Notes and Comment Blog


For all artists who have suffered at the hands of ignorance, violence and gagging

Aug 26th, 2015 9:54 am | By

At PEN South Africa, ZP Dala has written a gut-wrenching account of her persecution for the horrific crime of saying she admires the work of Salman Rushdie.

The week beginning 15 March 2015 was supposed to have been the highlight of my literary career. I was due to launch my debut novel What About Meera in a prestigious function on Saturday, 21 March and preceding this I was the featured author at one of South Africa’s most sought after literary festivals, The Time of the Writer. The theme of the 2015 Festival was “Writing For Our Lives” and in the wake of the atrocious Charlie Hebdo tragedy as well as the gagging of Bangladeshi writer, Tasleema Nasreen who was forced into exile after being attacked, the group of African writers that assembled for the festival felt a deep sense of poignancy to speak out for freedom of expression.

That was before the new wave of machete-attacks on atheist writers in Bangladesh started. What an appalling year it’s been.

I was invited to speak at a literary event on Tuesday, 17 March and in the spirit of openness my co-panelists and I spoke openly about a writer’s right to express. I was asked which writers I admired and I mentioned, amongst others, Sir Salman Rushdie, whose brilliant works far superseded the archaic fatwa that had been declared on him in the early eighties after writing The Satanic Verses.

Immediately, as I mentioned Rushdie’s name, a large contingent of the audience stood up and walked out. I graciously ignored the walk-out and continued with my speech. I didn’t know then what sinister repercussions awaited me.

What awaited her? The next morning, being forced off the road by a car with three men in it.

…as I had no choice but to pull over, one man got out of the car and advanced towards my car. Within seconds, he viciously reached into my car (my window was open, it was sunny Durban after all) and hit me with brute force on my face with a brick, and holding a knife to my throat he growled “Rushdie bitch”. Had another car not pulled up nearby, I know he would have stabbed me.

I suffered a severe concussion and a fractured cheekbone, and was hospitalised, but the injuries that were not so visible were the most malicious. In one day, my life changed. I was subjected to severe harassment by militant Islamists who were cowardly enough to never come out in the open, but began slandering my name and personal reputation in rampant anonymous emails to the media, and on social media.

Because she said she admired Salman Rushdie.

I experienced social media bullying, my email was hacked into, many friends “jumped ship” and the bookstores that were carrying my novel were threatened by militant groups to pull the books off the shelves. All in a day, I was ostracised and ridiculed by many in the Islamic community, although there were those who supported me and helped my frightened young children.

The book launch was cancelled and my book sales suffered terribly. It seemed that the freedom of a writer still was under threat. Nothing much had changed. It was through the amazing support of PEN, the entire literary and journalistic community both in Africa and abroad, that I managed to keep my strength and fight to keep my books on the shelves. Rushdie, other fellow authors and PEN were my pillars of strength and encouraged me to forge forward and to heal my body and mind instead of retaliating with bitterness.

I did what I could to be one of those people. I’m proud to consider ZP Dala a friend.

Men turned up at her house to tell her husband to “silence his woman.”

I was told by religious leaders to repent and recant my admiration of Rushdie’s writing and to publicly state my “Islamic leanings”. Being questioned about my religious beliefs was an infringement of my basic human right. But I held firm to my words and drew on the strengths of all the writers who reached out to me from all over the world.

Being questioned about our religious beliefs is indeed an infringement of our basic human rights. Theocracy is an infringement of our basic human rights, and people who try to force others – yes, including their children – to submit to a religion and its laws are theocrats and rights-infringers. ZP Dala gets to choose her own beliefs, as we all do.

Then there was the terrible hospitalization and captivity. PEN called for her immediate release and she was tossed out in the middle of the night. It took her a long time to recover.

I suffered strong ostracisation within my own people, my novel was criticised even before it was read, my credibility as a writer was severely compromised and even my very sanity was questioned. I was invited to events only to be made the butt of jokes. I attended the book launch of a stalwart of the Muslim community, and I was ridiculed in a public speech as well as the grand old lady inscribing in my purchased copy of her travelogue “I can sell books without a brick”.

I withdrew into seclusion, afraid of what people were saying, and even worse…what people could do. Again, PEN members, Rushdie and many other fellow writers reached out to me when I desperately emailed them, asking for guidance.

I was one. I told her I’d be happy to publish anything she wanted to write on the subject, or to share anything she wrote for PEN or any other outlet. This is that. I’m glad she decided to write it for PEN – my place would have been a safer choice, and PEN is a more public choice. Now we all have to stand by her.

It is now about five months since this awful experience. I have physical scars on my face, but the emotional upheaval caused me to question my place as a writer. I was offered asylum via various international embassies but I refused to run away, uproot my young family and to accept defeat.

I am still fighting many demons. Now, I finally have found the courage to come out in public and have begun to speak widely and openly about my experience and the writer’s right to freedom of expression. I am not afraid of the bullies, the militants, the hooligans hiding behind skull caps, the doctors and their drugs or the people that point at me in the supermarket line. I also remain fighting for a debut novel that did not deserve the birth it was given.

I will never forget what Rushdie said to me when he reached out to me after he heard of the assault and harassment. He told me my life as I know it will never be the same again. And he was right. Yes, I continue to write creatively and it sustains my soul. But now my passion lies in speaking out for all artists who have suffered at the hands of ignorance, violence and gagging. Perhaps that little spark that was born on the greens of Trinity College has ignited a worthy fire.

Strength to you, ZP.

 



Challenged

Aug 25th, 2015 5:21 pm | By

A teenager gets space in the Washington Post to explain why he refused to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home because it has drawings of naked laydeez.

Brian Grasso is a freshman.

As a Christian, I knew that my beliefs and identity would be challenged at a progressive university like Duke.

My first challenge came well before I arrived on campus, when I learned that all first years were assigned “Fun Home,” a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book includes cartoon drawings of a woman masturbating and multiple women engaging in oral sex.

After researching the book’s content and reading a portion of it, I chose to opt out of the assignment. My choice had nothing to do with the ideas presented. I’m not opposed to reading memoirs written by LGBTQ individuals or stories containing suicide. I’m not even opposed to reading Freud, Marx or Darwin. I know that I’ll have to grapple with ideas I don’t agree with, even ideas that I find immoral.

But in the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29.

So? It’s a sentence in a book. There are many sentences in many books. Just pointing to a sentence doesn’t tell us much. Maybe Jesus was wrong.

If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.

Sacred shmacred.

He’s so proud of his dull little “beliefs.” They’ve been making people narrow and censorious for 20 centuries, but he’s bursting with pride in them. He’s eighteen and he doesn’t know much yet, but he has his important serious beliefs. And the Washington Post thinks it’s worth publishing them.

I decided to post about my decision on the Duke Class of 2019 Facebook page to comfort those with similar beliefs. I knew that my decision wouldn’t be well-received. How could it in a country where, according to one study, more than three-quarters of American men between 18 and 24 years old have viewed pornography within the past month.

But though many students denounced my decision publicly, almost 20 people privately messaged me, thanking me for my post. I received many messages from Christians, but a message from a Muslim man stood out. The man, currently a sophomore at Duke, wrote, “I’ve seen a lot of people who just throw away their identity in college in the name of secularism, open-mindedness, or liberalism.” Is this really what Duke wants?

Ah there it is again, the ever-present worship of “identity.” If your “identity” is being closed-minded and incurious and and narrow, then yes, that is what any good university wants – it wants you to expand and enrich that small pinched identity. It’s doing you a favor.

Granted, you can do that without watching people fuck in class, but you can’t very well do it while treating your “beliefs” as off-limits.



Bit of a mix-up

Aug 25th, 2015 2:45 pm | By

The Guardian, August 16:

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the recently closed Kids Company charity, reportedly has plans to open a food bank for up to 3,000 children and young people.

Less than two weeks after the charity’s collapse, its former chief executive is set to open Kids Dining Room beneath a railway arch in Lambeth, south London, this week, the Sunday Times reported.

Why did it collapse? Well…

Kids Company shut down at the start of August after the government pulled an annual grant of £3m following allegations of financial mismanagement at the charity, which had no funding reserves. The government has had to find alternative support for 6,000 vulnerable children as a result of its closure.

Batmanghelidjh agreed to stand aside from her position in order to secure a £3m emergency restructuring grant, part of which was spent on overdue staff wages. Immediately after the charity’s closure she blamed “rumour-mongering civil servants”, ministers and the media for having “put the nail” in its coffin.

The BBC, 45 minutes ago:

As central government, local authorities and charities pick up the pieces of Kids Company, the charity which collapsed insolvent in early August, new details are emerging of the discussions that preceded the Cabinet Office paying a controversial £3m grant to the charity in late July – just days before it closed its doors.

BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News have learned of a document, emailed to civil servants in the name of Alan Yentob, chair of the charity’s trustees, on 2 June. It warned that a sudden closure of the charity would mean a “high risk of arson attacks on government buildings”.

The document also warned of a high risk of “looting” and “rioting”, and cautioned that the “communities” served by Kids Company could “descend into savagery”. The document was written in language that civil servants across government described as “absurd”, “hysterical” and “extraordinary”.

Erm…Alan Yentob…that name is familiar.

Oh yes.

Today, Mr Yentob, also the BBC’s creative director, said: “It’s widely acknowledged that Kids Company has done vital work with vulnerable children and young adults. The document… was an appendix written by the Safeguarding Team, who set out all the potential risks to be taken into account in the event of closure.”

Such as arson attacks on government buildings. Is that setting out potential risks…or is it a threat?

After explaining the potential trauma for clients, the document then went on to list “risks posed to the public”, saying there was a “high risk” of looting, rioting and arson attacks on government buildings. The same section also listed “increases” in knife and gun crime, neglect, starvation and modern-day slavery as possible dangers.

The document also says: “We are… concerned that these children and families will be left without services in situations of sexual, psychological or emotional abuse, neglect and malnutrition and facing homelessness and further destitution.”

“Without a functioning space for hope, positivity and genuine care, these communities will descend into savagery due to sheer desperation for basic needs to be met.”

Local authority officials and councillors have expressed anger and bemusement at this claim, in particular.

I can see why.

But the charity helped a lot of people, yes?

Officials in central and local government have also told BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News that they have been taken aback by the difficulty in establishing how much work the charity actually did. The organisation had claimed to “intensively” help 18,000 young people and to “reach” 36,000.

The charity also said that its records showed that it supported 15,933 young people. Speaking to Radio 4’s The Report on August 5, Ms Batmanghelidjh had said that the figure of 15,933 represented “the most high-risk group of kids, that’s what’s sucking up all our money”. All of these clients, she said, had “keyworkers” allocated to them.

However, the charity has handed over records to local government relating to just 1,692 clients in London, of which the charity had designated 331 as “high-risk”. Officials in Bristol have been given details of a further 175 clients. Ms Batmanghelidjh has told The Sunday Times that she has kept back some records of clients who are at risk of deportation.

Hoo-boy.



Massive, I tells ya

Aug 25th, 2015 12:43 pm | By

Editing to add: It appears this is an Onion-type joke. Never mind.

Cardiff Store Apologises For Offensive Shop Banner

DISCO



Pissing off the herd

Aug 25th, 2015 12:30 pm | By

One reason we’re given to back up the claim that concerns about trans people should trump other concerns (such as lesbian and gay rights and feminism) is the high suicide rate among trans people. Kevin K on the Dames on the run thread for instance –

On that note, in light of a suicide rates of transgender kids being 10 to 20 times higher than their peers, I think “thinking of the children” is entirely merited.

But wait a minute. Who are “their peers”? There’s more than one way to slice and dice kinds of kids; trans kids on the one hand and their peers on the other isn’t a very careful way to compare.

What about lesbian and gay kids? What about bullied kids? What about kids who don’t fit in? What about small kids, homely kids, fat kids, clueless kids, clumsy kids, boring kids, awkward kids?

There are so many ways for kids to piss off the herd and become targets. Kids are horrifyingly good at enforcing the local norms, I suppose because they’re deep in the process of figuring out how to Do Everything Right themselves and conformity is their chief guide. I remember being that kind of kid, and I remember ceasing to be it. In the lower grades I was desperate to be acceptable and to fit in (and I was a dismal failure at it). In the upper grades I stopped giving a fuck, and often flouted the local norms. For awhile in the 11th grade (I think) I wore little white socks when that was a gross fashion violation. I did it for my own amusement. But in the lower grades it was all sheep-like imitation, and ostracism.

Being trans is one way to piss off the herd, for sure, but so are a bunch of other variables. Do we know that trans kids have a suicide rate 10 to 20 times higher than all their peers? If we sort the kids in a different way, would we find they have a rate comparable to other kinds of kids subject to bullying and ostracism?



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.



Dust

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:

File:PalmyraBaalShaminTemple.jpg

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.



Nauru

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.

four

[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.



Exiled

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?
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/schoolgirl-fully-radicalised-by-isis-propaganda-must-be-taken-away-from-deceitful-parents-judge-rules-10466815.html

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.