Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Three thoughts about cults

If you know a cult's buzzwords, you know when people who say they want discussion are only after your conversion.

Secular cults are harder to spot than religious ones. But not much harder.

Cultists always give themselves away when they get angry: they love the insults for outsiders that their group uses.

Ideology makes you confuse the literal and the metaphorical--a bit about the 4th Street Kerfuffle

This year's 4th Street Fantasy Convention was generally fine, but Steve Brust's initial comments were badly misunderstood. His text is here: My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention 

Ideally, you will read that before continuing so my comments won't color your interpretation of what's there.

I'm writing this post because I said something in the discussion on Facebook that I regret, but though I said it snarkily, it seems to be true:
I see several people here are not familiar with a literary device called the metaphor. Perhaps metaphors should be the subject of a Fourth Street Panel next year.

Out of curiosity, why would anyone think Steve would want to turn a literary convention into a place where people are physically threatened?
The people who're upset by Steve's talk are unable to see that his opening lines are metaphorical:
Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space.
And they're unable to see that his third line is literal:
Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind.
If you think about his statement logically, there's no reason to interpret the first two lines as saying he wants 4th Street to be a place that's physically unsafe, and there's every reason to think his third line means exactly what it says.

But humans aren't logical. To people who think of safe spaces as sacred spaces, any questioning of the idea is taboo.

At least one of Steve's critics insists they do understand metaphor. But if that's true, why are they upset?

The answer: Ideology affects our ability to interpret text. Someone first pointed this out to me with Christian sects: they often disagree over what's literal and what's metaphorical, so some Christians think they should be able to handle vipers and some do not.

Secular cults also struggle with what's literal and what's metaphorical. Though Strong Whorfianism has been discounted, they police words fiercely, sometimes to the extent that they treat words as deeds. Cognitive dissonance keeps them from recognizing the inconsistencies in their understanding. When the possibility that an article of faith might be doubted arises--like the idea that a "safe space" may have both good points and bad--they react with anger, then comfort themselves with platitudes.

And so they confirm that Steve's fears are justified. Safe spaces only allow for safe ideas.

ETA: Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces on College Campuses Can Silence Religious Students - The Atlantic:
Trigger warnings and safe spaces are terms that reflect the values of the communities in which they’re used. ... These advocates routinely use the word “ally” to describe those who support their positions on race, gender, and religion, implying that anyone who disagrees is an “enemy.”
How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus - The Atlantic:
...trigger warnings are sometimes demanded for a long list of ideas and attitudes that some students find politically offensive, in the name of preventing other students from being harmed. This is an example of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning”—we spontaneously generate arguments for conclusions we want to support. Once you find something hateful, it is easy to argue that exposure to the hateful thing could traumatize some other people. You believe that you know how others will react, and that their reaction could be devastating. Preventing that devastation becomes a moral obligation for the whole community. Books for which students have called publicly for trigger warnings within the past couple of years include Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (at Rutgers, for “suicidal inclinations”) and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (at Columbia, for sexual assault).
Trigger warnings: more harm than good? - Telegraph

Three essential points about trigger warnings, Neil Gaiman, and Kameron Hurley; or Trigger warning: Shetterly

Frederick Douglass and Henry Louis Gates on free speech and hate speech

Frederick Douglass

"To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." —Frederick Douglass, "A Plea for Free Speech in Boston"

Henry Louis Gates

From "Critical Race Theory and Freedom of Speech" in The Future of Academic Freedom, edited by Louis Menard, University of Chicago Press, 1996:
What you don't hear from the hate speech theorists is that the first casualty of the MacKinnonite anti-obscenity ruling was a gay and lesbian bookshop in Toronto, which was raided by the police because of a lesbian magazine it carried.
From Presidential Lectures: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:
People do bad things, things they know that are bad, for what they feel at the moment were good reasons. One is to institute speech codes. Trample all over the First Amendment, the right of free speech, because we decide that using certain language hurts our fellow human beings—it demeans their humanity. While that might seem like a good idea, the long-term consequences on the right to free expression are far greater than whatever immediate hurt or pain a woman would feel for being called a bitch or a black would feel for being called a nigger. If we're talking about actual physical harm, laws against that exist already. It's not worth it to me to assuage the pain by killing off the First Amendment.
Speech codes are symbolic acts. They let a group of people say, 'This symbolizes that we at the University of Wisconsin are not the sort of community where we would tolerate someone saying the word 'rigger.'' Well, big deal. But there are other symbolic consequences, like what's the effect on freedom of inquiry. I think we're all bigger and more secure than that. I think we have to allow people to say even unpopular things and nasty things in order to protect the right of us to attack our government and say whatever's on our minds.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Socialist quotes for free speech

"You cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences. You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns!" —Karl Marx

"...only those blind or simpleminded could think that the workers and peasants could be freed from reactionary ideas by the banning of reactionary press. In fact, it is only the greatest freedom of expression that can create favorable conditions for the advance of the revolutionary movement in the working class." —Leon Trotsky

"I believe that free speech and press mean that I may say and write what I please. This right, when regulated by constitutional provisions, legislative enactments, almighty decisions of the Postmaster General or the policeman’s club, becomes a farce. I am well aware that I will be warned of consequences if we remove the chains from speech and press. I believe, however, that the cure of consequences resulting from the unlimited exercise of expression is to allow more expression." - Emma Goldman

"Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man's determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations." —Voltairine de Cleyre

"Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor." —Rosa Luxemburg

"Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population." —Albert Einstein

"If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." —Noam Chomsky

"...even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi ... this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense." --Noam Chomsky

"Take away freedom of speech, and the creative faculties dry up." —George Orwell

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

Recommended: Leon Trotsky: Freedom of the Press and the Working Class (1938)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Wonder Woman Culture War That Isn't, and the Men Made Uncomfortable By Amazons

Third-wave feminist fans are celebrating the Wonder Woman movie as a triumph of feminism. In itself, that's a little odd—the character's been loved by men and women since 1941. But she has sometimes been written by men in condescending ways, and there have been few female superhero movies, so I completely understand why any fan of any political orientation is delighted that she's finally gotten a movie that the public loves.

But fandom's identitarians don't seem to notice that conservatives are part of the public that loves the movie. For example, in My Adventures at the Segregated 'Wonder Woman' Screening, Stephen Miller praises the movie at length, saying things like:
Wonder Woman, in terms of tone, may be the best superhero film since The Dark Knight and that’s mostly attributed to director Patty Jenkins who was able to bring a seriousness and sharp cinematic eye to the surroundings that is severely lacking in the bloated cartoonish CGI festivals of Marvel’s universe.
And yet third wave feminists are producing articles like Ben Kuchera's A letter to my sons after watching Wonder Woman which claims,
You know how the first chunk of the movie featured no men? It’s kind of tempting to think that uncomfortable feeling we both experienced is what women feel every time they watch a superhero movie with a mostly male cast.
Who are these men who felt uncomfortable watching the first part of the movie? I don't doubt Kuchera is one, and it's possible his discomfort was picked up by his kids, but why is he upset? Men like Stephen Miller aren't uncomfortable. Men like me, second wave Baby Boomer feminists, aren't uncomfortable. Men older than me aren't uncomfortable—they grew up with movies like High Noon where the cowboy's true love was a woman who saved his ass when he needed her. Conventionally sexist men think the first part of Wonder Woman is great—it's all hot women in skimpy outfits.

I suspect the only men who are uncomfortable are men who spent their formative years among third wave feminists. When I raised the question at Facebook, one fellow responded,
I spent most of my youth hanging around a particular kind of feminist activist community, where I managed to internalize that feeling attracted to women was oppressive and problematic. That even *looking* at a woman and feeling sexual attraction was The Male Gaze (and inherently awful and oppressive), and that even having sexual thoughts about a woman who hadn't given consent to having someone have such thoughts was tantamount to wanting to rape her.

So I spent most of my youth so massively ashamed of my own sexuality that anything that would remind me that I even had one would make me incredibly uncomfortable. In fact, at some point I managed to make this association so complete that I didn't actually *feel* sexual attraction anymore; I just got really anxious. In fact, when I started taking anti-anxiety meds, I actually became able to *feel* sexual attraction again.
I hope Kuchera's sons grow up in a world that recognizes that equality and sexuality are not at war with each other, that just as there's a male gaze, there's a female gaze, that humans like to appreciate the human form, and that has nothing to do with equality. It only has to do with appreciation.

If you're wondering what I thought of Wonder Woman, I tweeted this after I saw it:
Wonder Woman film: A or F if you're an obsessed WW fan, A- if you love superhero movies, meh if you don't like superheroes. Me: A-. Emma: A.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Who is this person who demanded a candidate they agreed with 100%?" a guest post by Avedon Carol

Avedon left this as a comment here. I thought it deserved more attention, and she has given me permission to share it.

Who is this person who demanded a candidate they agreed with 100%?

by Avedon Carol

I see people arguing with a straw man and working themselves up into a self-righteous frenzy over something that doesn't exist.

Who is this person who demanded a candidate they agreed with 100%? I have not seen this person even on the internet, let alone in real life. I have not seen evidence of a single Sanders supporter who agreed 100% with him on anything except maybe free college and some version of government-funded health care for all. (That's not Medicare-for-All, btw, because a lot of us have looked around and seen that the whole world has better health care systems than Medicare, but we know expanding Medicare is probably the best we can hope for in the US at this time. See? We're *pragmatic*.)

We all agree, as do most Americans, that the rich need to pay higher taxes, but Bernie's prescription didn't really demand enough of them. Sure, they'd pay a bit more, but not enough to stop them from being more powerful than some state governments. No one should be that powerful.

Sanders knows perfectly well that with a fiat currency, taxes don't have to be raised to pay for college and health care - Stephanie Kelton is one of his advisors, ffs! - and yet he still talks as if we need to raise taxes to pay for services. He's not going to fight that fight any time soon.

And then there's his foreign policy. Have you ever heard anyone say they loved Sanders' foreign policy? No, of course not, because even though he is better than everyone else who ran in the 2016 primaries, his foreign policy is still essentially in the same ballpark as theirs. Bernie was definitely the least toxic on foreign policy, which we were willing to accept because he was still far and away the best on domestic policy. The Republicans were fairly insane on foreign policy, as usual, but the biggest warmonger of them all was unquestionably Hillary Clinton, the woman who tried to prevent the Iran deal and pushed Obama into Libya and *still* shows signs of wanting to start a war with Iran for no apparent reason.

NO ONE who supported Bernie Sanders was/is an ideological purist, because no ideological purist would be satisfied with someone who had no critique of neoliberalism, no objection to the pretence that we are still on the gold standard, and meekly went along with the basic assumptions of our foreign policy package.

But we supported Sanders in the primaries for three very good reasons:

1. He intended to move the country back on track to a more equalitarian levelling and restore basic rights to Americans, expand our social safety net, and improve our economy.

2. He had shown in Vermont that it was possible, over time, to change the entire legislature if they would not go along with popular policies. No other candidate even believed this was possible, and yet he had already done it, and it was exactly what was needed if anything was going to be possible. Obama lost both houses of Congress and his own popularity declined as he made it clear he had more in common with Wall Street than he did with mainstream Democrats and even half of registered Republicans. Hillary Clinton was not going to win back Congress, ever. Sanders knew how to do it.

3. He could win the general election. It is extremely rare for a party to retain the White House after eight years in power, it's only happened once in my lifetime and then only because the economy appeared to be doing well in the moment - a moment that didn't last long, thus treating us to the also-rare experience of unseating an incumbent president. But Obama's policies had left half the country in a depression, wiped out black America's wealth along with impoverishing large swathes of minority communities as well as many whites, and left women in a lurch. People had voted for positive change in 2008 and gotten the reverse. They still wanted that positive change. When Bernie entered the race, it meant there was actually hope to win the election for our side.

It would have been nice to have someone who had a real critique of American foreign policy, who would explain to the public that we already *have* the money to pay for free college and free health care, that the US government *can't* go broke, who clearly understood just how badly Clinton and Obama had screwed us, and who was younger. But we didn't. Bernie wasn't perfect, but he was all we had, and it might just work.

And Bernie, though hamstrung by his refusal to truly go on the attack against Clinton, would have no such handicap in the general election. He has never hesitated to unleash the fire when it comes to going after Republicans.

Sanders consistently polled better against every Republican than Clintnon did. That wasn't surprising, because even if she hadn't campaigned as Obama's third term, she was even more a symbol of the odious status quo than Obama himself was. Her campaign technique actually emphasized her fealty to the moneyed class, her big-ticket fund-raisers standing in stark contrast to Sanders and Trump, who were talking to crowds of ordinary voters.

This is what some people never get. We had ONE CHANCE to win the election and get America back. It was not Hillary Clinton. Clinton couldn't win, especially not against Trump, who her campaign was completely unprepared for. He made everything about personalities and she played right into his hands. Sanders was not going to return the favor when Trump ran around calling him names, he was going to talk about what he wanted to do for Americans. All that was required was for Democrats to get on board and say, "Yep, we can do that." But no, we had the entire leadership of can't-do Democrats acting as if free college and free health care were fairy dust, even though we used to have lots of good, free colleges in America, even though the whole world has been showing us since WWII that free health care requires no magic.

Sanders had no support from the party leadership or the media, who dutifully repeated every poisonous Clinton campaign talking point, ("doesn't connect with minorities" - a lie), and yet his support shot up from 5% to 45% as people got some exposure to him. This *should* have made voters think twice about whether he was "unelectable". But Clinton and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz remembered all too well what high exposure had done for Obama in 2008 and deliberately gave up millions of dollars worth of free television air time that would be vital to generating enthusiasm and activism for the rest of the campaign (and the party), hurting not just Sanders, but the Democrats' general election position, by delaying and curtailing the debates that had so helped Democrats win in that year.

We lost the election the minute DWS announced the debate schedule. And when I say "we", I mean you, too. Everyone. Because if Democrats had stood up behind our ONE CHANCE to win, he almost certainly would have won.

ETA: A linkfest for Clinton fans who are still in denial

Friday, June 2, 2017

The railroad robber baron Jay Gould explains the two-party system

"It was the custom when men received nominations to come to me for contributions, and I made them and considered them good paying investments for the company. In a Republican district I was a strong Republican; in a Democratic district I was Democratic, and in doubtful districts I was doubtful. In politics I was an Erie Railroad man all the time." —Jay Gould

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

If Dogland influenced American Gods, other works influenced it more

Dogland was published four years before American Gods, so it's possible my take on old gods living in the present had some minor influence on Neil's, but I'm inclined to think we were both inspired by the same sources. I'll only mention two, one that's obvious to anyone who knows the history of our genre, one that calls for a love of both fantasy and comics:

Thorne Smith wrote about old gods in modern times long before Neil or I were born.

And Jack Kirby wrote about them during our childhood. You can read American Gods as Neil's adult tribute to Kirby's Marvel work with old gods and his DC work that included a book titled New Gods.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Why writers should treat fans the way teachers treat students

I was once in a flamewar where, to my astonishment, people were angry that I was disagreeing with them as though they were my equals—they behaved with the curt rudeness that's common in heated arguments, but they expected me to treat them the way good adults treat ignorant youths, with a gentleness that hides the awareness the person being addressed simply hasn't a clue. I mention that now because the phenomenon's described at Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: Funny--On Academic Bad Manners:
Philosopher Tad Brennan at Cornell writes with an explanation:

Journalists are surprised that academics can be short with them because they last met academics in the classroom, and most professors are kind and generous when dealing with students. Serious academics save their scathing put-downs for colleagues and equals--I doubt that those quotes from Fodor and Sterelny document interactions with students.

Instead of feeling pained and affronted, the bloggers and journalists should take it as a compliment: 'hey, those academics are treating me like an equal!' That can help to salve the bruises, anyhow. And it also shows why a sharp-tongued critique directed at a non-student is no betrayal of the "tone" appropriate to an "educator". If you are my student, then I have an obligation to be your educator; if not, not. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

A handy timeline of Islamist terrorism in the West and Western meddling in the Middle East

People who blame Islam for Islamist terrorism cite the long clash of empires, which makes as much sense as blaming Christianity for the brutal conquest of the Americas—empires expand for profit, and religion is one of many excuses. This post focuses on the history that the West began to make after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

It begins with the tangled history of Israel. Since this post is meant to be short, I'll note two facts:

In 1948, Israel takes more land than the UN gave it.

In 1967, Israel attacks its neighbors and takes more land. See 1967 War.

In 1979, the CIA begins Operation Cyclone to fund and train the Mujahideen in the war against Afghanistan's secular socialist government. The Mujahideen's most famous member today: Osama bin Laden.

In 1982, Israel begins the Lebanon War. In response, Hezbollah is born, and so is Islamist suicide bombing. Initially, Islamist terrorism is confined to the Middle East, but it comes to the west in 1985 in Spain's El Descanso bombing. The targets are believed to have been the US soldiers dining there, but many civilians died too.

In 1988, bin Laden founds al-Qaeda.

In 1990, the Gulf War begins. Sanctions against Iraq are harsh. The U.N. finds that half a million Iraqi children died as a result. In a televised interview, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, clarifies US priorities:
Lesley Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.
In 2001, Osama bin Laden masterminds the destruction of the World Trade Towers, using 15 Saudis, 2 people from the United Arab Emirates, 1 Lebanese, and 1 Egyptian. In response, the US begins the War in Afghanistan.

In 2003, the US begins the Iraq War.

In 2011, the US decides to overthrow Libya's ruler. See Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall - The New York Times: "The president was wary. The secretary of state was persuasive. But the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi left Libya a failed state and a terrorist haven."

At the same time, American-led intervention in Syria  began.

What follows that, you should know.

Recommended: A short history of suicide bombing | AOAV:
Muhammad Hussein Fadalallah, a spiritual guide of Hezbollah, described under what circumstances suicide bombers were to be deployed: ‘We believe that suicide operations should only be carried out if they can bring about a political change in proportion to the passions that incite a person to make his body an explosive bomb.’
Terrorist Attacks On Americans, 1979-1988 | Target America | FRONTLINE | PBS

US Aid to Israel and the Palestinians: "The U.S. provides Israel $9.8 million in military aid each day, while it gives the Palestinians $0 in military aid."

US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria:
...the US-led coalition killed a total of 225 civilians between April 23 and May 23, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Are Jewish converts transracial? More implications of the Rachel Dolezal case.

If you think Jews are a race, you either think converts aren't Jewish or it's possible to be transracial.

I realized that after making a Facebook comment:
This is my argument for why Jews are white (except when they're black or Asian):

For immigration purposes, European Jews were always considered white.

In the Old South, Jews were so white that Judah P. Benjamin was Jefferson Davis's Secretary of State.

The KKK hated Jews and Catholics because they weren't Protestants, not because they weren't white.

A few specific problems with the argument that Jews are a race:

1. That excludes converts. No one can convert to a race.

2. DNA does not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews from the Middle-East. The fight between Palestinians and Israelis is not a race war because there's enormous genetic overlap between the two groups.

That said, I agree racists can decide anything is a race, and many antisemites are both racists and bigots.
ETA: From DNA tester: 75 percent of Jews trace ancestry to Middle East - Jewish World News - Haaretz - Israel News |
Greenspan said he estimates that “No less than 75 percent of Ashekanzi, Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, their ancestors came from what we call the general Middle East”
If you insist those 75% are part of a Jewish race, what are the remaining 25%?

ETA: And if coming from the general Middle East is the basis for the argument that Jews are a race, all Middle Easterners must be racially Jewish.

Earlier: For anyone who thinks Jews were not always white in the US

Monday, May 15, 2017

Internet, let's be consistent: I'm in the alt-left; neoliberals are the faux-left, "sjws" are the ctrl-left

The problem with terms chosen for their cleverness is their definitions slide like watermelons in the back of a pickup truck and the results can be just as messy. Now that Jacobin's Bhaskar Sundara has spoken (in Why the 'alt-left' will succeed where centrists fail), let's go with his acceptance of a loose grouping:
Commentators like Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott try to break down the movement’s main currents: a handful of randos on Twitter, Glenn Greenwald, Susan Sarandon, Tulsi Gabbard and Cornel West.

Not bad company, if I do say so myself. For Walcott, what we all share is a soft spot for Russia, a kind of “Trumpian” rhetoric that attacks cultural liberalism and a shocking opposition to the “CIA/FBI/NSA alphabet-soup national-security matrix” he so trusts.
Bhaskar's whole piece is worth reading and no longer than a typical Guardian opinion piece, but I'll quote another bit for the lazy:
Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon all have wide bases, built through campaigns around a social-democratic program in favor of worker protections, a social safety net, and more popular engagement in the decisions that affect ordinary people’s lives. That’s not extreme politics; it isn’t demagogic politics. It’s politics that can win over tens of millions who feel like politics hasn’t been working for them and might otherwise be won over to the populist right.

Nor is it blind to issues of identity: for good reason, struggling minority communities consistently support increased federal funding for social welfare and public education. Winning over voters takes organization and outreach, but it is a liberal fantasy to think that black and brown workers don’t care about that “white bro class stuff” like jobs, healthcare and housing.
So who is the alt-left alt to? Bhaskar covers that, too: Effectively, no one. The Democrats have been controlled by neoliberals for decades and we don't have a labor party. I'd say the answer is the alt-left is alt to the faux left, the people who prop up Wall Street while claiming to be "progressive" as the wealth gap grows between the rich and the rest of us.

And then there's that angry group that gets called "sjws" who are defined by their identitarianism but whose politics range from neoliberalism to a very fuzzy socialism. Call them the ctrl-left. Their anger and their authoritarianism makes them the natural counterparts of the alt-right.

If you doubt that I'm a libertarian socialist....

It must be true because a test on the internet says so:

More: 8values Results

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Safe Spaces For Ideas or From Ideas? About Conventions and That 4th Street Panel


Harlan Ellison is infamous for failing to deliver The Last Dangerous Visions, the third volume of his Dangerous Visions anthologies. Many reasons have been offered, but I like this one: When the first was released in 1967, its visions seemed dangerous to conventional thinkers. Five years later, Again Dangerous Visions came out, every bit as inventive as its predecessor, but it didn't seem dangerous. By then, science fiction and fantasy had become a literature of dangerous visions, a genre without taboos, a field where ideas were expected to test the bounds of what might be done. Even the most radical vision seemed a bit status quo. So when it was time for the final book to appear in '73, no story could live up to the promise of being a dangerous vision. Rather than release an anthology that might now be titled The Usual Visions, Ellison set it aside.

The field's expectation of intellectual freedom was reflected at conventions. On panels, any thought could be explored so long as it was discussed amicably. People understood that exploring an idea was not the same as endorsing it. Those of us who grew up then assumed that spirit of tolerance would last.

Yesterday, on a Facebook post that I made comparing two related things, a self-styled "progressive" told me something that I used to only hear from militant conservatives: "It's not okay to even suggest that the situations are the same."

For most of human history, it has been "not okay to even suggest" many things. But sometimes, for the lucky, there have been safe spaces for ideas. Science fiction, especially during the New Wave of the '60s and '70s, was one. So were universities. So was "the left", whether you meant liberals or socialists. We were responding to the repressive '50s, to McCarthyites and prudes and racists and sexists and bigots who believed blacklists and censorship were proper tools to make the rest of us conform. In response, we rejected their tactics as well as their philosophy—we hoped to make a world where any idea could be examined with the faith that discussing ideas would test and improve them.

Then came the backlash. As the nation began to become a safer space for ideas in the '70s and '80s, Ivy Leaguers like Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw began developing a theory of racism and sexism built on the religious concept of social justice. They had no interest in Malcolm X's and Martin Luther King's criticism of capitalism--that would undermine their privilege as part of America's upper class. Because their approach was attacked from the left and right as unscientific and ahistorical, they and their followers began demanding "safe spaces" where no criticism was allowed.

The desire for spaces free from critique crept into science fiction at the beginning of the 21st century as academics and computer professionals gentrified our field. They had no name for their ideology, a merger of Bell's Critical Race Theory and Crenshaw's intersectional feminism, so I'll follow Adolph Reed's lead and call them identitarians. Like most privileged people, they wanted to be validated, not challenged. I noticed them in 2007 during Blog Against Racism Week—their race-only discourse struck me as simplistic, so I began writing about the interplay of class and race, which they denounced as "derailing". Until then, I had never thought discussions should stay on rails. I've always believed ideas should be explored and conclusions should be discovered. But ideologues believe in staying on rails that lead to the destination they've chosen.

Over the next six years, fandom's identitarians gained influence. They doxxed and terrorized a young woman who had mocked them under the pseudonym of Zathlazip. They conducted a months-long race-reductionist flamewar that's remembered as Racefail. In acts of censorship of the sort the ACLU denounces, they prevented Elizabeth Moon from being a guest of honor at WisCon and William Sanders from being a Guest of Honor at ICFA. In both cases, the identitarians would have supported their targets if identity alone mattered, but Moon's politics were more conservative than the WisCon community liked, and Sanders, a Cherokee, had working-class manners that infuriated his more economically privileged critics--in colloquial terms, he didn't act white enough for them. It seemed every week brought a new reason for outrage and call-outs.

I realized my side had lost when I was on a panel prophetically titled "Journey's End" at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention in 2013. I had helped found the con when I first lived in Minnesota. When I came back after fourteen years, I knew the convention would have changed, but I expected it would still be a place where no idea was taboo.

I was very wrong.

I thought "Journey's End" would focus on things like the Harrowing of the Shire and Odysseus's killing of Penelope's suitors, exploring what it means to finish a story by completing a character's journey through strange lands with the arrival at a place that had been home or would become home. But Fourth Street has single-track programming, so ideas from one panel often affect the next. In this case, the moderator decided to continue with the previous panel's concern, which had officially been "Syncretism, Real and Fantastic" but had turned into a discussion of cultural appropriation.

The term comes from anthropology. It refers to what all living cultures do: they take ideas from cultures around them and make them their own. It's natural, and generally considered desirable--only xenophobic cultures try to prevent it--but identitarians appropriated the term to criticize people who make art that draws on other cultures than the one they were born into--the most extreme identitarians believe writers should only write about their own ethnic traditions.

So I came to "Journey's End" expecting to talk about the metaphor of the journey and found myself in a discussion of an idea I reject, the idea that writers should restrict their subject matter. My take for my entire career has been simple: "Write what you know" is shorthand for "if you don't know something, research it."

The panel's discussion of cultural appropriation grew passionate, and then an unprecedented thing happened.

The moderator told me to drop the subject.

This croggled me as much as if she had slapped me. I had not insulted anyone. I had not threatened anyone. I was not saying anything that was not supported by history. I was not "derailing" because, until that point, the moderator and the panelists had chosen to explore the subject--as moderator, she could have set us in another direction from the beginning since "cultural appropriation" was not part of the panel description. But now she was stopping the discussion abruptly because the loudest members of the audience accepted the identitarian definition of cultural appropriation and were angry that I did not.

My first reaction to being told to stop was to insist we continue.

Then the loud members of the audience began shouting that the subject must be dropped.

So I did as the moderator requested and dropped it.

The panel fizzled out after that. That's usually what happens when a lively discussion is brought to an early end and someone without a clear plan tries to redirect it.

Rejecting taboos has consequences. In a blog post, one writer joked about things that didn't happen at Fourth Street, and one of the things was expressed as something like "Will Shetterly behaving well". I felt insulted until I realized that by his standards, he was right--I had behaved badly by acting as if we were using the old rules. I had thought I was in a safe space for ideas, not a safe space from them.

After the convention, I wrote the appropriation of "cultural appropriation", but I didn't completely understand then what had happened. Some things take time.

Now, four years later, I'm no longer sure I'm on the losing side. If you compare the identitarian revolution in fandom to the French Revolution, fandom's conflict peaked in 2014 when moderate identitarians turned on their Robespierre, a woman who used a name that fit their general approach, RequiresHate. In the wider world, the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton showed that millennials, who overwhelmingly supported Sanders, reject the identitarianism of those who preferred Clinton because of her gender. Sanders feminists know what identitarians don't care about: because women are disproportionately poor, Sanders' policies would help more women than Clinton's. Millennials grasp that deeds, not identity, ultimately matter.

If fandom's identitarians fail to keep millennials out of our genre, conventions will once again become safe spaces for ideas. If the identitarians succeed, fandom will stay safe for those who don't want their ideas challenged, and by staying safe, it will wither and die.

Ah, well. I am looking forward to Fourth Street this year, no matter which sort of convention it turns out to be. I can enjoy a space that's safe from ideas, so long as I know those are the rules in a place I'm visiting. I just can't live there.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The fiction writer under 21st century capitalism

A Facebook friend asked,
...would you decry for-profit fiction as capitalist fiction? Or is the fact you don't need some "means of production" beyond your computer and internet connection mean it's not really about your control of capital at all but your personal perspective and persistence that's behind your work? I ask because a lot of freelancers are idealists out for the truth, selling into a marketplace. Sure, some buyers only want stories that line up with an agenda (and you can read stories those buyers offer you with an appropriate perspective, if at all) but one needn't depend in the age of the Internet on one of a couple of big print houses, no?
The answer could be a book. I apologize for making it a short, hasty blog post instead.

For-profit fiction falls into two categories, sincere efforts of people who want to make a living from telling stories and calculated efforts of people who want to sell stories that make a lot of money.  I've almost always been in the first group. Technically, both groups are producing capitalist fiction because capitalists who own publishing houses and distribution services are profiting from their work. But when I talk about capitalist fiction, I'm usually talking about fiction that's written to be commercial, the sort of fiction that wouldn't exist under socialism because writers would be writing with other concerns.

Traditionally, socialists classify writers as bourgeois or petit bourgeois because we own our tools,  I quibble with this. In Marx's time, all workers were effectively free-lancers: they could be fired at whim, and sometimes they owned their tools--for example, cowboys might own their saddles. Today, writers are not as dependent on publishers as once we were, but we're just as dependent on distributors like Amazon and the surviving chain bookstores. We have no negotiating power. We do our work and take what corporations are willing to give, or we accept that what we're doing is a hobby that we can never hope to live on.

So I think of writers as working-class. Since socialism is not identitarian in nature, this is purely an intellectual distinction and could be considered one of my quirks. What matters under socialism isn't your class, but your class allegiance. Mine's to the working class.

Two quibbles with the American Gods TV show

1. Where are the kickass female gods? So far, female gods stick to sex and fortune-telling. I'd like an Athena or an Oya, a female god who is any male god's equal in might as well as sex or trickery.

2. The trickster Anansi would understand the African slave trade in all its complexity—Africans sold Africans to Europeans, then many black Americans stayed slaves while some became slaveowners in turn, and when the racial statistics of police killings became perfectly proportionate to the racial statistics of the US class system, a black man held the country's most powerful office.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Why there's no statute of limitations on spoilers

Funny, but wrong, and if you don't want to know how King Kong ends, skip this joke for what follows:

There's no statute of limitations on spoilers for the general public—everyone should have the chance to experience a story as the writer intended. If you don't know how Oedipus Rex ends, I won't be the one to tell you. I envy people who don't know the endings of great stories.

There is a statute of limitations on spoilers for critical pieces that assume the reader or viewer knows the piece in order to analyze it. But even then, the ending shouldn't told be in the title of the critical piece—it's more considerate to title something "About That Big Star Wars Reveal" than "About R2D2 Having Hitler's Brain."

That said, the accidental revelation of an ending is no big deal. Like stepping on someone's toe, it happens. Only jerks do it on purpose.

The intentional revelation, though? A story spoilered cannot be unspoilered. I oppose the death penalty, but I'd make an exception for those who love to spoil.

ETA: There's no such thing as new stories and old ones. There's just stories you haven't read and stories you have.

ETA: If you wouldn't reveal the end of a mystery, don't reveal the end of any story. All stories are mysteries when first experienced. #spoilers

ETA: I saw Citizen Kane for the first time at a revival house not long after this Peanuts cartoon came out. Among the minor regrets of my life is that thanks to Schulz, I missed the opportunity to experience the movie as Orson Welles had intended. Click to embiggen if you wish.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On people who object to being mistaken for clerks

When people object to being mistaken for clerks, you know what they think of clerks. (I've been a clerk and been mistaken for one.)

I shared that comment on Facebook. To my surprise and delight, people began telling about times someone had mistaken them for clerks.

Perhaps the most useful advice: Jonah Earl Thomas said, "If you just tell them Aisle 3B they'll go away."

Perhaps the funniest: David Cummer said, "I was once mistaken for a mechanic at a gas station and thought "I have just achieved the goal of many a gay man from the 70s"."

Friday, April 28, 2017

A little about Warpship Victoria

Warpship Victoria will appear daily for a week, and then the schedule will be Monday through Friday.

Here's the first page:

If you'd like to read more, click for Page 2.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A warrior in the whisper wars

I've spent the last few days dealing with an unpleasantness that may never go public but is undoubtedly fodder for fandom's gossip mill. For now, I'll share this bit from a letter I sent to address it:
I know that I have a long history of disagreeing online with the genre's more vocal neoliberal identitarians, but so far as I know, my only offline manifestation of that has been to ignore a few people when I see them at conventions. If I am accused of behaving like [redacted] or doing anything that might make anyone think I am not safe to be around, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it. If I've forgotten something I did, I'll own it. If it's just more of the wild gossiping that bedevils this community, I'd like to refute it. The only thing I do not appreciate is precisely what's happened here, being judged and condemned in absentia for a crime I've not been charged with.
I also included a mention of Kafka, because whisper wars are always Kafkaesque. If you try to find out exactly what you're accused of, you find yourself in a dreamscape where nothing stays firm.

The lack of firmness should be significant in fandom's whisper wars. At least since Zathlazip endured doxxing and death threats in 2008, the identitarians have been rigorous in making screen captures of anything that could be interpreted as offensive. Logically, if a screen cap does not exist, what's claimed did not happen—or if it did happen, it was deleted too quickly for anyone to make a screen cap.

Yes, can be forged, but to the best of my knowledge, that hasn't happened. Most people caught up in gossip wars are honest in the sense that they don't share what they know to be false. They only promote lies when they don't verify a story before passing it along. They assume that where there's smoke, there's fire, which is not always true, and when true, is sometimes the work of an arsonist. (I kept track of hoax hate crimes for a while, then quit because the subject is so depressing. What's most depressing is wondering how many hoax hate crimes are never exposed.)

Well, the folk wisdom is true: haters gonna hate. Having responded in kind once, I hope I never will again. The greatest gift you can give bad people is endorsing their tactics.


Respect everyone: the wisdom of St. Peter and Malcolm X

A little more about St. Peter's and Malcolm X's "Respect everyone"


Monday, April 24, 2017

Two black people on the Titanic in fact and a third in folklore

The Titanic had at least two black passengers, and more if you count one passenger's children.

1. Joseph Laroche's story is told in Was a Black Man on the Titanic? His white wife and their daughters were saved. He was not. Don't blame race for his death—many of the men stayed behind so more of the women and children could survive.

There's some debate about whether the Laroches endured racism on board the ship. From Black People and Titanic: The Reality – Dani Course – Medium:
...a letter that Juliette wrote to her father while the Titanic was at Queenstown, Ireland, paints a different picture. She did not mention any racially motivated incidents directed at her or her family. In fact, she wrote that they had become acquainted with another French family, whom they had traveled from Paris with on the train and dined with onboard the ship. She also wrote that “the people onboard are very nice.” It should be kept in mind, however, that when Juliette Laroche wrote her letter, she and her family had been aboard the ship for less than 24 hours. They would spend four more days at sea — plenty of time to experience the conditions outlined by Hughes and the Inquirer.
The Laroches were well-off; the Medium article includes this:
Initially, the family was to travel on the French liner La France, however the liner’s strict policy required children to remain in the ship’s nursery during meal times, which didn’t appeal to the Laroches. They exchanged their first-class tickets for second-class tickets on the Titanic.
2. Victor Giglio, the personal secretary to Benjamin Guggenheim, traveled first class. It's said the two men chose to die like gentlemen, drinking brandy together. The writer of Titanic Anniversary Sheds Light On Passengers Of Color: Who Were They? suggests Giglio wouldn't have been able to get a place on a lifeboat because of the color of his skin, but since rich white men also couldn't get seats, it's impossible to guess whether class would've trumped race in a choice between a white third-class passenger and a black first-class one.

3. Shine was the Titanic's mythical black crewman. In folk hero fashion, he swam all the way to New York. There's more about him in Was a Black Man on the Titanic?

Bonus historical tidbit: Leadbelly's Titanic song claims the boxer Jack Johnson couldn't get a ticket, which isn't true, but makes for a fine song:

Lead Belly:The Titanic Lyrics | LyricWikia 

Monday, April 17, 2017

An article to cite when you want to show Fox News, the Mirror, and the Daily Mail are unreliable

Media fooled by fake news item about married twins:
While more reputable sites like the New York Times or Washington Post don’t appear to be running with this nonsense story, many other widely read news outlets like the Mirror and the Daily Mail ran with it. Even Fox News ran a Sun article on their site.
Of course, this doesn't mean the Times or the Post are reliable either. No site is perfect, and they all are subject to spinning the facts to fit their ideologies. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Charging Bull and Fearless Girl, and the ethics of creators

Re: 'Charging Bull' sculptor says New York's 'Fearless Girl' statue violates his rights | US news | The Guardian

Putting Fearless Girl in front of Charging Bull made a clever mash-up, but as a creator, I have more sympathy for Charging Bull's artist than many seem to. He made a great piece of art. Then another artist came along and placed her work where it made his subordinate to hers. Would you put a beautifully carved statue of a TV near the Mona Lisa so it looked like she was smiling at it?

This reminds me that ethical graffiti artists don't paint over other artists' work.

I grant that people who love this want a more diverse Wall Street, while I want an end to Wall Street. They want a Girl who will join the Bull. I want a kid who will kill it.

ETA: Fearless Girl? She looks like she’s auditioning for a TV talent show | Emma Brockes | Opinion | The Guardian:
Since being placed opposite the bull, on the eve of International Women’s Day, the Fearless Girl – hands on hips, ponytail swinging – has been the subject of a million concerned pieces about the misuse of art, the infantilisation of female ambition, and the kind of fraudulent feminism that promises little girls, if they work hard, they can grow up to be bankers.
ETA: ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Charging Bull’ are more alike than you’d think - The Washington Post:
"...the multitrillion-dollar financial firm that commissioned and installed “Fearless Girl” still has only three women on its 11-member board.

...The strain of female success that “Fearless Girl” champions most specifically — More women in the boardroom! More women on Wall Street! More women at the top! — is also the one most aligned with the capitalism-loving, individualistic ethos of the bull itself."
ETA: seriously, the guy has a point | 

Monday, April 10, 2017

A farewell to politics on this blog

One of my favorite pieces of advice is Rilke's "You must change your life." It's always true, but it's harder to do with every day that passes.

So I'm changing my blog instead.

Because my definition of politics is quirky, I can't guarantee there won't be anything after this that you would consider politics. I have always loved Robin Williams' definition:
Politics: “Poli” a Latin word meaning "many" and "tics" meaning "bloodsucking creatures".
The true origin:
from Greek politikos, from politēs ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’
Its roots remind me of those of civility:
from Latin civilitas, from civilis ‘relating to citizens’ (see civil). In early use the term denoted the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship or orderly behavior. The sense ‘politeness’ arose in the mid 16th century.
If I address anything after this on this blog that seems particularly political, I'll do it in art. If I can't do it in art, I'll indulge in a rant at my retitled blog that had focused on identitarianism, Engaging Justice.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The campfire scene: the heart of every team movie and the greatest weakness of Rogue One

The campfire scene gets its name from stories in which people on a journey stop for a meal and have nothing to do but talk. Campfire scenes reveal character, both to the audience and to the other characters. They give the members of a new team a chance to bond. They make us believe a story is about individuals rather than archetypes. The campfire scene is to a story about a team what the falling in love scene is to a romance: it makes us want to see the characters succeed.

Rogue One would've been much better with a campfire scene. There might be one on the cutting room floor—one character calls another "little sister", which only makes sense if they'd had time to form a bond. There were plenty of opportunities for campfire scenes—a story can have many—and yet the few attempts did nothing to convince me that any of the team members came to care for anyone they had not already cared for, except the guy in charge of the mission, who apparently liked the hero because she was of the desired sex and reasonably competent.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Karl Marx—explicitly anti-sexist and anti-racist in 1880

Marx wrote the preamble of Programme of the French Worker's Party in 1880. The first clause makes explicit what's implicit in his earlier work:

That the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex or race;

That the producers can be free only when they are in possession of the means of production;

That there are only two forms under which the means of production can belong to them
  1. The individual form which has never existed in a general state and which is increasingly eliminated by industrial progress;
  2. The collective form the material and intellectual elements of which are constituted by the very development of capitalist society;

That this collective appropriation can arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat - organized in a distinct political party;

That such an organization must be pursued by all the means the proletariat has at its disposal including universal suffrage which will thus be transformed from the instrument of deception that it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation;

The French socialist workers, in adopting as the aim of their efforts the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to community of all the means of production, have decided, as a means of organization and struggle, to enter the elections...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Shetterly's Iron Fist guide—which episodes to skip for a better overall experience

Iron Fist's greatest problem is the writing, which means you have to blame Scott Buck, the show runner. There's enough material for a good eight episodes, but it's stretched out for thirteen. A dedicated fan editor could probably create a strong version, but since that fanvid doesn't exist, I suggest you do the following:

Watch the first two episodes. Then you have two choices:

a) If you decide you only want to know what would be useful when The Defenders airs, skip to the end and watch episodes 11 through 13.

b) If you like but don't love the first two episodes and trust me that the series is longer than it should be, watch episodes 3, 5, 8, and 10-13. (Warning: episode three ends with a cliffhanger, but its resolution is so weak that I think it's fine to skip episode four.)

If you take either of my suggestions, you can fill in the plot gaps with Wikipedia's episode summaries here: Iron Fist (TV series). Or you can just trust that you'll figure out what you need to know as you go along.

Related: What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian

ETA: More in the comments, but it may get a bit spoilery.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Three and a half things I believe about writing and "cultural appropriation"

1. "Write what you know" means you should research the things you don't know, and you should research the things you think you know. When we get facts wrong, that's on us.

2. Readers have prejudices. Some readers out of ignorance or ideology or both will accuse writers of getting things wrong that we have actually gotten right. That's on them, not us.

3. Every culture appropriates. The term comes from anthropology, where it was used to describe a process without implying it was good or bad. The rule for cultures is appropriate or die.

3.5 The artist's duty is to appropriate wisely and inventively. That's how art grows.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Using Jessica Valenti to rant about Clinton feminists, and a question about all men

A friend on Facebook shared Trump did to Merkel what men do to women all the time | Jessica Valenti, which has the subhead, "Men constantly ignore women – but most of the time no one notices it. Except, that is, when it happens on the world stage."

So I've got a question and a rant.

The question: Do all men do this? Note that Valenti's claims are not qualified: she says, "men constantly" do this, a statement as absolute as "black people constantly" or "Muslims constantly" do something.

Also note that Valenti's opinion piece is backed up with nothing but a few anecdotes and a description of an episode of a TV show.

To be clear, I'm not denying a lot of men do this. In hierarchies, people at the top tend to be dismissive of the people they see as subordinate. Jane Austen's Lady Catherine de Bourgh is one woman's testimony that this is not inherently a gender issue. Men who believe in a sexual hierarchy naturally dismiss women.

But Valenti's statement is not about "some men". She uses Trump's encounter with Merkel to make a claim about all men. And she's using a situation where Trump, a xenophobic conservative, is meeting with Merkel, a foreign liberal, so gender is not the only issue at work in her example, for all that Valenti insists it is.

Whether Valenti consciously downplays other factors, I don't know. I do know she's a Clinton feminist who's named in Leaked Email Reveals Sady Doyle, Other Liberal Bloggers Coordinated with Clinton Campaign on Sanders Hits. Clinton feminists are, intentionally or not, very simplistic in their approach to feminism—for example, they don't care that the poor are disproportionately female; they backed the neoliberal woman instead of the man who fights for a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, and free public higher education, all of which would disproportionately help women.

Clinton feminists cannot grasp the Nigerian proverb,
When the axe came into the forest, the trees said "The handle is one of us"
The reason is simple. Clinton feminists do not identify with the trees. They identify with the axe.

Related: Study: Men interrupt women more in tech workplaces, but high-ranking women learn to interrupt includes this:
Not only do these three women interrupt everyone, gender- and level-agnostic, they represent three of the four biggest interrupters in the study. Their rates of interruption/hour are, respectively, 35, 34, and 32, with one male colleague in Level E coming in at 34 and literally everyone else in every level showing a lower rate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian

I get why some fans wish Iron Fist or Dr. Strange had been Asian. If no one else had argued they should be, I probably would have. Old comic books have no shortage of white male heroes.


Let's be the best sort of conservatives and ask what's lost by making those characters Asian.

The quick answer: everything interesting.

1. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange find purpose in a culture that is not their own. The message: we do not have to restrict our learning to the culture associated with our race. We may find greater truths in other cultures than in our own.

2. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange are outsiders who struggle to fit into a new culture and are eventually accepted by most of its members. The message: we do not have to "keep to our own kind." We can find friends and lovers anywhere.

3. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange come from a culture where people who are superficially like them tend to rule, but they accept masters who are not white. The message: we should serve the best people of any race rather than the best people of our own.

Now, as a long-time fan of Hong Kong cinema, I would've loved having the contemporary equivalent of Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, or Jackie Chan playing Iron Fist and the contemporary equivalent of Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, or Maggie Cheung playing Dr. Strange.

But they would be playing Asian stereotypes. They might be playing great versions of stereotypes in movies I would watch many times, but they would be stereotypes none the less.

A more interesting change would be to make the characters black Americans. But that would also lose something. With white protagonists, the stories of Iron Fist and Dr. Strange imply great truths can be learned from people who are not white. With black protagonists, their story would imply great truths can be learned from people who are not black, an implication that would not necessarily be racist, but easily could be.

Mind you, I'm not saying Hollywood had to make the characters white men. My idea of the essence of a character is rarely defined by race or gender—the exceptions being characters like Captain America who are tied to a historical period in which a particular race and gender are logical. In the 1970s, I wished I could write a Legion of Super-Heroes story in which it was revealed that the heroes of the 30th Century had up until then appeared to be mostly white and male because that was a fad, but now the fad had passed, so they were reverting to the bodies they were born in, which would've created a Legion that was 50% female and very racially mixed. In the 1980s, I wished the British Avengers remake had cast Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh as Steed and Peel. I love creative recasting in general—who doesn't love Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury?

But changes have consequences. You must always know what you lose when you make them.

That said, while Tilda Swinton did a fine job as the Ancient One, I still think they should've cast Michelle Yeoh.

ETA: BlackBeltJones On Iron Fist & The Ivory Issue: Is There Really A Problem?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why antiracists misunderstand Hugh Davis "defiling his body in lying with a Negro" in 1630—or the New York Times gets it wrong again

I thought What if the Court in the Loving Case Had Declared Race a False Idea? - The New York Times makes an interesting argument, but Brent Staples bolsters it with a common shallow assumption. I read this:
(In 1630, for example, a man named Hugh Davis was publicly whipped for “defiling his body in lying with a Negro.”)

Colonial-era court records are filled with crimes related to interracial sex and fierce debates about the legal status of children born of interracial unions.
My first thought was that sounded wrong because poor whites and blacks were treated very similarly before Bacon's Rebellion in the 1670s. My second thought was "Why do they think 'Negro' means a woman? The term sounds wrong for the time."

So I went googling and found a surprising number of places interpreting this incident as the Times does. But then I found Abusing Hugh Davis - Determining the Crime in a 17th Century Morality Case (pdf) by historian Alan Scot Willis, who argues convincingly, was different from the usual cases of adultery and fornication because it was, instead, a case of sodomy. Additionally, I argue that such a claim in not mere “conjecture.” We may never be able to establish definitively whether Hugh Davis committed fornication or sodomy, but we can demonstrate that it is more probable he committed sodomy.
Willis compares the case to similar ones that unambiguously involved heterosexual people of different races and notes that the treatment of those couples was very different. He also notes,
The Jamestown Court accused Davis of “lying with a negro” whereas they commonly used the words “Negress” or “Negro wench” in other cases specifying that the unnamed Africans in those cases were, indeed, female. Winthrop Jordan, in White Over Black, explained “the term "negro woman‟ was in very common use.” This led Jordan to speculate that Davis‟ partner “may not have been female.” Richard Godbeer ruminated on that problem in a footnote in his Sexual Revolution in Early America, noting that the “passage refers not to a "negro woman‟ or a "negro wench‟ or "a negress‟ but a "negro‟ suggesting that Davis may have had sexual contact with a male African.”
Humans tend to see what they expect to find. People who wanted to find racism failed to see homophobia.

If you object that sodomy was punished by death then, the answer is "Not in all cases." Willis covers that. His paper is fairly short and well worth reading if history, race, and gender interest you. It includes fascinating incidents like this: 1629 Virginia dealt with what must have been a truly perplexing case of sexual identity. The Court demanded that Thomas Hall declare himself to be either male or female, but Hall maintained he was both. The Court, in disagreement with Hall‟s master, came to the rather ambiguous determination that Hall must present himself as both male 6 female; He was ordered to wear men's clothing but also an apron and to have his hair coiffed as a woman's. Yet it reached the decision only after two bodily inspections had resulted in contradictory findings.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Politics as Secular Religion: Special "Understanding Liberal Democrats" Edition

I made two comments on Facebook about liberal Democrats (meaning members of the US's quasi-Democratic Party) that apply to most people in large political parties. Freddie deBoer posted,
Honestly a lot of this liberal Democrat "I fight with the alt-right and I fight with socialists therefore they are the same" delusion comes from this badly misconceived idea of politics as a social circle where you're personally friendly with everyone in your movement, and I'm sorry to say the left isn't great on that score, either.
I said,
You're missing an element: for liberal Democrats, there are sinners and the saved. Why waste time trying to understand the damned?
To continue the analogy, to liberal Democrats, conservatives are infidels and the left are heretics. Heretics are more infuriating than infidels.
Always relevant when discussing the political impulse: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

ETA: If this feels like I'm picking on liberals, that's only the context. No group is exempt. Politics is just a secular religion. You get both from your family and your community in most cases, and in reaction to your family and community in a few. Either way, it's more about what makes you feel good about yourself than what's good for others. Preachers, politicians, and nondenominational scam artists understand this.

Guest post: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

Everyone should read this, so I'm making it easy. I got this copy from Mark Twain: Corn-pone Opinions and corrected a few minor typos.

Corn-pone Opinions
Mark Twain

FIFTY YEARS AGO, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping to inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man—a slave—who daily preached sermons from the top of his master's woodpile, with me for sole audience. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from. But it did not happen; in the distribution of rewards he was overlooked. It is the way, in this world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Naming the four waves of social justice

1. The Catholic Wave

"Social justice" began as a Catholic concept developed in the 1840s by Father Luigi Tapparelli as an alternative to democracy and communism. Its earliest concept was a Catholic version of noblesse oblige: everyone should respect God's social hierarchy, but the rich should treat poorer people with respect and help them with charity.

In the 1930s, the antisemitic Father Charles Coughlin created the National Union for Social Justice and published a periodical titled Social Justice that attacked Jews, atheists, and Communists as the enemies of God. But Coughlin did not destroy the reputation of "social justice". Good Catholics like Dorothy Day and Father Dom Helder Camara worked hard to help the poor under that label.

This wave continues with Catholicism to the present day.

2. The Interdenominational Wave

During the 20th century, the idea of social justice spread from the Catholicism to Protestantism and Judaism. The phrase was not common in the civil rights era because it was still primarily a theological concept, but the focus in this wave began expanding from poverty to racial and gender inequality.

3. The Identitarian Wave

The term moved into the secular community in the 1980s as an umbrella term for third wave feminism and antiracism. As it did, the original concern with poverty was subordinated to focus on social inequality. And as that happened, the idea that everyone should be treated with respect was lost. Though many of them were atheists, the third wave's "social justice warriors" mocked and abused their opponents like Crusaders mocking heretics.

4.  The Democratic Socialist Wave

The millennials  saw that economic and social justice are entwined. This wave is so new that its differences with the third wave didn't become obvious until Clinton Democrats began trying to suppress Sanders Democrats. It's too early to know what form the fourth wave will take, but I'm optimistic. The kids are the future, no matter how hard the third wave works to defeat them.

Related: Naming the four waves of fighting racism and sexism

ETA: On Facebook, I was asked if we're now in the Antifa Wave. I answered,
It's hard for me to categorize Antifa because they're intellectually a mess, so far as I can tell. They're angry, they have no respect for their opponents, and they're obsessed with symbolic rather than practical matters, so I hope they're the last gasp of the third wave.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Free speech, not street violence, ended Milo Yiannopoulos's career

At A Statement On Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Protests, Ander told Steve Brust,
I like your article, it was written thoughtfully and I’m happy to know you’re out there fighting for democractic socialism.
MILO’s platform is ethnic cleansing. His LED billboard at the event read “Support Women and Homosexuals, Purge Your Local Illegals” and listed ICE’s phone number.
He wanted to use federal forces to violently detain and deport our communities, so we shut him down by any means necessary. Not all events will look like what happened at Berkley, but it definitely isn’t a bad thing to have some collectives practicing black bloc tactics.
I said,
Ander, there are two issues here.
Are Milo’s views reprehensible? Yes.
Do you want to promote his views by making him more famous? I would hope not. Yet by denying him the right to speak, you gave him more attention.
Please note that what seems to have killed his career was not your attempt to silence him, but the attempt by other conservatives to share and denounce his words on sex with young people. The protests in the street only helped him. Free speech ultimately did him in.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A cartoon and a comment about leftists who are friendly and leftists who mock

On Facebook, Jonas Kyratzes shared Things Are Not OK. In the comments, Jay Tholen mentioned his childhood growing up in poor neighborhoods and said,
I was a Limbaugh-listening conservative at 18 and know how completely validating it is to see the liberal mainstream characterize you as a hateful idiot. It entrenched me in my belief that I was fighting against some elite star chamber. The only time I started questioning my political ideologies was when folks from the left befriended me and we had conversations.
A little later, Douglas Lain shared this:

Trotsky has my back on people misunderstanding wars that are called religious

"If this conflict had taken place toward the end of the Middle Ages, both sides in slaughtering each other would have cited the same text from the Bible. Formalist historians would afterwards have come to the conclusion that they were fighting about the correct interpretation of texts. The craftsmen and illiterate peasants of the Middle Ages had a strange passion, as is well known, for allowing themselves to be killed in the cause of philological subtleties in the Revelations of Saint John, just as the Russian Separatists submitted to extermination in order to decide the question whether one should cross himself with two fingers or three. In reality there lies hidden under such symbolic formulae – in the Middle Ages no less than now – a conflict of life interests which we must learn to uncover. The very same verse of the Evangelist meant serfdom for some, freedom for others...Political slogans serve oftener to disguise interests than to call them by name."
-Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution

Via Steve Brust

Thursday, February 23, 2017

the ancient art of making the working class invisible

From A Frank Talk With Jessa Crispin About Why Modern-Day Feminism Is Full of Shit:
There’s that Rebecca Traister book, All the Single Ladies. It’s all about this self-empowerment feminism—like “look at these brave women living their urban lives and chasing their dreams.” She talks about how the city can provide you the spousal care that a wife used to provide her husband—it can cook your food, launder your clothes, blah blah blah. But the city doesn’t do that shit. Immigrants do that shit. You can’t pretend that “the city” is a benevolent creature.
I went to the Google office to visit a friend and talk about fucking safe spaces! They have these little cubbies that practically hug you while you sit there and read. It was very kindergarten. Silicon Valley should be called out on their safe space bullshit more than anyone else. Like, “I need the Google bus because I need wi-fi and tinted windows so I don’t have to look at the homeless people on my way to work.”
That reminded me of a Mexican woman who said, explaining why she had had a maid when she was growing up, "Everyone in Mexico City has a maid."

And this moment in Huckleberry Finn:

“Good gracious! anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”