Why Do We Keep Listening to Dawkins?

Seriously. I know he has been incredibly important to the atheist movement, but let’s take a step back and ask if it’s worth listening to somebody who apparently thinks that we can’t judge pedophiles before a certain arbitrary date because they didn’t know any better.

In a recent interview with the Times of London, Dawkins described his own early schooling and pointed out that he was molested as a child by a master at his boarding school.

Professor Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, describes in a new autobiography how a master at his Salisbury prep school “pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts”. He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.”

He also describes this as “mild paedophilia” and says that you can’t judge people in the past by your own moral standard.

“Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

Ok, first of all, how the fuck would Richard Dawkins know if any of his schoolmates who were also molested by this creepy schoolmaster suffered “lasting damage?” As Greta Christina points out, he can speak for himself, not for them. Considering his demonstrable disdain for the the science of human behavior, he probably wouldn’t accept the opinions of people who say that molestation can and does inflict lasting damage on many, many children.

Secondly, in exactly what year did it become no longer ok to touch children’s genitals for sexual pleasure? I’m really kind of curious. PZ touched on this as well, but I would like to point out that one of the many arguments that atheists use to counter the “the New Testament got rid of all that Old Testament stuff” is that the Old Testament stuff was never moral to begin with. The premise of the argument is that a perfect god would never have ordered the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people, or the capture and rape of young girls, or the stoning of any number of people, including those who had the audacity to gather firewood on the Sabbath. A perfect god would have outlawed those things to begin with rather than wait a few thousand years and then correct that error. Just saying, “Well, things were different back then, cultural context, it was the only way to protect them, blah, blah, blahty, blah,” doesn’t actually make any of those things ever a good or moral thing to do. It’s an effective tactic because the person making the argument must either admit that god wrote those things, but is not perfectly moral, or that men wrote them in the cultural context in which they lived and as they grew more enlightened, they started to correct their self-serving, barbaric behavior by claiming that a perfect deity changed its mind.

So to hear Dawkins say that there was a time when child molestation was a-ok basically undermines the argument that immoral behavior remains immoral whether or not the pervading opinions of the time hold it to be so. In other words, I damn well do hold the racism of the 18th and 19th century against the people holding those opinions. I may recognize that they were not in possession of the wealth of thought that I have available to me to formulate the conclusion that race is a bullshit idea with no bearing on a person’s potential except inasmuch as they must deal with racism, but that doesn’t mean that I will blithely excuse their terrible opinions or wave them off as insignificant. It means that I will engage their racism as I do with any of their other arguments and demonstrate why its wrong, even if that person may be right about other things.

Knowing Dawkins, he will spend the next couple of days on Twitter trying to explain how everybody just doesn’t understand the nuances of what he was saying, then trying to describe those nuances in 140 characters or less, but I sincerely hope that maybe he surprises us and actually learns from this that there are no degrees of pedophilia, that you absolutely can and must judge the past by the new information we have today, and that he doesn’t get to tell us whether his schoolmates suffered because of what happened to them.

UPDATE: Dawkins has clarified his statements and apologized for his presumption about his classmates’ reactions or experiences. I am, frankly, surprised, and while there’s a lot in there that suggests that it’s our fault for not getting it, he seems contrite on the important points, and that seems reasonable.

Persecution Should Empathize With Other Persecution

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn't actually racist.

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn’t actually racist.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Chipman had an excellent video on The Escapist about the rise of geek culture and how its journey into the mainstream has increased a very specific set of negative traits that always existed but are often mythologized away.

It was always an open secret, you see, that for all the pretense of refuge for those who were different, geek culture was always thought of and built around only one classical nerd archetype: white, male, heterosexual, cis gendered, first world, with enough disposable income to afford their hobbies.

 

And while it was common for idealized depictions of the culture to imagine that welcoming and understanding were the rule (after all, persecution must empathize with other persecution, yes?), in reality sexism, racism, and other forms of clique-ish and exclusionary behavior were often the ugly underbelly of the whole scene…

 

A culture that built so much of its sense of self around resistance to persecution and oppression has no moral or logical rationale to become an oppressor itself when it attains a seat of power.

I could quote the whole second half if I’m not careful, so go watch the video.

I think this speaks not just to geek culture, but rather any culture that has gone from an embattled position to a gradual acceptance into the mainstream. It’s not too difficult to apply much of what Bob said above to gay culture instead of geek culture which is still largely focused on the white, upper middle class, cis gender gay male. To an extent there is more acceptance of lesbians as well, though often in the sense that straight men find the idea titillating and therefore there must be more women having sex with women to watch. However, it’s still ridiculously difficult to be a bisexual in a gay space even if we are technically allowed there, and even closer to impossible by a long shot to be a transwoman in a scene largely dominated by gay men who may see crossdressing as a form of play, but certainly don’t accept that somebody may in fact be a woman, though they were born with a Y chromosome.________________________

Thus begins my latest piece over at Queereka. Go over and take a look at the full article.

Paying Attention to the Experts

In March 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary invented the following words: boccio, podium, and whip-smart. They also created an entirely new definition of the word “blue,” so you may want to consider looking it up so that you don’t mis-use it.

What’s that you say? The OED didn’t invent those words? Well, my good fellow or female version of the word “fellow”, you would be mistaken. You see, Richard Dawkins is quite emphatic on this point, though I’m not sure he understands that implication of his recent Twitter-splosion.

Ok, first thing’s first. Can somebody, anybody, when speaking to Richard Dawkins in person, try to talk him out of his weird insistence on trying to discuss deep, meaningful questions in 140 character bursts? I mean, this seems like a lot of fun at a party of philosophers (especially if you add a strip component), but when you are looking to actually address a situation, the intentionally limited nature of Twitter makes for more confusion than anything else. If it were simply useless, that would be one thing, but it is actively confusing, and that can be a problem.

What Dawkins actually did was claim, essentially, that it’s so unfair that people who point out white male privilege aren’t consider racist or sexist because of it.

Now I will give him some credit, this didn’t come out of nowhere. He started by talking about what had happened in Woolwhich and discussing the murderer’s words, specifically how he both seemed to consider the British to be Other to him and how he considered Britain to be “our land”. It’s a weird dichotomy that I think bears exploration.

Then somebody said this.

NadiaNouiMehidi Nadia Noui-Mehidi
@RichardDawkins you do the insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers thing well, but maybe stick to biology.
I’m not quite sure where this came from, but again, Twitter. Context is the first thing to go. However, I don’t think that can explain Dawkins’ response.
  1. @NadiaNouiMehidi Why is it permissible to be racist & sexist, just so long as you attack white males?
  2. “insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers.” Racism & sexism are fine, so long as they point in the right direction!
OK, what the fuck just happened there? Suffice it to say that it goes on and Dawkins continues to insist that pointing out his privilege is racism and sexism because the dictionary says that that’s what those words mean.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
@rachelmack @CabbagetownMatt Really? By whose dictionary? Certainly not the Oxford Dictionary. Dictionary of sociology perhaps? Ah yes.
This poses two major problems.
The first is his immediately going to the dictionary, which is where I started this blog. Dictionaries are not authoritative arbiters of words and their meanings, they are reflections of the state of language. The writers of the Oxford English Dictionary did not invent a single word placed in it, and when they change the meaning of words that’s not where the change originates. The words that are added and the changes made reflect a long-term change in how a word is used in actual conversation for a long period of time.
The last part is key. It takes quite some time for dictionaries to update their definitions of things, because they’re trying to reflect an accurate and stable definition of words. It’s part of the reason why the definition of “radical” didn’t change to “expressive of the best potential in life; awesome; gnarly; tubular” in the 1980s and early 90s. This was unquestionably what a huge proportion of the population (myself included) used the word to mean during the period, especially with the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but OED is careful about changing the definition of words in their publication to avoid fads. However, that does not change that that is precisely what that word meant in certain contexts during the time, even if the OED says that “radical” means, “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” I suspect that’s not what Raph was talking about, at least.
The second problem is that Dawkins shows a pretty extreme contempt for sociologists throughout this exchange. This is absolutely baffling, since sociologists are the people who dedicate their lives to studying this sort of thing! For a guy who spends a good portion of his life arguing with people who think they know more about biology than him despite having never studied biology, you would think that he would be a little more accepting of other people’s expertise in various fields. To quote Aoife over at the Tea Cozy,
People who have never taken a sociology class in their lives, who know nothing about social theory, research, methodologies (and the reasons behind them), who figure that they somehow know more about it than, well, the entirety of sociology and sociologists. And anthropology and anthropologists (lovely bunch).
I think what Dawkins is saying here is even worse than just that sociologists aren’t qualified to talk about society and social science. He is actually saying that while sociologists aren’t qualified, dictionary writers are. Seriously, he’s saying that the definitions of racism and sexism that were written at the OED offices are somehow more accurate than the one used by people who spend their lives advancing scholarship in the field that studies those phenomena. It’s one thing to entirely dismiss a field of study with centuries of research and data that accurately predicts societal trends and advancement, but it’s quite another to say that the people who figure out how to explain the way that people use certain words should be more trusted to answer questions related to that field.
Today, Cracked.com wrote a followup to John Scalzi’s famous “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post, which was reposted at Kotaku. Basically, Luke McKinney went into the comments of that Kotaku post and found examples of exactly the kind of privilege that Scalzi was talking about. Dawkins fairly often exhibits four out of five of the ones McKinney points out, but #1 is the most applicable to this situation. Let me quote, emphasis his.

Apparently, being a straight white male is actually the hardest difficulty because of political correctness. People can’t mock anyone else, so they mock the poor straight white man! Listen: If the people victimizing you are affected by political correctness, you have never been victimized.

Political correctness only stops the kind of people who use a thesaurus to get away with being snide. “Political correctness gone mad!” is how you announce to the world that you have no real problems but don’t appreciate the fact and should be harvested for organs as soon as possible.

Dawkins has a habit of digging in and dismissing expertise that isn’t his own. Basically, unless you happen to know a lot about things Richard Dawkins knows about, your knowledge is considered useless. I think part of this is that Dawkins has a lot of respect for his field, and part of it is that because he knows so much about evolutionary biology, for example, he is less inclined to be hyper-skeptical because he can more readily evaluate the worth of a given argument.

This is important. It’s pretty easy for me, with a degree in English, to determine whether a given interpretation of a text is valid. I’ve had years of training to be able to do so. Even if it’s an interpretation that goes against what I would normally consider to be correct, I am able to, with the knowledge and resources I have readily available, determine almost instantly whether I should give it credence, so I’m less inclined to be hyper-skeptical about it because I have a basis on which I can make a determination. This wouldn’t be true of evolutionary biology, which I know very little about, especially in comparison to somebody like Dawkins.

However, what often ends up happening is that Dawkins will hear something that violates his pre-conceived notions of a subject he knows very little about, and when somebody who knows more than him points out that he’s saying something entirely incorrect, he’ll dismiss the more experienced and knowledgeable person because… he knows a lot about evolutionary biology, I guess. It’s like when he had an argument over Twitter with Ana Mardoll in which he claimed to know more about the purposes of gene testing embryos for IVF (i.e. it’s about testing for potential to survive pregnancy, not for creating designer babies) than she did, despite her having done so and he having not. Mardoll clearly knows more about this than Dawkins, yet he refuses to accept that, so much so that at the end he points out that he always says exactly what he means, and people who misinterpret his words are the wrong ones, basically insisting that language is a solitary activity, not the most efficient way of transferring data between two or more parties that we currently know.

Dawkins has always had an ego. Some people consider it charming, I find myself more and more irritated by it every day. It’s not that Dawkins is a bad guy and I recognize his contributions to atheism as a movement, but given the choice I would rather hear Julia Galef, Melody Hensley, Dave Silverman, Darrel Ray, Jen McCreight, or JT Eberhard speak than Dawkins. I can be sure with them that they haven’t stopped exploring a topic because they think they have an answer, that they recognize the world is more complex than can be expressed in 140 characters, that they are willing to listen to people who might know more than them about a given subject, and, most of all, that they know how dictionaries work.

Homophobia and Black Americans

The incomparable and all-around incredible Alvin McEwen links us to an article that I found absolutely fascinating. Essentially, Adam Serwer responds to Charles Pierce, writing for Grantland, for his attempt to use Jason Collins’s coming out as an excuse to blame homophobia on the black community.

I recommend reading the whole piece, but here’s a pull quote from Serwer responding to a horrendous fail trying to reference W.E.B. Dubois.

Look, man: It’s called “double consciousness,” not “dual identity,” and it’s an intellectual concept applicable to black existence in America prior to Jim Crow and after its demise. “Dual identity” is what Batman has.

There is a tendency to attribute homophobia disproportionately to the black population. It’s a mistake that I made as well until I started reading McEwen’s blog and was very slowly convinced that the evidence for a higher rate of homophobia in black communities simply isn’t there.

This narrative that black people are simply more homophobic is harmful to both the LGBT community and to communities of people of color because it validates baseless claims by the religious right, giving them an uncritical pass because of some “everybody knows” appeal. It’s little different from Rand Paul’s assertion that Latin@s are natural Republicans because they share GOP social values, which is manifestly not true.

Buying into these sorts of narratives cedes that point to the religious right, basically saying that yes, we accept that being black means being homophobic and anyone who tries to be anything else doesn’t count and can be safely ignored. The modern black community is only about 1 percent more homophobic than the modern white community according to work done by Greg Lewis of Georgia State University. Statistically insignificant.

While I get that Pierce is attempting to be compassionate and praise Collins for coming out against incredible odds, his obvious lack of research on the topic makes the whole thing sound condescending. Pierce’s piece just smacks of “You’re a credit to your orientation,” and watching Serwer skewer the guy is really amusing.

 

(h/t Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters)

More Words that Mean Other Things

During the 70s and 80s, a cottage industry of old white evangelical con artists rose up. People who had been involved in the conservative movement but were unhappy with the lefty capitulation of Bill Buckley decided that they had one hell of a product: fear for one’s immortal soul with a righteous superiority chaser. Why not market the hell out of that?

So as a result we saw the rise of luminaries like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer…and Pat Buchanan. Buchanan was involved in the Nixon administration early in his career, where he fought for affirmative action based on religion while spending the rest of his career to date fighting against it for race. He is a writer for VDARE, a white supremacist group, and still believes that the Southern Strategy was a good idea.

Also, he wants you to know that he’s totes not racist.

And now he’s worried that the same people who noticed racism exsisted will now discriminate against poor, helpless, politically bereft Christians just because they will speak against gay marriage and queer people more broadly.

“Imagine the situation in America today if priests and pastors were telling congregations they need not obey civil rights laws. They would be denounced as racists. Church tax exemptions would be in peril,” he said. “Something akin to this could be in the cards if the homosexual rights movement is victorious – a public rejection of the new laws by millions and a refusal by many to respect or obey them.”

I really love this quote, not for the content, but rather because you can see his disappointment that he lost the race issue. I’m not saying that racism is solved, but rather that you should look at how he says that if you encourage people to disobey civil rights laws, you might be considered a racist today! Because in Buchanan’s mind, it wasn’t racist before, but now that we have this idea that segregation is bad, for example, suddenly it’s racist to suggest Whites Only drinking fountains in public accommodations.

And, of course, he’s afraid that people will now have to “reject” the “new laws” or someday, vocal and open homophobes might be treated the way we treat open and vocal racists today. Generally by giving them a column on WorldNetDaily.

But that’s not the real amusing part. This is:

He concluded by darkly warning, “The culture war in America today may be seen as squabbles in a day-care center compared to what is coming. A new era of civil disobedience may be at hand.”

By all means, take a  moment to laugh. I’ll wait.

Better?

Buchanan, in this case, is using the words “civil disobedience” because he’s pretty sure that it sounds good. At least it seemed to work when he was fighting the people employing it in the 50s tooth and nail, so clearly they were on to something. Obviously there’s something magical about those words, that phrase of phrases, that makes whatever you’re doing seem good and right and noble and true.

The problem is, however, that it’s not generally applicable. Fred Clark does an excellent job of explaining how civil disobedience should work (and gives several followup posts on how the evangelical right is trying to co-opt the words to hilarious effect), but the basic premise is that in order to civilly disobey a law, it has to be one that you have to option to civilly obey in the first place.

But Jesse’s defiance can’t be as easily channeled against this new law. Unlike the litter law, this one doesn’t directly compel him to do anything or forbid him from doing anything. And since it does not directly require his civil obedience, it does not lend itself to his civil disobedience.

I’m not exactly sure what Buchanan wants people to do. He talks about preachers and pastors using the pulpit to rail against homosexuality, but that’s not civil disobedience. That’s exercising your right to be a vocal asshole. They can do that now and there will never be a law that will prevent that, let alone there being one in the works now, so I’m not sure how this qualifies as “civil disobedience”. They can be civilly disobedient against gay marriage laws by…not getting a same-sex marriage, I suppose? Not performing them? No, the latter doesn’t apply because nobody wants churches and the like to be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

I suppose that they can be civilly disobedient against anti-discrimination laws, such as the Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because she’s in a relationship with Jesus. The thing is, this is nothing new. Buchanan has been fighting anti-discrimination laws since they were passed. He’s spent his life standing up for the privilege of white straight cis Christian males like himself to be able to discriminate against anyone they please because white folks built this country all by themselves.

So really, we’re not seeing much new here, expect Buchanan jumping on the bandwagon with his racist colleagues and trying to use the language of civil rights (that were once so effectively used against him) to fight LGBT equality.

What’s going on here is that the old formula of fear+superiority isn’t quite enough these days. Buchanan and his ilk are having a harder time doing anything other than keeping the already-converted in line by telling them that there are two types of people: those who are like them and perfect in their flaws (or flawed in their perfection), and everybody else who will suffer for all eternity at the hands of a merciful god. That works great on people who currently think they’re in the first category, but is a really bad argument for anybody not already drinking the purely symbolic grape juice.

So they are adding in another component: nobility. It’s no longer just about being super Jesus-y awesome and avoiding infinite torture for finite infractions, now he has to sell the fantasy that standing up for the status quo is actually an act of defiance. Like Recall in the film Total Recall, they offer the feeling of excitement to people who otherwise live boring, average lives, without the mess of actually having to do anything exciting. Any straight white cis male Christian can live the thrill of fighting battles that were won 1700 years ago and not have to worry for a moment that he will lose anything of substance should he not prevail.

Responding to Fandom

First thing’s first: to everybody who has been sharing my post from last night all over Facebook and the like, thank you so much. I wrote it because I was too angry to sleep. and now it’s really just taking off like crazy. I have the best, most intelligent, most attractive readers on the internet, and I hope that those of you who came around for the last Human Excommunication or to read about how re-posting the Frankenstein’s monster of a Bill Cosby speech doesn’t make black people the absolute worst will stick around for more rage coupled with supporting details.

Yea. Like that.

And it is on that note that we’re going to take a small digression away from rage to discuss something that is merely frustrating, perhaps a bit anger-inducing: the new Robin.

But first, some history.

During the 90’s, when everything about comics sucked, the few gems in the industry really stood out. Among them, we were introduced to a semi-villianess named Spoiler, the daughter to Chuck Dixon’s pulled-from-the-bin-and-dusted-off Cluemaster. Basically, she ruined her father’s plans, but wasn’t really a “good guy”, much like the Huntress from Green Arrow. She had her own agenda, and often it matched up with the Dynamic Duo, specifically Tim Drake Robin for whom she became a love interest.

Due to a number of things, Tim’s father finds out that his son is Robin, forces him to retire, and Spoiler, who is named Stephanie Brown, gets her own Robin costume and demands that Batman train her. He does, she’s Robin, all is good until she makes some serious mistakes and is fired…and becomes Batgirl.

During this time period, however, Steph really gained a major fan following. She’s spunky, raw, and really an interesting character. So when DC annouced they would be bringing in a female Robin, people got excited that it might be Steph.

Nope. It’s Carrie Kelly from “The Dark Knight Returns.” This is about as much of a letdown as when DC announced that one of it’s “major characters” would be gay, then made it Alan Scott, who is absolutely awesome as a character, but let’s not pretend that when people think of “Green Lantern,” they’re thinking of his Earth 2 counterpart. Similarly, I really, really like Carrie Kelly, but there’s a whole lot more going on behind this.

Ultimately, DC isn’t my comic label, Marvel is, but after reading Jess’s take on the bizarre and active opposition to Steph at DC, I can’t help but wonder what the hell they think they’re doing over there. Here’s a partial list of the things that DC has done to prevent this character from seeing the light of day, as compiled by Jess.

  • made Steph Robin as part of a publicity stunt, only to promptly kill her off in a lengthy, brutal, sexualized sequence;
  • subsequently announced that she had never really been a Robin and denied her a memorial case for years;
  • hosted a panel in which one of their freelancers, speaking as a representative of their company, expressed a desire to violently murder her fans for asking when they would see her again, and did not subsequently apologize nor request that the writer do so;
  • removed a character who, again, made The New York Times bestseller list, along with Cassandra Cain, from their New 52 in favor of Barbara Gordon, claiming it was to avoid confusion, while retaining four essentially identical-looking male Robins (thus eliminating not just two female characters, but a character of color and a differently-abled character);
  • rejected multiple pitches from popular writers to use her, including Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Bryan Q. Miller, and Scott Lobdell;

There are several more examples over at the post, and I highly recommend reading them all. The point is, despite a dedicated and huge fanbase, the high muckity-mucks at DC really, really, really don’t like Stephanie Brown and they’re going to do everything in their power to ignore fans and keep this character out.

That’s one reason why I’ve always been more of a Marvel reader, really: they tend to be more responsive to the fans (also, Doctor Strange is an amazing character, and the new Defenders is fantastic). In fact, like we see with the absolute train wreck of 90’s Spider-man plots that eventually ended up with a plane-crash-on-train-wreck attempt to correct those plots (One More Day, the Clone Saga, I’m looking at you guys), they may be even too responsive to their fans. However, I prize more highly a ham-handed attempt to correct a wrong than the steadfast refusal to admit to it.

And now we get to the crux of the matter: is it better to save face and deny a problem or to admit to it? Well, we can look at some examples.

Perhaps the most obvious is the Vatican, an organization that has staked its claim on infallibility, so they are completely unable to admit to wrongdoing, instead having to hide, deny, and command away any problems they may face. Even when they do apologize, it’s for things far too late or minor that any change can be affected. By extension, the ever-dwindling group of people who still give credence to the Vatican as a moral guide will reflexively proclaim every pope BESTEST POPE EVAAAAARRRR, and the problems will continue.

But yes, that’s an easy target. “You’re always down on the Church, Kaoru! Why don’t you ever criticize atheists?” Well, dear reader, let me do just that.

Sam Harris has recently come under attack for being “Islamophobic”. This is part of a recent trend these last two weeks to conflate the criticism of Islam by the New Atheists with a hatred of Muslim people in that weird way that we say “race” when we’re talking about “religion” (see also: Jewish). I think many of the criticisms of him and people like Jerry Coyne are off base, but then we have Harris’s response (h/t PZ Myers).

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Rather than admit that at the very least when he regurgitates well-worn philosophical experiments and tries to apply them to the real world, they have the potential to negatively affect people in the real world (PZ has plenty of examples), he basically says that any of his critics are unethical for calling him names. I disagree with most of his critics, if for no reason other than they are criticizing the wrong thing, but Harris’s response is a blatant attempt to cover up mistakes by blithely putting his fingers in his ears and repeating to himself how much better a philosopher he is than other people.

We make mistakes. It happens and it’s a part of human nature. Sam Harris needs to admit that his philosophical riffing often comes across as callous because he is trying to impose the results on a real world that doesn’t so easily conform to thought experiments. DC needs to realize that Steph Brown is not going away and it’s time to confront that and address it rather than attempt to suppress it. The Vatican…well, it needs to close up shop, but at the very least it needs to show some real humility (not just washing the feet of AIDS patients or choosing a less ostentatious wardrobe, neither of which require any effort), admit to its mistakes, and make an effort to actually fix them (working with governments for the prosecution of people who had raped children, falsely imprisoned women, or snatched babies from their parents would be a start).

Joe Davidson can donate 10% of the nightly earnings to Camp Quest from the night that he reneged on his deal with them.

Brad Paisley can resolve to talk to some black people who are from the South and not multimillionaires to learn about modern racism, why wearing a Confederate flag is not a color-blind expression of heritage, and make an effort to highlight actual Southern contributions to this country.

We all make mistakes, but we can learn from them, we can grow and we can make amends. That sometimes means listening to our fandoms, even when they’re being our critics.

Men’s Rights

A little while ago I had a post about when I recognized a tangible example of what it means to be Schrodinger’s Rapist and in the comments I got a couple of sincere remarks about the idea of a men’s right movement. It’s very rare that I get commentary on that subject that does not immediately turn to some of the privileged bullshit that normally accompanies such things, so it was actually pretty exciting.

So I thought about it, and I thought, and I did some research. I will admit that the MRM does have some excellent points in regards to issues that disproportionately harm men. The problem, of course, is that they reflexively ascribe these issues to feminism. And also, many of the issues they have is nothing but ridiculous privilege and the desperate grasping to hold on to it.

I decided to look at the “Facts” page on A Voice for Men. No, I won’t give them the link juice. If you want to see the page it’s under the “Activism” tab. Let’s take a look at some of the facts that they feel need to be addressed. I’ll break them into several categories since many deal with basically the same problem.

Useless Privilege

These are the most common things you will find in the current, organized MRM. These are only problems in the sense that it prevents men from doing whatever they want, whenever they want, consequence free. These are quotes from the page, and my commentary will be either in blue or on the bottom of the section.

– In contrast, women get every veteran’s benefit a man does, yet comprise less than 3% of combat deaths or casualties and a woman makes the cover of Time magazine (person of the year/2003 standing in front of two men.

Oh, no! Somebody call the photo stager and complain that they put a woman standing in front of men on a magazine. I wasn’t, until I saw this, aware how hard it is on men that photo set ups are not prioritized by percentage of combat deaths.

– A woman is the party filing for divorce in about 66% of divorce cases.

And…? I fail to see how this is a problem that needs a movement to address it. What, precisely, do the people at AVfM want to do? Go back to where women weren’t allowed to file for divorce? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. They then go on to discuss statistics (without citation) of negative consequences of growing up in a “fatherless home,” but even if those statistics were reliable, I’m not sure what MRAs want to do about that. Force couples to stay married?

30% of those named as fathers who test for paternity find they are not the biological father.

Source: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=48871xo

I kept the source on this because I wanted to point out that they are using the World Net Daily for a citation. Was Alex Jones not answering his phone? That being said, so what? Less than a third of women who think somebody is the father of their child is wrong. Since they’re so eager to use conspiracy theorists as authorities, perhaps the complaint is that this forces men to give up some of their precious bodily fluids? If the hardest thing you have to deal with is having to give some blood to find out that you’re not responsible for an unwanted pregnancy, I’ll trade you lives.

– There are over 700 Women’s Studies programs on colleges and universities throughout the United States teaching thousands or tens of thousands of classes from the gender feminist perspective, but not one program or class, teaching men’s studies from the masculist perspective.

You mean other than every other fucking program in existence? OK, that’s hyperbole, but the reason why Women’s Studies programs were started is because the vast majority of study is about and aimed at men. We read histories written by men from the male perspective. The vast majority of literature we study is written by and about men. This falls under the “Why is there no White History Month?” umbrella.

– The CDC reports that in cases of non-reciprocal intimate partner violence (one directional) that women are more than twice as likely to be the aggressor. The report cites that women comprise 70% of perpetrators, men 29%.

This is here because there is no citation. There is probably no citation because the study that they’re referring to is from 1998 (possibly 1986). It’s difficult to tell because the only places where I can find any reference to the actual study is on other MRA websites and they keep getting the details of where they found this wrong. None link to a study at the CDC website, though I have found several pages they’ve linked to that are entirely unrelated to partner violence. It’s like they wanted a link to look like they have evidence to back up their claims, yet count on nobody clicking on them.

– This bibliography examines 286 scholarly investigations: 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.  The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 371,600.

This is a particular MRA shibboleth, the Martin Fiebert Annotated Bibliography that shows almost three hundred studies that claim to say that women are as aggressive as men. It does not quote any of these studies, just gives analysis, and several of the studies have nothing to do with domestic violence. Several have tiny sample sizes, several don’t study the incidences of female aggression in domestic violence and instead talk about how to deal with it psychologically, and several even have in the summary that the perception of female aggression in these cases is distorted by, to quote one of them, “prevailing patriarchal conception of intimate partner violence.”

Also, that’s a very specific sounding number, 286. Almost make it sound like that’s a lot. That’s what’s called Misleading Vividness. If only there weren’t 563,000 papers that said otherwise, at least that I could find through a Google Scholar search in less than a second. Bad science all around, therefore useless.

– Boys are facing a significantly harder time in early education than girls

Source: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/boys/factsheets/ed/index.shtml

Yet girls, from primary education through college still benefit from many more special programs designed to help them gain “equality” with males.

Strangely, if you follow the link, you’ll see that while this is true, none of the reasons listed has anything to do with the boys being male. This is what’s called Affirming the Consequent and MRAs are very fond of it. Basically, because men and boys suffer disproportionately in certain areas, it’s because they’re men and boys, and all other possible factors are ignored.

– While men make more money than women on average, women control and spend vastly more money than men.

Yes, because in a patriarchal society, men are the breadwinners and women run the house. This can be fixed by getting more women into the workplace if they want to be there and getting rid of the idea that stay at home husbands are necessarily an awful thing.

Overall comments: These are just some of the examples given. They are usually either misrepresentations of actual facts or they are whining about how unfair it is that women are recognized in such a way that it’s not clear that men are the ones in charge. This does not need a men’s rights movement, it needs a good dose of “Grow the Fuck Up.”

More Likely Racism

There are several things on this list that are attributed to “misandry”, but are much more likely the result of racism. These problems don’t exist because the people suffering them are men, they exist because the people suffering them are men of color. They are, largely, legitimate concerns, but they are also best solved by doing things other than harassing feminists. Almost all of these are the Ignoring a Common Cause fallacy.

There is blatant anti-male discrimination in the criminal justice system and the sentencing disparity between men and women exceeds that between whites and any other minority.

The problem is that men are either white or some other minority. They are not distinct categories, they overlap. Moreover, there is a sentencing disparity because men are more likely than women to commit violent crimes, which carry longer sentences.

– The 2006 United States’ rate of incarceration of 751 inmates per 100,000 population is the highest reported rate in the world, well ahead of the Russian rate of 628 per 100,000.

93% of the prison population is male with over 60% having no High School education.   America has now passed Russia as the country that has the largest percentage of its population incarcerated, yet we still claim to be the freest country on earth.

The number of persons on probation and parole has been growing dramatically along with institutional populations. There are now 7.2 million Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole, an increase of more than 290 percent since 1980.

This isn’t racism, per se, but it is a result of a prison industrial complex that makes people a lot of money through private prisons when there are inmates, and less money when there aren’t, making incarceration more profitable and therefore more desirable. You can also blame the failed War on Drugs that puts people in jail for minor infractions. This is all a problem, none of it has anything to do with the fact that the vast majority of the prison population is male. They are completely unrelated.

– We hear a lot about the historical oppression of women’s voting rights, but few if any women who were born in the 20th century were every without the right to vote in their lifetime, upon reaching legal voting age.  On the other hand, around 2400 hundred California men (42% of CA men killed in Vietnam) gave their life for their country without being allowed by their country to vote.  The exact number is 2,381.  Four of the twelve Iwo Jimo flag raisers died for their country without their country ever allowing them the right to vote.

Yes, because they were minorities. They weren’t denied the right to vote because they were men. And guess what, women of color couldn’t vote then, either! There are several women of color who were prevented from registering to vote. When minorities were being prevented from voting, do they really think that women of color were just let through because they were women?

Misandry is often expressed through racism.

From Scottsboro An American Tragedy.

“The protection of white womanhood, it might be the pivot around all Southern culture. Of the 5,000 people who were lynched from 1880 to 1940, most were black men accused of raping or sexually assaulting white women.” – Robin Kelly, Historian

Bwahahahahah! This is hilarious. Notice, again, we have a system where black men are killed for being black, and VAfM assumes it’s because they’re men. Yes, it’s true that black men were lynched to protect white female virtue, but that’s because white men saw that “virtue” as their property and didn’t see black women, primarily, as a threat. This wasn’t men suffering to protect women, it was one set of men killing another set of men to protect something they felt they owned.

Overall comments: This is a blatant attempt to pad out their concerns by linking themselves with a legitimate problem: racism. It’s assumed that because men are the ones suffering so much, it’s because they are men, when often it’s because of their race. You can tell because of the disproportionate way this affects men of color. If it were strictly about their biological sex, the numbers would be more even.

The Result of Patriarchy

By far, the things that irritate me most about MRAs is that many of their most poignant concerns that really do need addressing are the result of the system they are trying to keep in place. For cases like the ones below, there already is a movement attempting to address them. It’s called “feminism.”

– 99.999% of American combat deaths and casualties (historically)

Historically, women have not been allowed to join the American military for the vast majority of its existence, and it’s only been a little over a month since the decision was made to allow them to serve in combat roles. Even then, the DoD has until 2016 to file for exemptions for certain roles. This was because women are traditionally assumed to not be capable of fighting and were designed, instead, to be protected. That’s patriarchy. Same goes for all the other stats on women not getting hurt as often as men.

Men are 93% of industrial deaths and accident (NIOSH)

Women have only been comparatively recently allowed into these positions. It’s a male dominated field because women are taught that they shouldn’t work in industrial jobs.

– There are estimated to be over 300,000 male rapes per year in American prisons and jails.

And this is a problem, but I fail to see how it’s one that a men’s rights movement can address since it’s men raping men. The act of male rape has been used for centuries as a way of degrading men because being penetrated is associated with…wait for it…being a woman. Prison rape is a gigantic problem as men looking to establish dominance over other men sexually assault them, but it’s not a case where men’s rights are being violated in some systematic fashion because of their maleness. There is an argument to be made that the fact that it’s largely unreported and nothing is done when it is has some merit, but that can be traced directly to gender roles and how men, afraid of being thought of as unmasculine, don’t report incidents of rape against them. Again, patriarchy.

Women receive custody in about 84% of child custody cases.

Yes, because of ingrained gender roles. Women in patriarchal societies take care of children, and judges tend to assume that women will be better caregivers as a result. This is yet another thing that feminism addresses by trying to get rid of the absurd notion that women were somehow made to be caregivers exclusively.

Capital Punishment Targets Men Almost Exclusively

Again, because women are assumed to be less dangerous and less capable individually then men. We should get rid of capital punishment all together, but so long as men have to fit into narrowly defined gender roles, they will be assumed to be more capable of committing capital offenses and more likely to be dangerous. Eliminating gender expectations goes a long way to fixing that.

Men pay the majority of social security taxes and are outlived by six years by women, but the government makes no fair adjustment to how those funds are distributed.

Social security taxes are taken out of paychecks. The reason why men pay more of them is because they are more likely to have a job and make more money at that job. We can fix that by encouraging women to be a part of the workforce, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and reducing the acceptance of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.

Overall summary: The elimination of pre-defined gender roles (something MRAs oppose) will go a long way to correcting the imbalances that they see and are legitimate. Also, making the workplace a place where women can thrive without worrying about not being taken seriously, not getting paid the same as male counterparts, or experiencing sexual harassment/gender discrimination would mean they contribute more to the taxes MRAs seem to think are going to subsidize them at men’s expense.

To quote Miriam, who wrote her post before I wrote this one but not before I thought of it, “Men, however, can use the ‘toolbox’ of feminism–examining power differentials, paying attention to intersectionality, critiquing pop culture, etc.–to advocate for their own causes.”

The MRM has some legitimate concerns, but they will ultimately fail to have any sort of major impact on them because they are more concerned with trolling feminists than actually addressing the systematic problems that result in what they’re concerned about. That, and those legitimate problems are buried beneath pointless garbage like how unfair it is that sometimes they have to take paternity tests.

Men’s rights doesn’t need a movement. There are movements already addressing places where their rights are being violated, and they’re doing it without, to quote the AVfM mission statement, “[Promoting] the legal and nonviolent antagonism of all agents of misandry, from members of academe, to holders of public office, to law enforcement and other state functionaries, to popular bloggers and to corporate agents who promote misandry for profit.”

They’re doing it by examining the issues before them and coming to a conclusion that reflects the reality currently observable. They aren’t conjuring problems out of thin air and framing the preservation of privilege as a civil rights battle, nor attributing every single problem to their boogyman of choice. Any potential men’s rights movement that didn’t do that would quickly find themselves involved in other, established groups fairly quickly, I think.

Getting Bigots Out of the Closet

Several weeks ago, I read what had to be one of the most hideously unself-aware pieces of tripe I have ever had the displeasure to come across. Essentially, an English professor (why did he have to be an English professor?) named Anthony Esolen wrote a bit of a screed for the Witherspoon Institute (that, unsurprisingly, no longer exists there) that was several parts masturbatory panegyric to how tolerant he is and the rest a demand that gay people pay back his tolerance by never letting him know that they exist in any discernible fashion.

But it requires pretty serious reciprocity. For one, the rights of my son should be respected. No snares in his path, thank you. He should not have to suffer, by suggestion or invitation or public example or enticement or moral sophistry, any complication along his way to becoming a healthy man, able to love a woman in a healthy way. Mr. Madison and Mr. Unger live in the same apartment: they are roommates. The history teacher, Mr. Delvecchio, is 40 and unmarried. Well, some people are confirmed bachelors. And indeed they may be. The freedom-clearing presumption of normality ought to obtain.

I’ve been looking for ways to use this incredible bit of inanity since I read it, just because it’s so remarkably good at missing the point. And now that the election is done and marriage equality swept in four states, I can. Let’s look at some examples of the responses.

Laurie Higgins, of the Illinois Family Institute (and the first person to receive a Human Excommunication on this site), had this to say about the “declining morality” of America and how groups like hers have been too damn nice.

We tolerate the intolerable with unjustifiable equanimity. We tolerate censorship in public schools. We tolerate the presentation of false and evil ideas as objective truths to little children in the schools we subsidize. And we tolerate the destruction of marriage.

Brian Camenker of MassResistance, an anti-gay hate group, has argued that the reason why they lost in every state this last election is because the anti-gay right was just too damn pro-gay. He says that groups like Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage try too hard to be kind to homosexuals and, rather, they need to “persuade the public through advertising that homosexual behavior was perverse, dysfunctional, and unhealthy”.

Those who deviated from this and took a more direct approach were shunned and even publicly criticized by the pro-family establishment. This included some of the vocal black churches in Maryland who wanted to quote the Bible, and activists in Maine and Minnesota who felt compelled to discuss the negative aspects homosexual behavior.

Way over in Washington, hilariously inept pastor Ken Huchinson not only accused the leading anti-gay groups of being too kind to LGBT people, but thinks that it’s racism that kept them from using him and his brand of campaigning.

“Their intention was to be moderate, non-controversial,” Hutcherson told OneNewsNow in an exclusive interview, pointing out that the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family and Family Policy Institute’s unbiblical strategy was a severe departure from the state’s churches’ aggressive campaign to stop same-sex marriage using the weight of family values and Scripture.

What do all of these people have in common is that they share the same remarkable worldview. They seem to be honestly, absolutely, and unquestionably convinced that we still live in a world where being anti-gay is acceptable, that it’s considered a mark of good character. And if they weren’t such awful human beings, I would pity them for it.

What Anthony Esolen doesn’t understand is that if he suddenly retracted his “tolerance,” it’s not his gay neighbors who would be ostracized, it’s him. Most people don’t put up with that shit any more, and the number of people unwilling to calmly listen to condemnation of their friends, family, and loved ones dwindles yearly. People simply aren’t interested in hearing it.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage people like Esolen to be open about their feelings on this subject. By all means, if it’s such a burden to be “tolerant” of people like me, nobody is asking you to continue to pretend not to be threatened by our mere presence. Similarly, I encourage the Catholic Church to refuse to confirm kids who support marriage equality. I would love it if the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t bother trying to dress up its old ideas in new words, words that are pretty transparent. I want to see their numbers dwindle to a tiny and insignificant minority, which is already happening but could use some acceleration.

Miriam pointed out that it’s actually quite rational to end friendships over political differences sometimes. Not all the time, but there are issues that we’re allowed to set as standards for our friendship. I can disagree with somebody who doesn’t think Firefly is the greatest show ever made (it is). I can disagree with somebody who thinks that all taxation is theft. I can disagree with somebody who thinks that while the federal government is endlessly corrupt, state governments are bastions of liberty. And I can disagree with them on all of these things while still remaining friends.

I cannot, nor will I, remain friends with somebody who denies my humanity and the humanity of my loved ones. I cannot, nor will I, remain friends with somebody who insists on “defending marriage” from the encroaching gays. I cannot, nor will I, remain friends with somebody who thinks women need to be defended and kept in their proper roles, or that thinks minorities vote in a block based on skin color alone, or in any way treats real people as anything other than complex creatures with varied motivations and a range of emotions, most of which are entirely ok based on any objective measure.

It is becoming increasingly clear to the public that there is no rational reason to hold the opinions above. The only reasons boil down to “I read it in a book” and because it’s a specific book we’re supposed to automatically respect that. But we don’t.

So please, tell us what you really think. This dance of trying to pretend that you’re concerned with protecting things that aren’t in danger and defending things that aren’t under attack is tiresome. I dare Anthony Esolen to stop hiding his true feelings and be entirely open about it. Come out of the closet as a bigot and see how that works out for you.

Game Overthinker and Some Thoughts on Self Identification

The new Game Overthinker came out last week and I just got around to watching it. It’s very story-heavy and will be the last episode of it that Bob hosts on Screwattack.com due to its formatting not really being what the website needs.

The chief focus of it is Nintendo’s “I’m Not a Gamer” campaign and the surrounding controversy among gamers who, after decades of loyalty to the gaming giant, feel a little put out that Nintendo is trying to distance itself from them. Gaming grew up as a culture of the rejected and dispossessed, and having the refuge to which many of us ran running away from us now is not only hurtful, but infuriating.

However, as Bob overthinks the problem, he brings up a point that changes the narrative a bit. Think about how many people are involved in some form of gaming these days. Not just console gaming, but Facebook games (I know several of you reading this are because you keep sending me requests that I will never, ever respond to), smart phone games, enhanced reality games, etc. We are a culture that craves entertainment and have found new ways to satisfy that craving. Bob’s thesis is, essentially, that in a world where everyone is a gamer, nobody is a gamer, and the label fails to have any sort of significance. I find this a little optimistic, since I think that there is a certain weight placed on self-identification in the application and growth of subcultures (i.e. claiming membership in a group has a lot of resonance, hence why most people would agree with basically every feminist ideal yet are reluctant to call themselves feminists because it’s easier to believe the details than to claim the name), but there’s a certain comfort in thinking that what was once a rallying cry for the dispossessed can be put down, the fight basically over if the result is not what anyone expected. Gaming is mainstream, everybody does it, and claiming to be a gamer is no longer a defiant cry against those who told you only freaks and losers played video games.

That being said, it made me wonder how this may be a model for other sorts of self-identification. The rise and embrace of gaming is a fairly new phenomenon and it’s hard to compare the treatment of gamers, who have had it comparatively easier for no more than a single generation, to the ideological and physical minorities that have been mistreated for centuries and watched a bunch of kids breeze past (or sometimes step on) them to get to a point of general mainstream acceptance. I suppose you could argue that the building of the gamer subculture had foundations laid by the movie geeks of a good portion of the 20th century, who owe their leaps to the teachnology geeks of the Victorian period, who were accorded status by the natural philosophers of the Royal Society, etc., but that ignores that racial minorities, women, LGBT people, etc. existed through all of that in largely the forms they are currently in and received none of the structural support that gamers could claim they walked into. Basically, what was it that gamers had that bought them into the mainstream?

I think the answer is pretty simple: games. Games are entertaining, and growing more so every day. The availability of games to a wider audience and the targeting of games to new demographics meant that in order to be a part of the club, you had to stop knocking the club. Gamers offered a benefit that, and this is important, signified no potential for loss to cultural gate keepers.

This is why “gamer” is a different label in many respects. The only thing that people lose by accepting gamers and gaming culture into their world is the ability to beat up on gamers and gaming culture, despite what Nintendo’s ad campaign seems to imply. That’s an easy trade when you get awesome video games for it that target you and make you happy.

Not having to claim one’s atheism, on the other hand, will probably not be something we can look forward to in the near future. The very act of not believing threatens whatever dominant religious hegemony exists in your particular region of the world. We believe because we all believe, and the existence of non-believers threatens the power, prestige, and control of those at the top of that faith-based pyramid. All we offer, ideologically, is the abandonment of that thing that we’re trying to subvert, and that’s just not as much of a selling point as games are.

Similarly, LGBT activism or feminism offer a world where heterosexuality isn’t the assumed default and male is not inherently treated as superior, and the cultural gate keepers tend to be heterosexual males who quite like being assumed to be that and treated as superior. There is nothing to offer other than a sense of having done justice.

I’ve said a number of times that the reason why the LGBT community co-opted “pride” and “straight pride” is not a thing is because it’s the opposite of “shame” and straight people have never been told they should be ashamed of their sexuality. The taking on of labels is usually as a reaction to those who say that the thing which those labels signify is shameful, and thus we proudly proclaim our allegiance, defiantly refusing to be ashamed. With gaming, it’s no longer something to be ashamed of, any more than being able to use the internet is, so the label becomes more limited, if not entirely unnecessary.

That’s why I can almost see this Nintendo ad campaign in a hopeful fashion. Perhaps now I’m the one being optimistic, but it would be nice if the other labels we use to push back against shaming tactics can someday start to crumble from lack of necessity. It won’t be today, and probably not tomorrow, but it’s something to look forward to.

Is This Making the Rounds Again? Debunking Cosby

Since 2004 when Bill Cosby made his famous “we can’t blame white people” speech, it occasionally makes its rounds of the internet. I have to link to the Snopes article for a full quote because the first few pages of Google were, unsurprisingly, racist assholes saying “See? We told you black people were awful!”

Now, some of what Cosby says makes sense. Some of it, however, is needlessly reductionist or more the result of him being an old man rather than some truth-teller about his own race. Let’s look at some of the claims, shall we?

They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain’t, Where you is, What he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be… And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk.

Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

I find this remarkably amusing from a guy who has made a career on talking like a drunk man having a seizure. All joking aside, yes, there is a certain type of speech that is more highly prized in many places and careers, and it’s important to learn to use it. However, that speech isn’t somehow more correct or more English. Does Jeff Foxworthy not speak English? Or Ron White? Or Larry the Fucking Cable Guy? What part of speech is “Git’r’done”, anyway?

Did he not pay attention in 2004? You don’t even have to be well spoken to be President of the United States!

People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. $500 sneakers for what? And they won’t spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics.

Hyperbole alert! Going to need a citation on “$500 sneakers” since the Air Jordan IIs, released in 2004, retailed around $100. But I see the point he’s trying to make. He’s suggesting that people’s priorities are out of whack.

And I would almost agree with him, except as a person with a doctorate in education he should know that inner city schools are seriously underfunded, so Hooked on Phonics, which was designed as a supplement to regular schooling, would be useless. Also, while I’m sure that he lived in a magical time when everyone spoke the King’s English in black neighborhoods, deviating from the cultural norm in any way (which includes wearing the wrong shoes or speaking in a dialect that’s considered condescending by others in your neighborhood) is a good way to get yourself beaten up or worse. It’s very, very easy to say, “X person should just make themselves better” without recognizing that doing so too openly may actually cost them their life.

I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn’t know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? Or who is his father?

I don’t know, Bill. Probably working multiple jobs at minimum wage to make sure they continued to have an apartment to live in and food to eat. Also, if you’re making a point about black culture being incredibly misogynist and not encouraging men to treat women as more than sex objects that can be abandoned if they get pregnant, you’re doing it wrong.

People putting their clothes on backward: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?

No. It’s a sign of fashion trends. Says the guy who wears sweater vests. A sweater without arms? Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?

People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something?

Again, fashion trends. I may not like them, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them. Just like men walked around without hats used to be very strange, but it’s the common trend now (though, thankfully, hats are coming back). Clothing changes over time.

Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

At this point, when he gives this speech, he breaks into a rousing chorus of “What’s the Matter With Kids Today“. I get it, you’re old and people didn’t pierce themselves as much in your day. Get over it. Also, the slut shaming is inappropriate.

What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

All of them? Really, Bill? Again, I know this is hyperbole, but it’s also kind of ridiculous. You think that they’re in jail because of a naming convention and not because of a racist legal system that is more likely to target and convict people of color?

Also, as my Uncle Giacomo used to say, it’s important to not have ethnic-sounding names (see what I did there?). In some versions of this, it talks about how European-Americans don’t identify as such, which might surprise groups like the Florida Federation of Italian American Clubs (which gave me a scholarship for writing an essay about my heritage), the Polish American Culture Club, people who wear kilts and put on Highland Games, and any number of other European cultural identifiers that white people use to link themselves to their European ancestry. People like to be tied to their culture, which is why my family proudly identifies as Italian-American, along with untold thousands of others.

He says a lot of other things, which I have no specific response to. But then we get to this

Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.

Oh, this is about standards. It’s not that Wal-mart comes in, destroys locally owned stores that might offer better jobs, and pays low wages for backbreaking work at all hours of the day with little to no job security or room for advancement. It’s just that the people working there like getting paid shit for ridiculous amounts of work and no benefits. They’re just not motivated to go get a job as a banker, which they could easily do if somebody would just tell them that they could do better! Thanks for pointing that one out.

Now, I’m not being entirely fair here. While Bill Cosby did say all of these things (except the Wal-mart thing, which was made up), they were part of a larger speech that was given at the NAACP commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education and then this monstrosity was cobbled together out of the speech in order to make it a wide spread excoriation of everything about black people rather than a targeted speech about the problem with education in urban neighborhoods. The original isn’t much better, but at least it’s more than Old Man Yells At Cloud-style ramblings on how lazy and ignorant black people are.

However, the victim blaming and reductionism is pretty blatant here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the world is a lot more complex than people like to make it out to be, and while I think it’s important to fight destructive cultural elements, it’s equally important to properly identify them. The problem with poor, black neighborhoods is something that can be addressed by the neighborhood itself, yes (which was another one of the original points Cosby was making), but it can’t just be about going back to shaming people more often into behaving. It has to be about fighting sexism, standing up for those who don’t conform, encouraging better, comprehensive education, and getting police officers to start doing their jobs instead of targeting minorities because they’re less likely to be able to fight back legally.