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My Own Internet Jesus

While looking inside an electrical cabinet todat I came upon this relic of the past, still in the original shrink-wrap:


It was oddly appropriate, because I decided last month that I would abstain from the Internet and meat for the month of February, just to remond myself what it was like, and this fortuitous bit of temporal flotsam hails from the last time that was the case.

It reminded me of the difference that it made to my life, connecting to a wider world via my computer. It wasn’t even the Internet back then, that wouldn’t come along for years, but there were electronic bulletin boards (that you had to wait on an open phone line for) and good old slow and unreliable FidoNet email (which sometimes took weeks or even months to get the mnessage delivered, but had a truly global reach). There were a handful of geeks who lived in my town, and we had fun together playing and writing video games (we were forced to learn to program them through financial necessity, and for some of us the programming became more fun than the actual games, even the store-bought ones), but the scale and variety of online geekdom, even at that nascent stage, was exciting and revelatory in a more profound way than almost anything else in my young life.

There were other personalities out there, as real as anyone I could see in meatspace, who shared every one of my weird fascinations and then some. We could chat into the wee hours about games and science fiction and science and the politics of several nations. We parsed conspiracy theories, taught each other cool programming tips, raved about our favoured musicians and other artists, shared our own art to the extent our available bandwidth and online time allowed (and some of us learned how easy it was to spoof a phone bill to get more of the latter). We could spawn a dozen different personalities to express our different facets in different communities; some were just for fun, some became art forms in themselves, most were cast aside like the moulted skins of trickster locusts while others were absorbed back into the core. Some taught what it was to be hated, a few opened up unexpected love.

In a very real way much of me was born online. Cyberspace has been my home for so long now that I was genuinely forgetting what it was like *not* to be connected up. Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

I’m no believer, and I have to be my own Saviour since I can’t believe in the one my parents and generations before them were stuck with. My own personal Internet Jesus doesn’t have a lot in common with that mythical Jewish carpenter, but one thing we can agree on:

Three days is plenty long enough to be dead, if you’ve got the option.

(Still laying off the meat though.)

Immortals Shouldn’t Die

…but if they have to it’s hard to imagine doing it better than David Bowie

(Yes, I’m yet another devastated lifelong fan who stumbled out of bed this morning to discover that the Dame had quietly passed on. If you’ve read enough of those, either because he wassn’t that important to you or because you can bear no more, just pass it by.)

I opened Facebook and at the top of my feed was a post by my brother Eamon, consisting of the cover of Bowie’s classic album Low and my brother’s comment: “I am undone.”

That was all it took, I knew, though I still moaned Oh no, oh no no, and tried to deny for several minutes more, tried to hope it was an error or a hoax or some bloody damned thing that wasn’t what it was.

It’s an impossible fiction to maintain for any length of time with any person of Bowie’s fame and reach, but in his case I didn’t really have to confirm with the authoritative fact checking sites and reliable news sources really – because David had already said goodbye in inimitable style, in his last album Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday just a few short days ago. I’d been listening to it and watching the videos he’d made, and along with I don’t know how many others the knowledge slammed back into my brain and rearranged the meaning of it.

He knew he was dying, and being the consummate artist he was he chose to go out as Robert Louis Stevenson put it:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I lay me down with a will!

He was ever changing, ever renewing himself, as close as this planet has seen to an actual Galifreyan TIme Lord, and his final gift to us is as pure and beautiful and weird and heartbreaking as anything he’d done.

David Bowie has been in my life for what seems all of my life. When my sister left home and I missed her, she was the girl with the mousy hair, and never mind that her hair is red as flames. When my heart was broken properly for the first time, it actually was a girl with long blonde hair and eyes of blue who brought me the sorrow.  When I ached with loneliness and felt like the oddest kid in the world, some kind of alien freak, he was the starman who made it okay to be that way. I was never able to hear the expression “getting your ashes hauled” without smiling at the memory of losing my virginity to Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky. When I felt suicidal, his was the voice that said “You’re not alone! Give me your hand!” When I had my son I sang to him about how his parents were kooks and to stay in our lover’s story. Growing old far from home he made me feel the worth of being Thursday’s Child. On and on; his music and style have informed my life in myriad ways, and like my brother I am undone at his loss.

I have been watching and listening to Bowie all day today – I called in sick to work – and I have cried enough tears to save the whole family of The Man Who Fell To Earth. I’m crying again now.

It may seem odd that I’ve only properly quoted the lines of an older poet of a bygone age, but there are simply too many of his to choose from, and others who loved him know them well. I will quote just one, not from his farewell (do seek out Lazarus, though!) but the early and underrated Conversation Piece:

And my essays lying scattered on the floor
Fulfill their needs just by being there
And my hands shake, my head hurts,
my voice sticks inside my throat
I’m invisible and dumb,
And no-one will recall me

And I can’t see the water
for the tears in my eyes.

Tears for dead children

“Do you think he was faking it?”

“I don’t know for sure. One thing I do know, when I heard about Newtown first thing I thought was that they’d use it to try to push gun control.”

“You thought that right away?

“First thing.”

“First thing I thought was, why the hell would anyone shoot a bunch of little kids?”

“Well, I thought that too, but it wasn’t the first thing.”

That’s the conversation I overheard in the cafeteria today. The background, for those who don’t follow these things, is that during President Obama’s announcement of his (extremely limited and common-sense) Executive Orders on gun control he was listing some of the more notorious mass killings during his term in office, and when he got to the Newtown massacre, in which twenty first-grade schoolchildren were shot dead, he teared up a little on camera.

American conservatives seem to be facing a growing shortage of verbal filters. I’ll admit I think some inappropriate thoughts myself sometimes, but I try to keep the ones that make me sound like a total psychopath on the inside, mostly. I’m at least embarrassed by them.

Okay, that’s just one guy in a cafeteria, admittedly. Maybe he just has a truly warped sense of humour (though he was completely deadpan about it). It wasn’t a random oddity that he thought the President might have been faking being upset by the memory of twenty children being shot dead for no reason, though. It was proposed by several public conservatives, for example these Fox News television hosts:

I find it bizarre that anyone would have a hard time believing a father of two daughters would shed tears thinking about children being killed, but it does not seem like it’s remarkable among the people who make up the right wing commentariat, or as far as I can tell among their audience.

Is it that they don’t believe the President is an actual human being, who has tears for dead children in him to shed? Or is it that they have no empathy of their own, and project their emptiness on others?

I don’t know, but I worry when attitudes like that are normalised. I don’t want to live in the kind of society that leaps to those conclusions.


I better use this graphic quick!


EDIT: My bad, so far 2016 is on par with last year, one mass shooting per day.


Happy 2016!

Fireworks4_amk-public-domainYes, my friends, you have traveled INTO THE FUTURE!!!!

One minute you were in August of 2014, the next you were whisked over a year to New Year’s Day 2016. So it would seem if you were going only by my blog entries, anyway.

As cliched as new beginnings on New Years are, it seemed an appropriate time to blow the dust off this thing and try to get back into writing somewhere besides Facebook.

Much has happened since I left you stranded in 2014. I’ve stepped down as editor of Secular Nation, and have almost entirely withdrawn from organized atheism entirely. I’m still on the Board of Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and am still their representative on the Affiliate Council of Atheist Alliance of America, but I’m not very active in either position and plan to leave both at the next annual meeting. I’m still a member – renewed today! – but I don’t want to be in the leadership any more.

I’ve come out as polyamorous, not that I was particularly secretive about it, but I fell in love with an utterly adorable openly poly woman (Hi Mandi!) and made it “Facebook Official” almost a year ago, so now it’s totally out there. I am still happy to be in her life, and also with another wonderful poly woman I met in the interim (Hi Laurie!), and I’ve pretty much decided that any future relationships are going to have to start with an acceptance that I don’t believe in exclusivity; I expect I’ll be writing more about that in posts to come.

When I let the blog lapse I was still grieving over my beloved cat Sebastian. You can’t replace people, but the void he left is now occupied by these charming gentlemen, Ruckus and Bobcat (R&B).


See the heart?

They are also rescue cats, of course, but from a hospice patient rather than a shelter. They give to and receive from me a lot of love.

I’ve also recently (as in a month ago) changed to a new job in a different lab in my factory, which is a first shift job. I’m hoping that this will allow me to become a little bit more sociable! I’ve come to appreciate people in the flesh as well as online, within reasonable limits!

Oh, and my eyes are much, much better since the operation! I still get quite bad floaters, and I need reading glasses for close work, but apart from that I actually have 20/20 distance vision for the first time in my life, which is still pretty thrilling!

There you go, gentle readers, that’s the basic catch-up. I hesitate to call it a resolution but I will attempt to keep this blog a bit more active.

Happy New Year!


Crimes Against Liberty

Last night it came up in a podcast conversation (on the show of Travis Simmons aka The Big Funny – look him up!) what the real crime of slavery is.

To me there’s no doubt: you can talk about physical strictures like hobbling (where legs were broken and allowed to heal crooked to prevent runaways)  and those doubtless affected mind as well as body, but the worst crimes perpetuated against the enslaved has to be the intellectual hobbling that made them think of themselves as slaves.

Hobbling broke the legs of slaves so they couldn’t run; the greater crime was breaking their minds so they didn’t want to.

Why was it greater? Because Lamarck to the contrary, broken legs don’t perpetuate from generation to generation. Broken minds do. There are young black people today who believe either explicitly or implicitly that they are inferior to white people, and there are white people who believe the obverse.  The former won’t believe in themselves and won’t achieve all they could, and the latter won’t learn what they could from anyone with a supposedly inappropriate skin tone.

It was literally illegal to teach slaves to read at one time. Had those laws been followed perfectly we would never have known the wisdom of Frederick Douglass. Who knows how many other enslaved people with enslaved minds might have freed themselves if they had been allowed to think properly, with the tools of literacy and numeracy?

The same arguments apply to women, to admittedly a lesser degree. (Black women got a double whammy of course.) They were forbidden from higher education by statute. What possible reason could there be for that? The only real reason would seem to be that men didn’t want the competition.

Today there are opportunities for personal education that exceed both in kind and arguably in quality any educational structures in the past. To fail to educate yourself is at least arguably a crime against your society, an abdication of duty tantamount to treason.

If you love freedom, if you care about liberty… Learn. Vote.

The American political system is broken, but at least arguably not beyond repair.

2014 Atheist Alliance of America Conference

I attended the 2014 Atheist Alliance of America Conference in Seattle, Washington from Thursday 7 August to Sunday 10 August. I found the conference productive, educational and enjoyable.
AAA Con 2014
Other than simply being a regular attendee I was filling a few special roles; I was Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry’s Affiliate Council representative, I was the Secretary to AAA’s Board of Directors, and I was the incoming editor of Secular Nation magazine.

Secular Nation magazine

Secular Nation magazine

As a lesson learned at this conference, let me say that while they may seem awkward and vaguely silly at first, Robert’s Rules of Order absolutely *rock* for keeping a meeting efficiently on point. Several of the Affiliate representatives had been at prior Council meetings and remarked to me afterward that they’d never seen one proceed so smoothly.

The remainder of the conference was largely devoted to learning and networking, apart from an Affiliate Council strategy session. The speakers were all as amazing as I’d expected them to be. The only small sad disappointment was the absence of Horus Gilgamesh, who had been sent a death threat and who decided that it wasn’t worth it to forge ahead, partly for his own safety and to spare his family worry but also so that the conference would not have to bear extra security costs and other attendees would not be put in danger. In solidarity just about every attendee wore stickers on our ID badges saying “Hello, my name is Horus Gilgamesh!” – a gesture that he has conveyed was deeply appreciated.

"Hello, my name is Horus Gilgamesh!"

“Hello, my name is Horus Gilgamesh!”

Rebecca Vitsmun was the first main speaker on Friday, and her speech was both emotionally moving and a great example of using an emotional impetus to achieve very practical orgainzational ends. She didn’t simply embarrass Wolf Blitzer by failing to be a theist after a tornado wiped out her town, she set about working with Foundation Beyond Belief to set up a genuinely useful infrastructure to allow on both a local and national level for humanists to respond effectively to natural disasters.

In the first breakout session I chose to attend Mynga Futrell’s presentation on “Seeking Influence in Public Schools: A Strategy For Atheists” in which she provided me with a better understanding of how the curricula and textbooks are determined for public schools. The textbooks are mainly determined by four states, California, Texas, Florida, and New York, but there is ample opportunity for affecting curricula at the State and school board level, and she offered some examples of how she’d gotten small but important changes made, often by working in coalition with minority religious groups (Jewish and Muslim, mostly), and some advice on framing issues in ways most likely to be seen as positive and nonthreatening to the Christian majority.

Bob Seidensticker, author of the novel Cross Examined and the eponymous blog, spoke after lunch giving a whirlwind tour of the counter-apologetics he specializes in. Pretty much all of the arguments he deconstructed are covered by the characters in the novel, which I recommend. (I fetched my copy from home and he graciously signed it “Bob Seidensticker, or possibly Horus Gilgamesh!”)
books signed
In the afternoon breakout session I attended the presentation by August Brunsman, of the Secular Student Alliance, one of the success stories in the modern freethought movement. August gave us a picture of how rapidly the SSA has grown, identified the balance between allowing local SSA leaders to tune the program for their own environs and providing solid, standardized support methods to them. He told us about additional SSA-sponsored programs like Secular Safe Space providing a nonthreatening place for students to express doubt, and told us about the training programs SSA offers faculty and other interested non-student adults to enable them. He also spoke of the relative difficulties SSA has had moving down the educational ladder from colleges to high schools, with the lesser levels of autonomy available to students at those levels, and about how SSA is trying to bring in more parental involvement at those levels to compensate.

August Brunsman & I

August Brunsman & I

The final work session of the day was Affiliate Strategic Planning, in which we used brainstorming and mind mapping techniques to get some idea of where AAA would like to go for and with affiliates, as well as clarifying what representatives of the Affiliate Council saw as their proper relationship to the Board of Directors. An unofficial post-session developed out of that meeting for myself and AAA consultant Richard Haynes with valuable insights into practical aspects of both best-practice bylaw writing and producing a viable print magazine being offered by affiliate Brian Allen; we decided that we’d skip the movie in order to continue discussion and develop ideas.

Friday evening wound up with Comedy Night, which was hilarious (especially Ian Harris, who I’d frankly never heard of before but who is a complete riot), followed by an after-party at which I ended up imbibing entirely too much ethanol.

As a result on Saturday I was not running on all cylinders, but I managed to at least be present for Steve Hill’s sharing of the intersectionality of being in racial, religious, and class  inorities, and Amanda Metskas’ explication of the Secular Coalition for America’s workings. (I also recorded them for later perusal, as I did all the presentations I attended.)

After lunch Brother Richard Haynes presented on developing online freethinking communities, in which he made what I thought were some very cogent points, especially about being willing to tolerate atheist voices that differ from our own (S.E. Cupp and Bill Maher both being used as examples) and being willing to forgive and move on when one of our own screws up. (There may be some self-interest there though, as Brother Richard confessed that he actively encouraged Richard Dawkins to Tweet more!)

Then there was the presentation I’d been agog for; I am a *major* Steven Pinker fan! He is an even bigger intellectual hero to me than the aforementioned Richard Dawkins, even if he’s less popular in the world at large, and he did not disappoint as he clearly and precisely laid out the reasons why religious beliefs were plausible and cogent evolutionary survival stratagems or at least exaptations, and why the
alternate explanations based on religious ideas being factually true did not hold water at all. His points were pellucid, beautifully organized, and compelling. In the Q&A afterward he was poised, thoughtful, and interesting in his elaborations.

Yes, I want to be like Steven Pinker if I ever grow up… and I was first in line to get my books signed! We had a few minutes to chat and as I told him, his books are not only intellectually heavy but physically heavy, yet it was well worth the lug. As he started to sign them he laughed and asked me “Is your name really Horus Gilgamesh?” So I had to explain… :)

(I did have to skip the Richard Carrier debate, as I desperately need ad more sleep by this point; I am a third shift worker! Richard’s a friend, so he accepted my excuses! By the way, if we have him as a speaker for SHL at any time we get $25 off his normal honorarium.)

Pinker, Goldstein, Murtagh

Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, Brian Murtagh, and Lucy’s (replica!) skull.

In the evening of course was the Richard Dawkins Award, which this year went to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (whose husband is Steven Pinker, so he was kind of a freebie! When Amy introduced him she rattled off an amazing long list of the awards he’s received, and Dr. Pinker pointed out that she’d missed one very important one; he was last year’s recipient of the same award his wafe received this year!).

She gave an acceptance speech which seemed very much off the cuff, speaking of her upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish family where it was questioned whether even her speaking voice should be kept silent – but as casual and informal as her acceptance was it remained cadenced and interesting throughout. Afterward I made sure to get up to be first in line to get her books signed as well, and ended up enjoying a multi-way conversation with her for the better part of an hour, and she is a *fantastic* conversationalist! When we did finally get around to geting the books signed, she looked at my name tag and said, “Is your name really Horus Gilgamesh?”

The wrap-up the following day was a trip to Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, Snoqualmie Falls, and Boehm Choclaterie, and it was lovely indeed, socializing in congenial environs with my fellow freethinkers (and getting extra wine samples in because the pourer used to live in my home town back in England, Banbury). I even made some possible arrangements for future Secular Nation articles, and an exchange program between SN and our sister magazine of the Atheist Alliance International, Secular World.

At the Ste Michelle Winery

At the Ste Michelle Winery

As I said, productive, educational, and enjoyable!

How do we stay outraged?

I have a number of friends who seem to find my general level of outrage just the teensiest bit risible.

I can understand why, in a way. Certainly I get tired of it myself. Sometimes I think wistfully of just ceasing to give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. It would be restful to be able to just sit there and watch the little fried treat roll right on past me. If nothing else, I could relax secure in the knowledge that there will be another along in a minute.

I recently posted a piece about the aftermath of the Elliot Rodgers incident, more specifically about the pervasive unacknowledged misogyny in American culture it had brought to light. I had actually written it a few weeks earlier but I wrote it for a print magazine, and wanted to wait to share it until after its publication there. I gambled that the outrage over the American media’s failure to address the plain and obvious cause of the mass killing would still be around, after the initial shock of the killing itself had faded.

I lost that gamble, of course. It was not the first time I’d overestimated the attention span of America.
I’m an optimist like that. I keep thinking this one, this incident, will be the one that gets a sustained response. That we will finally be tipped over into reacting with sanity, into doing something.
It’s hard to hold on to that kind of optimism, especially as it pertains to shootings. America seems to have an infinite capacity to absorb gun-related tragedies.

Columbine High wasn’t enough, Sandy Hook Elementary wasn’t enough, North Panola High, Sparks Middle, Arapahoe High, Raytown Academy, East English Village Preparatory, St. Mary Catholic School, Provo High, Reynolds High… weren’t enough to persuade us as a country to so much as reduce the number of bullets a shooter can spray schoolchildren with between reloading. Those aren’t even close to all the shootings just in schools, I only included K-12 schools where there were multiple fatalities.

Every time one of them happens, I hear the same stupid disingenuous arguments: if only there had been good people with guns around (because everyone who watches the movies knows that the good guys always hit the exact target they aim at while rolling and dodging bullets in the middle of the firefight, while simultaneously preventing the bad guys from getting a clear shot at anything), hammers kill people as much as guns do (yet somehow I suspect compromise legislation restricting guns while allowing unlimited hammers wouldn’t satisfy the people who make this dishonest comparison), it’s necessary to keep the government at bay (when the government is the only group that has the gun enthusiasts overwhelmingly outgunned), any infringement on the holy right to bear arms is blackest tyranny (even measured like serialized ammunition that would have no effect whatever other than to help solve gun crimes after the fact), et cetera et cetera et nauseating cetera.

I’ve written pieces on sensible gun control before, and nothing ever changes with respect to gun control, so when I wrote about Trayvon Martin, I focused specifically on the insanity of the so-called Stand Your Ground laws and their inherent susceptibility to abuse through uneven application. Over the Elliot Rodgers killing spree, I thought it more potentially helpful (or at least interesting) to focus on the motive of the shooter, and the pervasive misogyny that goes far too unremarked in our culture, and that too is fading into the background.

When I sat down to write this piece, which was going to be about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I thought I might do something similar with a focus on the particular danger of police being allowed so much leeway to gun people down, especially young black men. I thought I might suggest ways in which the police can be made more accountable, such as by requiring that they be outfitted with continuously running video recorders on their persons and in their patrol cars – after all, the government keeps telling us that if we’re doing nothing wrong we shouldn’t fear the Panopticon, so surely that must apply equally to the police with the special levels of privilege and presumption of veracity we routinely grant them.

As I began actually thinking it through, though, I realized that the question I really wanted to ask is the one in the title; how do we stop this from being just one more tragedy, one more injustice, given its fifteen minutes of fame and then forgotten, like Oscar Grant of Oakland, or Duane Brown of New York City, or Aaron Campbell of Portland, or Stephon Watts of Chicago, or Manuel Loggins of San Clemente, or Timothy Russel of Cleveland, or Kendrec McDade of Pasadena, or Dante Price of Dayton, or who the hell knows how many others.

All those cases are of unarmed men shot dead by police under circumstances at least sketchy enough to raise serious questions of why, in a variety of cities across the entire nation; some of them very likely may have been understandable mistakes, but when it’s that easy to come up with a list of sketchy shootings it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s a systemic problem that we ought to be looking into ways to mitigate.

They were all seen as baffling, enraging travesties in the news coverage of the time, and it took me only a few minutes of Internet searching to find them, and at best a few of the names might be vaguely familiar. How do we keep our national attention on Michael Brown of St. Louis (or Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, another even more recent case), long enough to DO something?

How do we stay outraged? Can we, even?
I’m feeling a bit less optimistic this time.

#YesAllWomen See A Problem #NotAllMen Do

(This story first appeared in Secular Nation magazine.)

On the night of 23 May 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a massacre in Santa Barbara that left six people dead and seven injured.

The question is, why did he do it? If you make a habit of reading news from other countries and followed the story from there, you’ll have been given the answer almost as soon as it happened. If you only follow the US news, you’ll have to have sorted through the facts, including some that you simply won’t find in almost all of the traditional US news media, or for that matter most of the online sources that have begun to supplant them.

Elliot Rodger killed and injured those people because he was virulently misogynistic. He hated all women with a bone-deep seething hatred, especially but not limited to the women he found most sexually attractive. There are naturally all kinds of factors in the case, as in any human situation, but there is absolutely no question that that was his primary motive; it is staggeringly, stunningly obvious from the facts.

The problem is, the US media almost universally ignored that obvious fact, and in many cases still are. They went through incredible contortions to try and find some other explanation, to find some skewed psychology that would allow the possibility of his motivation being primarily racism (he was in fact a racist as well, but that was not his primary motivation), or a disease of the brain, or even (by Fox News, always first to the bottom) repressed homosexuality. It’s all nonsense; we know why he did it because the killer himself told us, with heated passion and in great detail, in a variety of media, exactly why.

Shortly before starting his killing spree Rodger had uploaded a video to YouTube entitled “Retribution”. In this video Rodger said he was going to prove himself the ultimate “alpha male” and take revenge on all the “sluts” who had sexually rejected him:

            “Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge. […] On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara], and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside of there. All of those girls that I’ve desired so much. They would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them. While they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one, the true Alpha Male.”

Prior to that Rodgers mailed a 140-page autobiography/manifesto to various media outlets, including the New York Times. Here is a sample:

            “I concluded that women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. They are incapable of reason or thinking rationally. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, wild, beast-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have any rights in a civilized society. If their wickedness is not contained, the whole of humanity will be held back from advancement to a more civilized state. Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring. This in turn would hinder the advancement of humanity. Not only hinder it, but devolve humanity completely. Women are like a plague that must be quarantined.”

Prior to *that* he was an active participant on various misogynistic Internet forums, primarily one called PUAHate. There he said things like this:

“One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system.”

“Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.”

“Every male should read the posts here so that they can be awakened. There are too many delusional males worshipping women who would only spit in their faces.”

A quick primer: MRA stands for Men’s Rights Advocate, a misogynistic anti-feminist online community. PUA is Pick-Up Artist, a somewhat overlapping group who claim to know many psychological tricks for hoodwinking women into having sex with them. Incel means involuntary celibate, a man who can’t get women to have sex with him. PUAHate is a collection of MRA incels who resent PUAs for supposedly ‘stealing’ the women who otherwise would have slept with them. The overall attitude is that women are not regarded as individual human beings but as faulty sex dispensing devices that put out for the wrong men, i.e. not the incels.

Now, is it so that Rodgers had other issues? Certainly. He was narcissistic, racist, deeply unrealistic, and may have had a mild form of autistic spectrum disorder. All that fed into his malignant personality, no doubt; his narcissism (his autobiography/manifesto is full of bragging about his high IQ), magical thinking (he felt cheated every time he failed to win a large lottery prize), and lack of social skills (which may or may not have been Asperger’s syndrome) were contributing factors to his frustrated rage against women, and his racism partially directed it (he was obsessed with blond hair, and became particularly enraged when he saw women he desired dating “nonwhite” males – though partly Asian himself he identified as white).

Nevertheless the overwhelming cause of his actions, so overwhelming that I’d argue you would not be missing anything significant by considering it the sole cause, was his misogyny, and despite the peculiar and infuriating reluctance of the US media to acknowledge it that is the plain truth.

As that truth has become increasingly unavoidable, the predictable and to an extent understandable reaction by many men has been summed up in the Twitter hashtag #NotAllMen. Not all men are like that, not all men hate women, not all men see women as sex-dispensing objects. That is true, and I doubt that you can find a single woman who will deny it. The *defensiveness* of that hashtag is the key to understanding the larger issue beyond the specific tragedy of Elliot Rodger though, and the reason for that defensiveness is the very reason why the US media didn’t want to acknowledge misogyny as the ovious cause of that tragedy.

That defensiveness arises because, as the responding hashtag #YesAllWomen demonstrates with heartbreaking thoroughness, those attitudes are ingrained into our culture to an appalling extent. The MRA subculture is an extreme fringe, Elliot Rodger was an extreme member even there… but those attitudes aren’t nearly as extreme as we’d like to pretend, and some level of them pervade just about everywhere, to such an extent we’ve largely blinded ourselves to their ubiquity. Women are constantly treated as mere sexual playthings, constantly considered less worthy of attention and respect than men, constantly made to feel vulnerable in both physical and social ways, constantly dismissed and belittled and ignored.

I can’t express the extent of the problem here. Go on Twitter and search the hashtag #YesAllWomen. If you do, then even if you are relatively aware of the problem the chances are you will be astonished by how many ways that pervasive set of attitudes is expressed, and by how many of them you have seen again and again and never made the connection, simply because the problem is so ubiquitous it fades into background noise.

If you are a man, especially one who considers himself a good man who doesn’t think that way, resist the temptation to simply block with a reflexive #NotAllMen. Of course not all of us are like Rodger, or even like the resentful self-involved MRA subculture he came out of… but his deadly hatred did grow out of that culture, which does exist, and that culture survives and thrives because of the general background of outdated attitudes that it concentrates and intensified. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Catching violent extremists like Rodger won’t eliminate it, even disrupting the cesspools of the MRA and PUA cultures won’t do the whole job. The culture of patriarchy is pervasive, and it’ll take standing up against stereotypes, not tolerating dismissive and insulting jokes, being consciously fair, and a trillion other small actions.

Paying attention to a problem is the first step in fixing it. These attitudes have largely grown out of a cultural heritage dominated by religions that aggrandize men and diminish women at every level; they are not rational attitudes that enlightened people should want to tolerate in their culture.

#YesAllWomen share a problem. #NotAllMen are willing to make it their problem too, but men who are rationalists and humanists should. Let’s do it, #AllGoodHumans.

Social Justice Warrior? Sure! I’ll take that.

It bemuses me to see people in the atheist community casting the phrase “social justice warrior” as an epithet. I don’t think it’s all that common for people to think social justice is a bad thing. I don’t think there are even that many who think it happens all on its own, without anyone fighting for it.

Seriously, it’s a bad thing to fight for social justice? When did that happen? Or is it just bad for atheists to do it as part of a community of other atheists?

I know there are atheists who aren’t concerned with being part of a movement, or with forming communities with other atheists. I can totally understand that; it doesn’t match my set of priorities, but mine aren’t everyone’s. “I’m an atheist, and that’s all there is to it.” It’s a perfectly logical, self-consistent position; atheism per se is only a statement of belief about what is, not what ought to be. The people who used to puzzle me are the *militant* dictionary atheists, insisting that you’re not allowed to care about anything else and get together in a community of other atheists to do stuff together about those other things.

I came across a lot of those during the attempt to launch Atheism+, which wasn’t so much stillborn as it was beaten to death in its receiving blanket. It puzzled me that people were so violently opposed to the idea of a group of people who cared about atheism plus other things of a social justice nature calling themselves Atheism+. Sure, it is a pairing that sort of has a label already, secular humanism, but that label wasn’t doing all that the proponents of A+ wanted it to do; it didn’t sufficiently encapsulate the importance of the non-faith-based motivations of the group for one thing. Since theists can also be both secular and humanist it’s a very soft label, secular humanism, and that’s okay for some purposes but not for others. A+ was just a branding for the people who wanted to promote social justice and make their atheism clear as well.

A certain segment of atheists got downright angry, waving their dictionaries and shouting angrily that the pairing would somehow “dilute the meaning of atheism” by giving people the idea that caring about social issues was part of atheism. It seemed to me a ridiculous argument then and it still does. It’s not that hard to figure out that “atheism plus” means there’s something besides atheism in there, and frankly with the amount of time we spend explaining that atheism doesn’t involve worshipping Satan or wild debauched parties catered by raiding the local daycare center for meat, persuading people that we aren’t about being *nice* either is and was the least of my worries.

It’s become clearer over the years since that virtually no one actually was that passionately concerned about that horrible possibility of the word atheism being diluted. A very few might have genuinely thought there was a possibility of confusion, but those weren’t the angry ones. Rather, it was mostly about a very vocal segment who were opposed to one very specific type of social justice, feminism. Almost every one of those militant dictionary atheists later turned out to hold some sexist attitudes. A few more were simply caught up in the drama of it all and some simply subsumed the actual issues into personality clashes, but the overlap between the most vicious opponents of A+ and the membership of misogynist sites made for a pretty strong correlation, and in the penumbra of that were people who aren’t actually misogynist per se but simply don’t think that sexual equality issues are very important at all. That’s how I see it, anyway; I’m hard pressed to think of any feminist activists who were strongly opposed to A+.

That same crowd seem to be the ones who regard the phrase “social justice warrior” as an insult, and again the particular form of social justice that raises their hackles is feminism; they tend to be out and out misogynists like TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kincaid, or people who consider sexism (at least in the Western world) as a trivial and unimportant problem that doesn’t need much if any addressing, one saddening example being Richard “Dear Muslima” Dawkins.

Maybe there are some who think, as many a religion teaches, that the moral arc of the universe automatically bends toward justice without any effort required on its behalf, that the zeitgeist just naturally moves that way because there’s a destiny that compels it to, but even then it would be hard to argue that actively trying to make things better is going to slow that process down, or that speeding it up is a bad thing. Even the fatalist who thinks all such efforts are futile has no reason to become angry or oppose the effort.

It isn’t a logical or rational thing to rail against people who are trying to make the world better. If you oppose the “social justice warriors” in that attempt, the only reasons I can think of to do so (feel free to suggest others) are that you are not being logical and rational, or that you think the methodology is so wrong as to be counterproductive to that end, or that you don’t actually agree on what constitutes a better world. I suspect that latter category is a well-populated one; it certainly seems that most of the people who have used the phrase “social justice warrior” derogatively are pretty damned comfortable with the status quo, or are profiting mightily by sucking up to those who are.

As for me, I am pretty damned comfortable in the world too. Other than not being Christian and not being born wealthy, I have all the characteristics that make getting by in my world easy. I’m not a racial minority, I’m not gay or trans, I’m not a woman, I’m not disabled. I’m a citizen, I speak English as a first language, I’m decently educated, I’m gainfully employed, and of course I’m smart and funny and devilishly handsome. Go me!

I could just kick back and enjoy all that, but I’d rather use my privileged position to help level the playing field for others.

Social Justice Warrior? Sure! I’ll take that.