Notes and Comment Blog

Frankly a lot more thought-provoking

Aug 5th, 2015 6:12 am | By

Something Lady Mondegreen said on a post of PZ’s about (unfortunately) me:

I’m getting tired of this assertion that “troubling remarks,” or Ophelia’s perverse desire to listen (without necessarily agreeing) to people who have been declared “known TERFs,” somehow harms trans people or puts them “at risk.” That vague accusation is a good way to justify hyperbolic attacks, and a very good way to shut down discussion, but it’s unconvincing argument.

I’m pretty sure the people who actually beat, rape, and murder trans people are not reading B&W, or asking themselves, “what is gender, really?”

And can we please stop speaking of “trans people” as a monolith, all of whom feel the same way? Over at Butterflies and Wheels, there have been some fascinating threads in which people–trans people (apparently feeling unharmed), cis people, and people who feel neither label applies to them–have discussed their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings about gender. It’s been moving, and frankly a lot more thought-provoking than the didactic but painstakingly inoffensive stuff I gather we’re all supposed to prefer.

See the last para is a compliment to y’all.

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

Two guest posts in one: Glenn Beck level ass-hattery

Aug 4th, 2015 12:53 pm | By

First, a comment by themadtapper on The art of the question on July 24:

This is some Glenn Beck level ass-hattery. “I’m just asking questions! Why won’t Ophelia Benson confirm she’s not a transphobe?”

I love how Joe says “it was just the polite way of asking if you are a transmisogynist”. As if anyone, even an actual transmisogynist, would ever answer anything but ‘no’ to that question. No, what Joe was doing was fishing for something to accuse her over. When challenged on the claim that Ditum and Lewis were “obvious bigots” and the assumption that following on Twitter amounted to an endorsement, Joe promptly blocked Ophelia and then lied about her reply. And in true Beck style he took every refusal to play his game as an admission of guilt to an accusation that anyone with a cursory knowledge of Ophelia’s posting history would know is false. And sadly, just like Beck, he gets what he wants even if you don’t give him what he wants. In come a parade of people to make posts about how hard Ophelia is trying to avoid the question. “Why, she MUST have something to hide after all, since she won’t answer the question!” Or, you know, she knows perfectly well that no answer will satisfy anyway. Because an answer is not what’s wanted. Any answer denying guilt will be met with further interrogation and insinuation, and the refusal to play (whether immediate or after fatigue and frustration set in) will be declared an admission of guilt.

Honestly, if Ophelia right now made a post that consisted of only the words “Yes I think transwomen are women. No I am not a transphobe/transmisogynist,” how long do you think it would be for someone to pop up in here saying “but why did you wait so long to say that, and only under increasing pressure?” No answer will satisfy, because the ones asking have already decided. They could have already gotten their answer by perusing the past posts of this blog. They’re not interested in an answer. They’re interested in spreading innuendo, insinuations, and doubt. The question was never intended to seek information, but to spread disinformation.

Next, a comment by themadtapper on Divorce status today:

I said it in another thread, and I’ll say it again here. This is some Glenn Beck style bullshit.

“I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why’s she following TERFs on Twitter? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why won’t she answer the accusations of TERF-dom? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why’s she asking TERFs for advice? Ok, maybe she isn’t asking TERFs for advice, but surely you can see how people might think that? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but but but but but…”

Frankly, at this point I can’t really accept that anyone demanding apologies from Ophelia, or accusing her, or trying to “help” her see the error of ways, is doing so in good faith.

And that goes for you too, Jason. You keep trying to paint a picture of poor, pitiful, helpful you being mistreated by an obstinate, ungrateful Ophelia. You say you’re “disappointed in how [Ophelia’s] reacting to the legitimate grievances” when your “legitimate grievances” include shit like this:

she said particularly impolitic things in particularly impolitic ways,regurgitated damaging arguments handed to her by TERFs that rightly got peoples’ hackles up

And this:

but she’s doing so much lashing out at the genuine, nuanced criticism, and so much cozying up to the TERFs that everyone ELSE recognizes as having it out for trans folk, that it is perfectly reasonable for trans folk to want to steer clear even where people who are not trans might want to continue to engage.

Oh, but woe is you, defending yourself from the big meanie Ophelia who, for some completely irrational reason, thinks that your accusations of her cozying up to TERFs and regurgitating TERF talking points is an attack. Why, you’re just having a friendly disagreement. You’re just trying to help, if only she’d let you. And if only she’d stop acting like a TERF. Not that she is one, of course, but surely we can see why some people might think that…

But you did paint me as an example of toxicity.

That post was toxic. It was bad, and you should feel bad. You don’t, and you won’t, but you should.

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

Divorce status

Aug 4th, 2015 8:11 am | By

What is the divorce status? It’s in abeyance for now, because I was very strongly urged to make it so.

But I still very much want to leave. I’m going to set up a Patreon account, and if I get a few subscribers, that will help make it possible. (Imagine B&W with no ads again!) I want to leave because several network colleagues have ostentatiously attacked me, not simply as someone they disagree with, but as a bad harmful dangerous person. They consider me a taint, a pollution, a toxin, and that is obviously very bad for a network of this kind. I don’t want to blog on a network where a small but vocal group of fellow bloggers think I’m a contaminant.

We don’t have a rule against a group of bloggers ganging up to ostracize and demonize one blogger. I thought (without noticing I thought it until recently) we did have a tacit rule of that kind, but I’ve learned that we don’t. We don’t have a rule, but what we do have is reality. The reality is that if a group singles out one blogger and goes after her for thought-crime and deviationism, that blogger is going to leave.

What do I mean, thought-crime and deviationism?

This for example from a comment by Jason on his post attacking me:

I think she said particularly impolitic things in particularly impolitic ways, regurgitated damaging arguments handed to her by TERFs that rightly got peoples’ hackles up, and I think she personally does not understand that at least some of the vitriol thrown her way is because some of those positions she’s taken are, actually, expressly damaging to trans folk. And the way she finally acquiesced to saying yes was so loaded with “but but gender is weird” — as though anyone was arguing gender WASN’T — is further damaging and undercuts her yes in a way that looks like a YES-BUT, which always reads as a NOT REALLY. And I am aware that she keeps saying over and over that she’s answered “yes”, but she’s doing so much lashing out at the genuine, nuanced criticism, and so much cozying up to the TERFs that everyone ELSE recognizes as having it out for trans folk, that it is perfectly reasonable for trans folk to want to steer clear even where people who are not trans might want to continue to engage.
To modify my first sentence though, I think my like and trust for Ophelia Benson is eroding the more she refuses to acknowledge that she might have done wrong and that anyone is at all legitimately hurt here. And every clarification — even if a step in the right direction — is loaded with paranoia about snakes in the grass and poisoners and witch-hunters who just want to attack her, that no amount of nuance in the argument is going to get through to her.

That’s not how colleagues should talk about each other in public – not in any organization where I want to work, at least. The main reason I wanted to join Freethought blogs when it was first set up was because it appeared to be a great group of people. I loved working solo but then once the network was created, I didn’t want to be left out of it. I thought it would be fun to have colleagues, and it was. It’s not fun any more, now that a few of them have lined up to talk about me the way Jason did there. If it’s not fun any more, why on earth would I stay? I could decide to stay for the good of the network, but since it’s the network that’s portraying me as a contaminant, I’m not motivated to do that. I’m getting all the shit part of having colleagues, and none of the good part.

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

From Halifax to Harrogate

Aug 3rd, 2015 4:59 pm | By

And now for something completely different, a pop culture interlude. Last Tango in Halifax – any watchers here?

I don’t think much of the latest season, season 3. Too much silly melodrama and way too little daily life, which is what it’s best at. I got bored. It’s funny that melodrama can be boring while daily life can be enthralling, but there it is, at least for me.

Still. It’s better than most things. Women front and center, and talking about lots of things besides a man. It passes the Bechdel test in the first few minutes, every time.

And then it’s Yorkshire.

And it’s Derek Jacobi, the best Hamlet ever in the history of everything.

And Nicola Walker, and Nina Sosanya.

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

Guest post: I yet still wished that children were born undifferentiated

Aug 3rd, 2015 3:50 pm | By

Guest post by Jackie McPherson, originally a comment on a Facebook thread, published with permission.

To me, it is whatever the person calling themselves a woman says it is, for them and them alone.

What society says a woman is, fits few (if any) real people.

We need to have this discussion, and we need to do it without attacking other people for perceived transgressions (or even trans aggressions. Ouch. Sorry).

Ophelia has been entirely honest – she acknowledges that if a person says she’s a woman, then she is a woman. And she also says we need to discuss what is meant by that word ‘woman'; not because of individual women, but because of how wider society treats people that find themselves in that artificial class of ‘womanhood’.

The biggest problem is that, apparently for simplicity’s sake, humanity has been divided into two categories in the English-speaking world – well, possibly the entire part of the world previously and/or currently dominated by the Mosaic religions – dominated and although the majority might appear happy to fit into one of those two, a sizeable minority don’t.

And our language, customs and laws ignore us.

When I was still hiding who I am from even myself, before I even knew that I am autistic, I yet still wished that children were born undifferentiated, and could choose which sex they wished to be on entering puberty. That way, I (perhaps naïvely) thought, everyone would be raised the same way since no parent or teacher would know if they were raising a future male or female child.

All the ridiculous add-on baggage that society attaches to apparent biological sex would vanish.

Since I knew that it was at best a sci-fi fantasy (I was wishful, not delusional) I fervently hoped (and still hope) that we would stop at least gendering children, since their biological sex is irrelevant before puberty, and also stop assigning greater value to masculinity and maleness than we do to femininity and femaleness.

We could have real conversations about how different levels of different hormones, in the womb and later, affect brain and body development. We could acknowledge that even those who are able to cram themselves into their assigned box, and appear comfortable, don’t always feel that they actually fit.

What if male, female, masculinity, femininity, were understood to be fluid, on a spectrum, and weren’t assigned intrinsic value but were just random facts of life, like eye colour?

We could allow people to express themselves without frowning on their efforts, or denying them their humanity, or doubting their self-assessment. People could acknowledge that sometimes a person is born with a body in one biological category, and a brain in another – and it doesn’t matter, they can do what they like with their own body, because it is them.

Sex-changes would be no more problematic than ear-piercing, or tattoos. And there wouldn’t be the pressure that there is today, in either direction, to conform to a particular set of behaviours.

The problem is that we use the same word – gender – and mean different things by it, and sometimes the meaning that one person is using and deconstructing isn’t the one another person is using, and a third person might think that either (or both) of them is being mean to the other.

Since I am transgender, I understand that my biological brain doesn’t match my biological body, and no amount of ignoring societal pressure to be feminine (something I’ve blithely done my entire life; thanks, autism) makes that fact any different.

But the question remains – what is a ‘woman’ (and so, by extension, what is a ‘man’).

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


Aug 3rd, 2015 3:21 pm | By

A thing I’ve noticed. There’s a lot of talking past each other here (in this hotly contested discussion, I mean, not on this blog). There’s a  lot of mixing up of slogans and political commitments with attempts to disambiguate words and problematize concepts. The two don’t go well together. I have political commitments, but I also like to try to disambiguate words and problematize concepts.

So, if only “abbeycadabra” had thought to make their question to me a matter of political commitments, I could have answered it, probably the way they were looking for. But they didn’t. And because they didn’t, they pretty thoroughly fucked up my life for the past couple of weeks.

I squandered much too much time today answering endless repetitive pointless questions from two men on Facebook who were making the same mistake.

They were (it became more and more clear) talking about commitments, but they talked about them in the language of ontology and epistemology. If they had just talked about them in the language of rights or morality or politics, I could have answered in a sentence and all that time would have been saved.

I’ve long defended the claim that skeptics don’t have to banish all commitments as the enemy of skepticism. People with no moral commitments are…not pleasant people, as you may have noticed. But one does have to know the difference.

Slogans have their uses, but the uses are pretty limited. Usually when I’m trying to think about something, slogans are not going to be relevant. (Cf Josh’s post on “intent is not magic” yesterday.) Spending hours trying to force me to utter a particular slogan is just silly. It doesn’t tell you anything. Ask me instead if I share your commitment; unless you’re an asshole with asshole commitments, the answer will be yes.

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

Guest post: But if such explorations were interrupted

Aug 3rd, 2015 12:37 pm | By

Originally a comment by kevinkirkpatrick on I did say.

It’s said no analogy is perfect; so take this with a grain of salt:

Say I took issue with the legal institution of marriage; and felt it was worth exploring whether our society would be better off massively redefining marriage or, perhaps, doing away with it altogether (I think such a case exists – marriage doesn’t seem to provide benefits, like financial assistance w/ guardianship. to many who need them; while it certainly has some massive rob-the-poor-to-feed-the-rich effects that do our society no good) . Such explorations might entail examinations of romantic couplings vs. friendships; childless couples vs uncoupled guardians; various toxic religious views of marriage; etc., etc.

But if such explorations were interrupted with “Do you support same-sex marriage, Yes or No?”, and that question came across in a way that was either outright disrespectful, or if I felt a “yes” or “no” might be used in a way to undercut my more nuanced considerations of marriage altogether… then yeah, I might be inclined to tell questioner where they could shove their question. However, I could easily see my refusal to answer the question be stripped of the context for which I’d refused to answer, and be used as an indictment of my having a homophobic stance toward gay marriage. And, by the way, there’s a horde of people whose lifelong aspirations seem to focus on destroying my reputation, who have no more interest in the situation than to throw fuel on any such fires in anyway they can. Yeah, I could definitely see the whole issue winding up in a pretty nasty place.

Anyway, not sure if that analogy fully captures the situation at hand, but for whatever reason, it’s definitely helping snap things into focus for me.

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

Diet Vermeer

Aug 3rd, 2015 12:27 pm | By



There are lots more.



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

Guest post

Aug 3rd, 2015 10:43 am | By

Originally a comment by Stewart on I did say.

More seriously trying to understand it, there is probably a mixture of things going on, none of which is Ophelia holding unpleasant views she refuses to discuss, but one of which is Ophelia reacting with completely justifiable exasperation at people launching unceasing attacks at her (some of a truly vile and literally – in that word’s original meaning – dehumanising character, throwing the very idea of discussion or arguments out the window) for views she doesn’t hold.

Perhaps some trust their sources so slavishly that they feel it unnecessary to read what Ophelia has actually written; there are others who are deliberately egging them on. Others still have sunk so deep into a morass of jargon that they will follow anyone who seems to be trendy (which is what most jargon is really all about).

I’m getting the feeling, from the way some things have been written, that no single factor is as pervasive as the mob effect the Internet has become so good at generating, in a fairly amazing simulation (considering the differences) of the movement and behaviour of real, flesh and blood, mobs. Anyone belonging to such a mob who reads my words is unlikely to consider it possible they are part of one. There are people pushing that mob’s buttons with cold and cynical knowledge of how these things work and some of them are people who would stop short at such behaviour in the real world, but don’t bother thinking about the effects they don’t have to see after they click “send.”

Surrender to peer pressure is, I would guess, an enormous factor and many people truly do seem to be too lazy to think for themselves.

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

I did say

Aug 3rd, 2015 8:20 am | By

I guess what I need to do is just re-post this every few hours for the next who knows how long. “This” is the post I wrote to clarify why I refused to answer a yes-or-no question and what my view is. (It took me more than one word. That’s why I don’t answer yes-or-no questions, except for very simple factual ones like “do you murder people?”) It seems I need to re-post it a few hundred times because people keep accusing me of things I very explicitly reject in that post (and then calling me paranoid and narcissistic when I notice).

So here it is. Get used to it – you’ll be seeing a lot of it.


Ok. It’s too late for this (but then it probably always was), because there are a lot of people just hell-bent on spotting a TERF in the bushes and not changing their view no matter what; the well is thoroughly poisoned and is going to stay that way. The poisoner oolon, who went to Pharyngula to work up the troops against me yesterday, is one such; that dude wants scalps, period.

But there are, I’m told, people who are just plain hurt and upset, especially trans people, and I don’t want to hurt people. Therefore I’ll try to clarify what I meant by refusing to answer yes or no.

(It’s like Bill Clinton and “is” – that was treated as a joke, but there actually is more than one meaning to “is.” Rumsfeld and his unknown unknowns were also treated as a joke, but he too was quite right – it’s only a pity he didn’t take the unknown unknowns a lot more seriously.)

There’s a difference, for instance, between an ontological is and a political is.

The more I think about the ontology of gender, the less I think I understand it. It’s slippery. That makes it impossible to answer yes/no questions about it.

But politically? Do you mean, will I take trans people’s word for it? Will I use their right names and pronouns? Of course I will. Do I want to make them jump through hoops to prove something to me? Of course not.

Do I get that trans people are severely marginalized, and have to jump through kinds of hoops I have no idea of? Hell yes.

I have thoughts and questions about gender, broadly speaking; gender as it affects all of us, and women in particular. I don’t think those thoughts are transphobic.

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

It’s not enough to just passively dislike someone

Aug 2nd, 2015 3:30 pm | By

Gee, I wonder what this could possibly be about. This post at Skepchick: Release The Scotsman: Responsible Use of Fallacies.

There’s a trend when it comes to talking to people about the negative elements of communities they’re involved in. When people don’t double down and simply deny that there are nasty folks in their community, they like to play the “well they’re not a REAL feminist/atheist/kinky person/purple people eater.” This is known as the No True Scotsman fallacy, and it’s annoyingly common.

Understandably, few people like to be called out on using fallacies, so a typical response to getting called out is something like “Well I still don’t like them and I don’t want them around so they don’t count to me.” I often find myself responding to No True Scotsman call outs by saying “I know they’re technically part of feminism/atheism/people on Tumblr, but I really don’t condone what they’re doing and I have no desire to be associated with them. I don’t know why you’re talking to me about what they did, I hate it as much as you do.”


That’s so contorted it’s hard to follow. Olivia (the author) seems to be going to a lot of trouble to avoid saying what she’s talking about; maybe that’s why it’s hard to follow.

I think what she’s saying is: it’s a pain when there is Someone Terrible in our group, so what we do is, we say the Somone Terrible isn’t a real member of our group, aka not a True Scotsman. Olivia seems to be saying that’s a bad thing to do; she frowns on it. We have to bite the bullet and say how Terrible the Someone Terrible is. We have to own it.

But that’s kind of bullshit. All of us have to collect our folks when they’re doing inappropriate shit, and if we want to avoid Scotsman accusations we have to be willing to recognize that even the people we hate can be and often are parts of the movements that we are part of.

I think I’m on the right track. I think she’s saying we have to be honest about the fact that even people we hate – like this Someone Terrible – are part of our movement. We have to “collect” them when they’re doing inappropriate shit.

What are the behaviors someone has to do in order to be responsible towards the shitty members of their groups? Are there times that it isn’t fair to use No True Scotsman just because someone is trying to distance themselves from other members of their movements?

That part is very opaque. It’s about shitty people who somehow are in your groups, and…no, I can’t figure out the second sentence at all. Who is distancing from whom? I think she lost the thread there. Not a very good writer. Is that what she means by being shitty?

No you are not personally responsible for every other person in your movements. But if you want to distance yourself from the shitty elements, you have to do actual work. Meaning you actually have to distance yourself by saying “That is not appropriate stop doing that.” You also have to take actions. If the person is behaving in a shitty manner towards trans people, step up and say “I 100% believe that trans women are women.” Use preferred pronouns, don’t make trans identities the butt of jokes, and call out those who are doing the opposite. Essentially, do your own work and be a good ally or activist by calling out bad behavior when you see it*.

Ohhh, now I think I see where we are. She’s saying everybody has to step up and shit on me, the Notorious Terrible Person of the week month year. Don’t just sit there; don’t look away; don’t talk about something else; don’t ask what the fuck you mean; step up and distance yourself by saying “That is not appropriate stop doing that.”

If you are doing your own work, if you are stepping up to the plate to try to improve your movement and community, if you are denouncing the awful actions of the shitty people in your movement, then and only then do you get to say “I did my best to change that part of feminism/atheism/etc. Those are not my people. I am not associated with them and I have made that clear.”

It’s not enough to stand by and assume everyone knows you disagree. It’s not enough to just passively dislike someone. You need to step up and make your own positions clear.

Right on! Preach it, sister! Denounce those awful actions of shitty people (i.e. me)! Do it! It’s not enough to stand by and assume everyone knows you disagree. It’s not enough to just passively dislike someone. You need to step up and shit on that awful person the way all the other good people are.

It’s best not to say her name though. That way you can…uh…

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

Guest post by Josh Spokes: To do work that only actual thinking can do

Aug 2nd, 2015 2:33 pm | By

I’ve noticed something. I’ve complained before about the elevation of stock phrases to do work that only actual thinking can do (I’m not the only one). “Intent isn’t magic” is one of the biggest offenders. It’s like the proverbial “attractive nuisance,” the open swimming pool in the yard that begs toddlers to fall in and drown.

“Intent isn’t magic”, for too many people, has morphed into “intent is irrelevant and has no explanatory power for human interactions.” They don’t say that in those words, but that is the effect.

Except it doesn’t work. Intent matters a lot. A huge lot. We make all kinds of decisions based on what we believe other people are likely to do. Intent is the difference between a person who knocks you over on the bus and laughs, and the person who knocks you over on the bus then profusely apologizes and helps you pick up your groceries.

Intent makes the difference between a conviction for premeditated murder and a conviction for manslaughter. That difference is roughly reflected in the sentences for each.

Intent matters so very much that it can go off the rails when we focus on it too particularly. The latest horribleness in which some are trying to divine the True, Deep State of Mind of other people (They don’t sound like a TERF, but are they really truly fundamentally ontologically a TERF? I must find out!) demonstrates this.

No amount of actions—things that can be seen by others, writing that explicitly states the author’s position and recognition of the rights of other people—is enough. Actions mean little; they’re a cover for the True Deep Intent of the suspected heretic.

When you step back and look at this focus on intent, it is not unreasonable. Human life is full of people saying one thing and doing another. We have to engage our bullshit detectors, we have to read for subtext and implication, and we have to be reasonably confident that we’re not being played by someone who claims to want to help while they’re undermining us quietly.

But that requires us to recognize that intent does matter, and that it is a useful tool in guiding our actions and reactions to others when used properly. This is something a certain set of the social justice-interested refuse to acknowledge.

But they are as obsessed with true intent as any human is.

Josh Spokes

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

Dude knows best

Aug 2nd, 2015 12:32 pm | By

The Independent has an article defending Amnesty International’s plan to make sex work a human right, written by a man.

Can denying people the choice to decide what they do with their own bodies – or specifically when they consent to sex – ever be an advancement of their human rights?

That’s what a sensationalist campaign led by radical feminists is claiming.

Um…I’m getting increasingly tired of seeing the constant use of “radical feminist” as an unquestioned pejorative. I’m getting increasingly disgusted by this nonstop campaign against radical feminism. Tepid feminism is useless – the problem isn’t small enough for that.

They are protesting against Amnesty’s leaked proposal that consenting sex work should be decriminalised, and, bizarrely, the Your Sister campaign has garnered the support of a number of Hollywood A-listers, including Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham and Meryl Streep.

Perhaps the latter’s experience of playing Fantine, a sex worker, in Les Miserables made her feel like she had a glimpse of the reality of life as a sex worker. As far as representations of sex work go, that film’s all-singing, all-dancing portrayal of early 19th century Paris is perhaps more accurate than the ludicrous distortion its star now finds herself attached to.

Well that’s remarkably condescending, coming from a young man. How much can he know about what sex work is like for a woman?

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

Sources of beauty and unity

Aug 2nd, 2015 12:22 pm | By

This is from early June, but I missed it and it’s a beautiful idea.

Over several decades of political instability and strife, Karachi’s walls have become a battleground covered with bullet holes, slurs, threats, and various messages of hate.

There are photos of dirty grey walls covered in writing.

A group of Karachiites started a campaign called “I Am Karachi” to reclaim public spaces by promoting arts, sports, culture and dialogue. Their newest aim is to reclaim the city’s walls and bring back its positive general environment.

There are photos of bright colorful walls that will knock your socks off.

Faraz Fayaaz

Wajiha Naqvi, the leader and manager of this campaign, talked to BuzzFeed about their “Reimagining the Walls of Karachi” initiative. Young artists have come together to paint over the hate with beauty.

“The effort is to reclaim the walls of Karachi which are often covered with hate graffiti towards certain ethnic groups and political sloganeering,” Wajiha told us in an email.

“We want to replace them with images that illustrate/depict positive values,” she further said.

Look at all the photos – they’re amazing.

Azhar Ibrahim

One of the risks of the project is that Wajiha and her team are erasing politically and religiously charged graffiti, which have been sources of conflict and violence, and replacing them with the exact opposite – sources of beauty and unity.

A risky thing to do…

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

A proposal to recognize prostitution as a human right

Aug 2nd, 2015 11:56 am | By

We’ve heard enough about TERFs for one while, let’s move on to the shouts about SWERFs by way of refreshment. Human rights lawyer Jessica Neuwirth in the Guardian explains:

Has Amnesty International been hijacked by proponents of the global sex trade? When the human rights nonprofit convenes its International Council Meeting next week in Dublin, delegates from around the world will be asked to vote on a proposal to recognize prostitution as a human right.

Amnesty is arguing that prostitution is a matter of free choice, a stance heavily promoted by the multibillion-dollar commercial sex industry. The group is putting forth the view that sex work is compatible with the principle of gender equality and nondiscrimination, as if it were a job like any other.

“By definition,” Amnesty’s proposal states, “sex work means that sex workers who are engaging in commercial sex have consented to do so.” This definition fails to take into account the dire economic need, the childhood sexual abuse, the brutal coercion employed by pimps, and the vast power differences of sex and race that drive the commercial sex industry.

And gender identity, too. Remember that Fresh Air interview I posted about recently? With the trans woman, Mya Taylor, who had to do sex work because she could not get another job because she was trans? She hated the work.

Amnesty contends that “such conditions do not inevitably render individuals incapable of exercising personal agency”. This argument ignores the reality for the vast majority of individuals exploited by the commercial sex industry. When United Nations personnel trade food for sex, these transactions – called “survival sex” – might technically be consensual, but can hardly be considered examples of free will. Almost all prostitution is some form of survival sex. There is no choice in the absence of the freedom to choose otherwise.

That’s a tricky argument, because it applies to most jobs…but still, we know very well that there are some jobs no one would do if they had any other choice at all. That’s why the South relied on slavery – the work in that climate was horrific.

Sweden has made a legal distinction between those driven into the sex industry by poverty and discrimination and those who buy sex as an exercise of power and privilege. Its model law criminalizes only the buying of sex and offers support services to those who are bought. This progressive feminist method aims to decriminalize prostituted women without legitimizing the men who buy them.

In the book Paid For, a compelling analysis of author Rachel Moran’s experience in the sex trade, she describes three types of men who patronize prostitution: those who assume the women they buy have no human feelings; those who are conscious of a woman’s humanity but choose to ignore it; and those who derive sexual pleasure from reducing the humanity of women they buy. Is Amnesty really going to defend the rights of such men to buy women?

It’s a heartbreaking moment for those of us who love Amnesty International. Former US president Jimmy Carter, who made human rights a centerpiece of US foreign policy, has started an online petition urging the group not to endorse commercial sexual exploitation as a right. The concept of human rights itself – not to mention sex equality – is at stake.


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

The lawnmower betrothal

Aug 2nd, 2015 11:28 am | By

A Republican Congressional representative from Iowa, Steve King, holds a strange belief.

Rep. Steve King, R-IA, told an audience while introducing GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee that the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling means that now people can marry lawnmowers, journalist Matt Taibbi reported.

Iowa Rep. Steve King, introducing Huckabee, said gay marriage ruling now means “you can marry my lawnmower.”

Matt Taibbi ✔@mtaibbi
Iowa Rep. Steve King, introducing Huckabee, said gay marriage ruling now means “you can marry my lawnmower.”
4:20 PM – 30 Jul 2015

King apparently made the comment at an Iowa campaign event for Huckabee on Thursday, according to Slate.

I don’t see it, myself. So many differences. Possessing sharp blades, is the difference that stands out. Plus being all-metal. Plus having an engine. Plus not having a brain.

King has been stuck on the idea of people marrying his lawnmower since at least July 1, when he first made the comment, which he reiterated Thursday, the Sioux City Journal reports.

“I had a strong, Christian lawyer tell me yesterday that, under this decision that he has read, what it brings about is: It only requires one human being in this relationship — that you could marry your lawnmower with this decision. I think he’s right,” he told the Journal.

Hm. So could you marry a car? Could you marry the Chrysler building? Could you marry Texas? Could you marry a distant planet?

Yes or no.

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

Given what we know

Aug 2nd, 2015 11:14 am | By
Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter:
Caroline CriadoPerez ‏@CCriadoPerez Jul 29 Given what we know about the women murdered by Jack the Ripper, it is absolutely ludicrous and actually offensive to call them “sex workers” These were not “empowered” women exercising their “choices” who just loved expressing their sexual freedom. They were desperate and poor. And they ended up disembowelled in the streets of East London. That was not because people didn’t respect their “agency”. It was because a misogynistic man murdered them.
Seems plausible to me.

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


Aug 2nd, 2015 10:56 am | By

It never hurts to remind ourselves of the fundamental attribution error.

Wotcha mean “attribution”?

In social psychologyattribution is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. In real life, attribution is something we all do every day, usually without any awareness of the underlying processes and biases that lead to our inferences.

For example, over the course of a typical day you probably make numerous attributions about your own behavior as well as that of the people around you.

And the dogs around you.

If you do something crappy, it’s because that person over there did something crappy x2 to you.

If that person over there does something crappy, it’s because that person is a crap.

See? You have reasons, they have bad natures.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

When it comes to other people, we tend to attribute causes to internal factors such as personality characteristics and ignore or minimize external variables. This phenomenon tends to be very widespread, particularly among individualistic cultures.

Psychologists refer to this tendency as the fundamental attribution error; even though situational variables are very likely present, we automatically attribute the cause to internal characteristics.

The fundamental attribution error explains why people often blame other people for things over which they usually have no control. The term blaming the victim is often used by social psychologists to describe a phenomenon in which people blame innocent victims of crimes for their misfortune.

In such cases, people may accuse the victim of failing to protect themselves from the event by behaving in a certain manner or not taking specific precautionary steps to avoid or prevent the event.

Examples of this include accusing rape victims, domestic violence survivors and kidnap victims of behaving in a manner that somehow provoked their attackers. Researchers suggest that hindsight bias causes people to mistakenly believe that victims should have been able to predict future events and therefor take steps to avoid them.

Here’s an interesting fact. Being aware of this error doesn’t prevent you from making it.

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

The simple and the complicated

Aug 2nd, 2015 10:06 am | By

A friend remarked yesterday, in a conversation about the – what to call it – the Official Ostracism of Me, that we’re all learning and it might be quite a good idea to be patient and not-horrible while we’re learning. Not the exact words, but that’s the gist.

It made me realize that one of the things I like most about having a blog is that I can write about what I’m learning, as I’m learning it. I can think aloud about what I’m learning. It’s note-taking, and discussion, and sharing. That’s what I like in other people’s blogs, too.

But, weirdly, we’re not allowed to learn about this subject. We’re supposed to have accepted particular conclusions, which is quite different from learning something (even if your learning takes you to the same place). We’re supposed to utter particular formulas, and answer yes to abrupt simplistic yes-or-no questions. That’s antithetical to learning, and to thinking as well.

Mind you…as I spelled out last week, I am willing, and more than willing, to answer yes to moral and political questions, even some yes-or-no ones. “Will you treat people as they ask to be treated?” “Yes, of course.”

But questions about what we mean by identity, the self, experience, mental states, conformity, stereotypes, gender roles, gender expression, performance…those I want to discuss rather than affirm or deny.

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

Shakespeare and the second person singular

Aug 1st, 2015 6:00 pm | By

I wrote a column for the Freethinker a couple of days ago about Shakespeare and undermotivated evil, via Hamlet and then Iago, with an observation on one way Shakespeare violated the conventions of his time.

There’s one Shakespeare character, though, who stands out for the flimsiness of his stated reasons compared to the malice and cruelty of what he does. He’s pissed off that he didn’t get a promotion, maybe possibly his wife has the hots for Othello. Othello is a good guy and that makes Iago look bad – blah blah. He claims all these at different times, so they cancel each other out, and seem like rationalizations instead of reasons. Really he just does it because he wants to, and he can. Desdemona and Othello are happy, so he’ll make them not happy, and not alive either.

It’s interesting how he goes about it, because it’s a classic literary theme, especially popular in Shakespeare’s time but still pervasive. It’s the theme that’s behind the phenomenon of “honour” killings. It’s all that, except that Shakespeare does what no one else does, and turns the theme on its head.

The theme is the happily married man who discovers that his wife is a whore. Remember the frame narrative of The 1001 Nights? It’s that. The Agamemnon? That. Most of Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedies? That.

Shakespeare used the theme in several of his plays, but in nearly all of his, the jealous husband is wrong. The later the play, the more wrong the jealous husband is. By the time we get to A Winter’s Tale, he’s such a jackass that he makes up the story that his wife is cheating on him out of thin air.

Have you ever noticed that? I was helped to realize it by reading a lot of Shakespeare’s contemporaries: with them the husband was never wrong, the wife was always a whore. Given what Shakespeare did with that theme, I have a feeling he found the theme annoying. That’s odd, isn’t it.

Othello is nudged into it by Iago, but he’s nearly as bad. He believes the poison Iago tells him, and he refuses to trust Desdemona – and that’s bad.

It’s so bad that Shakespeare gives the job of telling him off to a woman, Iago’s wife. It’s a violation of every possible Jacobean convention: she is officially Othello’s inferior in every way – married to his subordinate, and a woman. Yet she denounces him, and not only that, she addresses him as “thou” – the most insultingly outrageous thing a subordinate can do. She goes from “you” to “thou” in an instant, when he calls Desdemona a whore.

OTHELLO:  She’s, like a liar, gone to burning hell:
‘Twas I that kill’d her.
EMILIA: O, the more angel she,
And you the blacker devil!
OTHELLO: She turn’d to folly, and she was a whore.
EMILIA: Thou dost belie her, and thou art a devil.
– Act 5, scene 2

See that? Phewwwww that’s some outrageous behavior. Thou is for intimates, but it’s also for subordinates. However intimate they may be, a subordinate mustn’t thou a superior. Falstaff does it to Hal, if I remember correctly, but that’s part of Falstaff’s transgressiveness. Horatio never thous Hamlet, despite their deep friendship. Falstaff is being a bad boy. Emilia’s not doing that, she’s doing something much fiercer.

Shakespeare liked the effect he did it all over again in The Winter’s Tale.

Act 3 scene 2:

Leontes, the king, has accused his wife Hermione of adultery in court, then news arrives that their young son has died of grief, then Hermione faints and is carried out (the guy rushes things in this scene, I have to say) – and her attendant, Paulina, goes with her, then in a few minutes (during which Leontes berates himself for being such a shithead) she comes back. She’s a high class servant – upper class, but a servant to the royals – and she lets the king have it:

[Re-enter PAULINA]

  • Paulina. Woe the while!
    O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,
    Break too.
  • Paulina. What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
    What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling?
    In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
    Must I receive, whose every word deserves
    To taste of thy most worst? Thy tyranny
    Together working with thy jealousies,
    Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle
    For girls of nine, O, think what they have done
    And then run mad indeed, stark mad! for all
    Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.
    That thou betray’dst Polixenes,’twas nothing;
    That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant
    And damnable ingrateful: nor was’t much,
    Thou wouldst have poison’d good Camillo’s honour,
    To have him kill a king: poor trespasses,
    More monstrous standing by: whereof I reckon
    The casting forth to crows thy baby-daughter
    To be or none or little; though a devil
    Would have shed water out of fire ere done’t:
    Nor is’t directly laid to thee, the death
    Of the young prince, whose honourable thoughts,
    Thoughts high for one so tender, cleft the heart
    That could conceive a gross and foolish sire
    Blemish’d his gracious dam: this is not, no,
    Laid to thy answer: but the last,—O lords,
    When I have said, cry ‘woe!’ the queen, the queen,
    The sweet’st, dear’st creature’s dead,
    and vengeance for’t
    Not dropp’d down yet.

A torrent of thous, coupled to the harshest of insults – from a woman and a servant, to the king.

That dude Shakespeare was up to something.

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