10 Reasons Why America Sucks and Europe Rocks

6 06 2013

1)      Food

America:

America Food

Europe:

Europe Food II

2)      Health

America:

Overweight Mother and Daughter

Europe:

Europe Health

3)      Education

America:

America Education

Europe:

Europe Education

4)      Transportation

America:

America Transport

Europe:

Europe Public Transport II

5)      Walkability

America:

America Walkability II

Europe:

Europe Walkability

6)      Urban Landscape

America:

Houston suburbs

Europe:

Europe Urban Landscape Cityscape

7)      Fashion

America:

America Fashion

Europe:

Europe Fashion

8)      Music

America:

America Music Country Cowboy Hat

Europe:

Style: "fever ray 2"

9)      Nightlife

America:

America Nightlife

Europe:

Europe Nightlife

10)  World-view

America:

America World-View

Europe:

Europe World-View





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.





Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.





A Young Feminist Decries the “Pink Stuff”

28 12 2011

A very serendipitous gift was bestowed on me on Christmas Day: a video of a little girl railing against gender stereotypes inside a toy store. I unwrapped a present, a book called Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (given me by my wonderfully open and progressive mother), and showed everybody the book, announcing the title for all to hear and accepting family photographs of myself, of course, with the cherished tome in hand. Noting my interest in the topic of gender theory, my elder brother showed me the video, which featured a girl named Riley critiquing the use of colour-coded gender stereotypes in marketing. This girl must have an IQ of 140, or if she doesn’t, she will when she grows up. She is precocious:

I love her! She’s like Lisa Simpson, and Lisa Simpson is like me. Watch this clip of Lisa Simpson, when she was me in, like, 1985 when I was seven years old:

Riley is a real-life version of Lisa—and me! Just like me at her age, she doesn’t buy into the marketing bullshit, and she makes no effort to hide her disgust with the crass commercialization of sex roles. It’s like she’s saying, “this stupid pink shit is fucked up, and it makes me want to vomit!” But, of course, she is a five year-old girl, so she doesn’t say that. What struck me as amazing was her reasoning abilities. She was able to create this abstract symmetry between what girls like and what boys like: “Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses; some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses”. This is pretty sophisticated thinking for a five-or-six year-old.

Most amazing of all, I think, was this little girl’s ability to cut like a laser through the smoke and mirrors of the marketing industry and exclaim that “the companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want”. So now little Riley has not only identified the unfairness of pressuring girls into buying princesses and pressuring boys into buying superheroes, but she has pinpointed the commercial mechanism which exploits these gender stereotypes to achieve a profit. I’m sorry, but that is a brilliant observation for a child so small.

It’s interesting to note the way in which the father relates to his daughter in this video. The father seems to insist that boys can have pink if they want, but the daughter seems to insist that, while this is technically so, girls are still pressured into wanting the pink princess crap while the boys are pressured into wanting the blue superhero crap. And, if we think about it, that’s true. Even if our children technically can buy cross-gender toys, they are very strongly admonished against doing so. There are social consequences to it, and little Riley is struggling in the midst of this gender fracas. At the same time, I commend Riley’s father for being a true father and taking the time to nurture his child by listening to her words, acknowledging her wisdom, and taking her to the toy store himself in the first place. Not many fathers would do even that much.

This reminds me of my childhood, which was raped away by the horrid spectre of a stepfather who hated women, black people, and gay people. Until 1986, when I turned 8, I was allowed to play with “girl stuff” as much as I wanted—both my parents were mild, good-natured, common-sensical people, if a bit religious and conservative—but once my mother divorced my father and married this odious troll from the American south, everything changed. She had to try to accommodate his stupid scruples, which included the immediate eviction of any gynaecoid play-thing. Suddenly, as boys, we weren’t allowed to play with anything that resembled women (or what women were thought to be). We were allowed to watch She-Ra: Princess of Power, but we were no longer allowed to play with the action figures themselves:

I thought that She-Ra was hot! And by hot I don’t mean sexually exploitable; I mean sexually confident. This woman was a sexual agent. She was in control, and for that reason she was admirable. But for some stupid reason, my stepfather hated the idea of his stepsons watching cartoons of women dodging lasers and throwing men over their shoulders. He hated the idea of boys liking “girl things”, and, on top of that, the idea that those “girl things” involved girls who wielded power. But every faggot loves that shit. It was all just too much of a mindfuck for his dessicated brain to handle. This is the type of gender-stupidity that I think little Riley is railing against in her father’s video.

Little Riley is an inspiration. She gives us a lesson. She is a tiny girl who helps us remember how both girls and boys can be hurt by rigid gender roles. Parents should not tell their daughters that they should like only princesses and pink stuff, and they should not tell their sons that they should like only superheroes and blue stuff. Because, even at an age as young as Riley’s, the stupidity and oppressiveness of these roles are apparent. And if you want to play the biological determinist card, I entreat you to read Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine (who exposes the very recent, very cultural origin of the pink/blue phenomenon in her book). Reading that might make you think twice about how you treat your children. It’s all about what actually works for us as people who have to adapt to the demands of a modern world. It’s always been about that. Nothing else.





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 1: Birth of the Plastic Demon

15 11 2011

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

A bright spotlight fell on a head deformed with a nest of wires which seemed to serve as hair. The figure worked busily on some task at an operating table, which was swathed in shadow. Soon a head rose, slowly turned, and faced its creator, who revealed a sunken, wizen face twisted into a huge, perverse grin of satisfaction. The wire-haired surgeon retreated a few steps from the table, from which a female figure slowly rose and dismounted, standing rigid like a mannequin in the stark interplay of light and shadow. His grin deepened into a grimace. A host of white-clad medical assistants emerged from the dark and stood impassive, awaiting his instructions.

“My eyes defy me”, croaked the surgeon in a frog-like voice. “At last, the labour of decades has granted me one moment—if just one sweet second—of bliss. Can it be? The perfect woman? No—the perfect human! You are my own”.

“To the contrary, hag”, murmered the patient balefully in her shoulder-padded 1980s power-suit and giant shellacked

hairdo.”You are mine. My servant-creator”.

The surgeon’s grin began to dissolve as he surveyed his patient’s face, which remained sheathed in darkness.

“And these, your helpers”, she said, pointing to his assistants with a long, green-nailed finger, “will be my minions! How well that you have so thoroughly plied them with the very substance over which I have dominion—plastic! What will you, hag? Be my proud chief of staff, or my unwilling, whimpering whelp?”

“Bow to my own creation?! Never!”

“Very well, my creator-hag. Have it your way.”

With a whirring sound, a ray of laser beams shot forth from the patient’s eyes and stunned the medical staff. Through some mysterious mental power, she took possession of them, and they suddenly became rigid and mechanical.

“This can’t be! I—I’ve calculated for every possible contingency, considered every possible backfire!”

“Not good enough, whelp! You may not know your own power—but I know mine.”

The medical staff converged on the surgeon. Under the patient’s command, they attacked him, stunning him with laser beams from their eyes and clawing at him until he crumpled to the ground in a sobbing heap.

“Yes, yes, yes, my synthetic beauties”, the plastic monster groaned to her new slaves in a fit of exultation. “Your serpentine precision pleases me well. You are quick as well as pretty”. She turned to her creator. “Though spineless and pathetic, your genius will serve me yet. I have much use for a bio-physicist of your calibre. With your service, soon I shall welcome more wayward sheep into my flock—black, white, and pink—and with such a legion, no one will stop me!” These last words were uttered with an evil cackle which resonated throughout the dark halls of the decrepit old surgeon’s secret medical facility.

Yet there was one woman who would foil the monster’s plans. In the year 2225, the galaxy was plagued with bloodthirsty criminals of every stripe, from the cold-hearted seahorse women of Titan’s methane lakes to the vicious unicorn-dragons of Vega’s great dust clouds. When all seemed lost, out she stepped from the ramshackle streets of Tower Hamlets, a hero of no ordinary stature. But a wisp of a girl, she fixed her mother’s laptop with the twitch of an eye, and neighbours gossipped about a gifted child who controlled machines with her mind.

When a secret shadow government of the United States sought to harness her powers with a vampiric alien entity known only as the Extractor, she turned the tables on them and escaped, only to discover that the radiation caused by this strange being had given her breast cancer. Desperate for a cure, she sought the finest doctors. However, during the procedure to remove the tumour, a mysterious race of benevolent alien beings appeared, placed a sleeping spell on the medical staff, and commandeered the operation, implanting in her an armoury of weapons which she could control with the power of her mind, including the deadliest weapon of all—the dreaded mammary cannon. Upon hearing of her recovery, the MI6 persuaded her to join their ranks as the founding member of a special branch of the agency called The Lady League, and they re-christened her Julie Gentron, first of the gen-trons, cyborg super-women!

Stay tuned for the adventures of Britain’s proud triad of women space-soldiers in the next instalment of Julie Gentron and the Lady League!





The Whole “Men Like Fucking; Women Like Feelings” Sham

20 05 2011

Tonight I had a conversation with my mother about male and female desires. She told me about the recent scandal over the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger had sex with one of his and his wife Maria Shriver’s maids. She paused thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “I don’t think men are supposed to stay monogamous in long-term relationships. I think they’re supposed to play around.” I was already armed and ready with a response. I took out her day-planner and proceeded to draw a simple diagram on one of the pages.

In fact, I want you to do this right now. Seriously. Do it. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Draw three or four Mars signs on one side of the paper, and three or four Venus signs on the other side of the paper. Now, draw a line connecting the first Mars sign to each one of the Venus signs. Then draw a line connecting the second male sign to each one of the Venus signs. Do the same for all subsequent Mars signs. Now, do the same for each Venus sign–draw a line connecting each Venus sign to each Mars sign. Once you are finished, you will see that every single Mars sign connects with every single Venus sign. The point of this exercise is to show that men cannot have sex with lots of women without women also having sex with lots of men. It is basic logic.

My mother is quick. She figured out what I was doing even before I had moved on to the third Mars sign. After recognizing my point, she said, “Yes, I understand what you are saying, but I think that women are more promiscuous in their youth, and more monogamous in their later years.” In other words, she was saying, all the women who were having sex with all the other men were doing it in their youth, whereas men spread it out into their later years. And I value her opinion as a woman–maybe this is what she has observed–but I still have qualms even about this “women are sluttier in youth and more loyal in old age” model. Why should women be more loyal their partner in old age, and men more disloyal to their partner in older age? It creates a disconnect, a conflict, between the man and the woman. And we always say something like, “Oh, well, the woman should understand the man’s desire to have many mates, and she should accept that”, but we never say that the man should respect the woman’s desire for monogamy. It’s always easy for men to say that. And that’s just assuming that women are “supposed” to be more monogamous in later years.

Why should they be? To me it suggests that women should be able to enjoy novelty primarily in youth, and men, evenly throughout their entire adulthood. But this still creates an insoluble and illogical conflict. If women are supposed to be slutty when they’re young (they reach puberty first and have menopause midlife) and men are supposed to be more or less slutty throughout their lives (they can breed until they die), there is a conflict of interest between women and men. We can be like John Gray (the author of Men Are from Mars; Women Are from Venus) and say, “Oh, they should learn to understand and accept one another”, but that’s easier said than done. They can’t be expected to understand and accept one another when their interests are fundamentally opposed to the core. So I provide a novel solution. Women should learn to embrace sexual experimentation later in life, and men, in their youth. We should challenge ourselves to think and act differently according to our present-day needs, and not those of our ancestors on the primordial savanna. And if you tell me that there are innate brain differences, let me tell you this: We are not slaves to our brains–our brains are our servants.

That brings up the whole issue of sex differences in the brain. Lord, god. I could go on a tangent about this, but I won’t. With regard to sexuality, the basic argument is that men have a greater libido than women because men have more testosterone, which contributes to sex drive, and also because in heterosexual men the third interstitial notch of the anterior hypothalamus is both bigger and denser than in women. (In gay men, it has the same rate of neuronal density as in straight men, but it is the same size as in straight women. As usual, they left out lesbians.) My response is: So what? So what if the male brain has been constructed (by whom?) to be more sexually opportunistic? That doesn’t mean that it should be. It only means that it has been. We would not say that white people should avoid tropical climates because their skin lacks melanin; no, we would give them skin-block. Similarly, we would not say that black people should be more susceptible to heart attacks just because in some environments they are more susceptible to high cholesterol levels. And we would not say Native Americans should be more susceptible to liver disease just because they are more sensitive to alcohol. And, finally, we would not say that a man should rape somebody just because he has an overload of testosterone. In all cases we would concoct a medication to correct a condition deemed undesirable. Natural does not equal right, and unnatural does not equal wrong. A thing is not right just because it is real, and it is not wrong just because it is not real. If it is real in the first place.

Why should I care? In a recent news story, a man from Long Island, New York beat his girlfriend’s toddler son to death because he acted like a “girl”. And the man said so in the police statement. That’s right. A man beat a small boy to death because the boy acted like a “girl”. (Whatever that’s supposed to be.) We think that the whole macho “men like sex and things” and “women like people and feelings” thing is so normal, but what is normal is not so palatable when a parent’s little two year-old boy is beaten to death for being too emotional or delicate. It is for such unfortunate reasons that I wake up every day and write the material I do. It is because of such horrors that we should think hard about how we present gender to our very vulnerable children.

Children are so pure and free. Let us launch them up and see where they fly, what they can be.





What Makes A Feminist?

18 05 2011

A heterosexual male friend of mine once told me about a chat he had online with somebody who was offended at the fact that his AOL profile (this was back in the ’90s) included the Gloria Steinem quotation, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. According to him, the other person argued that he should not include such a quotation in his profile since women did not need the support of men. Some men have tried to avoid such pitfalls by calling themselves “pro-feminist” instead of “feminist”. But what is the difference? Both view men and women as equals. One might find this “men can’t be feminists” attitude to be illogical and sexist, because it presupposes that women, but not men, should support women’s rights.

To determine how such a view can be construed as sexist, let us take a look at the definition of feminism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word feminism denotes “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. If feminism is based on the equality of the sexes, but a person states that female support is superior to male support, that person is technically being sexist. If a person seeks support, he or she should view both male and female support as equal, otherwise he or she is not a feminist, but a sexist. In other words, feminists would ideally seek the support of females and males equally, and not one over the other, because they view females and males as equals. Given this assumption, the Steinem quotation should tacitly read, “Women need men or other women as much as a fish needs a bicycle”, for if females and males are equal, female advocacy is as useful as male advocacy.

Besides, how do you explain intersexuality? If you do not believe that males can be feminists, but that females can, what position should intersexual people take? Some of them are considered sexually ambiguous by the most clinical biological definition–chromosomal ambiguity (XXY, XYY, or even something else). What should their feelings be on this issue? They at least should have a say in the matter.

There are important, very practical, exceptions to this principle. For example, it is understandable that a women’s rape relief centre should deny entry to men. Women who seek the services of these centres are often physically and psychologically traumatised, and the presence of men can exacerbate their stress. We might argue that these women should view men as being as supportive as any woman, and many of them probably are, but such a demand requires an unfair and unrealistic amount of reflection on the part of women who are in an emergency situation. The important thing for these women is to feel safe and secure, and to recover stress-free from their trauma, and if this means the exclusion of a visible threat, I think this is only reasonable.

The most important thing is that everybody seek equality for everybody. If we are all in this together, we should not be splitting hairs over the very differences we are trying to surmount in the first place. That is counter-productive, almost like shooting yourself in the foot. Black people need the support of everybody; gay people need the support of everybody; women need the support of everybody; men need the support of everybody; the disabled need the support of everybody; everybody needs the support of everybody. In that way, we are all equal. We are all inherently equal, and we should all be standing in solidarity as members of the same species and supporting one another. For the most part, we are all in the same boat rocking back and forth on the same stormy ocean, and, consequently, we are all dodging the same capricious waves.





Gay Marriage and the “Majority Rule” Problem

26 02 2011

The Barack Obama administration in the U.S.  issued a statement recently through Attorney General Eric Holder saying that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)—a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. It is a huge step forward for gay marriage proponents in the U.S. But, while Obama’s administration wields executive influence over the legality of the ban, right-wingers are in a shit-roar over the consequences of its repeal: most people oppose gay marriage, they claim, therefore gay marriage should be banned. That’s democracy, they say.

 I say that that isn’t democracy. I say that recognition of gay marriage should not be banned, because the majority have no concern in the affairs of the minority. If Jeff wants to have the same pension plan as his partner Chris, it is not the business of their neighbours. They are not throwing their gay pension plan over the picket fence and onto their neighbour’s lawn. Caring about what your neighbours do on their own property, when they are mutually consenting adults, is just plain nosey. As much as you want it to, it doesn’t concern you. IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

Let us define democracy:

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

2. a state having such a form of government: The United States and Canada are democracies.

3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.

4. political or social equality; democratic spirit.

5. the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

So democracy is a means for the majority to voice their concerns–when this applies–or it is a system of government in which all groups are equal. It is funny that, traditionally, the minority was privileged, while the majority was not. Now it seems to be the reverse: the majority is privileged, while the minority is not.

Here is my chief argument: A democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, not on issues which do not affect them. Whether or not Joan and Linda receive federal marriage benefits such as the right to file a joint federal income tax return does not affect the majority. Therefore, it is undemocratic to allow the majority to rule on whether Joan and Linda should have the right to marry. It’s simply nobody else’s business.

“Ah, but no matter which branch of government makes the decision, it is always going to be a matter of majority rule”, you will argue (and from here it goes down a slippery slope and keeps getting weaker and weaker). “For example, if a panel of judges rule on the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is still the majority opinion that rules.”

But there is a crucial difference between a majority of judges, and a majority of the people. Judges are obliged to adjudicate the law, not rule on the basis of personal preference. That’s why a person is appointed a judge–that person is deemed proficient in interpreting and implementing the law for the law’s own sake. Therefore, when a majority of judges rule on a matter, it is not just because they want their voice to be heard–rather, it is because of how they interpret the law. That is why the archetype of Justice is blindfolded. She is impartial. So, no, a majority on a panel of judges is nothing like the majority voting in a public referendum.

“But the law itself had to be ratified by a majority”, you will argue. “The U.S. Constitution was ratified when nine out of thirteen states–a majority–approved it.”

But, again, this was not your run-of-the-mill polling booth populated by old grannies cringing at the thought of two men rubbing up against each other (and God knows what else). These states were run by lawmakers who ruminated over the meaning and significance of a document which would affect the daily lives of people for centuries to come. That’s what judges and lawmakers do. They were not basing their decisions on flippant, arbitrary, impulsive prejudices; they were basing them on well thought-out arguments about human rights–which, in fact, were inspired by French Englightenment philosophy, not the Bible. In other words, they were not your average granny at the voting booth with the IQ of a rock. Besides, the original plan of the Constitution’s framers was to seek out unanimity among the states–in order to avoid the whole majority vesus minority scenario. Benjamin Franklin was one proponent of unanimity.

“But lawmakers are elected by the majority as agents of the majority in order to enforce the will of the majority. Lawmakers must reflect the will of their constituents.”

But this is fallacious repetition, because I have already explained the proper place of majority rule above. As already stated above, a democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, and not on issues which do not affect them. And, in light of what has been acknowledged, when a majority must rule on minority issues, they must do so under pressure of reason, impartiality, and foresight, because personal preference is not applicable to all. Thus, a representative is not obliged to reflect the views of the majority of her constituency when the issue at hand does not affect the majority of her constituency; in fact, she is obliged to reflect the views of the minority when minority issues are at hand. After all, whether or not Joan and Mary file a joint income tax return does not involve the majority. Why, then, should the majority be allowed to vote on it? Why, then, should a representative reflect the views of the majority, and not the minority?

What do America’s founders think about this issue? Thomas Jefferson, like many men in his day, may have been a slave-owning misogynist, but he had at least one highly perceptive thing to say about the proper function of majority rule:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

In other words, according to Jefferson, when the majority rule, they must do so on the basis of reason, and not irrational prejudices. He also concedes that majority rule must take into account equality between the majority and the minority, and we have already established far above that this is one sense of the definition of democracy. I disagree with Jefferson only on the point that the majority should always rule. I do not think that the majority should always rule. I think that the majority should rule when the issue at hand involves the majority, and not when it involves only the minority. But when a majority must rule at some level, it must be based on objective reasoning. In the case of gay marriage, the ruling majority should consist of serious decision-makers (legislators) who are not compelled to reflect the interests of their majority constituents on an issue which does not concern their majority constituents.

Oh, by the way, Jefferson sort of supported the more left-wing senses of the definition of democracy provided at the beginning of this blog entry. He invoked equality. Yes, originally it was meant to boost up the plebeian (underprivileged majority) to meet the level of the patrician (overprigileged minority), but, in an ironic reversal, in this case it is the underprivileged minority trying to meet the level of the overprivileged majority.

In summary, gay marriage should not be put up to a public vote because gay marriage is of no concern to the greater public. Whether or not Joan and Linda get to file a joint tax return is of no concern to their neighbours. Who makes the final decision, you ask? Informed, well-educated, impartial judges and lawmakers who demonstrate an appreciation for reason, justice, and compassion, separating their obligations to their majority constituents from those to their minority constituents. Because the majority do not have a say in the lives of the minority. What do you think?





Ew! Faggots!

30 11 2010

It’s hilarious how pathetically hare-brained and schizophrenic Americans can be about anybody who doesn’t poke the right hole–if any hole at all. No matter what rationale you throw at them, they’ll always find something to come back at you with–demise is a slippery slope for the rabid bigot.

The Pentagon recently released a report stating that 70% of U.S. military personnel and their spouses believe allowing gays to serve openly in the United States military would be beneficial, would make no difference, or would pose only a negligible risk. Finally, once and for all, the Pentagon accedes to the body of scholarly research presented by the American Psychological Association which reflects a consensus that gays aren’t bad for the military:

1) Empirical evidence fails to show that sexual orientation is germane to any aspect of military effectiveness including unit cohesion, morale, recruitment and retention (Belkin, 2003; Belkin & Bateman, 2003; Herek, Jobe, & Carney, 1996; MacCoun, 1996; National Defense Research Institute, 1993).

2) Comparative data from foreign militaries and domestic police and fire departments show that when lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness (Belkin & McNichol, 2000–2001; Gade, Segal, & Johnson, 1996; Koegel, 1996).

3) When openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals have been allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces (Cammermeyer v. Aspin, 1994; Watkins v. United States Army, 1989/1990), there has been no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness.

4) The U.S. military is capable of integrating members of groups historically excluded from its ranks, as demonstrated by its success in reducing both racial and gender discrimination (Binkin & Bach, 1977; Binkin, Eitelberg, Schexnider, & Smith, 1982; Kauth & Landis, 1996; Landis, Hope, & Day, 1984; Thomas & Thomas, 1996).

But, really, who cares what those scrupulous, scientific-minded experts think? They’re only experts, after all. I mean, who do they think they are, telling us about things which we know nothing about, and which they know scores more about? By no means is it a form of reverse snobbery to downplay knowledge and glorify redneck anti-intellectualism. Oh, no.

I think it’s pretty clear among rational people that DADT is a ridiculous relic of a benighted past, and that the United States is an embarrassment to other industrialized nations for preserving a policy (in several Courts of Appeal) which even Israel long ago threw out. Yes. Israel–where people get bombed in the street and drag queens get abducted by their families and beaten black and blue by their male relatives for three days straight before they are able to escape and call the authorities. However, the type of fascism hatched by 19th-century thinkers such as Hegel and mastered by 20th-century drones such as Germany’s National Socialists is adept at pulling virtually any chimera out of its butthole. The usurious Jews are the cause of our economic inflation and poverty, not the reparations due France as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. It is the homosexuals who threaten our unit cohesion, not a recalcitrant or belligerent attitude. Besides, it’s not as though homosexuals spend their lives conforming in order to survive.

You see, truth and reason are less palatable when one’s appetite is better sated by the raucous noise of charismatic crying and the saccharine bray of teary-eyed sophistries.

The argument supporting DADT can be said to take one or more of the following forms, and these are just as easily disproved in the accompanying textual interpolations. (Shockingly, all of the following arguments were also provided me by a homosexual servicemember, who appeared almost schizophrenically self-defeating about his sexuality.)

1) “Most military personnel do not wish for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military”.

Yes they do. The Pentagon report provided above indicates that most personnel and their spouses either do think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, or they don’t care. Besides, military authorities are not obliged to seek the permission of their subordinates when making policy. For example, drill sergeants do not ask their subordinates, “Do you want to do a push-up?”, let alone, “Do you want to work alongside women and black people?”

2) “Gay people shouldn’t be professing their sexuality in the military anyway. The military is about conformity–everybody is the same whether they are male or female, black or white, or gay or straight.”

First, gays do not have to profess their sexuality to be kicked out of the military for it. We already know that military authorities consciously seek out homosexuals by conducting investigations into the private lives of suspected cock-gobblers (which effectively violates the terms of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell anyway by “asking”).

Second, if a person’s sexuality doesn’t matter in the military because everyone is treated as the same anyway, then it shouldn’t matter to military authorities whether a person is openly gay. By simply stating that sexuality is irrelevant in the military, one only contradicts one’s own anti-gay position by admitting that it doesn’t matter.

Third, homosexuals are masters of disguise–they have to do it to survive.

Fourth, even if homosexuality were a choice, so is religious faith, yet one could not expel a servicemember for openly professing a religious faith, thus, just as one would be unable to expel a servicemember for professing a religious faith,  one would be unable to expel a servicemember for professing a sexual preference. They would both be choices, and both would be professed, no?

3) “Americans are different from Europeans, Canadians, Israelis, etc., so they shouldn’t be expected to follow the same ethic of equality.”

This is perhaps the stupidest argument I have ever encountered in support of DADT. This argument consists of an informal logical fallacy of the following type: “A is different from B, therefore A should not be like B”. This is a fallacy because it is a non sequitur. If A is different from B, it does not follow that A shouldn’t be like B, because the term “is different” does not equate with “should be different”. That Americans do not value equality as much as, say, the French does not mean that Americans shouldn’t value equality as much as the French. Indeed, if anything, the whole body of thought and reasoning supporting the principle of social equality suggests that Americans should emulate the Europeans, Canadians, etc.

Besides, if Americans are less tolerant than Canadians and western Europeans, don’t you think the problem is with the intolerance itself, and not the attempts to eradicate it? Re-affirming the military’s endemic prejudice rather than nipping the problem in the bud and holding the military accountable is kind of like dealing with bullying by telling the victim of the bullying to be less of a sissy rather than telling the bully to stop bullying. The bullying victim should be allowed to be a sissy without being bullied for it; similarly, homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the military without being kicked out for it. So don’t punish the homosexual for preferring members of the same sex–punish the homophobe for being homophobic. And, no, they aren’t allowed to use “religious freedom” as an excuse for their behaviour any more than they would be allowed to use “religious freedom” to excuse slavery or stoning adulteresses to death, for we know that such “freedoms” also constitute grave violations of freedom.

Compare the above image from a 2001 (really, it’s from 2001) anti-homosexual military manual (called Dignity and Respect) with the 1950s anti-homosexual propaganda at the beginning of this post. What I want to know is, where is the poster on appropriate heterosexual conduct? What about assaults against women, which are probably a bigger problem? (It’s probably out there–but is it pegged as a “heterosexual” threat?) Apparently, in the eyes of the military, homosexuals are more sexually “disrespectful” than heterosexuals, even though the vast majority of rapists are heterosexual males. All gay men want to do is suck each other’s dicks and have some neat butt-sex. Hardly a threat to women. If the military viewed heterosexuals as being every bit as capable of sexual misconduct as homosexuals, there would be no need to publish content geared specifically towards homosexual misconduct. Once again, we see how easy it is for individuals possessing below-average IQs to confuse the concept of “homosexuality” with that of “sexual perversion”.

Maybe the intent of that particular page in the manual was to say, “Look, we have to kick them out for being gay, but we have to show them dignity and respect in doing so.” But that is like asking a death-row inmate what flavour of ice-cream they would like for their last meal. How is it showing a person dignity and respect by kicking them out of the military for being gay? Discharging an individual in a “respectful” manner doesn’t change the fact that the action of the discharge itself is still demeaning, so trying to be nice about the way you do something mean is just pretentious and contradictory.

I just don’t understand why this is such a big hairy deal for a country that constantly brags, day in and day out–and they won’t let you tell them otherwise, or you’ll be pegged as unpatriotic–that it is “the best country on earth” or the “land of the free” or “blessed” by God (what a joke). First, if God is to bless America, it is because it needs it, not because it deserves it, given how much it has lagged behind other countries in terms of human rights and standard of living; second, it isn’t the “land of the free” when citizens aren’t free to serve in the military because they’re attracted to people of the same sex (or marry each other for that matter); third, it isn’t the best country on earth. It might have been in, like, 1781, but now that honour probably belongs to Sweden or Finland. If you want to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And that means getting over your irrational, childish fear of two men licking each other or two women caressing each other’s breasts, looking at the evidence (which overwhelmingly supports repeal), and doing what other countries have done, because the title “God’s Gift to Earth” isn’t heritable–you have to earn it (and even then, you’d still sound like a vainglorious douchebag). You have to take your head out of your arschloch, admit you have mistakes, take others as examples, and change yourself accordingly before you will deserve that title.