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.