Sunday, September 21, 2014

You know what would be awesome?

If you've been following this blog or any part of the atheosphere lately, you know that famous atheist Richard Dawkins has recently taken to throwing rocks at the hornet's nest he helped build. (In case you've been living in a cave with no wifi, start here and here for some background).

His latest entertaining spectacle was to accuse Adam Lee of lying in his piece in the Gaurdian. The article consists of reprinting a bunch of stuff Dawkins posted, framed by Adam Lee's opinion that Dawkins's behavior is bad for the atheist movement. It's not even necessary debunk the accusation of lying -- it doesn't even make sense. It's like Dawkins has crossed the line from merely displaying a glaring blind spot to seriously giving the impression that he's losing his marbles.

But you know what would be awesome?

Imagine Dawkins posts something even more bizarre tomorrow. Then he posts something even more bizarre the next day. Then he waits a week or two for it to percolate through the community and then announces:

It was all a test. I wanted to see whether my fans really embrace critical thinking. I wanted to see, given a choice between loyalty to me personally and loyalty to the ideals I stand for, who would choose which one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Win-win for Feminism!!

When I was writing my post the other day on the grand reunification of the feminist movement, I was kind of wondering what it looks like from the other side's perspective. And I think this piece by Amanda Marcotte "There Is No Such Thing as Radical Feminism Anymore" perhaps captures it.

It's very short, so go read it and come back.

I agree essentially with Marcotte's points. I take issue with her refusal to call the anti-trans radical feminists by their chosen name. They still exist, and they still call themselves radical feminists -- they were recently profiled in the New Yorker. And, more to the point, they really are one modern splinter of the radical feminist movement of the 60's and 70's. To deny them that name is a little like saying that the FLDS have no business calling themselves Mormon.

On the other hand, Marcotte is totally right that those radical feminists are not anywhere near the mainstream of the feminist movement. One can certainly argue that they aren't the true intellectual heirs of the earlier radical feminists. Marcotte is also totally right that the original radical feminists brought us a lot of fantastic ideas that are now completely mainstream, at the heart of current feminist thought:
It was not enough to pass the ERA or legalize abortion, they believed, but we should also talk about cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape, and domestic violence.

Personally, I can't help but feel like "Yay, my team won!!" As I wrote the other day, on the issues I cared about, my position won the mainstream, and sex-positive feminism succeeded in making itself irrelevant.

But the other side won, too. Their bad ideas, like trans-women not deserving to be seen as women, plus the items I mentioned the other day, have been stripped off and shunted to the margins, and their good ideas have won the mainstream of feminist thought. They also succeeded in making themselves irrelevant as a separate movement.

It's the textbook example of a win-win situation.

Stuff the atheists can learn from the feminists!

Whatever happened to sex-positive vs. sex-negative feminism?

Back when I was in college and grad school, I thought there was a significant division within the feminist movement over the question of whether sex is good or bad for women. As I've written, my thoughts on this division have evolved, and it's not just me. The division has disappeared to such a degree that when I was writing my latest post on Saturday, I started wondering whether it ever really was a thing. Was I just hallucinating?

So I got out some of my old feminist books off the shelf, and confirmed that, no, I was not hallucinating. I think the following statement from Ariel Levy in the 20th anniversary edition of Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse kind of sums it up:

With the possible exception of the Shakers, it is difficult to think of an American movement that has failed more spectacularly than antipornography feminism. In the late 1970's, when a prominent faction of the women's liberation movement -- including Brownmiller, Dworkin, Steinem, Morgan, Audrey Lourde, the writer Grace Paley, and the poet Adrienne Rich -- turned their attention to fighting pornography, porn was still something marginalized, as opposed to what it is now: a source of inspiration for all of popular culture. [...] If the antiporn crusade was a losing battle, it was also a costly one: it divided, some would say destroyed, the women's movement. The term "prosex feminist" was coined by women who wanted to distance themselves from the antiporn faction.

The idea was that sexually explicit words and images created for the express purpose of arousal are inherently harmful to women. Not just abuses within the porn industry or negative messages in some types of porn, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle, on principle. It supposedly caused rape. This theory was part of the mainstream of feminist thought as recently as 2006 when I wrote my blog entries "A feminist in favor of porn" and "yes means yes".

One problem with the "porn causes rape" claim is that there was never any evidence to back it up. And, as I explained in "porn and me", that inspired some people to claim that instead of insisting on evidence, we should value supposedly female types of reasoning like intuition or some other such rot -- which made me hate the antiporn feminists all the more.

Then there was this little problem with antiporn crusader Andrea Dworkin muddying the waters on the definition of rape (as I discussed here). In the early days of the Internet, I had the misfortune of getting into a dispute with a feminist who claimed that heterosexual sexual intercourse is inherently degrading to women -- that, regardless of her desire or consent, the mere act of a penis penetrating a vagina is psychologically harmful to the vagina-haver -- and cited Dworkin as proof that this is "the feminist position." I assume this is a misrepresentation of whatever Dworkin said, but the experience reinforced my impression that Dworkin has had a very harmful impact on feminist thought.

As a consequence, people like me ended up going too far in the other direction. As recently as ten years ago, I would have told you that I don't think that feminists should focus on issues like date rape or misogyny. I would have given some reasonable-sounding reasons for this, but looking back, I think it was more a question of the fact that those issues were claimed by Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and their fans -- and, frankly, I didn't want to be in the same movement with those guys.

But then what happened?

With the rise of the Internet and the corresponding rise in instant access to all sorts of content, the evidence became overwhelming that sexually explicit imagery for the purpose of arousal is not inherently harmful to women -- and, in particular, it does not cause rape. The idea that porn causes rape dropped completely out of the mainstream of feminist thought.

One of the awesome things about this development is that it demonstrates quite conclusively that basing one's conclusions on evidence is a female type of reasoning! The other awesome part is that we don't have feminists debating about whether sex is good or bad across the board -- we've realigned along the idea that consent and autonomous choice are the measures of whether a given sex act is good or bad. And now we're mostly all friends again.

Last Saturday morning I wrote about how making women feel safe and welcome in the atheist movement actually increases the probability of a given straight male atheist getting (consensually) laid. I want to add the disclaimer that that's not the reason why women should be included in the atheist movement. Women should be included in the atheist movement because women are people too, and can contribute to and benefit from the movement just like any other people. However, since the sexists were claiming that the feminists are just a bunch of man-hating prudes, I wanted to make it clear that that's not true. Helping guys get consensual sex is not the point of feminism, however it is a noteworthy side-effect.

Unfortunately, since Saturday morning, Richard Dawkins's descent into taking leave of his critical thinking skills has only gotten more appalling (see these links). He has decided that his new battle is to make sure we lady atheists know our place in the atheist movement.

Sam Harris also got into the act, posting a defense of his claim that critical thinking is a guy thing. Harris surprises me less than Dawkins. Sam Harris is the guy who claimed that guns are on balance beneficial to women, including in situations of domestic violence. He even posted on his FAQ that his debating opponent's case was based on evidence that shows the opposite, yet, instead of wondering (and researching) why that might be, he continued to repeat his initial reasoning for his original (debunked) assertion. That's not how critical thinking works. A similar thing happened when Harris debated a security expert over his idea that airport security should intentionally adopt a policy of racially profiling people who "look like Muslims." Basically the biggest mystery is how this clown got on the stage in the first place.

Does the arc of history bend towards justice? In general, not necessarily. But the atheist movement -- with its love of the scientific method in all its error-correcting glory -- is a different story. The "Men's Rights Activists" that are currently such a blight on our movement...? Their influence will decline and vanish, even if some of our most popular big names choose to sign onto Team Sexism.

In the worst-cast scenario, Richard Dawkins will do about a decade's worth of damage to the atheist movement he helped to create -- and he will flush his own legacy down the toilet in the process. (Are these tweets really what you want to be remembered for, Mr. Dawkins? Because that's the direction you're heading...)

This should be an interesting ride.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Atheism and ruining it for everybody!!

After this latest round of sexy sexism in the atheist community, I've decided it's time for me to weigh in.

I hope that you recall that I'm the lady who advocates having sex on the first date. I am enthusiastically sex-positive. And today I would like to remind you that free love only thrives in an atmosphere where there is a healthy respect for consent.

Back when I was young and cute (before becoming a (happily married) old lady), I would have been more than happy to go to atheist conferences with the express intention of hooking up. And it is the people who are in favor of clear anti-harassment policies at conferences that make that sort of thing possible. I'm sorry to have to explain something that should be a no-brainer, but just because a chick is looking for NSA sex, it doesn't mean that she wants to be harassed or raped by whichever guy sees her first.

If you are a straight guy looking for a little fun and love, the rapists and rape apologists are not doing you a favor. Quite the opposite. Those guys are telling women: "If you wear that, if you get drunk, if you flirt at a conference -- then it's your own fault if you get raped." And when that's the message that wins the day, then that smart, hot, fun girl you might have met at that conference...? She won't be there. She's smart enough not to go.

Richard Dawkins in particular has been putting his foot in his mouth lately with idiotic distinctions. ("Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.") Well, let me make one of my own:

Personally, I have never been raped. I have had an ex-boyfriend lock me in an apartment, hold a knife to my throat, and threaten to kill me (see here). Given the choice between the two, I'd say I would have preferred to have been "just" raped. (And, by the same token, I'm pretty damn glad it didn't happen in the US where the equivalent guy would have had a gun -- in which case I probably wouldn't be here typing this today.) But those aren't the choices. It's not like there's one camp that says, "Oh, I would never rape a woman -- sure I like to mutilate and kill them, but not rape them," and the other says, "Oh, would never hurt a woman -- I just like to non-violently harass and rape them." The real two camps are the people see women as autonomous humans and those that don't.

In my situation, it wasn't rape, but it was the same damn thing. It was a question of a man being led to believe that if a woman won't be with him in the way he wants, then he's perfectly justified (as man) in making her do what he wants. She has no business making such decisions for herself.

It is the rapists and rape apologists who say stupid shit like "You should be glad he only raped you -- he might have killed you and cut you up in little pieces." Because those were his options. A normal person says something more like, "Wow, I'm sorry you had any contact at all with that criminal -- he needs to be stopped before he rapes again, or worse."

As far as Dawkins is concerned, I don't think he is for or against hearing more diverse perspectives in the atheist movement. I think it's simply a subject he's never has any reason to think deeply about, and, consequently, unsurprisingly, he has nothing insightful to say on the subject. Unfortunately, because he's the famous guy, he gets quoted on it, and his voice is amplified above the voices of people who actually have expertise and interesting things to say about it.

I agree with Terry Firma that it would be in Dawkins's own interest if somebody would succeed in persuading him to stay the hell away from Twitter. I was thinking that two twitter scandals earlier. But I'm less in agreement about this point Terry made:

It’s not a breakdown of his intellect, which is intact. Rather, Dawkins seems to suffer from an extreme form of tone-deafness. It’s almost as if Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock is modeled after him: cool, rational, detached, and faintly amused by the emotional human fools with whom he is forced to interact.

I think that is an insult to Mr. Spock, who is one of the most awesome fictional characters of all time. I mean, Spock might say insensitive things when asked, but he would have the good sense not to go out of his way to broadcast his random stupid musings.

I think Dawkins's real problem is a debilitating case of "I shit gold" syndrome. After being worshiped for such a long time by so many smart people, he's come to believe that any idea that pops into his head must be made of gold. It has severely compromised his ability to critically analyse his own thoughts and actions, which is unfortunate because (not just criticism, but) self-criticism should be one of the most highly regarded virtues in our movement.

Coincidentally, I should be going to see Dawkins in person today. He's here in Zürich giving a lecture at the Denkfest -- friends of mine will be in attendance. And because I want to make friends with the Zürich Freethinkers (who, I think, organized the thing), I am very hesitant to be typing this. I don't want to be "the difficult one" like I was back in church, many years ago. Yet, I also don't want my attendance to be registered as a vote for "we have to get somebody like Dawkins because he brings in the audience and the money." Therefore, I will be attending tomorrow. I am totally in favor of and impressed by everything about this conference except for the fact that it was billed as "RICHARD DAWKINS!!!! and some other people..."

I hope the local freethinkers will be willing to forgive me for this. I'm sure they are already well aware of how herding cats works. We mean well, but we are simply never going to all get in line.

But hopefully our movement is capable of self-reflection and learning.