of the term ‘Patriarchy’.

In feminism, Patriarchy is defined as:

All forms of feminism define patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. As feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman writes, “The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.”In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.

To ask, then, how ‘Patriarchy’, a system that is supposed to exalt men and oppress women, hurts men, disarms its own point. ‘Patriarchy’ wouldn’t harm men, so if you’re claiming it does you’ve eliminated the idea of Patriarchy from the discussion from the get go. It is an inherently ridiculous question most often encountered as a statement instead: ‘Patriarchy hurts men too’ and if you change it slightly that inherent ridiculousness becomes even more apparent:

Plutocracy hurts rich people too.

Or…

White supremacism hurt Caucasians too.

The idea that there is some global conspiracy of men doing things purely to benefit men has about as much cachet as David Icke’s theories about the world being run by ‘invisible space lizards’.

The idea, the concept, the promulgation of this idea of ‘patriarchy’ is harmful in and of itself. It places blame on a gender, others men, justifies poor treatment of them that leaks back up into academia and judicial decisions. It puts a sort of ‘original sin’ upon men simply for their chromosomes and having a penis.

 

It’s all a matter of perspective anyway, anything you can characterise as a male advantage can be seen as an imposition. Military service is a great example with women seeing themselves as restricted from entering or performing certain duties and men seeing themselves as imposed upon to serve or be drafted. It’s all in how you see it.

Kyriarchy is a much better term for the interlocking set of roles and expectations that we find ourselves in. One that doesn’t damn or blame men. Unfortunately its not a particularly well known term. How about we stick to ‘How do gender roles hurt men?’ rather than placing the blame as is inherent in the term Patriarchy? That would be a great start.

There’s plenty to talk about it, but phrasing it as ‘How does Patriarchy hurt men?’ is like a Christian asking an atheist ‘Why do you hate Jesus?’. The questioner is assuming certain things about the person answering.

guys2

Mirror, Mirror

Sinfestfixed

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.

Things I do believe

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  • I believe in the power of logic, reason and evidence to explain the world in which we find ourselves.
  • I believe we have to deal with what ‘is’ first, over what ‘ought’ to be.
  • I believe faith to be harmful, whether it be religion, ideology or anything else. Believing without evidence to support what you believe is fundamentally flawed – even dangerous.
  • I believe atheism to be the only honest position on the question of god/supernaturalism.
  • I believe freedom of expression is one of the paramount human rights and that it includes ‘icky speech’.
  • I believe you have the right to be offended.
  • I believe I have the right to offend you.
  • I believe you’re responsible for your own intake.
  • I am a ruthless egalitarian. I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, sexuality etc, only modified by their differing needs and the empirical facts of the situation.
  • I believe in education for its own sake.
  • I believe in art for its own sake.
  • No matter how poorly you regard my work and art, I believe I’m worse. It makes me try harder.
  • I try not to, but I loathe hypocrisy. If someone’s a hypocrite it at least shows that they’re trying to be a good person, even if they’re failing. This is why I rage so much at people who say they’re for social justice, but whom display their own prejudices. They disappoint me and break my heart.
  • I believe misandry is a thing, because misogyny is a thing.
  • I believe a little flirtation is harmless fun.
  • I believe *ism to be wrong, whether it flows to or from marginalised groups. Prejudice is prejudice.
  • I believe if you’re against something, you shouldn’t do it yourself.
  • I believe complementary and alternative medicine is absolute bollocks.
  • I believe I look fly in hats.
  • I believe the best way to create an equal and fair society is to treat people equally and fairly. Without exception.
  • I believe you’re allowed to ‘slip’, when you’re angry.
  • I’m an ideological left-anarchist, but a pragmatic socialist. I believe in individual rights, but when you group individuals together the best guarantee of those rights is to consider the group.
  • I believe there’s almost always another option to violence.
  • I am a naturalist, a materialist.
  • I believe the ‘best’, most objective moral system is a combination of Utilitarianism and Epicureanism. Pleasure has value.
  • I would believe in democracy more if the electorate were better informed and the system were more representative.
  • I believe in fidelity and honour, though it’s not for everyone.
  • I believe respect must be earned.
  • A care about people. I have a deep sense of empathy, I get embarrassed for others. When that quality of empathy is ignored or denied I feel it as a personal attack upon a part of my essential identity as a human being.
  • I believe in being ‘decent’. In the sense of morally upright, respectable, kind and obliging. I put myself out for others often. I pay more than I should. I give people time. I am very forgiving. I am unforgiving of myself in this respect and I expect the same from others. I get upset when they fall short.
  • I believe in a ‘hands off’ approach. Let people find their own way and motivation and they’ll do their best.
  • I believe everyone deserves a second, and a third, chance.
  • I believe the crux of human existence to be a struggle between altruism and selfishness.
  • I believe in the power and importance of consent and the principle of ‘Ask and tell’.
  • Do what thou wilt, so long as it harm none.
  • I believe Scotch whisky is superior to Irish whiskey.
  • I believe curry is one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
  • I believe in taxation to support important social, educational and material infrastructure from which we all benefit.
  • I believe in universal healthcare, free at the point of use. The right to life is the most basic right of all.
  • I believe in abortion, up until the onset of consciousness.
  • I form friendships quickly and easily, and often deeply. I may consider you a friend even if you don’t consider me a friend and I consider myself obligated to that friendship.
  • I believe in treating people as individuals.
  • I believe almost everyone is interesting.
  • I try not to judge, I try to understand. I sometimes fail.
  • I like most people. You have to be an absolute cunt for me not to get on with you.
  • I believe sexy fun times and sexy fun art are harmless, positive even.
  • I believe prostitution should be legalised – and regulated
  • I believe drugs should be legalised – and regulated.
  • I believe escapism is important.
  • I believe you can find someone attractive and still appreciate them as a human being as well.
  • I believe the internet should be free.
  • I consider The Singularity to be a likely outcome for the human race.
  • I believe games and the act of play to be more important than they’re normally considered to be.
  • I believe you can entertain an idea without accepting it.
  • I believe humour is important.
  • I believe satire is a powerful way to undermine something you hate.
  • I believe in crediting people with intelligence. I hate patronising or talking down to people.
  • I believe in taking the long term view.
  • I believe the human race has to get off this rock.
  • I believe in greater human unity over greater balkanisation.
  • I believe in free will.
  • I believe stories can be powerful, but not overriding.
  • I believe cats are better than dogs.
  • I believe Flash Gordon and Big Trouble in Little China to be the greatest films ever made.
  • I believe love is an unlimited resource.
  • I believe you’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick.
  • I believe creativity should be unfettered.
  • I believe 2000AD is the best comic ever made.
  • I believe fantasy is distinct from reality.
  • I believe it’s not butter.
  • I believe I can convince you of the things I believe, given enough time.

Shut Up & Listen When I tell you about ‘Check Your Privilege’.

0Xo8hfvI want you to ‘check your privilege’ about the phrase, ‘check your privilege’.

If someone is arguing with you, you should address their points, their reasoning, what they’re saying. When you tell someone to ‘check your privilege’ you are, essentially, engaging in an ‘ad hominem‘ fallacy, an ‘argument to the person’. For example:

“I don’t think that statement qualifies as sexist.”
“That’s because you’re a man, check your privilege.”

Simply because one is male (or white, or rich, or whatever else) doesn’t render one’s arguments invalid, it doesn’t mean you lack empathy, sympathy or imagination, it doesn’t even mean you haven’t experienced racism, sexism or whatever else yourself.

I’m sure in some ideal world ‘check your privilege’ is meant to mean ‘I say old chap, have you considered that your socioeconomic, racial and other statuses might affect your point of view?’ In practice however it means ‘Shut up you white male oppressor, you don’t know shit’ which is – in and of itself – quite startlingly sexist and racist.

I’m hardly the only person to note this.

Add to this things like ‘mansplaining’ (another horrifically sexist term) and the fact that some people think they can’t be *ist simply because they’re members of a self-identified oppressed group (riddle me this Batman, is the Nation of Islam racist against whites or not?) and its not hard to see why the perceived hypocrisy on display costs feminism and other activists a lot of support from people who should be natural allies – such as myself. The problems between the sceptic/atheist movement and skepchick/Atheismplus provide ample example of the problem here.

If your task is to communicate with people outside echo-chamber activist groups and their unquestioning hangers on then you have to listen to the experience and perception of the people you’re talking to. You also CANNOT presume that simply because a person agrees with you on one topic (say, atheism) that they must agree with you on another topic (feminism).

Questioning and challenging are vital to scientific enquiry and rational thought, challenging your claims about X,Y,Z doesn’t make the person challenging them *ist, it means they’re looking for evidence, testing your ideas to see if they’re robust and accurate. When you write these people off you’re harming yourself and your cause which would be much stronger if it did stand up to scrutiny and came out the other side unscathed.

We have all become very sensitised to sexism. I suffered a huge amount of unwarranted abuse over written works making fun of sexism and over a blog article defending what Neil Gaiman would call ‘icky speech‘. That has hyper-sensitised me to much of the hypocrisy I see in the ‘social justice’ movements, many of whom – to me – seem to have become the very things they hate.

In my experience many of these groups and their members are amongst the most obnoxious, bigoted and horrible human beings it has ever been my misfortune to come across – ironically as blind to their own bigotry as they claim others are to their own privilege.

If you’re a feminist and you’re calling out what you consider to be misogyny or sexism you want to be taken seriously and not dismissed, yet all too often this is exactly what happens if a man calls a woman out on misandry or sexism. Rather than acknowledging that men can suffer from sexism – or whites from racism – or anybody else from another other form of prejudice, this is dismissed, mocked, derided in exactly the same way as would not be considered acceptable the other way around.

This is a missed opportunity. We have a whole generation that is now very aware of unfairness on these sorts of bases but rather than going ‘You know what? You’re right, lets fight all forms of sexism together!’ it instead becomes a fight over who is more oppressed than who.

You don’t need to think the discrimination and prejudice is even or equal[1] to acknowledge that its bad and wrong and worthy of opposition.

Prejudice on the basis of sex/race/class/whatever is wrong, whichever direction it passes. Don’t be a hypocrite about it, it’ll cost you.

***

While I’m here I also want to pass comment on another thing that’s been going on lately.

Between the death of April Jones and ill-informed policy makers knee-jerking and Facebook drawing ire over ‘hate groups‘ along with policy signal shifts in the UK and the US the free internet is once again being chipped away at. I’m not saying that these rape joke or bad taste groups aren’t awful, but they are also legal and there’s nothing to suggest they actually harm anyone. After all, a picture of a person isn’t actually a person, its a picture and shock humour gets its ‘sting’ from being shocking, not being acceptable and beneath comment/reaction.

Of particular irony is the objection that these should be removed being on the basis of offence, often by the same people who were up in arms about images of breastfeeding being censored (also on the grounds of people being offended[2]). Personally, my opinion is that as long as it’s legal and age/membership restricted anything should go.

I am particularly worried about the ‘hate group’ reaction ending up being applied to kink/bdsm groups which given previous overreactions is nigh certain.

[1] – While I consider Watson’s ‘Elevatorgate’ fuss to be ‘a huge fuss about nothing’ I also consider this to be on occasion where Dawkins was wrong. That there are greater evils than lesser ones doesn’t mean the lesser ones aren’t also evil – and worth fighting.

[2] – And over-sensitive algorithms. 

The difference between racism and sexism is…?

Subway_Mugger

Read these and then guess which one is the unchanged – and acceptable one.

My black, adopted son is at University. He came down this weekend with his girlfriend to visit and to bring some stuff down from his Residence Hall before finishing up this year and moving back for the summer. He related this story to me;

He was walking home from his girlfriend’s Residence Hall at about midnight. A pretty fast clip, but just walking. Another guy, white, came down some stairs and started walking in front of him. He was probably 12 feet or so behind him at this point. But realize, he was already on the sidewalk – he turned in front of him.

As they are going along he notices that he speeds up considerably. Eventually pumping up the speed to a jog. Simply because he was a black guy, walking behind him. He felt terrible. He told me he didn’t want to say anything to him to assuage his fear because he might get even more spooked.

He is finishing up a semester in Race Studies – he is one of two blacks in the class. He said this experience bothered him so much that he wants to spearhead a chapter of Blacks Against Mugging at his University next year. It may happen, it may not; but this mom couldn’t be prouder of her son.

When he finished his story, all I really said was, “This is white people’s reality.” I could see how that impacted him even further.

***

My son is at University. He came down this weekend with his girlfriend to visit and to bring some stuff down from his Residence Hall before finishing up this year and moving back for the summer. He related this story to me;

He was walking home from his girlfriend’s Residence Hall at about midnight. A pretty fast clip, but just walking. Another girl came down some stairs and started walking in front of him. He was probably 12 feet or so behind her at this point. But realize, he was already on the sidewalk – she turned in front of him.

As they are going along he notices that she speeds up considerably. Eventually pumping up the speed to a jog. Simply because he was a man, walking behind her. He felt terrible. He told me he didn’t want to say anything to her to assuage her fear because she might get even more afraid.

He is finishing up a semester in Women’s Studies – he is one of two men in the class. He said this experience bothered him so much that he wants to spearhead a chapter of Men Against Violence at his University next year. It may happen, it may not; but this mom couldn’t be prouder of her son.

When he finished his story, all I really said was, “This is our reality.” I could see how that impacted him even further.

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Would we ever see black men, despite the disproportionate statistics and prison numbers (yes, there are reasons for this including racism and disproportionate poverty), tacitly accepting that people are afraid they’re thieves and muggers? Internalising this as somehow their fault and that they should act passively and show concern for people who are scared of them because they are black? Of course we wouldn’t. That’s an example of prejudice, despite the way some statistics can be spun to rationalise the ‘threat’ that they represent. Quite rightly we object to and reject this kind of stereotyping just as we do racial profiling for terrorism threat assessment.

Change race to gender though and suddenly we’re supposed to tacitly accept that we’re scary and nasty. That simply because we’re male we’re a threat and deserve to be treated as though we’re guilty before we’ve even done anything. This is just as unacceptable and yet unlike the example above men are willing to line up to agree that they should be treated with prejudice, with fear that they somehow deserve it just because of their Y chromosome.

This was a real post, made by an otherwise reasonable human being and supported by people who are otherwise reasonable human beings, including men. It was a public post and I have stripped out names etc so hopefully this isn’t overstepping any marks but it was jaw-droppingly insensitive and prejudiced. Any solution to these problems is not going to be met by simply reversing the direction of prejudice.