Thursday, November 29, 2012

Has the Schrödinger's Rapist meme backfired?

As promised recently, I have plunged back into the fray on r/DebateAtheismPlus. So here's the question I posed:
Let me say first of all that I understand what the author of Schrödinger's Rapist is getting at - when a woman encounters a strange man, she has no idea a priori whether he is a rapist or not. And to be on the safe side, she should assume he is a rapist until proven otherwise. Let me add that I think rape is a horrible crime, and should be punished severely. (And false rape accusations, if and when they occur, should be treated proportionately seriously.)
However, a great many men (and more than a few women) have been offended by this analogy and have reacted very negatively to it - they can't help seeing it as an insinuation that all men are rapists. Or perhaps Phaedra Starling is merely saying that there is no such thing as a man who is purely and simply a non-rapist - he is at best a quantum superposition of rapist and non-rapist, until - being male - he inevitably commits rape, at which point the quantum wavefunction collapses and he becomes a fully-fledged rapist.
The situation isn't helped by Starling's smug, condescending tone. Most puzzling of all is that she starts out by addressing herself to "good guys" and non-rapists - but near the end, she writes: "Don't rape." Whatever her protestations of good will at the beginning, she seems to have the fixed idea that all men, at best, need to be reminded not to rape.
Also, given that the majority of rapes are by an acquaintance of the victim, is it really helpful to focus on rape by strangers? Or to imply that only men rape, and only women are raped?
Many feminists, seeing the resistance to SR, have responded (like PZ Myers' mini-me, Chris Clarke): "Well, this just proves that they are walnut-size-brained MRA's who are prone to rape." But remember that the ostensible purpose of SR was to reach out to potential allies among men, and try to help them see the rape situation through a woman's eyes. If you don't succeed in making the sale, do you take your ball and go home, muttering: "I knew they were all rapists anyway"? Or do you try to figure out what went wrong, and tweak the message to make it less gratuitously alienating to the people you are trying to win over?
Apparently no hard-core plussers saw it, or if they did, they didn't feel it was worthy of their time to respond. I did get this comment:
I'm not sure you do. SR is supposed to be an awareness raising idea for men. It's not that the woman walking in front of you should or will be scared of you. It's that she might. So be aware of yourself and that other people can see you as a threat.
To which I replied:
In that case, instead of telling every man, "Hey dude, you're Schrödinger's Rapist", we should just tell men that every woman is "Schrödinger's rape-phobic".
This may sound flippant, but I am trying to get at a serious weakness of the analogy - its muddled point of view. ("You can't be sure that the woman can't be sure that...") Even Phaedra Starling (who originated the meme), while lecturing men that they should adopt the woman's viewpoint, seems incapable of seeing anything through anyone else's eyes. Apart from the bizarre "BTW, don't rape" admonition, there is her insistence that she alone sets her level of risk tolerance, which then becomes unilaterally binding on everyone else. This means that if Starling has a racist fear of being mugged every time she sees a black person, too bad for black people - each and every one of them is "Schrödinger's mugger", regardless of how unreasonable her fear is.

Look, it's one thing to ask you, if you're a guy, to be sensitive to the possibility that a woman may be nervous in your presence when you are a stranger to her. I have absolutely no problem with that. Even before Elevatorgate, although I often struck up conversations with women in elevators, I never pushed if they seemed unwilling to converse, and I never tried to pick them up right there.

However, SR is about asking me as a man to debase myself solely on the basis of my gender, and accept that I am a criminal until proven otherwise, in a game that has been rigged so that such proof is impossible. This was too much for even the notorious Rhys Morgan to swallow. I am certainly not going to play that game - I have way too much self-respect.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Oppression: a Helpful Guide for Victim Feminists

  • Genocide?
  • Slavery?
  • Concentration camps?
  • Famine as government policy?
  • Seeing a T-shirt you don't agree with?
  • Spotting a homeless man masturbating in the street?
  • Being politely invited for coffee, even if you consider the guy "creepy" (i.e. he's not Brad Pitt or Warren Buffett)?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Misogyny! Misogyny everywhere!

(Full cartoon here. This excerpt is used in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of the DMCA.)

Reviewing my ill-fated attempt to debate an Atheism-plusser, I saw a comment from a third commenter which I hadn't really paid attention to before. He points out the possibility that I and Pwrong (my anatagonist) were using different definitions of sexism, and thus talking past each other. I was using "sexism" in the everyday sense of "animus against women", while Pwrong was using it to denote men and women being treated, on average, differently by society.

This is a perceptive point. I've seen racism similarly redefined when racism in the everyday sense of animus against (e.g.) African-Americans can't be proven - just point to different outcomes, label it "institutional racism", and carry on as before. Similarly, if you can't prove that the dreaded wage gap is caused by hatred of women, just redefine sexism as "when bad things happen to female people" (while ignoring the possibility that many women would freely choose the trade-off of more time with their children in return for less status and seniority at work - they're just gender traitors anyway).

But the problem is, vicfems (victim feminists) want to have it both ways - they want to have their victim cake and eat it too. Having defined sexism as the effect, you can't also define it as the cause! Otherwise you whole world view obviously becomes circular, an impenetrable cocoon of dogma.

But that's precisely what vicfems do, and when you consider how often they throw words like "misogyny" and "oppression" around, it's very clear that they have the everyday definition of sexism - hatred of women - in their minds even as they redefine sexism as any inequality in outcomes.

Let me state very clearly that I strongly believe in equal rights, respect and responsibilities for all people, regardless of gender or skin color. Compared to other species, there is so little genetic diversity in humans that racism makes no sense whatsoever - it only reveals its exponent as ignorant. The issue is not as clear cut with gender - there is growing evidence of differences between male and female brains, and it's uncontroversial to all but the most rigid dogmatist that women, on average, are more likely to find greater fulfillment in raising a family while men are more likely (and under more pressure) to be the hunter who brings home the bacon at all costs. But no individual should ever be denied opportunities on the basis of these averages.

Try telling this to a plusser, though. It's a sacred, unquestionable core dogma of extreme feminism that men and women are identical, and gender is nothing but an arbitrary social construct invented by the dreaded Patriarchy to oppress women and steal 23% of every woman's paycheck (and at the same time throw money away by forcing women out of the workplace so that they can hire more men for more pay).

There really is no point trying to have a rational argument with anyone who is so deeply stuck in a blinkered dogma that ignores reality, evidence, logic and the most rudimentary knowledge of economics.

"Atheism plus we use critical thinking and skepticism" - MY ASS!

Friday, November 23, 2012

There oughta be a name for it...

...And if there isn't, I hereby name it Tea Party Syndrome.

What am I talking about? Well, if you're at all familiar with US politics over the last few years, you've seen the Republican Party zoom off into the furthest extremities of right-wing lunacy - and at the same time insist all the more strongly that they stand for wholesome all-American values, and the "loonie left" Democrats are the ones who are "out of touch with American traditions". It's not enough to say that you disagree with the Dems and you think they're wrong - they have to smeared as communists, socialists, fascists, godless atheists, death-panelists, Kenyans, secret Muslims, Jeremiah Wright followers, all of the above at the same time.

Your politics may be different from mine, and that's okay - but you have to admit that precisely the same process is going on with Atheism♀. You don't march in 100% ideological lockstep with all the dogma about patriarchy theory, male privilege theory and rape culture theory? Shove a decaying porcupine carcass up your ass, you misogynistic rapist!

Much to my sorrow, this mind-rotting virus has contaminated the Atheist Experience, something I used to have a lot of respect for.

"Oh, it's dogma to think women should be treated equally to men, huh?" Good grief - I expect this kind of dishonesty from the christbots!

I can't wait for the day when Atheism♀ finally implodes under the weight of its own sophistry, mindless dogma and screaming rage and hatred.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why we fight

Instead of the usual A+ bashing, I want to talk about a story which has exploded in the last few days - a story which perfectly illustrates how toxic, cruel and heartless religion can be, and why it is so important to oppose it and fight for church-state separation.

By now you've probably heard of the death of Dr. Savita Halappanavar, a dentist who died in agony in an Irish hospital after being denied a life-saving abortion following a miscarriage. And if you've missed this story because you've been living on the far side of the moon, read Michael Nugent's article which fills you in on the context and the legal vacuum and political cowardice which allowed this tragedy to happen.

The tl;dr version is that this is a complicated story, decades in the making, which reflects badly on Ireland but is not simply a case of a backward, barbaric country practicing racism against a brown-skinned woman, as some uninformed armchair analysts in other countries are superficially describing it. And if you still think it's all about racism, check out these photos from the massive protests in Dublin and other cities across Ireland in response to this needless death.

The fact is that religion is dying in Ireland faster than just about anywhere else, but for historical reasons the Vatican still has a stranglehold on politics and successive Irish governments have been scared shitless of pissing it off, even after the endless priest child-rape scandals of recent decades. Now the Irish people are erupting in anger, and hopefully the government will finally listen to them.

Some commentators have focused on the phrase "this is a Catholic country" which was apparently said to Dr. Halappanavar's husband as an excuse for not terminating the pregnancy. I don't know the context in which this was said, but I used to have a friend who was a pain nurse in a Catholic hospital in the US. Sometimes she had to deal with terminal patients who were in excruciating pain, but she couldn't treat the pain as aggressively as it needed to be treated, because that would shorten the life of the patient. She was a Catholic herself, but didn't agree with the church's rigid stance on euthanasia. She had to explain to the family why their loved one was in so much pain, and all she could do was tell them: "This is a Catholic hospital." So the remark made to Mr. Halappanavar may have been callous, or it may have been an admission of helplessness.

On the other hand, it may be that the hospital was overly cautious and they could in fact have acted to end the pregnancy without running afoul of the law. Hopefully the investigations which will take place will bring some closure to the case, though that does not relieve the Irish government of its duty to clarify the legal situation. There's an interesting variety of opinions on this Irish Times Letters to the Editor page - from theological sophistry about "ensoulment" and "desoulment" (AKA death) to informed discussions of medical ethics.

This kind of tragedy reminds us that Atheism-plus and its opponents are equally irrelevant - we're all just a bunch of people who spend too much time on the internet, yelling at each other. Meanwhile, thousands of people are taking to the streets of Irish cities on cold winter nights to demand change. Atheists and believers are working together, building coalitions, making their voices heard. People aren't demanding ideological purity and lockstep conformity from each other - they are focusing on the common goal of working for women's rights and health. (Okay, so I had to get a dig against A+ in there. Sue me.)

If the dead, withered claw of Vatican control can finally be pulled from the throat of what was formerly one of the most religious countries in Europe, and a more humane and enlightened law can be put in place, some good will come of this senseless death.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Would you like some microcheese with that microwhine?

Spotted in the comments section at Al Stefanelli's blog: (don't forget to read Al's article too, it rocks)
I don’t know a whole lot about al’s problems with FTB, but I have noticed that some of the folks there go a little far with the nuttery. One commenter on a thread went so far as to suggest that by referring to Savita Halappanavar by her first name was an example of 'microaggression'.
(If you're not familiar with the Savita case, here's a link)

I also had a WTF moment, so I made the mistake of googling "microaggression". According to Wikipedia, it's "the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression." There's also microassault, microinsult, microinvalidation and - get ready for this - microrape. (I guess victim-politics scholars haven't yet gotten around to investigating micro-inviting-someone-for-coffee-in-the-elevator.)

I swear, you can't make this shit up...

Interview with the Plusser

[EDIT: Rats! I didn't think of the right title for this post until now: "Interview with the Fempire"]

Recently I attempted to debate a point about male/female privilege with an atheism-plusser on r/DebateAtheismPlus. You can view the thread here, but to summarize, it was a gigantic exercise in frustration for me.

The points I was trying to make were:

  • There is no such thing as blanket "male privilege" that all men have, and no women have.
  • Most alleged examples of male privilege are really just wealth privilege. If Richard Branson is a billionaire, and he has a penis, and I have a penis, does that make me a billionaire? Of course not!
  • The much-ballyhooed gender wage gap is based on faulty and simplistic interpretation of the statistics. When you compare apples with apples, instead of e.g. comparing the salary of a part-time community college teacher with an Ivy League tenured professor, the loudly-trumpted N-cent gap (where N increases with every telling of the story) actually shrinks to within the margin of error.
  • While sexism undeniably exists, to scream "the whole of society is sexist" and make knee-jerk assumptions of all-pervasive sexism as both the description and explanation of everything that happens in both the workplace and the broader society, is mindless and unhelpful.

Unfortunately, no matter how clearly I tried to express myself, I might as well have been banging my head against a wall. Pwrong, my antagonist, has cocooned himself in fem-plus dogma and simply will not entertain any thought that contradicts that dogma. Nor can he recognize how internally inconsistent this dogma is, or how it is ultimately insulting and infantilizing for women.

A perfect example was when I challenged the implicit assumption that there is some vast male conspiracy by employers to steal 23% of every woman's paycheck. If it is so easy for employers to pay men more than women for the same quality work, I asked, why would anyone ever hire men? His response: because they assume that men will do better quality work. Even when I pointed out the blatant contradiction in assuming "the same quality" and "better quality" at the same time, he just couldn't - or wouldn't - see it.

Another point of frustration for me was his refusal to understand the well documented fact that women, in aggregate, make less money than men in large part because they freely make different choices and trade-offs between career and family - and very often have more flexibility than men, and more freedom to make such choices. Doesn't sound like sexism to me, unless it's a case of anti-male sexism - but I very much doubt that Pwrong would ever concede that there is such a thing! For him, "sexism" is the knee-jerk answer to every question, just like "goddidit" is for religionists. When confronted with a counterexample, just label it "benevolent sexism", include it under the all-encompassing rubric of "sexism by men against women", and carry on regardless!

When I pointed out that women often have more freedom than men to tip the work-life balance in the direction of family rather than career, his reply was essentially: "Why does society force women to choose this way?" Obviously the answer he was fishing for was that women are pathetic, helpless, agency-less victims who are brainwashed by Teh Patriarchy, and forced out of the workplace so that employers can continue throwing money away by paying men more for the same work. He can't seem to imagine that women can freely make their own choices based on their own values, nor can he see how insulting and patronizing to women his blinkered assumption is. (And his willful ignorance of Economics 101 reminds me of a point made by Thomas Frank in What's the Matter with Kansas - the right-wing defenders of capitalism, ironically, try to take economic realities out of the equation and recast the conflict between the 1% and the 99% as a "culture war" and a "war on religion".)

Perhaps most frustrating of all was his tactic of dishonestly misrepresenting my position. "I'm saying that the wage gap is due to sexism by society and sexism by employers. Schrödinger's Therapist is claiming it's 100% due to sexism by society." God damn it! I've been saying all along, very clearly, that it's NOT SEXISM!!!

This whole exchange strengthened my suspicion that Atheism♀ is basically another religion, with Rebecca Watson as its Jesus Christ figure, PZ Myers as its pope, and radfem as its gospel. Skepticism, rationalism and critical thinking fly out the window, and "misogyny" is the battle cry for every situation.

As an atheist, I've often noticed that religionists believe in their religion for emotional rather than logical reasons, and are heavily emotionally invested in their beliefs. It's not necessarily that they're stupid, but people have an amazing ability to compartmentalize their brains. They can be paragons of rationality in general, but as soon as you touch on the area they are emotionally invested in, they respond viscerally as if their identity, even their very existence is threatened. The syndrome is as evident in fem-plus as in any fundamentalist cult. For whatever reason, they have a deep emotional need to play the victim card - a need that trumps reason and evidence at every turn.

One interesting thing I learned is that at least some plussers dislike the radical feminist label, even though it seems to me that the definition of this movement - the ideology that male oppression of women is a "transhistorical phenomenon prior to or deeper than other sources of oppression, not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary form and the model for all others" - is perfectly aligned with the constant complaints of misogyny, oppression and victimhood emanating from the fem-plus forums.

However, plussers apparently redefine radical feminism so that transphobia is its core, defining characteristic. This strikes me as a little disingenuous, but whatever. I have to wonder if transphobia would be an issue at all, if Natalie Reed and Zinnia Jones weren't top-tier "Freethought" Bloggers. Clearly, this whole never-ending shitstorm is much more about tribalism and "us versus them" than about any principled or even coherent position. In any case, I will try to avoid equating Atheism♀ with radical feminism in cases where it could cause confusion - my preferred term, anyway, is victim feminism.

Another thing I learned is that there is apparently some huge, earth-shattering difference between "having privilege" and "being privileged". Good luck figuring that one out!

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I've just kicked off another debate in r/DebateAtheismPlus - Has the Schrödinger's Rapist meme backfired? We'll see how it goes!