Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Just being bros

Sep 16th, 2013 12:09 pm | By

What’s all this feminism nonsense? Didn’t we figure out a long time ago that that’s just politically correct bullshit? Janet Kornblum is there.

So when I heard about this whole bro-haha this weekend over some presentations at TechCrunch that a bunch of people thought were sexist, I was like, why the heck does everyone have their panties in a bunch?

What was behind all this hullabaloo? “Titstare” was, for one—that is, bros taking pictures of themselves staring at tits. Also “CircleShake,” an app that measures how hard someone can shake a phone and like, required dudes to stand up and simulate as if they were, well, you know.

And then Business Insider fires its Chief Technology Officer for a few measly “offensive” tweets, such as, “feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.”

Really, so what, ladies? These dudes are just being bros, having a little fun. I’m like totally sick of girls getting on their high horses about stuff like this. Seriously. Bros wanna have a little fun and make money. BFD, right? You gotta laugh with them.

Right? Feminists just drain all the fun out of life.

Dudes need their bromance. Bros gotta be bros.

Girls complaining about it? Total buzzkill. You don’t go to a frat house and bitch about the beer. You shouldn’t go to a start-up and meow about bro-workers.

It’s totally pointless and destructive, ladies!

Sure, it’s all PC to make sure you “diversify,” but start-ups have to Start Up. Get it? They can’t be held captive to a bunch of old school, outdated, personnel shit about who they have to hire. They have to be fast. They have to be fluid. They gotta be able to hire the best man for the job—even if sometimes, it’s a girl.

They need brogrammers who get it. Not sisgrammers. See? That doesn’t even work.

But the thing is? In real life, I’m one of those. One of those feminists. And by feminist, I mean a woman who stands up for women.

No that’s not what you’re supposed to do! You’re supposed to just put your head down and GET ON WITH YOUR WORK without always talking about women.

When I covered start-ups starting back in 1996, I remember being shocked by the blatant sexism. No, I’m not talking about everyone—but definitely, definitively most. It was clear that this was a man’s world. Women could come, but only if they followed dude rules. It was only cool if you could roll with the bros.

It was the beginning of the dot-com boom and I thought, well, it’s a new industry born of the male-dominated tech world. It’ll change.

Now it’s 16 years later, and guess what? The boys-only sign on the clubhouse has been switched out—to bros-only. The bro culture is hard-wired into many, many start-ups. I’m obviously not talking about everyone. But the fact that guys could stand up in a room and simulate masturbation and talk about tits at a major industry conference sure says something.

These events are not random. This kind of stuff and a lot worse happens all the time behind closed doors. The fact that they played out in public? It’s a sign of the times: that entitled, frat bro-culture has become not just tolerable in many circles, but even acceptable. Even kind of “fun.”

More than kind of, where I see it. Absolutely fun, unquestionably fun, enough fun to spend hours a day doing it on Twitter and forums (ok fora, but nobody says that and Word Press corrects it to for a). For some people it’s a party that goes on all day every day.

Naming a problem is the beginning. I’ve talked with a lot of women in the tech world about this; almost universally they can tell me stories about feeling excluded in all kinds of ways that maybe men don’t even notice: gatherings where only guys are invited; CEO’s using language like “brogramming”; and mostly, being passed up for promotions or being shut down. If they call out the behavior they’re told they’re “too sensitive.” But of course, they don’t want to complain out loud. Because guess what happens? They get shunned. Or they get fired. Both.

Elsewhere they get smeared, cyberstalked, photoshopped, cyberbullied.

“Boys will be boys” is fine when you’re alone in your own homes. But bros? The next time you want to hire a brogrammer or ask your coworker out for a browski, please think again about what you’re saying. It may seem harmless. But it isn’t. It sends a message.

Let’s hope that the next time a CEO hires, he’ll look beyond his own personal network. Maybe he’ll open one of those binders of women. Maybe it’ll happen two or three times. And maybe when there are just about an equal number of women, those women will feel comfortable and accepted enough to tell the guys when they’re doing something that they don’t know is sexist, but really is.

Let’s do this.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Sep 16th, 2013 10:15 am | By

Jesus and Grumpy Cat.

grumpy cat

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

This horrible Catholic guilt

Sep 15th, 2013 4:27 pm | By

An Irish university student goes on the pill. She tells her mother; her mother is fine with it. Then she goes home to the west of Ireland, and has to renew her prescription. Her local GP is not so fine with it. He asks her a lot of impertinent questions and gives her a lot of unwanted advice.

This horrible catholic guilt regarding our own sexuality still festers in the more rural parts of Ireland.  It makes me furious that the general psyche of our nation would accept that a doctor reserves the right not to administer this drug. I had done three courses of the pill, I was well aware of the risks and consequences and I am a consenting adult choosing to be responsible; yet the doctor still asked were my parents aware of why I was there.

It occurred to me, while filling the forms in for my new doctor, what if I had been going in there a younger, more impressionable girl trying to do the responsible thing? Having sat through the tirade that was directed at me I think I can confirm that a less stubborn girl would have probably never had the confidence to ask for contraception again. This seemed so dangerous to me that I felt the need to out my contraception problems, very publicly. The very idea of this betrayal of power and how Dr X’s refusal to administer the pill can come under the umbrella of ‘religious beliefs’ made me so angry I couldn’t keep this story to myself.

I don’t care if the world knows I’m on the pill. Or that I’m having sex. What I do care about is the fact that people like Dr X remain in their unquestionable position of authority. I care that I’m not allowed to name him in this article because he’s still my family’s doctor. Even my very liberal mother saw nothing wrong with a doctor refusing to administer a drug that I had already been on and was taking under full knowledge of the consequences. Her attitude of ‘Doctor Knows Best’ makes me incredibly angry. This tendency to never question figures of authority has caused so much trouble in regard to the Catholic Church and our corrupt politicians, yet still prevails. I am a consenting adult having sex, and nobody reserves the right to pass judgement on me.

Make Ireland a better place, Úna Roddy.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Since you consider yourself greater than God

Sep 15th, 2013 10:19 am | By

Sometimes the aphoristic compression of Twitter can be useful.

Noel McGivern @Good_Beard

The Ten Commandments are a useless code of morality they ignore rape and child abuse and put the vanity of an imaginary deity before murder.

Harper @Irishbloke

@Good_Beard Would you mind giving me your 10 commandments since you consider yourself greater than God?

Harper’s reply sums up a lot of what’s so wrong and terrible about religious thinking, in just those few words.

One part is the circularity that enables the firmly closed mind. He assumes that there is god and that god is moral and “great,” and thus that it’s an outrage to think about “The Ten Commandments” at all.

Given this firmly closed mind and this focus on the wholly irrelevant (imagine derailing a discussion of the First Amendment into a discussion of the character of, say, James Madison), Harper simply ignores the substance and goes for a plain old “shut up, that’s why” instead.

But the substance is the point; it’s the point of what Noel McGivern said and it’s much of the point of atheism. The Ten Commandments suck. Harper makes himself unable even to perceive that by means of his dogmatic assumptions.

Mine? Sure, why not.

  1. Don’t be cruel.
  2. Love justice.
  3. Embrace equality.
  4. Practice compassion.
  5. Be generous.
  6. Do what you can to make the world better.
  7. Aim for truth.
  8. Think carefully.
  9. Share what you learn with others.
  10. Amuse.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Too petrified to talk about it

Sep 15th, 2013 9:52 am | By

Rupa Jha talks about sexual abuse at home as opposed to out in the streets or on the buses.

She lived in a huge family in a two bedroom flat.

Distant relatives and cousins kept coming and going through the family home.
Being the youngest girl in the family, I was “loved” by them.

These love sessions would happen only when I was alone with one of them.

I hated it but, like many others in the same situation, I was too petrified to talk about it.

Getting rubbed, touched, kissed or being locked in bathrooms was the “love”.

Even though the house was always full, I felt completely lonely and violated.

One day when she was about ten she finally had had enough, and sat on the floor howling. That relative was told to leave the house, but that’s all that happened.

But talking to my sisters, cousins and friends, I discovered a sorority of the abused – so many of them suffered similarly harrowing experiences.

Experiences of abuse which were followed swiftly by experiences of silence, forgetting, and then pretending these things did not happen at all.

So when the news came in about the four guilty men being handed the death penalty after being found guilty of the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi last December, I again wondered: When will this omerta, this code of silence about abuse in Indian homes be broken?

One hopes it will be now.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Is hijab ever really a free choice?

Sep 14th, 2013 5:19 pm | By

This again. In Sudan, a woman is threatened with flogging for refusing to wear hijab.

Can we please never again hear from anyone saying that wearing hijab is a choice?

Amira Osman Hamed faces a possible whipping if convicted at a trial which could come on September 19. Under Sudanese law, her hair – and that of all women – is supposed to be covered with a “hijab”, but Hamed refuses.

Ruby Hamad comments on the trend.

As mainstream Islam grows increasingly conservative, there is no doubt that the situation for many Muslim women, both in Sudan and elsewhere is deteriorating. Indonesia, for example, a once “moderate” country which has also been cracking down on women’s dress in recently years, is currently sparking international outrage for its plans to subject teenage schoolgirls to virginity tests.

And none of this is about choice. That’s the point. It’s about the violent refusal of choice.

Ahmed prefers to wear her hair in traditional Sudanese braids. But, judging by the policeman’s reaction, you’d think headscarves had been compulsory in Sudan for centuries and not just since the president Omar al-Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

All of which shows just how quickly conservatism can change the face of a nation. There is no doubt that there is a disturbing emphasis put on women’s dress and behaviour and that this is increasing.

Because that too is the point.

Why is modesty so highly prized and enforced in women but not in men when the Koran praises both “modest men” and “modest women”?

While modesty can as easily refer to humility as it can to dress and sexuality, the hijab requirement places women’s modesty front and centre at all times in a way men are exempt from.

Nothing has hindered women’s progress more than the cult of modesty. In the Muslim world it has sadly reached the point to where it is seen as the primary, if not only indicator, of a woman’s entire worth as a person.

It is the direct cause of phenomena such as honour killings, the restrictions on women’s’ freedom of movement and female genital mutilation; all cultural practices that predate the rise of Islam and which are designed to ensure women’s chastity prior to marriage.

This cultural preference for female virginity means women’s lives and their entire moral character are distilled to their modesty, reducing them to, in the words of Arab-American writer Mona Eltahawy, “their headscarves and hymens.”

In such a context is hijab ever really a free choice when women who refuse to cover their hair are derided as immodest and unashamed?

No, it is not.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When Anil met Pax

Sep 14th, 2013 4:36 pm | By

You remember how that went, right? Anil Dash tweeted

Wow, didn’t realize @businessinsider had hired such an asshole in @paxdickinson. Getting memcache to build made him an expert on misogyny!

Pax responded with the inevitable “you gonna say that to my face?” so Anil said sure, so they met. Anil tells us about it.

People who know me know that my offer was sincere, because while I was not trying to get Pax fired (though I certainly am not sorry that he was, and everyone including Pax agrees it was the right decision), I was definitely trying to find some way to understand if a constructive form of accountability could be attached to this incredibly shitty circumstance. I would still like to see Business Insider’s management explain how they’re structurally addressing their failures that allow a toxic culture to thrive for years with no accountability.

Does that sound familiar? Yes, it does.

Pax showed up about 10 minutes late, having been busy with the latest stop on his press tour, and as I had agreed, I called him an asshole to his face and paid for his coffee. We talked for about 20 minutes. He offered up a pretty boringly conventional defense of male privilege, and when I described the role of actual satire and comedy in punching up instead of punching down, he revealed that he sees attacking feminists and equality activists as punching up. There was some pointless bickering from me about the inanity of that perspective, but overall things were fairly civil; I’ve met guys like this before and I didn’t have any illusion that I was going to dissuade him from a perspective which his social group rewards with attention and the perverse impression that acting like an asshole is somehow being brave. There were the obligatory mentions of how his wife and some of his coworkers are women, so obviously he can’t be sexist. And there was a philosophical underpinning to his provocation, that Pax is trying to broaden the definition of what constitutes acceptable debate or discussion. That left me a bit amused, as I can’t think of a more self-defeating way to try to accomplish that goal.

Really? Being a determined noisy asshole isn’t the way to accomplish the goal of broadening the definition of what constitutes acceptable debate or discussion? That must be so frustrating to people whose idea of broadening the definition of what constitutes acceptable debate or discussion is, precisely, making noisy assholitude acceptable debate or discussion.

There was also a pretty dogged pitch for his startup, which will get all kinds of warm huzzahs from the intersection of MRAs, Bitcoin fans, NSA critics and Redditors. I was pretty amazed that he went for it. He flat out said that he wants his startup to be funded and wasn’t sure if it’d be possible after all of his, and I replied that it realistically wasn’t going to happen without the say-so of someone like me, and I wasn’t inclined to give some VC the nod on this. On reflection, I’ll be explicit: If you’re a venture capitalist, and you invest in Pax’s startup without a profound, meaningful and years-long demonstration of responsibility from Pax beforehand, you’re complicit in extending the tech industry’s awful track record of exclusion, and it’s unacceptable.

Good. More of that kind of thing, please. Less of the Pax kind and more of that kind.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A radical break from religious conceptions of meaning and value

Sep 14th, 2013 11:55 am | By

A month ago Steven Pinker had a long article in The New Republic in praise of ”scientism.” One part I particularly like:

In  which ways, then, does science illuminate human affairs? Let me start with the most ambitious: the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives. This is the traditional territory of religion, and its defenders tend to be the most excitable critics of scientism. They are apt to endorse the partition plan proposed by Stephen Jay Gould in his worst book, Rocks of Ages, according to which the proper concerns of science and religion belong to “non-overlapping magisteria.” Science gets the empirical universe; religion gets the questions of moral meaning and value.

Unfortunately, this entente unravels as soon as you begin to examine it. The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person—one who is not blinkered by fundamentalism—requires a radical break from religious conceptions of meaning and value.

To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.

And especially especially, We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. That’s a big one. It’s important to grasp it, in order to do our best to achieve goals that do pertain to human (and animal and planetary) well-being.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Less known outside Sweden

Sep 14th, 2013 10:44 am | By

Did you know that one of the members of ABBA is a pillar of the secularist-humanist community in Sweden? I did. Sven Grundberg tells about it for a Wall Street Journal blog.

STOCKHOLM – Björn Ulvaeus, one of the two Bs in ABBA, sat down with Speakeasy on a sunny summer day in central Stockholm at a hipster coffee shop. The joint is located just around the corner from the capital’s buzzing club scene that has hatched several global music wonders in recent years, including Swedish House Mafia and Avicii.

Sweden has long played an outsized role in the global music industry, providing a host of songwriters, producers, technological innovations and successful performers.

A solid musical education system, general prosperity and a deftness at imitation have all been mentioned as drivers. But one of the patriarchs of Swedish pop has a different explanation: godlessness.

Ulvaeus, now 68 years old and far removed from his ABBA days, talked in a wide ranging interview about his view that the absence of religious culture here is a bedrock of Swedish creativity.

Hmm. I don’t know…I think about the influence of gospel music on Motown, and I wonder. I like the idea, I’m just not sure it’s true.

“Sweden is an open, liberal, secular and democratic country,” he says. “We strive towards achieving equality, we are forward-looking and refuse to be pulled back by social constructs, such as religion.”

While ABBA never made any serious political statements with its music, Ulvaeus himself has emerged as a controversial social commentator in recent years. Less known outside Sweden are his secularist views, and his avid criticism of religion.

An active member of Humanisterna, the Swedish member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, he says religion constraints creativity.

“Religion is the root of so much misery in the world and I’ve always thought there is lack of criticism against it.”

See that’s why I knew he’s a pillar. Humanisterna is related to Fri Tanke, the publisher of the Swedish translation of Does God Hate Women? Björn Ulvaeus’s daughter picked me up at the airport when I went to Stockholm for the launch.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Can I take it off now?

Sep 13th, 2013 6:14 pm | By

Jesus and Mo discuss the burqa as a symbol of freedom.


That’s the end of that discussion.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Manitoba passes Bill 18

Sep 13th, 2013 5:54 pm | By

A good thing. Manitoba has passed a piece of anti-bullying legislation.

Bill 18, the Manitoba government’s controversial anti-bullying legislation, has been passed.

The public schools amendment act (safe and inclusive schools) passed third reading 36-16 late Friday afternoon.

NDP MLAs stood up and applauded after the vote results were announced, with some hugging Education Minister Nancy Allan.

A clause in the legislation has concerned some religious educators and community members because it would require schools to accommodate students who want to start specific anti-bullying clubs, including gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

And we can’t have that, because teh gay is evil, in fact it’s so evil that bullying is a good thing when it’s gay kids who are being bullied.

Some who attended public hearings on the bill earlier this month argued that forcing schools to accommodate GSAs goes against their own beliefs and infringes on religious freedoms.

Religious freedoms to persecute people not for being murderers or violent or, in fact, bullies, but for being gay – those “religious freedoms” are not worth having or defending. Deal with it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Only magical thinking is magical enough

Sep 13th, 2013 4:42 pm | By

Thanks to grumpyoldfart’s comment on Likely to enhance his progressive reputation I checked out Frankie the pope’s encyclical Lumen fidei aka the light of faith. One does wonder why they bother. They can’t color outside the lines, ever, so why not just re-issue the old encyclicals?

But let’s take a look at it anyway, since it’s there.

Faith is light; Jesus brought light; yadda yadda.

But then modernity. People said it’s just a fake light. Faith was associated with darkness.

Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way. Slowly but surely, however, it would become evident that the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future; ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown.

Therefore, the thing to do is decide that you do know all about the future after all, and what you know just happens to be consoling and cheerful. Yay.

There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God.

It must? Why must it? Why couldn’t it instead come from human imaginations, which can simply decide they have a light that is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.

Also, why does Frankie the pope even think that? If that light is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence then why did the church or its employees or both do such shitty things over the centuries? Why is the church still doing shitty things? Why isn’t it obvious that the light is in fact just one more human thing, which has all the limitations that humans do have? It’s not transcendent or limitless, it’s the opposite of that, and that’s why it didn’t notice all those children imprisoned in Irish industrial schools and being told their parents were dead when they weren’t.

He said a lot more after that, but with such a bad start, I don’t see any need to read all of it.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Way back then

Sep 13th, 2013 12:01 pm | By

I was curious about how long I’ve been reading and publishing and trying to help promote Maryam, so I went into the archives to find out. The answer is since August 2004. Nearly a decade.

I published an International TV Interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush August 15 2004.

Have a sample:

Maryam Namazie: You hear this also from the progressive angle as well. People who like what we say – for example, that we are standing up against political Islam – immediately assume that we are ‘moderate Muslims’. In the interview that you Bahram Soroush gave on the incompatibility of Islam and human rights for example, you clearly said that you were an atheist. But it just doesn’t seem to register, even among progressives. Why is that? I understand the political interests of Western governments, but why do even progressives have that opinion of us?

Fariborz Pooya: Part of it is ignorance. Purely ignorance. And it’s our duty to show the facts of the society in Iran and in the Middle East. To show that, for example, Iranian society is not Islamic at all. It’s deeply secular. It’s anti-religious. If you remove the dictatorship of the Islamic government from Iran, within a week or two, you will see the depth of secularism and the depth of the anti-Islamic movement. You will see the backlash that will have a major impact in the Middle East and the world, and not just within Iran. There is a strong socialist and workers’ movement in Iran. There is a history and tradition of the socialist movement. There are fights for workers’ interests; there are fights for improvements of living conditions.

So part of it is ignorance, and it is our duty to speak to our friends who are misinformed and to show them the realities of life in Iran. That’s part of our responsibility. I don’t think we have done enough work on that. We need to do more, and this sort of TV programme and our publications and activities are partly geared towards clarifying this and showing the reality of Iran and the Middle East. The other side of it, as Bahram clearly said, is political interest. To divide people based on religion, based on nationality, serves certain political interests. Because then it’s easier. You have similar movements in Western societies as well; ghettoising people and dividing people based on ethnicity, which is part of controlling society as well.

Maryam’s a comrade.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Maryam wins Journalist of the Year

Sep 13th, 2013 11:29 am | By

Wow – Maryam won a Journalist of the Year award yesterday.

I won “Journalist of the Year” for my blogging at today’s prestigious 2013 Dods Women in Public Life Awards. I was massively surprised (and pleased) given that other shortlisted candidates included “national treasure” BBC Olympics presenter Claire Balding.

Wow. Excuse my enthusiasm, but that’s really exciting. I’ve been following Maryam’s work for years and years, and I remember the days when the BBC kept phoning the Muslim Council of Britain for a comment while ignoring Maryam. I posted about it often. Those days are so over. Yesssssss!

Other winners at the award ceremony were the wonderful Malala Yousafzai (International Women’s Rights Champion); Michelle McDowell (Woman in Business); Rosemary Butler (Devolved Parliament or Assembly Member of the Year); Sanchia Alasia (Local Government Personality of the Year); Jo Swinson (MP of the Year); Meral Hussein-Ece (Peer of the Year); Denis Mukwege (Male Women’s Rights Champion); Fiona Logan (Public Servant of the Year); Francesca Martinez (Public Affairs Achiever of the Year) and Gee Walker (Voluntary Sector Achiever of the Year).

For more information on the winners, visit here.

By the way, a huge thanks to those who nominated me and also to those of you who read my blog which has now exceeded 2 million hits.

Here’s a photo of some of the winners at today’s ceremony. I’m the one with the ridiculous grin.


Massive congratulations, Maryam. I’m so proud to know you.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Moral coherence aka dissonance theory

Sep 12th, 2013 6:13 pm | By

Brian Earp had a very interesting post a year ago on motivated reasoning and “moral coherence” and how people resolve moral conflicts.

I was thinking “moral coherence” sounded very like dissonance theory, and then Brian went ahead and said as much, so that’s good. I know where I am.

He started with Todd Akin’s interesting take on pregnancy and rape, and how he could have believed that.

what could be going on with Todd Akin’s moral reasoning for him to casually downplay the relevance of rape and incest to the abortion debate while maintaining, as he does, that there should be no exceptions to anti-abortionism even in those cases? Psychologist Brittany Liu uses the notion of “moral coherence” to provide an explanation:

The misuse of scientific information in support of one’s moral position is not new. When it comes to controversial and morally-laden issues such as abortion, it is difficult for people to separate their moral intuitions from their factual beliefs. With Akin, for example, his stance that abortion is fundamentally immoral (even in cases of rape and incest) is tightly wrapped up in his beliefs about the consequences of abortion and the science of female reproduction.

According to Liu, “moral coherence” refers to:

… the power our moral intuitions have to shape beliefs about facts, evidence, and science. Often, our intuitions about right and wrong conflict with well-rehearsed economic intuitions based on a cost-benefit logic. That is, it is often the case that a particular act feels morally wrong even though doing it would maximize positive consequences.

So how do people resolve this kind of moral conflict? In a paper with her colleague Peter Ditto, Liu suggests that people’s desire for moral coherence “initiates a motivated cost-benefit analysis in which the act that feels the best morally becomes that act that also leads to the best consequences.”

Which is understandable, although unfortunate.

The idea of “moral coherence”— a clear cousin of Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory—seems plausible enough, and Liu lays it out in a thoughtful, compelling manner. Unfortunately, this sort of fair-minded effort to understand how it is that an otherwise intelligent person could fall so far afield of reality is rare when it comes to political hot-topics involving moral disagreement.

Yes but what Todd Akin said was so infuriating!

I have a feeling that’s not a very careful or philosophical response.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Likely to enhance his progressive reputation

Sep 12th, 2013 4:46 pm | By

The pope is getting pats on the back and kisses on the bum for patronizing atheists and telling us we’ll be “forgiven” by his imaginary friend as long as we grovel and mewl and puke first.

Not going to happen, Frank. Not interested. It’s your fantasy, not mine, and I don’t give a damn what your pretend boss is imagined to think of me.

In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblicanewspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.

That’s progressive? Gee, lower your expectations much? What’s progressive about that? It assumes atheism requires to be “forgiven” and that non-believers give a fuck about god’s “forgiveness” in the first place. That’s the opposite of progressive; it’s backward-looking.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Did you not see?

Sep 12th, 2013 11:48 am | By

A woman writes to her daughter’s high school programming teacher.

First, a little background. I’ve worked in tech journalism since my daughter was still in diapers, and my daughter had access to computers her entire life. At the ripe old age of 11, my daughter helped review her first tech book, Hackerteen. She’s been a beta tester (and bug finder) for Ubuntu (Jaunty Jackalope release), and also used Linux Mint. Instead of asking for a car for her 16th birthday, my daughter asked for a MacBook Pro. (I know, I know … kids today.)

My daughter traveled with me to DrupalCon in Denver for “spring break”, attended the expo at OSCON 2012, and even attended and watched me moderate a panel at the first Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC ’12) conference at USENIX Federated Conferences Week. Thanks to my career, my daughter’s Facebook friends list includes Linux conference organizers, an ARM developer and Linux kernel contributor, open source advocates, and other tech journalists. My daughter is bright, confident, independent, tech saavy, and fearless. In fact, she graduated high school last May — two years early — and is now attending high school in India as her “gap year” before heading off to college.

So what’s the problem?

I bet you can guess what the problem is.

Daughter was the only girl in the class. Daughter did well, helped other students. Then they started harassing her.

Did you not see her enthusiasm turn into a dark cloud during the semester? Did you not notice when she quit laughing with and helping her classmates, and instead quickly finished her assignments and buried her nose in a book? What exactly were you doing when you were supposed to be supervising the class and teaching our future programmers?

Um…don’t feed the trolls? If you don’t like being harassed, don’t take a programming class? Stop being such a drama queen?

She added an update:

Update: Thank you for all the great feedback on this post! For those of you wondering why I chose the USENIX blog as my platform — instead of another tech publication or my personal site — it’s because the USENIX membership and community have a long history of working toward increasing diversity in IT and supporting women in tech. Many of you suggested immediate action is needed to help combat this issue. I agree and that’s why I’m working with USENIX on their Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC) initiative via the WiAC Summits and the Facebook WiAC page, as well as other efforts within the community. I hope you’ll join us in this effort.

H/t Pieter Breitner.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Put the devil back into hell

Sep 12th, 2013 10:00 am | By

So the question is, has this guy in China been reading Boccaccio, or did Marco Polo bring this story to Italy?

A MAN who claimed he could use his penis to rid a woman of ghosts that had taken up residence in her vagina, was arrested in China after performing the “sexorcism” for which he charged $3,000.

Huang Jianjun was arrested in the Guangdong Province after he convinced A Xin that he could remove evil spirits from her vagina by having sexual intercourse. A day later, Xin reported the incident to the police, and Jianjun was promptly arrested.

It’s Alibech and Rustico – or Alibech and Rustico were originally A Xin and Huang Jianjun.

He began by eloquently showing how the devil is the enemy of the Lord God, and then gave her to understand that the service most pleasing to God is to put the devil back into hell, to which the Lord God has condemned him.

The girl asked how this was done, and Rustico replied:
“You shall soon know.  Do what you see me do.”
He then threw off the clothes he had and remained stark naked, and the girl imitated him.  He kneeled down as if to pray and made her kneel exactly opposite him. As he gazed at her beauty, Rustico’s desire became so great that the resurrection of the flesh occured.  Alibech looked at it with amazement, and said:
“Rustico, what is that thing I see sticking out in front of you which I haven’t got?”
“My daughter,” said Rustico, “That is the devil i spoke of.  Do you see? He gives me so much trouble at this moment that I can scarcely endure him.”
Said the girl:
“Praised be God!” I see I am better off than you are, since I haven’t such a devil.”
“You speak truly.” said Rustico, “but instead of this devil you have something else which I haven’t.”
“What’s that?” said Alibech.
“You’ve got hell,” replied Rustico, “and I believe God sent you here for the salvation of my soul, because this devil gives me great trouble, and if you will take pity upon me and let me put him into hell, you will give me the greatest comfort and at the same time will serve God and please him, since, as you say, you came here for that purpose.”

I love these cross-cultural influences, don’t you?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Meet the teenage exorcists

Sep 12th, 2013 9:32 am | By

The BBC will introduce you. There are three of them. They met at karate school.

They are now karate black belts, but because of their particular Christian beliefs, they have also decided to do battle – they say – against evil spirits or demons. They believe that these demons can possess a human being and cause suffering, depression or addiction.

“A demon can’t just come into anybody whenever it chooses to – God doesn’t allow that,” says Brynne.

“What happens is when someone sins or does something, or something’s done to them that allows the demon to come into them, that’s called the legal right or the reason that it’s there.”

Is that a fact – and how does Brynne think she knows that?

The young women have been trained by Brynne’s father, the Reverend Bob Larson, who says he has performed more than 15,000 exorcisms. They have appeared alongside him in America and overseas, including the UK.

They were told it by an apparently ignorant and credulous cleric, and they didn’t have the resources to know it was bullshit, so now they think they know it.

“Every single country has a specific kind of demon,” says Tess, 18, who loves music and reading.

They believe that the UK in particular is a hotbed for “witchcraft”, because of the popularity of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

“The spells and things that you’re reading in the Harry Potter books, those aren’t just something that are made up, those are actual spells. Those are things that came from witchcraft books,” says Tess.

Well here’s a fun fact: things can be in books and still be made up. Things can be in “witchcraft books” and still be made up.

Exorcism is an ancient practice and one that appears in many different religions, but many believers doubt the existence of demons.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, saw spirit possession as a neurotic delusion, and demons as repressed “instinctual impulses”.

Freud? What’s Freud got to do with anything?

Tess, Savannah and Brynne have all been home-schooled. In Brynne’s case it was because her father’s profession led the family to travel widely.

“With going [to] over 20 countries and stuff, I don’t really have time to go to school, but I’ll just sit at my desk and work on calculus or read all my books,” she says. “This is so much better than going to a stinky old school room.”

Brynne and Tess have been awarded places at college this year, while Savannah is already a college student. But as well as continuing their education they are determined to continue their spiritual battle against what they see as the forces of evil.

Well let’s hope they’re not going to a bible college, and will actually learn something now.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Vaccines undermine “divine providence”

Sep 11th, 2013 5:37 pm | By

At the end of August, epidemiologists in Texas traced a measles outbreak to people who attended a particular megachurch, the pastor of which has preached against vaccinations. The pastor has apparently repented that stupid move.

Fortunately, that outbreak was able to be pretty well-contained — after the disease sickened about 21 people, Texas issued a public health alert and quickly found the source of the issue. The megachurch’s pastor was very cooperative and even agreed to host several free clinics to encourage the congregation to get their shots.

That’s good, but a fundamentalist area of the Netherlands isn’t doing so well.

The Netherlands has been struggling with a measles outbreak since May. So far, more than 1,200 people have been sickened, and 82 of them have ended up in the hospital. It’s the first time in the past 13 years that the country has experienced a rash of measles cases. And as the Irish Times reports, the “outbreak is concentrated in the country’s extensive Bible Belt, where the majority of fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in having their children vaccinated.”

So I look at the Irish Times article, from last June.

For the first time in 13 years, the Netherlands has been hit by a serious outbreak of potentially deadly measles. The outbreak is concentrated in the country’s extensive Bible Belt, where the majority of fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in having their children vaccinated.

More than 30 cases have so far been reported, but the public health institute, RIVM, says that “in view of the low vaccination uptake in the Bible Belt, it is assumed that the illness will spread further among unvaccinated children in the near future”.

In fact, the figure of 30 could already be a significant underestimate, acknowledges the RIVM. Given the reluctance of most of the ultra-conservative population to put their faith in medicine, not everyone who has become ill will have visited the family doctor.

So the Netherlands has its own Texas, only more so. Fewer people but more wrong. I did not know that.

The country’s epidemiologists are having difficulty tracking the outbreak because orthodox Protestants don’t usually seek treatment at the doctor after they become sick. The close-knit religious community believes in faith healing, and opposes medical interventions like vaccines because they undermine “divine providence.” And because they live among other orthodox Protestants, rather than being integrated among the rest of the country’s residents, they don’t benefit from the “herd effect” that helps prevent the spread of diseases — that is, the fact that vaccinating some people can end up protecting the unvaccinated ones around them.

So they believe in a stupid incompetent god that wants them to do stupid incompetent things like not getting vaccinated and not using medical treatment. How miserably pathetic.

And how horrible for the children of that “close-knit religious community.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)