Notes and Comment Blog

Not like Mr Darcy

Aug 25th, 2015 11:04 am | By

Greta C has a piece in The Humanist about starting with the assumption that one is wrong as a way to test out a new idea.

A more recent example is the “Ableism Challenge.” On the blog Alex and Ania ‘Splain You a Thing, Ania Onion Cebulla asks people to go for one month without using ableist language, which for those not aware, are words for physical or mental disabilities used as insults—including “lame,” “dumb,” “crazy,” “retard,” and more. The problem with a lot of this language is very clear to me; it’s obvious that using “lame” to suggest something is ineffectual or unenjoyable stigmatizes disability, and using “crazy” in place of, say, “preposterous” stigmatizes mental illness.

Making changes is hard. Trying them out for awhile can help us see why they’re worth it (or not). It’s good to find ways around our self-admiring biases.

But then there’s an illustration at the end:

Like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, we love to think that our investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by our hopes or fears. We love to think that we don’t reach conclusions because we wish it, but that we believe on impartial conviction. And like Mr. Darcy, we are full of it. Our thinking is always weighted towards the conclusion that the things we want to be true really are true.

Oh dear – bad choice of illustration.

Of course Mr Darcy is full of himself and also full of it. Austen makes that blindingly obvious from the outset. What she carefully veils until the right moment to pull the rug out from under us is that so is Lizzie. That’s the hard part. Lizzie is the protagonist, and much of the time she is the point of view (the rest of the time Austen is). We identify with Lizzie, and we see Darcy through her eyes, and we see Lizzie through her eyes too. We get all her cognitive biases pleasantly spoon-fed to us, and we swallow them happily. It’s not Darcy who stands for our smug conceited selves, it’s Lizzie.

The biggest jerk maneuver of all

Aug 25th, 2015 9:49 am | By

The Sad Puppies adventure didn’t work out well for the Sad Puppies. John Scalzi tells the story.

As most of you know, at last Saturday’s Hugo Awards ceremony, the voters, of which there were a record number, chose not to offer awards in five categories rather than to give the award to nominees who got on the ballot because of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slating campaign. In the categories in which awards were given, in nearly all cases the Puppy nominees in the category finished below “No Award.”

Why is that, do you suppose? Scalzi explains that it’s because they acted like jerks, and performed a series of jerk maneuvers.

2. They gloated about the slates getting on the ballot, and the upset that this caused other people. That’s a jerk maneuver.

4. They spent months insulting the people they associated with their imaginary cabal. That’s a jerk maneuver.

5. They spent months crapping on the writers they dragooned into their imaginary cabal, and crapping on the work those writers created. That’s a jerk maneuver.

7. They spent months pissing on the people who love and care about the awards, and the convention that hosts both. That’s a jerk maneuver.

8. They expected the people who they’d been treating with contempt to give them the respect they would not afford them. That’s a jerk maneuver.

If it gloats like a jerk, if it craps on people like a jerk, if it pisses on people like a jerk – it’s probably a jerk.

Mind you, I don’t expect the core Puppies to recognize this; indeed I expect them to say they haven’t done a single thing that has been other than forthright and noble and correct. Well, and here’s the thing about that: acting like an jerk and then asserting that no, it’s everyone else that’s been acting like a jerk, is the biggest jerk maneuver of all.

Well, yes, but they of course would say they haven’t been acting like a jerk – oh this is where we came in, we can go home now.

Drop off

Aug 24th, 2015 5:34 pm | By

Haha good old fun-loving college boy rape culture haha it’s alive and well at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, the Huffington Post tells us.

Three banners were displayed at a private, off-campus house in Norfolk, Virginia, reading “Freshman Daughter Drop Off,” with an arrow pointing at the front door, “Go Ahead And Drop Off Mom Too …” and “Rowdy And Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl Is Ready For A Good Time …” The students removed the banners after the university contacted them, school officials said.

Haha get it? “Drop Off” so that we can fuck them haha we like to fuck haha that’s what girls are for haha that’s what a university is for haha.

A Virginia man posted the photos Friday afternoon on Facebook. A screengrab captured by The Huffington Post is displayed below:

Big letters! Everyone can read them from far away!

In response, Old Dominion University started posting multiple statements on social media denouncing the banners.

“Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated,” ODU said in a statement to HuffPost. “The moment University staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed. At ODU, we foster a community of respect and dignity and these messages sickened us. They are not representative of our 3,000 faculty and staff, 25,000 students and our 130,000 alumni.”

Well they seem to be representative of some of their 25,000 students.

Oh well, it’s only women.


Aug 24th, 2015 5:12 pm | By

More Temple of Baal-Shamin:

Via Wikimedia Commons:

File:Baal shamin temple02(js).jpg
Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki

Also Wikimedia Commons:


Photo by Heretiq

Her typical arc

Aug 24th, 2015 4:57 pm | By

It’s funny how exactly like the slime pit they sound.

Can’t speak for others, but for myself it’s because Benson is following her typical arc.

After Charlie Hebdo’s offices were attacked, and a number of their staff murdered, a fair number of people condemned the attack but claimed the cartoons were racist or at least problematic. Benson didn’t agree with the latter part, but her response was to spend months churning out posts that lionized Hebdo. That cost her a lot of friends.

This is just history repeating. She’ll probably spend years grinding on this topic, if she can, and drive away even more people. But there’s a critical difference: Hebdo was famous enough to generate a steady stream of fresh material for her. But Benson’s transphobia is pretty much set and done, there isn’t much new evidence coming in and what we have now is pretty convincing to most. Silence starves her of fresh coals to stoke the fire, and if she keeps blogging defenses it’ll just underline how hollow they are.

Meanwhile, it’s not like anything her critics have written has gone away. I know the information is still being read by fresh eyes. And I’d rather have people reading my older posts arguing Benson’s indistinguishable from a TERF than having fresh ones about her lame excuses pop up higher in the search results. I want to focus on the more important issue, here.

So exactly like. Complaining that I tend to post about the same subject often when I’m interested in it – complaining about it instead of just not reading me. Calling that “churning” and “grinding” – instead of just not reading it. Fantasizing about all the friends my evil views have cost me. (I don’t recall losing any friends over Charlie Hebdo.)

So exactly like the slime pit.

“Just shut the fuck up and listen”

Aug 24th, 2015 1:08 pm | By

Cuttlefish wrote a poem about self-described allies who flounce off in a huff when people don’t take their brilliant advice.

Don’t you see? I am your ally!
One you dare not risk to lose!
So my clever new idea
Is the one you ought to choose!
Okay, fine, my help’s not wanted!
Suit yourselves—it’s just as well.
If you disrespect your allies
Well, then, fuck you—go to hell!

Oh zing.

Mind you…I think attempts to think about an issue are being conflated with offers of help, so then the flouncing off in a huff is misrepresented, since it wasn’t about rejections of unwanted help in the first place. But poets get license, you know.

From the prose commentary after the poem:

I lost my old aggregator and started reading about other things instead. Stuff outside my areas of expertise, where my urge to help was tempered by the knowledge that I was an ignorant outsider.

I did note, though, that being an ignorant outsider was not stopping everybody.

And I noted (or rather, saw it pointed out over and over again, across many different populations) a subgroup of ignorant outsiders who were offended when their offers of help were not met with thanks, cookies, and glitter. This verse is for them.

Well, again, I haven’t made any offers of help. I don’t have any illusions that I can help. But oh well…poets get license.

Oh, and probably this verse, too.

That verse in its entirety:

I would write it in letters, eleven feet tall—
And how they would shine; they would glisten!—
The advice I once got, the most useful of all:
“Just shut the fuck up… and listen.

Well…no. Not exclusively. I do listen, and I also write about what I listen to, and think about what I listen to, and write about what I think about what I listen to, and so on. I think that’s part of free inquiry and free thought.

But oh well…poets get license. I don’t, but poets do.

Palmyra being destroyed in front of their eyes

Aug 24th, 2015 12:13 pm | By

Oh, horrors.

ISIS militants on Sunday blew up the temple of Baal Shamin, one of the most important sites in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, said Maamoun Abdul Karim, the country’s antiquities chief.

The temple bombing would be the first time that the insurgents, who control large parts of Syria and Iraq and who captured Palmyra in May, have damaged monumental Roman-era ruins.

Wikipedia has an image by Bernard Gagnon:

Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra.jpg

Now that’s rubble.

“We have said repeatedly the next phase would be one of terrorizing people and when they have time they will begin destroying temples,” Abdul Karim told Reuters.

“I am seeing Palmyra being destroyed in front of my eyes,” he added. “God help us in the days to come.”

They destroy people, and the irreplaceable objects that people value. They do that for the sake of an imaginary god who hates people and the irreplaceable objects that people value. At the core of human life there is this devotion to an imaginary god who hates people and everything people value except itself.


Aug 24th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Lady Mondegreen alerted me to this horrific story by Martin McKenzie-Murray

Nazanin left the Nauru refugee camp one morning on a day pass, happy to be visiting some friends who had been settled on the island – she and her family had been in detention for 26 months. “She used a bus, and I called a friend and he said she was there,” Dabal tells me. “My sister was happy to leave this camp for a day.”

She never returned. At 6 o’clock that evening, Dabal and his mother reported her absence to security guards. Something wasn’t right. In response, the guards floated theories of missed buses or an innocent loss of time, benign explanations for what the family felt was a sinister disappearance. By 7pm, several hours past Nazanin’s curfew, the camp authorities began to wonder, too. “They realise it was bigger than the things they thought,” Dabal says.

Police found her at 9 pm, beaten and disoriented.

Much of the reporting of Nauru focuses on the camps, or regional processing centres. But there is another reality lived outside it, once refugees are settled. For many months now, hostility towards refugees has grown among Nauruans. Local resentment about the 2013 riots has metastasised, mixed with anxieties about employment and culture. Many settled refugees have been assaulted, and there are frequent threats to storm the camps themselves.

In other words refugees are sitting ducks, imprisoned on a small island where the locals hate them. Women are placed in isolated locations, without proper locks on the doors. The private company the Australian government pays to house the refugees says there’s no problem.

It’s unusual that they haven’t encountered any allegations of rape or sexual assault, because there are many. Such as the story of Beth, a young refugee who was released into the Nauruan community in May. Allegedly Beth, whose name I have changed, was sitting on the beach with some other women when local men gave her a drink. Beth began to feel woozy, before being dragged into bushes by two or three men and raped. They then poured fuel on her and set her alight.

She had an abortion, then she tried to kill herself.

There are others.

McKenzie-Murray indicts the refugee camp system:

We have built camps in our name that house damaged children, yet denude privacy and employ guards without background checks. Camps that encourage abuse, intimidation and the hypersexualisation of children. Camps that cannot provide nominal release dates to its subjects, creating purgatories. Camps that repel journalists with exaggerated visa fees, and punish detainees who speak to them distantly.

On Nauru, aid workers have been traumatised, discredited, sacked without explanation and had their exoneration ignored. We have criminalised their disclosure of child abuse. Have, in fact, created a distant exclusion zone for mandatory reporting; a black site whose governing legislation is a repudiation of our own laws. “If I see child abuse in Australia and I don’t report it, I can get into enormous trouble,” David Isaacs, a paediatrician, said last week. “If I see child abuse on Nauru and I do report it, I might go to prison for two years.”

And that’s not the end of it.

Behavior versus inner

Aug 24th, 2015 10:32 am | By

I’m reading an article in the NY Times about the malleability or not of gender identification, and my attention snagged on something tangential.

Is it really so surprising that gender identity might, like sexual orientation, be on a spectrum? After all, one can be exclusively straight or exclusively gay — or anything in between. But variability in a behavior shouldn’t be confused with its malleability. There is little evidence, for example, that you really can change your sexual orientation. Sure, you can change your sexual behavior, but your inner sexual fantasies endure.

What snagged my attention was the contrast between behavior and inner fantasies.

I think maybe calling it “inner sexual fantasies” is what did the snagging – that’s not the usual counterpart to behavior. More usual would be inner self, or internal identity, or self-image, or sense of self. Boiling that down to sexual fantasies seems pretty reductive, because there’s usually more to being gay or straight than which genitalia appear in your sexual fantasies –

– but that “more” is really what snagged my attention, not the reductiveness of the comparison. It’s the moreness of the inner life, and how important that is or isn’t compared to behavior, and whether or not I’m some kind of accidental dualist, because I do think the inner life is important, and also more “real” than behavior, at least when that behavior is constrained and shaped by social pressure.

Is that dualism? Or is it just being a nerd?

Do very gregarious people feel that their behavior is more “real” – a more authentic part of them – than nerds do? That’s what I’m wondering.

Unfairly restricted answers

Aug 23rd, 2015 4:39 pm | By

I just found out about a thing, via Pieter Breitner – Fallacy Ref.

The one I saw is very familiar:

There was a loaded question on the play

Inquiry unfairly restricted answers to force an unjustified conclusion

Uh huh. Been there; had that.

Appropriate for male and female people

Aug 23rd, 2015 4:29 pm | By

Another thought has been bobbing around just at the edge of my vision for awhile. I’m reading (I think for the second time) a brilliant piece by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, A gender idealist in a non-ideal world, at More Radical With Age. She says something there that brought the thought bobbing at the edge of my vision out to right in front of me. She is talking about gender as a socially constructed, externally imposed hierarchy that operates to prescribe and proscribe certain modes of behaviour, and the way it limits our freedom and potential.

We are saturated by gender in this non-ideal world. It is everywhere, so much so that most of us cannot see it: it’s the air we breathe, the water we swim in. Our entire social order is organised around the idea that different forms of behaviour and appearance are appropriate for male and female people. This idea has shaped our history and our politics. It is reflected in our language and embodied in our culture. It is the reason why gender non-conforming behaviour is still so heavily sanctioned: why homosexuality is still widely stigmatised; why rejection of feminine beauty norms comes at such a high price; why assertive, powerful women are socially shunned and ostracised.

Shunned and ostracised. Those words have a new resonance for me these days – they grab my attention more because they apply to me in a new way. Mouthy, assertive women are shunned and ostracised. (Notice I don’t call myself powerful. Mouthy, yes, powerful, no.) Well yes, we are, aren’t we.

It’s interesting to me that Ally Fogg flies under everyone’s radar at Freethought Blogs. It’s interesting to me that apparently the bloggers there haven’t felt the need to comb through his Facebook activities looking for incriminating “likes” or friends or jokes or groups. It’s interesting to me that it was so urgent to destroy me when it wasn’t so urgent to destroy anyone else. Ally’s always been quite open about the fact that he disagrees with most FT bloggers on a lot of issues about women and men, and that they would probably find material that irritated them if they went looking for it. And yet apparently no one has. Funny, that, isn’t it.

So anyway my point is here’s this network that prides itself on being all yay social justice and yay feminism and yay mouthy assertive women…

…and yet the network just succeeded in driving away by far the mouthiest (measuring by hits) woman it had. Mouthy, assertive women are shunned and ostracised, even by a putative social justice feminist network.

Funny how that works.

Just four and no more

Aug 23rd, 2015 10:23 am | By
Just four and no more

This creeps me out.


[Description: it’s a drawing or cartoon at the top of the Twitter account Four Horsemen of the Anti-Apocalypse, with Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens striding in line, based on the familiar image of the Beatles striding across Abbey Road.]

Why is it so creepy?

The worship, the fandom, the adulation, the drastic limitation of horizons.

No precedent

Aug 23rd, 2015 9:26 am | By

There’s a lot to be disgusted at in Richard Carrier’s inaccurate, patronizing, mental-illness-attributing post about me, but I’ll spare us all and just address one ridiculous assertion.

No one here called for her to depart. She chose to on her own. We all maintain many disagreements with each other at FreethoughBlogs, and criticize each other often, without this result. It appears Benson didn’t think colleagues should publicly criticize each other, particularly in ways she saw as paranoid for some reason. I hope at least she enjoys less stress in her new home.

That’s grotesque. This was not just “disagreement” and it was not just “criticism” – it was vehement moral condemnation and shunning, aided by much misrepresentation.

That is not something that routinely happened on the network. As far as I know it never happened on the network before it happened to me. I’ve been trying to remember, I’ve done some searching – I can neither recall nor find anything like it in the network’s history.

The closest comparison would be to Phil Mason aka Thunderf00t. (Yes, that’s right, they treated me as if I were another Thunderf00t.) But that didn’t happen on the blogs – he was expelled before it could happen on the blogs. There were other behind the scenes tensions at various times, but they didn’t make it onto the blogs…presumably because of that unconscious assumption I’ve mentioned, that we didn’t do that on the blogs. That’s the assumption I didn’t realize I had until people started doing it to me on the blogs, and I was surprised, because I had always assumed we didn’t do that, for obvious reasons.

So, no – Carrier is full of shit about that. (He’s also full of shit about almost everything else in that post.) He’s completely full of shit to imply that the shunning of me was just another disagreement, totally normal, entirely routine. It wasn’t. I can’t think of a single precedent for it.

But hey, if you can, by all means point it out in comments. I’d be interested to know about it.

(There was one incident that, if other bloggers had participated, could have developed into the same kind of thing, but we didn’t. Greta Christina disagreed with Taslima on sex trafficking in what I thought was an excessively heated way. But it ended there, as far as I remember. That’s the difference.)

You might think this was just my personal reaction which is naturally biased in my favor…but I’ve heard privately from a lot of respected people who are horrified by what happened, so no, it’s not just my reaction.


Aug 22nd, 2015 5:07 pm | By

Another piece of good news, to go with Malala’s spectacular exam results – India has renewed Taslima’s visa again. She was very worried about it.

They should make it long-term or permanent though.

Exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen’s visa was extended by a year on Friday, a home ministry official said.

“Taslima Nasreen’s visa has been extended for one more year from the very date it was due to expire,” a ministry official said.

Exiled from Bangladesh in 1994 for “hurting religious sentiments” with her novel ‘Lajja’, Nasreen took refuge in Kolkata in 2004. Since then, she has been getting Indian visa on a continuous basis.

No, not continuous – she never knows it’s going to be renewed. It’s a cruel and ungenerous arrangement. But at least it has been renewed again.

On many occasions in the past, the controversial Bangladeshi writer had expressed her desire to live in India permanently, especially in Kolkata.

Yes, she told me that too. She wants to be in India because that’s where her work is, that’s where she can do some good, that’s where people know who she is and need what she has to say.

Thought leadering again

Aug 22nd, 2015 4:06 pm | By

Meanwhile Dawkins is still at it, generously calling people stupid on the basis of nothing in particular. I forget if I mentioned that he did that in the onstage interview he did at CFI’s conference in June. He referred to someone or some group as an idiot or idiots. I flinched, I scowled, I wished he would stop doing that. But he hasn’t.

Today it was a girl of 16 – one who did a colossally wrong and bad thing, but stupidity isn’t the only explanation for teenagers who do colossally wrong and bad things.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 14 hours ago
If a girl as manifestly stupid as this gets good grades at school, is it time we examined our grading system?

She’s 16. People of that age have bad judgement. Their brains haven’t fully developed yet, and won’t until they’re 25. That doesn’t mean they’re “stupid” and it doesn’t mean they can’t be academically brilliant. Lots of people on Twitter tried to explain that to Dawkins, but he wasn’t having it.

The judge in the Independent article knows better:

B was one of a number of intelligent young girls within the London borough of Tower Hamlets  who had “seduced by the belief that travelling to Syria to become what are known as jihadi brides is a somewhat romantic and honourable path for them and their families,” Mr Justice Hayden said. The reality on the ground “holds only exploitation, degradation and death”, he said. “In other words, these children with whose future I have been concerned have been at risk of really serious harm, and as such the state is properly obligated to protect them.”

There was no reason to believe B would not achieve her ambition of becoming a doctor after achieving outstanding GCSE results, he said. But only a “safe and neutral environment” free from the “powerful and pernicious influences” of jihadi propaganda could now protect the teenager’s well-being.

It’s not that the grading system is broken, it’s that it doesn’t measure the mental faculties it takes to be unimpressed by IS.

I’m sure Dawkins knows Maajid Nawaz. Does he think Maajid is stupid? Surely not. You do the math.

He said a follow-up thing later that’s just wrong on the facts in addition to lacking insight.

@Egoch You seriously think @Ayaan, at 16, would have run away to become a “Jihadi bride”?

Well she did go through a Muslim Brotherhood phase, so yes, I think that’s entirely possible.

Go away and learn how to

oh never mind.

Officers were asked to look into the ‘Dames on the Run’ race

Aug 22nd, 2015 10:16 am | By

From the Telegraph:

A charity fun run that invited men to dress up as women is being investigated by police after a transgender charity claimed the dress code constituted a hate crime.

Officers were asked to look into the ‘Dames on the Run’ race – where men run dressed as women to raise funds for a children’s hospice – by a transsexual support group.

Chrysalis Transsexual Support Groups say the five kilometre run, organised by Derian House Children’s Hospice, in Chorley, Lancashire, is “dehumanising”.

Dehumanizing? It’s dehumanizing to wear clothes that are perceived as being for the “opposite” sex? So have I spent my entire life dehumanizing, because I hate skirts and never wear them?

Have we gone full circle now, such that it’s “a hate crime” to wear the “wrong” clothes for one’s assigned or not-assigned gender? Are we now going to start bashing men who dress too girly? Are we going to police how well people match their clothes to their official gender with more rigor than we’ve seen since about 1890?

Steph Holmes, of Chrysalis, said: “We get enough confusion with the word transgender, which mixes us up with transvestites.

“Transvestites certainly don’t dress for comic purposes and I don’t get up in the morning and think ‘what can I put on today to give people a laugh?’

“This race pokes fun at cross-dressing and, by association, us, reducing us to objects to be laughed at.

“Dehumanising us this way gives carte blanche to those that would do us physical harm, much like the gay bashers of old.

“It’s a small step from ridicule to persecution. The current stats suggest a 34 per cent chance of beaten up, raped or killed for being trans. We do not need to give the bigots any more ammunition.”

Is that true? Does a fun run in which some men dress in what are considered “women’s clothes” give ammunition to bigots? Does it cause persecution of trans people? Does it give carte blanche to people who would beat up or kill trans people?

I don’t see the connection, myself.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “As a children’s hospice, we deal with highly sensitive and emotive issues all the time and would never have considered organising a fundraising event that might cause upset or offence.

“Dames on the Run was conceived as a fun event, drawing on the much-loved Pantomime Dame character that is part of our theatrical heritage and supported by hundreds of thousands of people in every year.”

It’s true. The pantomime Dame is a real thing there. I’ve always found it somewhat sexist, in a mild sort of way, but also just theatrical and music hall-ish and quirky and not worth worrying about.

But sexism – meh, who cares about that, it’s only women. But when it’s trans women? That’s totally different.



Aug 22nd, 2015 9:27 am | By

I’ve noticed a Thing about myself, that’s probably a Thing about everyone’s self (because I ain’t special) – it’s that I shed my previous selves rather thoroughly and as it were callously, while thinking of my current self as the real self. I sometimes notice myself doing this and realize that my current self will be shed just as ruthlessly in the future, and I laugh a little.

NPR confirms that it is indeed a Thing about everyone’s self.

No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they’ll be tomorrow.

That’s according to fresh research that suggests that people generally fail to appreciate how much their personality and values will change in the years ahead — even though they recognize that they have changed in the past.

That is how it works. Looking back you know that it’s past, it’s stale, it’s been replaced. Looking forward you see nothing, because it’s not there yet. You’re perched on the front edge of the locomotive; everything behind you is the known behind-you, while what’s up ahead is…up ahead. The correct self is always the current self.

Daniel Gilbert, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who did this study with two colleagues, says that he’s no exception to this rule.

“I have this deep sense that although I will physically age — I’ll have even less hair than I do and probably a few more pounds — that by and large the core of me, my identity, my values, my personality, my deepest preferences, are not going to change from here on out,” says Gilbert, who is 55.

He realized that this feeling was kind of odd, given that he knows he’s changed in the past. He wondered if this feeling was an illusion, and if it was one that other people shared: “Is it really the case that we all think that development is a process that’s brought us to this particular moment in time, but now we’re pretty much done?”

It is an illusion, like an optical illusion. (That is, that’s what it feels like to me. Gilbert is the one who did the research, not me.) It’s an illusion born of the fact that the past is behind and known while the future is ahead and unknown.

Gilbert says he doesn’t yet know why people have what he and his colleagues call the “end of history illusion.”

One possibility is that it’s just really, really hard to imagine a different, future version of yourself. Or maybe people just like themselves the way they are now, and don’t like the idea of some unknown change to come.

That fits too. It’s odd…when I said I shed my previous selves as it were callously, I had in mind a kind of contempt I have for my previous selves – for being so clueless compared to my new and improved self now. It’s hilarious, really…we must all be Dale Carnegies, assuming every day in every way we get better and better.

Just think how marvelous I will be tomorrow!

Concerned members of the blogging and activist community of Bangladesh and internationally

Aug 21st, 2015 4:17 pm | By

I signed this: IHEU Joint open letter to Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh.


To Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid,

We, concerned members of the blogging and activist community of Bangladesh and internationally, along with representatives of human rights organisations and other civil society organisations and supporters, wish to protest in the strongest possible terms the institutional attack on Bangladeshi citizens who profess humanist, atheist or secularist views.

In the last two years, five bloggers (variously identifying as humanist, rationalist, atheist, and variously writing about science, humanist values, against Islamist extremism, or in favour of human rights and justice) have been murdered, hacked to death by assailants acting for fundamentalist militant groups (according to their own claims of responsibility). These victims are: Ahmed Rajib Haider, the science author Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niladri Chatterjee (pen name Niloy Neel). Four of these murders have occurred since February this year. In other cases, individuals like Jafar Munshi and Anjali Devi have been killed for alleged or perceived acts of ‘defamation of religion’, such as refusing to enforce hijab on students. And since 2013, supporters of the Shahbag movement and the war crimes justice process (the accused being Islamist leaders) have also been brutally murdered by similar Islamist entities. The victims include: Ashraful Alam, Arif Raihan Deep, Nurul Islam Faruki, Jagat Jyoti Talukder, Jakaria Babu.

The murderers and their ideological supporters are of course to be condemned and must be brought to justice.

In addition, instead of helping to confront this outrageous injustice, political and state institutions have begun blaming the victims themselves and making matters worse.

Following the murder of Niladri Chatterjee on 7 August, the Inspector General of Police engaged in victim-blaming, called for self-censorship, and threatened bloggers — the very people who are being murdered — with legal action under the current quasi-blasphemy law. Meanwhile, despite some counter-terrorism operations, the police have comprehensively failed to disrupt the networks that are ordering or carrying out these cowardly attacks. Even with two of the killers caught at the scene (after the murder of Washiqur Rahman) and claims of responsibility made openly on social media and via news outlets, still the attacks go on, and the extremists behind the killings remain at large. Instead of calling for vigilance and evidence against the murderers from the general public, police have instead encouraged the public to report alleged atheistic writings.

Faced with fresh death threats against numerous named Shahbag activists and others branded “enemies of Islam” in the week after the most recent murder, a police spokesperson told those threatened merely to “lodge police complaints” if they thought they were being followed! This is a grossly inadequate, highly negligent response to what is evidently a most serious and potentially fatal threat.

A number of Islamist groups, including Awami Olama League which isclosely associated with your own Awami League party, have made new demands of death penalties for all atheist bloggers and activists, echoing the rhetoric of Islamist extremists in other parties. Obviously, this demand represents a gross violation of the rights of the non-religious to freedom of thought, and against freedom of expression generally and must be firmly and explicitly rejected.

Furthermore, your Cabinet Committee for Law and Order, headed by Minister of Industries Amir Hossain Amu, on their 9 August 2015 meeting decided “to declare Atheist authors as criminals”, thereby making them subject to prosecution, and intelligence agencies have been asked to monitor blogs to find those atheist writers. Even under the current law, such a mass arrest of people who profess non-religious views in their online communications would represent a grave violation of the international human rights obligations to which Bangladesh is committed. The Home Minister in a separate speech was seen repeating the same warning message.

These institutions and officials of the state through their current stances — demonising free expression, while appeasing murderous extremists — are destroying Bangladesh’s claim to be a democratic state that upholds the human rights of all citizens. To criminalize the expression of “anything that may hurt anyone’s religious sentiments or beliefs” (as the Inspector General of Police puts it) means in practice that fundamentalists and extremists can say and do anything they want, while anyone who stands for democracy, free expression, rationalism, justice, and human rights would be reduced to silence.

This is a recipe for a theocratic state in thrall to the most extremist members of society. People must be able to discuss and debate religion and politics, beliefs and practices. If they cannot, then injustice, fear and violence will reign.

To fail to confront and refute these oppressive and illiberal tendencies now, will mark the beginning of the end of Bangladesh as a free and democratic country.

We implore you to:

  • ensure the safety and security of those individuals whose lives are threatened by Islamist extremists, including the witnesses and family members
  • instruct the police to find the killers, not to harass or blame the victims
  • disassociate yourself publicly from those who call for death penalties against non-religious Bangladeshis, and ensure using your executive authority that individuals within your party membership maintain the same standard of respect for freedom of conscience and expression
  • work decisively for legal reform to repeal Section 295A of the Penal Code and section 57 of the ICT Act of 2006, in order to bring the legal system of Bangladesh in line with the  spirit and values of freedom of expression and ‘of conscience’ as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, and as per obligations under the international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is party.

You can see the signatories under the open letter in English and Bangla. I see Maryam Namazie there, and Michael De Dora, and Roy Brown, and Roy Speckhardt, and Russell Blackford, and Udo Schuklenk; PZ Myers, Peter Tatchell, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Taslima of course, Tarek Fatah, Veronica Abbass, Andrew Copson, Ani Zonneveld, Austin Dacey, Brian Engler…and many many more.

Innate gender identity

Aug 21st, 2015 3:07 pm | By

So, this comment on Thinking as a value has been scratching at me all day, so I’m going to argue with it even though it will probably mean repeating things I’ve said about six times before.

Identifying as something in the gender and sexuality sense of the term is in reference to an innate gender identity and an innate sexuality that is immutable with regards to external force even if the experience of them can be internally fluid (see people who have fluid sexuality or are genderfluid).

I don’t believe in innate gender identity unless as a label for a way some people feel. I don’t believe in it as a universal description of how people relate to their own gender.

As such, “identifying as” is often a shorthand to describe quickly this innate phenomenon in gender and sexuality as these are often invisible states of being from an outside perspective.

Sadly, much like “theory” the popular usage of identity clouds the issue and makes it seem part of a spectrum of personal identities one may have that refer to an individual’s community, work, or social behaviors (“I identify as a nerd”, “I identify as a scientist”, “I identify as a feminist”).

Well that is one valid way to use the word. Amartya Sen uses it that way throughout Identity and Violence, for instance.

And this is an especially easy mistake for many people who are cis-identified to make as they can largely ignore their innate gender identity in the same way someone who is straight can ignore their sexuality or someone who is white can ignore their race.

Ok this is where we part company. You are using it as a universal description of how people relate to their own gender. I say no: it’s not universal. The analogy doesn’t work. Yes, white people can ignore their race, but that’s not because they’re overlooking the “fact” that whiteness is their innate racial identity – it’s because their whiteness is the default, and they’re not penalized for it. That’s a different thing. Privilege isn’t the same as innate identity. I have white skin privilege, absolutely…but that privilege is contingent, not innate.

As such, there is little disconnect or need to focus on the innate nature of gender, and this especially becomes true as gender is also a term that popularly gets universalized to not only mean innate gender identity, but also a basket of gender norms and expectations that not all individuals who are cis may be comfortable with.

Well some scholars – perhaps most or all scholars – say that is what gender means – the basket of gender norms and expectations.

And it can be hard to separate that out and see gender identity separate from that conflation when one’s own experience of gender is being perfectly comfortable with gender identity, but having a lot of uncomfortable interactions with expected gender roles.

And this is the part where I get pissed off. Don’t tell me my “experience of gender is being perfectly comfortable with gender identity.” Just stop telling me that. It’s not. That is not my experience. You can tell me what your experience is all day long, but you can’t tell me what mine is. I’ve never been “perfectly comfortable” with my putative gender identity.

They think that we are being given “too much knowledge”

Aug 21st, 2015 11:52 am | By

Here’s an item from the Malala Fund

I am Rita and I am from Adjokatsekope (Ada) in Ghana. My mother is a fishmonger and my father is a fisherman. We have five girls and two boys in my family. Only one other sister of mine has gone to school.

I study at the MGCubed program. Math is my favorite subject because I find it easy to understand through my new teachers on satellite! I also help my grandmother sell soap at her shop after school and on weekends. Because I have a better understanding of math from my lessons, I feel more comfortable when I am helping my grandmother at her shop.

She’s learning computer skills too.

After school I also attend the Wonder Women workshops where we learn about things like personal hygiene, dangers of using dirty water and child rights. This is where I learned about sexual health and preventing pregnancy, which was never discussed in school before.

Learning about sexual health is important because girls in my community are being forced to leave school early because of teenage pregnancy. It’s a real problem in our communities since girls don’t receive the right information or any information at all about these issues.

Yeah. That’s right at the top of the list – don’t get pregnant at an early age.

Educating girls is very important because it gives us direction and focus as young women. It also helps us avoid unnecessary situations that might hold us back in life — like getting pregnant while in school. Girls need education to help them see their importance in the community.

This is why I attend school and the Wonder Women workshops. While some people think girls education is good, others don’t like it. They think that we are being given “too much knowledge.” Now that we are going to school and studying, we know when we are being taken advantage of and we can stand up for ourselves. But some people are not happy about this because they believe that women belong in the kitchen.

When I grow up, I want to be a nurse. I haven’t been to a hospital before, but my grandmother tells me it is a good profession! I am happy with my progress and my elders are happy, too.

Go for it, Rita!