From the year 2014
If you have used the phrase “I don’t see race!” on the internet, there is a good chance someone has either yelled at you or made fun of you. This might be confusing for you. Isn’t it a good thing? Doesn’t it mean that race doesn’t matter to you, and you treat everyone equally? Here you are, explaining to people how non-racist you are, and people bitch at you. What gives? With racism being a big topic in the news lately, I’ve seen more people than usual online saying “I don’t see race!” and then getting confused and offended when the reaction is… well, less than congratulatory. It’s time to actually explain why people don’t hear “I don’t see race” as the sparkling attestation of open-mindedness that you intend it to be.
A friend of mine in college was accused of sexual harassment. Let’s call him Mike (that’s not his real name). Mike was six foot three, with a lean well-defined muscular body. Athletic and fit without being bulky, like a runner or a swimmer. He had tanned skin, shoulder-length shaggy hair, and a boyish face that radiated innocence and charm. He constantly smelled of patchouli, and wrote poetry in a little notebook. He was also hyper-sexual. He slept with a lot of women, and flirted with everyone. This is a story about how his sexuality and flirting got him into trouble, and lead to him sexually harassing a woman without even realizing it.
I’ve always loved “The Holidays” in America: that period of time from Thanksgiving through New Years when people unironically listen to cliche music, eat food that is considered “seasonal” even though it’s available year-round, and randomly decorate the crap out of every inanimate object in sight. Personally, I choose to celebrate Thanksgiving in the spirit that our modern culture intends it: a time to reflect on my good fortune. So this is a collection of some of my thoughts this morning about what I feel it means to be a secular atheist who enjoys celebrating Thanksgiving.
The website Robot Hugs has published a touching and thoughtful comic explaining what privilege is, why people should be aware of it, and how to be sensitive about your own privilege when interacting with other people. But the comic reveals something else as well. Challenging people with the phrase “check your privilege!” isn’t just being strident and bullying; it actively works against the philosophy that it espouses. As a rhetorical strategy, it is worse than useless: it completely undermines the world-view from which is has supposedly emerged. It is essentially advising people to be courteous and polite in the least courteous and polite way imaginable.
I’m against war, but I am not against military drones. Why not? Because when I hear other people explain why they are against military drones, I find none of the arguments convincing. So here I will go through four specific arguments I hear from people when they try to tell me why they are against military drones, and I will explain why those arguments are stupid and wrong. When I’m done, I think you won’t be against military drones, either.
Jimmy Williams, Executive Editor of Blue Nation Review, said on MSNBC last night that if we did not have an African-American president, Democrats would have done better in the midterm elections. Of course, conservative pundits have been all over this quote, and have paraphrased it in a number of ways, including things like “Democrats BLAME the election on Obama’s race!” and “Democrats say the ONLY REASON Republicans won is Obama’s race!” Are these fair characterizations of what Williams said? Before you dive in and decide whether you agree or disagree with any of these statements, it’s worth looking at what they really mean.
My good friend and colleague Milo Yiannopoulos said in an interview about his views on GamerGate: “I’m anti-feminist, if by ‘feminist’ you mean shrieking misandrists.” He is not alone in his perception of feminism. Many people see feminists as hyperbolic mean-spirited angry people who think all flirtation is sexual harassment and all sex with men is rape. This common perception has prompted backlash movements, and lead to celebrity after celebrity separating herself from the term “feminist.” Part of the problem is the strategies that many feminists use to convey their message, with the video “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman” being a particularly potent recent example. For feminism to make progress, it needs to acknowledge why videos like this one do not resonate positively with the vast majority of people who watch it.
For Halloween this year, Jon and I were feeling lazy and so we re-used costumes from several years ago. I was excited because I broke out my old Aquaman costumer from 2011. Wait, no: allow me to be more specific. This costume was the Smallville variation of Aquaman…. who is very different from, well, basically any other Aquaman.
Jon and I watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit recently. Jon, especially, is a huge fan of the entire Jack Ryan series. The movie was good: basically taking the elements of existing Jack Ryan novels but re-purposing them into a story that updates the setting and context of the character from the Cold War to the post-9/11 world. But, like any good Tom Clancy (or “Tom Clancy-inspired”) story, the bad guy was a classic twisted evil bad guy: wealthy Russian businessman, Viktor Cherevin, who was obsessed with avenging his motherland against the evil things that the United States had done to it. It’s not an uncommon type of bad-guy character and motivation, in American movies. But it’s worth taking a closer look at, as Americans, and thinking about its implications.
Why are young gay people so bad at writing? Why has it become the norm in our culture to accept the shallow, self-absorbed ramblings of young gay bloggers? They don’t research, and they don’t look outside of their own personal experiences into the wide diversity that is the gay community. Trite op-eds are killing our culture. I think it’s time to fight this trend of shallow, self-absorbed blogging. Luckily, I can solve this problem by giving some advice to young gay bloggers: just stop writing! Problem solved! OK, now take a step back, and let’s take a serious look at that opening paragraph…
Suzanna Walters has argued that gay people (and other minorities) should not be advocating for tolerance. To her, “tolerance” is not a high enough bar to set. She makes an emotionally appealing argument: Used in one sense, the word “tolerance” means “to put up with” or “to endure.” She basically argues that we shouldn’t be fighting for a world where people despise gay people but “put up with them” nonetheless. I can understand why a lot of people would agree with her interpretation. But she’s wrong, on at least two different levels.
The Kernel is now in its third incarnation, if you count from the very beginning. This time it is being conceptualized as a Sunday magazine with in-depth reporting that attacks a single subject each week. This format provides an opportunity for real insights and discussion on complex issues, rather than just “chasing headlines” like many daily publications do. In my personal opinion, this could allow the new Kernel to get back toward its original mission statement of “fixing journalism.” But I will admit I’m excited about the re-launch for a much shallower, more personal reason. It means my author page and the archives of all of my older work for them from the last 3 years is back up.
The Sumerian word édin means “steppe” or “plain”. It compounds “éd” (send forth) and “in” (straw). So let’s speculate wildly for a moment: what if we were never meant to take seriously the idea that there was a literal garden called Eden? What of the original authors of the tale were just saying “people came from the steppes”? Or what if it was a pun, a bit of deliberate humor, a 5000+ year old joke that nobody gets any more? We will likely never know one way or the other, but it is food for thought: how many ancient ideas that many people take literally today were never meant to be taken literally at all?
I recently wrote an article for the Daily Dot, Politics, the Dark Lord, and Hobby Lobby: An interview with the Satanic Temple, about the political activism of the Satanic Temple, and the question on so many people’s minds: Is it all just some kind of prank? The quick answer is “no”. But there is another organization, the Church of Satan, that is very much opposed to the type of political activism that the Satanic Temple engages in. I reached out to Magus Peter H. Gilmore, a spokesperson for the Church of Satan, to find why. And the response that I got blew me away!
My friend Josiah recently wrote a little rant on Facebook about how hypocritical it is when gay people fight against narrowly defining “marriage” as between one man and one woman, but then turn around and are judgmental of their peers in the gay community who choose to have other “non-traditional” relationship arrangements, such as polyamorous (multi-person) or sexually open relationships. I’ve written before about why people who are overall ethically open-minded can get squeamish when considering “non-mononormative arrangements.” But the real question is: shouldn’t we be actively pushing for people to be more open-minded in their conceptualization of romantic relationships on all fronts? Olga Khazan, a straight woman, has written about a movement among straight people to do exactly that… and the question is: can gay people now be as sexually open-minded as the straights?
In the novel Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson includes a section (more or less unrelated to the main plot of the novel) describing a government “memo” about toilet paper. It is a brilliant bit of satire. The memo, for government employees, describes the problem of carefully tracking and regulating toilet paper usage at work, policies surrounding bringing toilet paper from home, sharing toilet paper in the office, and what may or may not be contributed to the “toilet paper pool.” But there was one part of this satirical commentary that stood out to me more than any other, because it reminds me EXACTLY of how the Republican Party is acting these days.
Instagram was the last place I expected to have a deep political conversation. But then, a Ukrainian guy I follow on there posted this picture, and all hell broke loose in the comments. I ended up going back and forth with someone who turned out to be not only pro-Putin, but outright “anti-Western Society”. It was enlightening, but surreal, and if nothing else it makes me grateful that these international social media allow us to have conversations with people of all types, from all backgrounds. So here is a fragment of the conversation, just for you to think about. What do you think? Does he have a point? Is he just a product of pro-Russian propaganda? Or is it more complicated than that? I’ll let you decide…
When the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case yesterday, ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, people on the internet had two options. On the one hand, they could take time to carefully read the exact wording of the decision, find out what legal experts had to say about the implications, weigh information from a variety of sources, and then give a considered reaction. Or, they could slam out histrionic knee-jerk reactions based solely on the title of the decision and their own assumptions, typing as quickly as possible to get their voices on record as soon as humanly possible. You can guess what most people did. Personally, I actually did a little of both… and the fun I had during my “I’m going to yell and scream and troll!” phase was both enlightening, and a bit scary.
A short while back, the government of Turkey told the world that they seized a book from smugglers that appears to be about 1500 years old. The book claims, among other things, that Jesus wasn’t crucified, was not resurrected, and was a prophet but not the “son of God”. The internet freaked out, with claims like “THE VATICAN IN AWE!” and suggestions that this will grievously disrupt the Christian church. All of that is wrong. The reality is, there are tons of 1800+ year old books about Jesus that say some of the most cracked-out weird-ass shit you’ve ever seen. So for fun, let’s take a look as some examples.
The sonic boom appears at the wrong time in “I am number four”. The explosion of the Death Star is unrealistic. Those robots in Pacific Rim could never walk underwater like that. And the SR-71 can’t hover. I don’t know why Jon and I pick up on these little things when we watch science fiction movies. In some ways, of course, it’s just a lark. It’s fun. But in science fiction movies, I think there is actually an interesting question about why some things seem “fine”, while others are not. What exactly determines what phenomena are part of the fictional universe, and what are just “bad physics”?