Articles about Culture



Why is racism bad?

Recently a young man on Twitter ask me: Why is racism bad? It might seem like a troll question, but he went on to explain what he meant. He wasn’t talking about hating people or restricting rights based on race. He wasn’t talking about using racial slurs or promoting racial segregation. He was using “racist” in that dry, emotionless statistical way that people do when they are making a case for profiling…

Guys and Females

My friend Mike is a personal trainer. We were discussing client personalities, and the fact that different clients like different approaches, different techniques, different attitudes from the person training them. At one point Mike remarked that while everyone is an individual, and people vary widely, he has noticed a pattern of differences “between guys and females”. I interrupted: “Why do you say it that way?”

Drowning in a drop of water

Once upon a time, a man drowned in a river, so they put the river on trial. “It is clear from the evidence,” Outraged Prosecutor declared, “That this river caused the death of this poor man!” But Clever Defense Attorney was clever. He twirled his black mustache and made direct eye contact with the jury as he smiled, and said: “Let’s approach this rationally and scientifically, shall we?” The heads of the jury members bobbed in unison: it’s always good to approach things rationally and scientifically! “I have in my hand a drop of water from that river…..”

Internet shaming is a symptom, not a disease

If I see another woebegone think piece about the horrors of “internet shaming” I’m going to spew burrito chunks. They are all just so saccharine, and can be summed up in a handful of buzzwords each. Not only are these articles tedious in their moralistic cluck-clucking, they spend very little time trying to root out the real source of the problem. Internet shaming isn’t just a product of “the internet age”, and it isn’t just a case of mob mentality or immaturity. It’s a symptom of a deeper underlying problem: a problem with our culture that needs to be fixed before we can expect internet shaming to get better.

Give up on privacy. This is what you should worry about instead

Privacy is an illusion. It simply doesn’t exist. You probably don’t believe me. Until recently, it was easy for us to have the illusion of privacy. Now, with accelerating increases in computational power and storage, and the incredible sophistication of data mining and machine learning, that fake veil of “privacy” is about to be torn down–and it will be shown to have been nothing more than a mirage in the first place. But that doesn’t mean you should freak out. It also doesn’t mean that we should just ignore the legal concerns that people associate with “privacy” in our society today. All it means is that we need to re-frame these problems in a different way.

Why are women so _________________?

From despondent hand-wringing teen boys in their basements to angry unshaven men drinking their lives away a the corner bar, you can hear the eternal refrain, “Why are women so…….?” It is reflected on the internet, as well, with the lonely and the heartbroken howling the question into the void: Why are women so mean? Why are women so needy? Why are women so dishonest? Why are women so immature? Why are women so confusing? Why are women so difficult to figure out? Well, I hate to tell you this: but you are all asking the wrong question.

3 reasons people get mad when you say “I don’t see race”

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.

Here is why “check your privilege” has to die.

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.

The deep cultural shame of the United States

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.

Young gay bloggers need to just stop writing

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…

Proof that the first humans came from Eden?

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?

Straight woman schools uptight gays on polyamory

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?

The redemption of Smaug

I am afraid I am unable to reveal how the following manuscript fell into my possession. Ever since the initial anthropological work done by J.R.R. Tolkien on Middle Earth and the life of Smaug, almost 80 years ago, it has been almost impossible to publish research questioning the perspective that he laid down in his work. However, the following letter, transcribed here from a document found locked in a chest that was originally part of the treasure hidden under the Lone Mountain, completely undermines the dominant theoretical depiction of Smaug as nothing more than an evil and greedy creature.

In defense of Les Miserables (2012)

I didn’t see the 2012 movie of Les Misérables in the movie theaters. Although I tried to avoid reviews, because I did not want to be influenced, I did hear that many were disappointed. Specifically, people said that they were disappointed by the singing. Some people also complained about camera angles, and other miscellanea. But […]

Is it racist to be proud of White Culture?

The notion of “White Heritage” or “White Culture” is inherently racist, because “White” is not and never has been a cohesive historical cultural group. This is an important point: to say that you are proud of your Irish heritage or your German heritage or your British heritage makes sense. In those cases, there are thousands […]

The Green Man

The four-year-old girl looked at the one African American in the room, and said: “You’re not the same color as me!” An awkward silence descended instantly on the room. Every adult paused, wincing slightly. The tension was palpable. Glasses were held in mid air, as if nobody wanted to move, as they waited to find […]

The Lady Gaga fans who hate Lady Gaga

There are plenty of you out there: you listen to her songs, you know the lyrics, and you dress like her to go to her concerts. And you hate everything she stands for. How do I know that you hate everything she stands for? Let me explain. I see you at the dance clubs.  I […]

What gender is your baby?

Of course gender matters in this world, and it would be stupid to say otherwise.  What baffles me isn’t that it matters, but the way that the issue seems to bother some people so much. A woman who is a friend of mine has an infant whom she likes to take with her when she […]

How not to be a shill

The internet makes shilling very easy, and it’s a perfectly normal and even accepted marketing and PR technique. But if you do it stupidly, you end up looking stupid. Being a “shill” means promoting someone or something while trying to present yourself as an impartial, unbiased consumer or observer. When a company that sells Widgety […]

Are you a Ron or a Hermione?

Ron and Hermione are perfect archetypes: they represent the two equal and opposite ways that someone can be a “best friend”. Which kind of best friend are you? This idea struck me a while back, when I was re-watching the Harry Potter movies for the 378th time. Throughout the series, Harry Potter has two best […]

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