If You’re Against Assisted Suicide, You Are Either Monstrously Ignorant or Monstrously Selfish, Pick One

Update: some well-needed information and nuance has been added to this discussion by a reader. If you read this post, please also take the time to follow this link to a very thoughtful response.

Another day, another person generalizing their experiences and decisions to everyone else for no justifiable reason.

Back when I was dealing with more pain than I am now, I thought about assisted suicide. I never got close enough to start going through the nitty-gritty details, but it’s something I would have seriously considered if I had run out of things to try pain-wise. My back pain, back then, was constant and excruciating. A life where that experience was all there was would very likely not have been worth it to me.

Considering that option doesn’t mean, obviously, that I didn’t try to get better. I did try that, and as a result, I have gotten (somewhat) better.

Even so, it makes me very angry when people talk about how they don’t think assisted suicide should be a thing. About how if things hadn’t gotten better, I should have had no choice but to live in constant, excruciating pain.

Here’s what I think: I think that if you’re against assisted suicide, you think other people should have to suffer immeasurably so that you can avoid being uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to realize that there are people in situations where death is preferable to life. It’s not a happy thought, but it is a true one. I sympathize with wanting to believe that everyone really wants to live, or that everyone really would want to if they really thought about it. What a nice world that would be.

But that’s not the world we live in. The world we live in includes people who live with more pain than they can handle every single day of their lives. It includes terminally ill people who would rather go while they’re still coherent, aware, and not completely incapacitated by disease-induced disability and pain. If that reality makes you uncomfortable, I understand. If you think catering to your discomfort by legally requiring others to endure torture so that you can pretend it’s what everyone really, truly wants deep down inside, you can go fuck yourself.

Make no mistake, that is the decision. When you say you’re against assisted suicide, you’re saying, “That person should have to live in unimaginable pain for an indeterminate amount of time so that I don’t have to face reality”. Which is monstrous.

Sidenote: yes, legalizing assisted suicide brings with it the potential for abuse. It brings with it the potential for people to be pressured into suicide. That is a big issue, and a complicated issue, but “It’s complicated therefore we should just pretend it’s not complicated by not allowing it at all” is not a solution to it.

Why and How to Spread the Message and Take Action on the Events in Ferguson

There is so much to say that everything still going on in Ferguson, MO, that I’m feeling overwhelmed figuring out what to say. More than anything, though:

Please be paying attention to this and spread the message that it is happening. Follow the reporters, follow the hashtags on Twitter, watch the live streams and the videos of what’s going on. This is tremendously important and significant portions of the media are ignoring it or spreading incomplete or inaccurate information about it.

Amnesty International is getting involved in a way that they never have inside the United States before, other countries are sending in their war correspondents to cover this, police are doing everything they can to keep the media from seeing what they are doing up to and including threatening to shoot and tear gas journalists, and arresting them, and protesters are doing what they can to make sure that what is happening is being covered (read: the police believe that the more people know about what is going on the worse it will reflect on police and the protesters believe that the more people know about what is going on the better it will reflect on protesters; the police do not want to be watched and the protesters do). Police are wearing their uniforms but removing their ID badges so that they are not individually identifiable. Media and children are being tear gassed.

Still, there are people who are unaware of all this. Make sure it doesn’t stay that way. Watch what’s going on, signal boost it, talk to people about it, retweet, re-blog, and repost stories about it. We cannot let these events go unknown or ignored. Spreading the message about what is going on in Ferguson is incredibly important right now, and everything any of you can do is important.

Here are some places to follow what’s going on:

Ways to take other types of supportive action:

If anyone knows of other resources they think should be added here, say so. 

How to Be a Strategic Asset for Bullies

At the end of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the main characters have to fight their way past a series of obstacles to stop Voldemort from getting his hands on the sorcerer’s stone. Most of the obstacles take particular skill sets to defeat. To get past devil’s snare you have to know that it doesn’t like sunlight, to get past the chessboard you have to be good at chess, to get past the potions riddle you have to be good at solving puzzles, etc.

It makes for an engaging story, but there is an interesting implicit assumption in the way the obstacles were chosen: that knowledge, skill, and cleverness are the domain of the great and good. It’s one of the many manifestations of the “Only Smart People May Pass” trope:

This refers to any barrier that requires the heroes to solve some kind of puzzle or Riddle in order to pass. Alternatively, it could be some test of skill … One wonders why this was deemed a better barrier than say, a lock and key carried on someone’s person instead of being in a chest elsewhere in the building.

If the goal was to actually allow smart people to pass, like into Mensa, then this would make sense. But it’s often a defense against smart people who want to take whatever is being guarded. If evil, these smart people will either already be past this puzzle or trick the heroes into solving the puzzle for them.

Emphasis mine. The problem with this idea is that in the real world, intelligence is not solely the domain of good people. People who do harm are not simple, boorish automatons. Bullies and assholes are not just guileless, unsophisticated jerks. Many of them are tremendously intelligent, and are deliberate and strategic in the ways that they cause harm.

For an example, we need only look as far as the recent #EndFathersDay hoax, where people from 4chan started the #EndFathersDay hashtag pretending to be feminists in order to make feminism look like absurd extremism. To an extent, it worked. It was even picked up by a mainstream media outlet or two. People believed it, and in some places the ecosystem of erroneous feminist stereotypes grew a little bit thicker*.

In a way we all already know this. Have you ever heard of a playground bully who did their bullying in front of teachers or admitted to it when accused? I would imagine not, because most of them tended to be smart enough to either do their bullying out of sight of authorities, or in ways that authorities either wouldn’t notice or would ignore. In other words, they were strategic. They worked out as best they could what they could get away with and in what contexts and acted accordingly.

The people I knew of who were playground bullies when I was growing up are full-grown now, and for those who haven’t learned how to be decent human beings, I see no reason to suppose that they have lost all ability to reason and strategize about bullying between then and now.

How do you effectively bully as an adult? The same way you effectively bully as a kid: you either figure out the places you can do it where no one else will see you, or you figure out the ways you can do it that people will either not notice or disregard.

From the perspective of someone who wants to sexually assault someone, people who focus on what victims were wearing or how much they drank are incredibly useful dupes. The strategic predator will find social contexts with high concentrations of people who focus on victims in this way because they know it means that if they assault someone who was drunk or wearing revealing clothing that they probably won’t face consequences. The strategic predator will find social contexts where people often excuse inappropriate behavior with social awkwardness, because they know that means if they harass someone and then claim social awkwardness that they probably won’t face consequences.

As Dr. NerdLove puts it:

Creepers and predators rely on other people insisting that their social awkwardness is a mistake because it gives them cover. When the “socially awkward” exception is in play, other people are less likely to call him out on his creepy behavior. It becomes a way of isolating somebody from potential allies and tricking others – people who might otherwise object to his bad behavior and assist his target – into being complicit in his actions. The Awkward Exception teaches other people to tolerate, even expect creepy behavior… and to forgive it because hey, “he means well.” It gives the creeper cover and allows him to continue being part of the community; he’s not “Johnny the creepy predator”, he’s “Johnny the decent guy, a little weird sometimes but harmless.”

Now let’s move on to the Internet. This post depicting a feminist holding a sign that says “I need feminism because 4chan gave me PTSD”, recently appeared on Reddit. As you might expect, it was posted for the purpose of ridiculing the idea that someone could get PTSD from Internet harassment. The top rated comment reads: “I got PTSD when I couldn’t open the mayonnaise.”

But here’s the thing: the weight of the evidence of actual psychological research is firmly on the side of “Yes, online harassment can cause PTSD.”. Leaving aside the discussion about how this means there’s a very good chance people on the 4chan subreddit are getting their kicks by making fun of PTSD victims, let’s examine the implications of this post for the strategic bully: the strategic, intelligent bully knows that online harassment can be horrible, even to the extent of causing PTSD, and knows that there are communities where people think this is impossible. Ergo, the strategic bully knows that there are communities where they can organize campaigns of harassment extreme enough to cause PTSD, and no one will call them on it or stop them. In fact, not only will people not stop them, they will actively pile their own ridicule on top of the harassment already taking place.

Think about that: if most of your community thinks the idea of people getting PTSD from online harassment is absurd, then your community is a uniquely prime opportunity for bullies to harass people to the point of getting PTSD without any consequences whatsoever.

In a more general way, online communities where the prevailing “wisdom” is that Internet harassment should just be ignored are a fantastic opportunity for bullies. If online harassment actually is an effective bullying tactic (which, again, the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that it is), then a community where online harassment is hand waved away as “something you should just ignore” is the perfect place to bully.

Intelligence and strategy are not traits unique to the great and good. Bullies can be just as skillful tactical thinkers as anyone else, and if you fail to realize this – if they know how effective their campaigns of harassment and silencing can be, and you don’t – then you are the perfect strategic asset for a bully.

If you think focusing on victims’ behavior is an appropriate response to sexual assault, you are the perfect strategic asset for a sexual predator. If you think social awkwardness excuses sexual harassment, you are the perfect strategic asset for someone who wants to freely harass people. If you think most rape claims are made-up, you are the perfect strategic asset for a rapist. If you think online harassment should just be ignored, you are the perfect strategic asset for people who want to deliberately drive certain subsets of your community out of being able to participate. If you think someone can’t be a predator, a misogynist, or a bully because they are a valued member of your community (or worse, that being a valued member of your community earns someone the right to be any of those things), then all any horrible person has to do in order to be able to get away with anything in your community is put themselves in a position of providing some sort of value.

You may be a good person (if we’re being simplistic about good and bad, anyway), but I guarantee you that your “goodness” does not mean that you can’t be outsmarted by people who aren’t. If you do any of the things I mentioned in the preceding paragraph routinely, then you are being outsmarted and used by assholes routinely, to the detriment of your community and everyone in it. If you expect “real” bullying to be obvious and easy to spot, then you have no idea how real bullying tends to work, and you are a fantastic strategic asset for a bully.


* Just before posting, became aware of another upcoming planned attack by 4chan, in case you need more reason to believe these things are often strategically  planned: a planned “raid” on Tumblr users on this August 4th (see “Operation Wave/Time Bomb” image).

Further examples of the effects organized harassment can have and the forms it can take: No skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry, I Stand with Shakesville, This is What Has Been Happening

On Solving the World’s Problems In Decreasing Order of Badness

Alex lives in an average, everyday medieval fantasy town, Hypothetica, which is at present being threatened by an enormous evil dragon. The dragon burns buildings and kills people and sometimes makes offhand, hurtful comments that people can’t stop thinking about for days afterward. If it isn’t stopped, it will destroy the town, kill everyone in it, and hurt a lot of people’s feelings.

Fortunately, several dragonslayers live in Hypothetica. Unfortunately, the week before, when the town was being threatened by an equally powerful and dangerous enemy in the form of an evil sorcerer who performed dark magic (and made disparaging remarks about several people’s shoes), a spell was cast on the dragonslayers that put them into a deep, year-long sleep. Thankfully, Hypothetica is also home to several sorcerers who, together, should be able to undo the spell and wake the dragonslayers.

Alex goes to the sorcerers’ tower and tells the sorcerers to begin the counter spell that will awaken the dragonslayers. As Alex is leaving, however, another Hypothetican citizen, Sam, walks up to the sorcerers and starts yelling at them for focusing on breaking the sleep spell instead of killing the dragon.

“Who cares if a few people are asleep or not when there is a dragon to be dealt with?!”, Sam shrieks.

Exasperated, Alex tries to talk some sense into Sam.

“Spells have barely any effect on dragons,”, Alex explains, “and the dragonslayers have the tools and experience we need to kill it.”

“The dragon is the biggest problem we have right now!”, yells Sam. “Sleeping people come second to killing dragons!”

“But if we wake them up, they will be able to help us kill the dragon!”

“We can’t put any energy into waking people up until we have dealt with the dragon, though. Don’t you care about the dragon? Don’t you think killing the dragon is MAYBE A LITTLE MORE IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW THAN A FEW PEOPLE OVERSLEEPING?!”


Alright, I am going to go out on a limb here and presume that we all agree that Sam is the irrational one in this story. The thing is, Sam-like people take a lot of different forms, some more obvious than others. There seems to be an obsession among certain groups of people with telling other people what they should and should not care about. Why focus on sexism in the geek and scientific communities when in other places there are problems like female genital mutilation? Why focus on people being mean to other people on the Internet when “people are starving in Africa”?

I can’t find the post, but I believe it was Greta Christina who I read saying that by this line of thinking, one could conclude that the only problem any of us should be focusing on at any time is global warming, given that a strong case can be made that it is the biggest problem facing our species right now.

There are a lot of reasonable counter arguments to be made in the face of the “We must solve all things in decreasing order of badness* and therefore we should not focus on that problem while this problem still exists.” line of thinking, but there is one in particular I want to focus on right now. That problem is this: problems do not exist in a vacuum. They intersect. They affect each other. Just look at Sam and Alex’s argument: Sam is absolutely 100% right that the dragon is the worst problem facing the town, but is still dead wrong about what to do about it, because the problem of the sleeping dragonslayers has a direct impact on solving the problem of the dragon.

Problems in real life tend to work like this. Why solve sexism in science when we have global climate change to worry about? Well, part of the answer is because brilliant science-minded women are being prevented from working on the climate change problem because of the depth and breadth of the scientific community’s misogyny problems. Why spend time worrying about Stephen Colbert’s satirical racism when there are “real” racism problems like stand your ground laws and the school to prison pipeline? Because casual, offhand racist jokes like that contribute to the perpetuation a culture of acceptance of racist opinions and beliefs that is the driving force behind those “real racism” problems. Why focus on improving education when we have giant corporations decimating the economy, polluting the atmosphere, and destroying net neutrality? Because better education will create a population better equipped to challenge harmful corporations in effective ways that are more likely to bring about real, lasting change.

It sounds childishly obvious when put like this, but: most of society’s problems have to do with each other. Most of them are connected. At the very least, on a basic level, any time you solve a problem affecting one group of people, you free up those people to help solve the rest of the problems we have. At times so much so that you actually solve the “bigger” problems faster than you would have otherwise. See the dragon fable for a hypothetical example of this, and how about Alan Turing for a real one? How many people do you think thought homophobia was a more important problem to address than Hitler was in the middle of the 20th century? How many more lives would have been lost if Turing had died before his contributions to cracking the enigma, and how many brilliant ideas have we lost as a result of him dying when he did?

How many scientific geniuses are we missing out on because of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, able-ism, etc. in the scientific community? How many problems might we have solved years or decades ago if we had addressed those issues sooner? How many people may have suffered and died because someone said “We have bigger issues to deal with than X-ism.”?

Let’s try a new rule: if a group of people thinks something is a problem for them, let’s maybe believe them and let them deal with it and try to help out instead of denigrating their concerns. We should be doing this anyway, because, you know, compassion and stuff. So many people seem to be comfortable with not being compassionate, though, that I figured I would take some time to write this post illustrating why caring about problems you, personally, might see as “small” can be the most rational approach to solving the problems you think are “big”.




*Phrasing borrowed from Cliff at Pervocracy in another post I have failed to locate.

The Hero Sword Fallacy

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday about gun culture. He told me a story about a gun company called “Savage” whose logo is, naturally, a correspondingly offensive depiction of a Native American Indian. As a fan of guns, himself, he talked about trying to decide what his best course of action was in terms of expressing how offensive he found this. He has decided not to buy their products, and is considering writing a letter to the company explaining why he thinks their name and logo are offensive and incredibly harmful. He wonders, though, whether a letter like that is likely to have any significant impact at all on a company that has demonstrated their lack of awareness and consideration for others so clearly.

This is an incredibly common feeling with respect to pretty much every kind of activism there is. “Sure, I could say something, but I’ll never convince people like that. It will never make enough of an impact to really affect change.”

I think this perspective, while entirely understandable, is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of how most social change happens. I think of it as the hero sword fallacy.

The hero sword fallacy is the idea that your actions don’t really have an impact unless they are the thing that changes someone’s mind, and, correspondingly, that having an impact is about finding the perfect action or argument that will change minds. The way that you slay a dragon is by stabbing it through the heart with the sword of Ultimate Magnificent Dragon-Heart-Piercing Justice, and the way that you slay social injustice is by coming up with the Ultimate Magnificent Argument of Perfect Logos and Pathos.

You see this with newly de-converted atheists all the time. In the excitement of having figured out that deities aren’t real, people think “Now I know the reasons why gods don’t exist, and they’ll talk to other religious people and de-convert them with my fantastic arguments and awareness!”. Reality tends to set in quickly in the form of very few (if any) people being immediately convinced by such arguments. Sometimes people drift toward the mindset of “Well, you just can’t convince People Like That.”.

The thing is, you can. When Greta Christina gives talks, she often does an exercise where she has the audience raise their hands if they used to be religious, and then keep them up if it was an argument that eventually led to them deconverting. There are always a lot of hands left up.

People are convinced by arguments. They are convinced by arguments all the time; many of those people who seem so easy to write off as The Unconvinceables have been convinced by arguments (or emotional appeals, or becoming more familiar with the facts or people they denigrate). This isn’t just the case with religion; it’s the case with antiabortionists, anti-feminists, homophobes and bigots of all types, and believers in psychics and The Secret and The Game. The thing is, we are almost never convinced to change opinions that we are emotionally, socially, or financially invested in the first time someone challenges us on them.

People do get convinced though. It just doesn’t work immediately. Social progress always happens slowly, in a thousand, thousand, thousand steps, big and small, that add up to significant change only in the long run. Landmark court decisions like Brown versus the Board of Education or Roe versus Wade don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen after decades or centuries of proceeding work. Also, as we have seen, they don’t serve as ultimate incontrovertible solutions to the problems they address; racism and abortion rights restrictions are both very alive and well today.

I encouraged this friend of mine to write the letter he is considering writing, but not because I think it will change any minds. Not because I think it’s likely to get a response, or result in any sort of policy change, but because it’s a step. Every time anyone speaks up about social injustices, great or small, it’s a step, and that’s how these things work. There is no Hero Sword Argument or Action that will magically cut through the heart of a given person’s ignorance or bigotry. Changes like that happen to individual people after tens or hundreds of conversations, and to organizations perhaps after hundreds or thousands or millions of appeals by customers or constituents, and to cultures after far more than even that.

The tiny things we do do affect change, it’s just that they only affect major change once they have happened in a volume that is incomprehensibly large when compared to an individual action. There aren’t perfect solutions to the problems we face, and it is incredibly unlikely that any individual thing any of us can do will be the tipping point that changes something, but those individual things do add up, and the tipping points do happen, and progress does get made — only gets made — by people doing what they can and knowing that even if their contributions don’t cause the immediate change they wish for, they help move us in the right direction. They help in pretty much the only way that anything ever does: as a small step toward a big change.

Support Ashe Dryden

Ashe Dryden is a programmer, conference speaker, and feminist activist. She gives talks about diversity at tech conferences, writes for Model View Culture, and is in the process of writing a book about how companies can diversify their teams. I think she is magnificent.

She makes a significant portion of her income from contributions from people who support the activism she does. Unfortunately, she has recently had to leave the site from which she gets most of those contributions. This switch means that she will lose any income she had from people who are unwilling, unable, or unaware of the need to switch to using the new platforms she is using to receive contributions. This is a big deal for her.

I think that her work and voice are incredibly important to making the tech community and Internet communities at large better, more diverse, and more accepting. As such, I am making a shout out to readers of mine to support her if you can by either making contributions toward her work on the new platforms she is using (MoonClerk (her preferred platform) – Stripe-based, so currently accepted in these countries, or PayPal), or signal boosting this to others who might be able to.

Mommies Don’t Run and Daddies Don’t Play Piano, or Why Media Criticism Matters

Why is media criticism important? Why do we talk about how different groups of people are portrayed in media? What is the point of having conversations about how Beauty and the Beast depicts an abusive relationship, or whether women ever have conversations about things other than men in movies, or whether cultures composed largely of black and brown skinned people in fictional worlds are so often portrayed as more primitive and violent than their white cultural counterparts?

What does it matter?

It matters because what we see around us in media and the world influences our attitudes and behavior. Sexism in media influences sexism in the consumers of that media, not just in terms of reinforcing sexist attitudes, but in raising the tolerance and likelihood of behaviors like harassment, and in reducing empathy for the subjects of sexism. Racism in the media works similarly. Media has even been shown to affect attitudes on things like organ donation and jury expectations with respect to scientific evidence in trials.

It matters because media fundamentally shapes how we see the world, not just in terms of explicit messages about what the world is like and what people are like, but in terms of the thousand little details that we don’t consciously notice that shape what we perceive as normal or abnormal, acceptable or unacceptable, realistic or fantastic.

Whenever I think about how media influences us, I think back to a story my mom once told me about a conversation she had with a sibling of mine when we were very young. At that age, this sibling used to call all women “mommies” and all men “daddies”, our dad would generally go on runs every day, and our mom would practice piano every day.

She is with my mom and, looking out the window, sees a woman jogging. She looks at my mom and asks, “Mom, why is that mommy running?”

Mom answers, “Well, some mommies like to go running.”

My sister responds, “No; mommies don’t run, and daddies don’t play piano.”

I’m sure no one had ever explicitly told her anything of the sort. I can’t imagine she didn’t have friends with parents who had other hobbies, etc. yet there she was, so sure that things couldn’t be any other way for anyone even when she was directly witnessing contrary evidence. For no other reason than that she hadn’t seen it before. It didn’t happen in the world she knew, therefore it couldn’t happen in the world she knew.

What if she hadn’t ended up having this conversation with my mom, and had wanted to be a runner?

In my mind, there is little difference between my sister growing up (to a certain point) believing in running/playing piano gender roles because she had rarely been exposed to anything else and so many people in my generation growing up believing that gender is binary, or that men want sex and women want love, or that being gay is a disorder, or that trans people don’t really exist, or that black people are more inherently violent than white people, or that sexual harassment is “a compliment” or “just a harmless joke”. We normalize what we see.

I don’t want anyone to have to grow up thinking that abuse can be part of a romance (like in Beauty and the Beast), or that a man routinely making sexual comments to his female boss is acceptable (like in House), or that people with dark skin are naturally violent (like in Star Trek TNG — Klingons of course being the best example, but certainly not the only example in this particular show), or that it’s impossible for a fat person to be attractive to anyone but weirdos (like in Archer), or that kissing someone with a penis is one of the most disgusting things that can happen to a heterosexual man (like in Ace Ventura), or that it’s romantic to refuse to stop pursuing someone romantically after they have explicitly asked you to stop (Charlie/Zoe in The West Wing), or that stalking someone is an effective or appropriate way to kindle romance (10 Things I Hate About You).

These messages manifest as beliefs and actions in the real world. There are people who believe that people of color are inherently more violent than white people, in spite of the fact that there is no biological basis for race. There are men who think that being hit on by another man is justification for murder. There are stalkers who think that stalking is an effective, appropriate way to pursue romance with someone.

Most of the media I mentioned is media that I enjoy watching. I still enjoy watching most of them even while recognizing that there are problematic elements in each and every one of them. It’s just that I also recognize that there are problems with each and every one of them, and that those problems matter. Those problems affect us, they teach us things, and if we’re not careful they can teach us things that are both false and incredibly harmful. I recognize that we can do better, and that the world will be a better place if we manage to do better, and that the only way we will do better is by first recognizing the problems that need to be improved upon.

This is why media criticism matters. Because my sister was wrong; men can play piano and women can be runners. Because so much of our representation in media is teaching us things that are wrong, is shoving us in boxes, is teaching us ways we can and cannot be, is teaching us to think things that are not true and to tolerate things we should not tolerate. Media criticism matters because we can do better, and because in doing better we make the world better by making it a place where anyone, no matter who they are, can run or play piano or do whatever fucking thing makes them feel like a person.



Credit for a number of the links I use in this post goes to the citations section of the most recent Feminist Frequency video.

Thoughts On Being Excited About Sex

I’ve been trying to figure out how to just talk about sex.

With people who know me it’s easier. I would venture to say that in day-to-day life I am more comfortable talking about sex than most people are. What I’ve been trying to figure out is how to talk about it on my blog and social media.

My dating life is busier than it has been in quite some time at the moment. Parts of this are complicated and parts of it are great. I’m getting laid more than usual, I’m learning new things about new partners, I’m having silly awkward sexual moments, and I’m getting the kinds of compliments I absolutely love to get — “You are very easy to talk to.”, “I like the way you ask for things.”, “You’re a good feminist.” (although, to be fair, that last one resulted out of a slight misinterpretation of something I’d said, so it’s possible I didn’t really deserve it).

Incidentally, talking about feminist stuff while in bed with people is super fun and I am never more weirded out by guys who say feminism is ruining their sex lives than just after I’ve done that.

Here’s the thing: I get excited about getting laid, and I get excited about the times when I feel I can be good at sex, and I like being able to talk about the good moments and the silly moments that happen around sex.


But I’m in this culture of, for people who are perceived as male, Everything Is About Getting Laid And Demonstrating Sexual Prowess, and I don’t want to play into that culture when I talk about this stuff. I want to be able to be excited about having sex and the funny, interesting, sexy, or bizarre things that happen in and around sex, but I’m apprehensive about doing that because, in doing that, I don’t want to play into this Make Everything About Your Dick culture.

Maybe it’s one of those things I should just do unapologetically, and the manner in which I do it will bear out that that’s not the way I mean it. Then again, sometimes my responses to sex are as simple as “Oh my god, I got laid and it was awesome and I am awesome and everything is awesome!” and sometimes all I want to do is shout that to Twitter because I’m excited and I firmly believe that a world in which we can all let ourselves be excited about whatever random, silly things we’re excited about, whether Harry Potter or Dr. Who or cat pictures or sex or contra dancing or discovering the FedEx arrow, is a better world.

Without context, though, is such an expression of excitement playing into the more problematic parts of our culture? Is it harmfully perpetuating an unhealthy obsession with sex as conquest or social status? Is the way that I write about it, especially in a medium as brief as Twitter, sufficient to dissociate it from that culture? Is it necessarily even any different from their culture? Certainly, my own feelings on sex will have been influenced by the more harmful sexual attitudes I was surrounded by growing up just like the rest of us. Certainly, some of the ways that influences my opinions and behavior are probably still invisible to me.

So the question comes down to this: how do I allow myself to be fascinated and excited by sex in all the different ways that I am without playing into a culture that is obsessed with sex in some very unhealthy ways?

Right now I’m not sure.

Elliot Rodgers and What Happens Now

Yesterday, a college student named Elliot Rodgers went on a shooting rampage that left six people dead and seven injured. The video he left behind stating his intentions makes it abundantly clear what his motivation was*:

College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it.

Let’s go over what we can reasonably expect to happen now:

Because people don’t do cursory research, his violence will be attributed to mental illness by people and media outlets with no basis for making that assumption, further reinforcing a cultural association between mental illness and violence with no basis in fact.

Because he is white, his violence will not be attributed to problems with his culture, or to hypothetical or wholly fabricated assertions about the violent tendencies of his race.

Because deflecting responsibility is easier than taking a hard look at the roles we all play in creating people like this, he will be written about as a “madman” using rhetoric that deflects the responsibility that our words, media, and culture play in reinforcing the mindset he expresses in his video.

Because the role of culture in creating people like this is insufficiently respected, this instance of violence will rarely be connected to other, similar instances of violence precipitated by similar attitudes toward women.

Because of that same culture, there will be a lot of talk about how difficult it is being lonely and rejected as a guy, which will in many places outstrip the amount of conversation that is had about the difficulty of living in a culture where some people think it’s okay to kill you for not being attracted to them. [Update: some examples]

We can do better than this as a society, but conversations about all of the above need to happen before we will be able to.



* Transcript text grabbed from this excellent post on the subject.

On Valuing “Logical” Thinking at the Expense of Narrative Thinking

The skeptic community prides itself on logical, rational thinking. It’s a community that seems to have more than the average share of science, logic, and math-minded folks. In many ways, this is a strength. Testing assertions about the universe often requires a healthy dose of science and math-related skills. Evaluating the validity of assertions others have made and tests others have done tends to require those skills as well.

That having been said, I wonder if all the enthusiasm for math, science, and logical thinking that comes with having a community full of STEM-type people hasn’t bred certain weaknesses and blind spots into the skeptic movement. The “hard” sciences are incredibly valuable, and a strong emphasis on collecting and analyzing data about the universe is valuable as well, but at times it seems that a focus on hard science and data comes at the expense of respect for the value and power of soft sciences and narrative.

Certainly, in my experience, there is no shortage of people in the hard sciences who harbor active disdain toward those in the liberal arts.

I don’t begrudge anyone their enthusiasm for hard science and data. It’s an enthusiasm I share. I do, however, begrudge anyone who feels that there is little or no value to the knowledge and skills that come with studying soft sciences and narrative.

Magicians sometimes talk about how scientists are often easier to fool with magic tricks:

I’ve observed that scientists tend to think and perceive logically by using their training and observational skills — of course — and are thus often psychologically insulated from the possibility that there might be chicanery at work. This is where magicians can come in. No matter how well educated, or how basically intelligent, trained, or observant a scientist may be, s/he may be a poor judge of a methodology employed in deliberate deception.

I particularly like the way our associate, magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, has expressed this point:

Any magician worth his salt will tell you that the smarter an audience, the more easily fooled they are. That’s a very counterintuitive idea. But it’s why scientists, for example, get in trouble with psychics and such types. Scientists aren’t trained to study something that’s deceptive. Did you ever hear of a sneaky amoeba? I don’t think so. You know, they don’t get together on the slide and go, “Hey, let’s fool the big guy.”

The particular types of skills that tend to be most valued in the scientific community are not necessarily the most useful in all contexts, or for all problems. In the same way that scientific training may actually be disadvantageous to someone trying to decipher magic tricks, the valuation of any particular type of thinking over another can cripple the ability to tackle certain types of problems.

I wonder if the seeming inability of large portions of the skeptic community to process social justice issues like misogyny is related to the fact that many of the ways misogyny manifests are implicit, and have to do with cultural narratives and undertones. While it is entirely possible to gather scientific data on the impact of narrative, metaphor, implicit communication, etc., and many researchers have done just that, becoming conversant in these things is not one of the skill sets commonly included in STEM educational tracks.

I wonder if part of the reason the skeptic community seems to be having such trouble processing these issues is that our enthusiasm and focus on hard sciences and data has come at the expense of a healthy respect for the other side of the coin. Narratives are powerful. Narratives, metaphor, implicit messages, etc., are powerful, and they color every aspect of our lives, up to and including our assessments of research data and logical arguments. We, as a community, fail to acknowledge this at our peril.