‘Some doubt that anyone with whom they disagree could ever be a moral, rational person’

Featured‘Some doubt that anyone with whom they disagree could ever be a moral, rational person’

By Jupiter, my very first post! I’m a little torn as to what I should first write, but realistically the name of this blog probably requires some explanation, and that should do the trick in getting the ball rolling.

This site isn’t named in relation to Rare Pepes (no matter how rare) and funny internet images (no matter how worrying). ‘Some Worrisome Memes’ comes in reference to memes as self-propagating ‘units of culture’. Memes are essentially behaviours or ideas that endeavour to survive and spread from person to person, and in doing so influence their opinions and actions (imagine them as ‘mind viruses’). Not all of these are worrying of course, as many are as mundane as blessing yourself after a sneeze, or habitually deciding to read well written and interesting blogs (hint hint, nudge nudge). But some are worrying indeed, including perhaps (depending on who you ask) my own; I intend to write on various topics and offer opinions that some people might consider ‘problematic’, coming dangerously close as they may to committing the cardinal sin of honest and unrepentant disagreement with some dearly beloved ideas. I don’t always intend to take minority or unpopular points of view, but where I find myself in that position, I argue them as strongly as confidence may permit – and this site gives me the opportunity to do just that.

It is among those people that would find my opinions troubling that many other worrisome memes can be found though, and these are by far the more disquieting. Whether due to the strength of their convictions or the nature of their beliefs, some number of these people on a variety of issues cannot bring themselves to disagree amicably, if they are willing to countenance dissent at all. Some rarely, if ever, consider that their views could be fallacious, or that their friendship groups could constitute echo-chambers, or that anyone with whom they disagree could ever be a moral, rational person. The beliefs and behaviours of these people, who can be anything from highly intelligent Oxbridge professionals to those for whom coherent thought constitutes a fairly radical notion, are far more disquieting indeed.

Much of what I might write here may not be new, and as I said above, I expect some inevitable amount of anger regarding certain ideas (if you think otherwise, welcome to the internet – you must be new here). But if there is someone, perhaps just one person, that happens upon this site, and comes across some provocative thought or position that they’d never otherwise come across – that would be worth all the effort.

I intent to start posting semi-weekly from this point on, and see in what direction my thoughts take me. Wish me luck!

The Angelos Affair and Humanists UK

In late 2018, Angelos Sofocleous was studying Philosophy at Durham University. He was an editor at a university magazine and his departments journal. He’d successfully become President Elect of Humanist Students, the student branch of Humanists UK. All things considered, life was going fairly well.

He then made a crucial mistake. He shared an article on Twitter. And not just any article: it was a piece about Merseyside police investigating members of the public for suggesting that ‘women don’t have penises’ (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/is-it-a-crime-to-say-women-don-t-have-penises-19-august-2018), and it was accompanied by a message from a previous user stating “retweet if you think women don’t have penises”. The vitriol in response was spectacular.

Within a month, he had lost his editorial positions and had been compelled to resign as president elect. Furthermore, following bullying at his university and even harassment from academics from within his own department, Angelos left Durham and only returned where his degree demanded, instead to do as much study from home as possible.

In his own words, “I fell into major depression. The backlash of that single retweet was immense. I would never have thought that I would make national news because I said “women don’t have penises”. It was so comical but at the same time it was something that had a huge negative effect on me. I felt that my whole life and my future in journalism and academia was collapsing.”( https://www.newsintervention.com/sofocleous-jacobsen-2/?fbclid=IwAR1NDPriYcgiL17jEHPHzQyBX3F7u4M31W-g7JQJTWxuVM2bjojytKIifEI).

When I first started this website, my first post was titled “Some doubt that anyone with whom they disagree could ever be a moral, rational person”. Angelos’ treatment both online and on campus is the face of this illness, a kind of tribalism that tolerates no dissent and demands surrender on any subject relating to identity or which could offend (which is to say, on practically every important subject). It’s almost as though I had written that post with reference to the very people that had attacked Angelos so.

In actual fact, I had. My own stay with Humanist Students had been enjoyable for the most part and I had met some wonderful people, but I had never fully settled and never felt fully welcome. This was due in great part to the behaviours of key members – a small but significant minority – who reacted with shock and disgust towards the slightest erring from their small bubble of thought. The villainization and obvious shunning I experienced did serious damage to my confidence and self-perception, and my willingness to express myself waned. And many of the same people – reinforced by other implacable fanatics – led the charge online in ensuring Angelos was duly punished for his voicing of an errant opinion.

One name referenced by Angelos himself (https://conatusnews.com/angelos-sofocleous-free-speech-academia/) is Christopher Ward, formerly of LGBT Humanists (another branch of Humanists UK), and a repugnant exemplar of the hostile and pig-headed behaviours of those referred to above. No matter how civil and approachable you might attempt to be, if these humans have judged you guilty of wrongthink, you had better prepare yourself for some less-than-PG language:

ward nutcase censored

These people are antithetical to everything that is important for progress on polarising subjects. They possess no shortage of outrage and zealotry. And despite the claim I would frequently hear among some of these ‘humanists’ of caring so much about mental health of others, they’re happy to wreck the lives of others if something on the internet offends them. Why else would phonecalls have been made to the university, demanding that Angelos be expelled for a simple tweet?

Aside from the above terrifying crackpots, Angelos takes the view that Humanists UK themselves behaved poorly, due to ideology… “despite their claims that they belong in an open-minded organisation which is driven by science and rational thinking, their actions have proven that, in certain cases, Humanists UK cannot avoid dogmatism.” Though I don’t know exactly what Angelos’ experiences were within the organisation at the time, my own past with Humanists UK leave me thinking otherwise. Their issue is not their dogmatic attachment to certain views, but rather a lack of real principles and committed positions. Humanists UK have long tried to be everything for everyone: a broad church where different views could be expressed, but where progressives could expect a safe-space styled bubble of conformity. A hub for debate and conversation, but so long as everyone largely agreed on what was being discussed.

Among both liberal and progressive acquaintances this caused no end of frustration, and the outcome is that Humanists UK manages to please no-one, alienating people from across the political spectrum. This is why many liberals left Humanists UK in the months that followed the Angelos Affair, and why Christopher Ward and various others ‘progressives’ made very public cancellations of their own memberships also. No doubt the delayed statement from Humanists UK at the time – which infuriated all involved – was partially thanks to their pondering on how best to please all sides (and failing once more).

It’s important to note that I’m not simply throwing in my lot with Angelos out of some partisan agreement with his retweet. If I have understood Angelos perspective correctly, I actually disagree with him fairly strongly. He feels that to identify as trans due to one’s perceived gendered behaviour is to reinforce stereotypes, and such stereotypes are harmful. On the other hand, I see many gender stereotypes as an unavoidable feature of our species, being neither malevolent nor benevolent (except where individuals are mistreated on the basis of stereotypes) and that gender identity is in part inherent. Then again, I could simply misunderstood Angelos’ opinions.

Which is exactly the point of having conversations on polarising subjects: in the event that I have misunderstood or misrepresented Angelos’ views, I would happily be corrected and would want him the fullest opportunity to set the record straight. And if we continued to disagree on a topic, it could be done in such a way as to be productive, and not drag one another (and our mental health) through the mud. It could also be done without our assuming the most base, hateful and ignorant motivations for each others opinions (See ‘Steelmanning’ from Daniel Dennett: https://conversion-rate-experts.com/steel-manning/ ). Angelos’ critics failed utterly in this regard: they felt they’d learned all they needed to know of his opinions, and his character, in 100 characters or less. Such is the norm of the ‘social justice’ twitter mob.

We are fortunate however to live in a society that broadly still values free expression, and where attempts to suppress only end up making voices louder. Angelos himself has since hosted a number of academics on his podcast (which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxpQepqu0dm0TS7yX8KNS8w?fbclid=IwAR36_CQMur30kzOE1wAhC8hceQ2AgD9EkmGZsgd1M7PVECjBgODRwfiQNnk ) and is swiftly approaching the conclusion of his PhD at York. He’s even published various articles in newspapers including, ironically, The Spectator, the source of the original article that had caused so much drama. All in all, thanks in part to the difficulties thrown Angelos’ way, life seems to be going better still: “I would like to take the opportunity to thank those who pushed me into depression because without them I wouldn’t be pursuing a PhD in this extremely interesting area of philosophy.”

Anyone wanting to find Angelos’ own account of his experiences can find it here:

https://www.newsintervention.com/sofocleous-jacobsen-2/?fbclid=IwAR1NDPriYcgiL17jEHPHzQyBX3F7u4M31W-g7JQJTWxuVM2bjojytKIifEI

Talking About Islam Without Being Eiynah

Talking About Islam Without Being Eiynah

Well written! A pity she changed so….

Concrete Milkshake

Since the appalling attack in Christchurch, New Zealand by a White Supremacist Anti-Muslim terrorist, public focus has refreshingly fallen upon the ideology of the attacker. There has been next to nothing of the usual dismissal of stated motive, concerns over potential backlash, or calls to consider the political grievances of this terrorist. Much scrutiny has also fallen upon the kind of remarks made by critics of Islam, and speculation has begun to take place as to whether such criticism played a part in prompting this devastating massacre.

Reluctant to miss an opportunity to disparage “movement atheism”, this has rather predictably become the topic of a new Life After God podcast hosted by atheist ex-Pastor Ryan Bell (@RyanJBell), and guested by ex-Muslim illustrator and podcast host in her own right, Eiynah Mohammed-Smith (@NiceMangos).

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Why the UK must stand with US protestors – Justice for George Floyd

Why the UK must stand with US protestors – Justice for George Floyd

(REBLOG) I feel some distinction ought to be made between protest and attacking private business – the state is at fault, and the state ought to pay the price. All the same, good to read!

Anger and Hope

Yet again, we’ve seen another black man killed by the US police force. In the unforgettable video which is no doubt forever imprinted on our minds, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of an unmoving George Floyd for nine minutes, protected by three fellow officers, while George Floyd calls out “I can’t breathe.” It is nigh-on impossible to watch the video without feeling you’ve watched the murder of an innocent man.

Since then, America has lit up – in many cases literally – with protests all across the country. Starting with Minneapolis, the scene of the crime, protests and riots have spread across America, from Richmond VA, the old capital of the Confederacy, to New York City and the White House. It’s impossible to avoid or unsee the videos of police squads shooting at, beating up and arresting anyone they see fit, whether they’re journalists with press…

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On Being Wrong and Sargon of Akkad

sargon of akkad carl benjamin

 

Part of this blog focuses on being open to different ideas, and the importance of being able to discuss issues honestly with others. Obviously there would be little point to arguing as much unless I went out of my way to practice what I preach, and to that end I thought it worthwhile detailing an occasion where conversation succeeded in changing my mind.

 

Specifically, I was in conversation with a friend to whom I was complaining about Kate Smurthwaite. For those of you fortunate enough to not know of Smurthwaite, she is a cringe-worthy comedian that reeks of entitlement and snobbery (In my humble opinion) who I detest for a number of reasons. I was caught up in detailing the reasons for this loathing when my friend stopped me in my tracks: “I understand your criticisms” they said, “but why do you not hold others to the same standards as her?”

 

At first I was surprised and defensive, as I generally feel myself to be a fair and consistent person. But the more I listened, and the more I considered their points in my own time, the more their overall point stuck. I was forced to conclude the following: that I had been wrong to be so forgiving of ‘Sargon of Akkad’ (AKA Carl Benjamin) and Milo Yiannopolis, among others, while being so judging of Smurthwaite and others.

 

Carl Benjamin and Milo Yiannopolis were some of my first exposures to popular criticisms of the political (especially student) left, and I was a long-time subscriber to the former. Even though I frequently disagreed with things that they said and did (Carl’s woeful Brexiteer videos and Milo’s… well, many things), I often downplayed or dismissed these things because, on subjects that I really cared about and that they seemed to champion, they often spoke my language and made the sorts of points that I had struggled to voice with confidence in my own conversations. This is how I initially developed a positive association with them.

 

Eventually their behaviour (including Carl’s rape tweets and UKIP interest, and Milo’s own actions) shone a light on their shortcomings and hypocrisies. In fairness I suspect that Carl changed for the worse and lost perspective as his fame grew, and he shifted to the right in order to maintain his now distinctly anti-left audience, but whatever the reason for their views, they came to stand for and with much that I could not excuse. I had moved on and no longer volunteered them any respect. Or so I thought.

 

While some (some!) of my past apologetics for them was a mistake in its own right, it was after my dismissing them that I made a mistake that I was unaware of.
Even after my interest waned and my disgust with them grew, I remained far too comfortable dismissing or downplaying their significant shortcomings: as an example, I greeted the re-emergence of Carl on my social media via his bad press with some non-committal head shaking and soft criticisms, but little more despite the serious gulf that had opened between his values and mine. Conversely I’ve often agreed with Kate Smurthwaite on a number of issues, but only grudgingly, instead focusing on her (numerous) shortcomings, and immediately returning to what makes her ‘bad’ to my mind. Essentially, even though I had distanced my thoughts from Carl Benjamin and Milo Yiannopolis long ago, they still reserved an undeserved space for attention and respect in the back of my mind, while others like Smurthwaite reserved only a position of ire. I can find no justification for this clear double-standard.

 

This is not to say that I’ve come to disagree with their every opinion, since I feel that many of the points that both Carl Benjamin and Milo make are still fair (in fact Sargon’s earliest videos, which were narrow in scope and generally limited to critiques, remain entertaining for me). But there are better quality thinkers – better quality human beings – than these individuals available to support in the ‘culture wars’ (Christina Hoff-Summers, Warren Farrell and Sam Harris to name a few) and a tribalist approach of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is a sure way of finding oneself on the wrong side of history.

 

Every person ought to be judged by the same standard as any other; this I have always believed. But it wasn’t until my conversation with a friend that I realised how singularly I had failed to make this a reality. And this is the worth of conversation – it is a simple yet effective means of filtering and finding fault with one’s own thoughts, even for someone like myself that tries (and evidently fails) to base their opinions on careful consideration of the evidence and tries to give everyone equal access to the benefit of the doubt. Simply thanks to a chat, I have the chance to take this failure on board, and improve as both a thinker and a person.

 

Whether it’s regarding the merits of modern feminist movements, religion or other sensitive subjects, one can find countless examples of failures of conversation on social media. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of vile interactions with people that otherwise could have been simple disagreements, or even fruitful exchanges. And any time you (or I) resist that nagging feeling that an interlocutor may have a point, or decide to instead virtue signal or ‘mic drop’, you are denying yourself the opportunity to improve your opinions for the sake of a few social brownie points. Take the advice of someone that’s doubtless wrong quite frequently: challenge yourself to be wrong about something, for your own benefit.

Mr D and the ‘Global Transexual Conspiracy’

Mr D and the ‘Global Transexual Conspiracy’

 

A little backstory. In the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with a few childhood friends and, with them, re-engage with my chosen pastime: video gaming. In doing so, I also managed to reconnect with an individual that I shall refer to only as Mr D. D had always been a little eccentric, whether it was his sometimes childish gullibility or outright inability to avoid drawing unwanted attention to himself; he had been the victim of persistent bullying at our school, and I was curious to learn where his life had gone over the last few years. I was told that he ran a successful YouTube channel, with which he tried to “enlighten” others and “free their minds”.

 

Imagine my surprise (if you truly can) when it turned out that the channel was dedicated to ‘exposing’ celebrities as secret transsexuals, the agents of a global transsexual agenda to maliciously transform and confuse society. Following a fair bit of conversation and not a little exasperation, I yielded to my urge to write this, not merely to publicise, but to seek advice on what to do.

 

It’s difficult to give an adequate rendition of his views as they are at times incomprehensible, and poorly fleshed out. But from what I can actually comprehend, his opinions are as follows:

 

Everything, from the game of chess to TV shows and the celebrities we see, is part of a transsexual agenda to mislead the populace regarding what is ‘normal’. Every tool is being utilised to encourage the population to forget the realities of masculinity and femininity. People are given hormones at all stages of their life to confuse and misgender the population, especially using foods that encourage sex hormones to the extent that they change the build and behaviour of their consumers. All this is orchestrated by the ‘elite’ who are literally “transgendering children in the womb” and ensure that we receive significant amounts of hormones to change us at birth. There is no need to refer to professionals for any justification of these assertions; he doesn’t need a scientist for facts, he tells me, because he can work these things out for himself. Besides, people in such positions are usually trans themselves, having been promoted to help conceal the lie and spread misinformation.

 

“Mate, go on google now” I have been told, “all square skulls are male, women have oval shaped ones, [these people] are tranny freaks”. He means this as literally and earnestly as imaginable, and even provided helpful diagrams to demonstrate (one of which can be seen in this article’s thumbnail, and which are scattered throughout his videos).

 

He even believes that the names of celebrities allude to their transsexuality:

 

“Nicole KidMAN

Natalie PortMAN

Courtney COX

Kelly ClarkSON

Sarah SilverMAN

Julia ROBERTs”.

 

He is not joking. He genuinely believes this. I am 100% serious.

 

My feelings on this are a curious blend of fascination, revulsion and sorrow. It is intriguing to witness this level of confusion in a fellow human being, to see just how susceptible we are to fantastical beliefs given the right circumstances. True, D had been vulnerable and perhaps ill-equipped for the misinformation one can so easily come across on the internet, but he had never been a bad person. It is sad to see what time can do to someone that once seemed so harmless.

 

As for how he came to believe as he does, there are a number of factors to consider. First and foremost, D had always struggled to understand people and the world around him, and I believe that some inherent difference in how he thinks is the likely cause of this. However, this was exaggerated by his lack of social interaction and general isolation, even moreso since he left school. Without a good basic grasp of ‘people’, D has been left to comprehend society for himself, and – with the internet’s help – he has reached his disturbing conclusions.

 

Furthermore, it may come as no surprise to some readers that D was the unlucky recipient of a conservative religious upbringing. If anything could have left D more ill-prepared for critical thinking and understanding the people around him, it would have been this.

 

My last thought is likely the most important though, and the most troubling: there is decent chance that D himself is trans or (more likely) gay, and his obsession with the subject comes as a means of dealing with his confusing feelings and identity. Judging by some odd comments he has made about men in drag (among others), he may well feel some attraction to men, but justifies it by arguing that the men are in fact women – thus, being attracted to them is not ‘gay’, but is ‘straight’ behaviour. Couple this with the Christian (read: possibly homophobic) upbringing, and perhaps the dots begin to connect.

 

Now to the key question. I have established that D is paranoid, that he is determined to get the ‘truth’ out there. His views are incredible. His reasonings are almost non-existent. His own identity is in question. But what – if anything – could I or anyone do to change this? It would be easy to simply write him off as a ‘looney’ and leave him to his fate as one, but I am fully committed to believing that this individual can be a better person. I believe that they can be helped, and become a positive impact on the world. And especially if D is in fact gay or trans, I want above all to help him acknowledge reality, and come to terms with who he is.

 

If anyone has ever dealt with someone like this before, or knows of anyone or anything that could help, I would ask that you leave a comment or message me directly. Thank you for reading.

 

Note: His channel for reference – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8P42cmqsetX4zfxAj0jl5w

My Heart Breaks for Oxfam

My Heart Breaks for Oxfam

(Above: A world map highlighting all countries in which Oxfam was active in 2009).

Rather than a careful and collected, reference-heavy piece of writing, the following constitutes more of a ramble than anything else. It is however an important ramble, on a subject that I feel I have to ramble on. And I would highly appreciate a little patience in its being read.

I cannot speak of the behaviour of Oxfam representatives in Haiti in 2011 in any detail: I don’t know enough of the facts, nor do I really know enough of the measures taken by Oxfam when their behaviour became apparent. In all likelihood, the full extent of their behaviour and the shortcomings or successes of Oxfam’s response will never be fully agreed on.

There are two things that I can speak of, however: the very real and unfair impact of the still-raging media firestorm on Oxfam’s activities, and my own experiences as an Oxfam volunteer.

Multiple Oxfam Ambassadors have already opted to leave Oxfam in the wake of the recent scandal, including Minnie Driver and, more recently, Desmond Tutu. These are serious blows to the organisation. Some media outlets have even taken the time to name as many famous Oxfam Ambassadors as possible, providing some sort of malevolent reference resource for the curious (https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5574756/oxfam-ambassadors-desmond-tutu-minnie-driver-bonnie-wright/). What purpose could such an article serve, other than simply to pressure more people to abandon the charity? I am truly convinced that elements of the media have been more concerned with fishing for shocking stories (no big surprise in the age of click-bait) than scouring for reliable content. I am told by one manager for example than journalists have even begun turning up at random shops, seeking to question volunteers.

This is not to absolve Oxfam of any guilt, since as I have already said, I cannot speak to the scandal itself, nor do I believe any organisation should be above scrutiny. But the net result of such articles and the media’s general response to this scandal has not simply been to pressure Oxfam to higher standards in future: it has been to ensure that people suffer.

Multiple people have already told me that they’ll never again consider giving to Oxfam (or indeed, any charity) in the wake of the revelations still coming to light. And just as Oxfam Ambassadors are choosing to leave the charity, so too is this reflected in Oxfam donors more widely. Without the much needed support from these people that Oxfam relies on, its power as a charity to help people in need will suffer. At present, Oxfam is active in over 90 countries, helping secure educations and careers for thousands of men and women in the third world, while simultaneously providing aid to disasters all over the globe: can this be expected to continue? With an impending review of its relationship with the UK government looming (http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/10/government-review-oxfam-relationship-haiti-sex-allegations-7301610/), all is horrifyingly uncertain.

Furthermore, even by the admissions of a senior Oxfam whistle-blower, the management of staff behaviour and investigations of allegations were hampered significantly by limited resources (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUJ–w7nTww). It is extremely upsetting therefore, to know that the fallout of these accusations may be to further limit these resources.

No, appropriate measures may not have been taken. Yes, the charity could have done more. But to abandon the entire organisation, to discredit and demonise the efforts of over 30,000 people because of the failings of a small minority makes no sense. And it is incredibly painful to watch support for the charity slip away, day by day in real time, knowing that its ability to help those in need will suffer. Even unrelated charities are being negatively impacted, for Christ sake!

I have been an Oxfam volunteer for well over a year at this point. And I have never, in my entire life, met a more conscientious and caring collection of people, and neither have I ever been made to feel more welcomed and appreciated by an organisation. I have volunteered for organisations and worked for charities where I have been made to feel like shit, due to the behaviour of their members. But my exposure to the atmosphere within Oxfam – limited though it may be – has proved to be an unequalled breath of fresh air.

All staff have inundated with information and openness from Oxfam regarding events, and it is clear that at all levels – from humble volunteers to regional directors– the organisation has been shaken. And my heart truly aches to see such a worthwhile collection of people suffer the short end of the stick, not to mention the people worldwide that will no longer receive such incredible support.

I would urge people to focus on the incredible work of the charity at large, and the admirable efforts of the majority of its staff, rather than judge the whole on the sins of the minority. Many thanks.

https://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate

Male ‘Privilege’: A Reality Check

Male ‘Privilege’: A Reality Check

First I want to briefly cover reactions to my previous piece, which examined the concept of Feminism as synonymous with equality (a truly marvellous piece which, if you haven’t already, you should definitely go and read). It seems that some persons are more attached to the label of ‘Feminist’ than to the actual principles of believing in and agitating for gender equality, which only goes to reinforce the point of the piece. One would have expected some level of contentedness regarding my views due to my believing in gender equality (if indeed equality were the heart and soul of Feminism) but alas this seemed not to be the case. I had even included a graph which demonstrated, if indeed Feminism were simply about equality, how much of a Feminist I am, but still this was not enough. I shan’t digress on the matter any further.

For the most part though, reactions to the piece were both pleasant and reasonable. Even among those that disagreed, most were kind enough to be both amicable and informative in terms of their disagreements, which tended to rest upon one central point: that woman are indeed still significantly disadvantaged in the western world today. This piece is the promised follow-up regarding that point of view, with which I disagree muchly; it is not the case that women in the West (primarily I am speaking about the UK and USA) are significantly more disadvantaged than men. For some of you reading, the idea that women aren’t oppressed in the UK and elsewhere in the West is laughable, and perhaps even infuriating. But for many others, the opposite view is regarded with equal scepticism. This is my attempt to clarify and explain the latter viewpoint.

In order to approach this without writing the single longest thing in the history of the internet, I’m splitting my reproachment into multiple parts; there are just too many areas of this issue that I would like to address for a single piece. Here, I want to jump head-first into the topic in perhaps an odd location: men’s issues, and the idea of the inherent ‘privilege’ in being a man. Part of the concept of women’s oppression and marginalisation in the Western World rests on the idea that men simply have a better time in society than do women, and this is a plain misconception.

Take for example employment inequality. It certainly is the case that men dominate top positions in major companies, and are the majority in a host of other highly respected and well paid positions. References to the glass ceiling faced by women are commonplace among those that cite women as simply being worse-off than men, and campaigners and activists on this topic rarely fail to highlight this blatant disparity.

However, this issue is being approached in a way that is typical when it comes to gender politics, and identity politics more widely: in such a way as to neatly chop and package the relevant slices of inequality one is concerned with highlighting. In this example, only the higher end of the societal ladder is being examined. Campaigns for gender equality in employment revolve around the want for more female CEO’s and highly successful businesswomen of all sorts, while ignoring that men also dominate the lowliest of jobs, ranging from Masons to Mine Workers and Builders.

Just pause to consider this for a moment. There exist movements and drives to improve the lot of a group that typically avoid the worst jobs society has to offer, movements which demand that this fairly fortunate section of society be entitled to the most comfortable and desirable jobs. Does this strike no-one as outright bizarre? Sections of society see boardrooms of men, and reason that this is unacceptable: they see streets being swept by men, or sewage being cleared by men, and not an eyelid is batted.

In my own experience, this speaks to the often middle-class and ironically privileged nature of those making the demands: growing up in a working-class household, with a father that works manual labour and feels real pain for a living, and a mother that works easy hours in a easy job by comparison, it wasn’t hard for me to note some degree of inequality between the two, and I saw this dichotomy played out in the parents of countless others from working-class backgrounds. Had I grown up in a middle-class household with at least one parent being a highly-paid professional – and statistically, this would likely be my father – perhaps I too would have been left feeling that women are disadvantaged when thinking of the workplace. After all, why should my mother only earn 40k per annum when father earns 55?

On top of occupying the least desirable jobs in society, the risks men run in doing their jobs should alone give workplace equality activists second thoughts in prioritizing women’s issues. Men are far more likely to sustain serious injuries, and overwhelmingly more likely to die, in the course of their employment than women (men account for around 97% of all workplace fatalities). To refer again to my own upbringing, if my father were to return home from work without bleeding hands, this could generally be considered a good day at work. His shoulders and back suffer recurring strains and pains, and the top of his head is marked and scarred in various places, while some fingers no longer straightens as they should and once did. It is difficult to see this hardship on a day-to-day basis for years on end, and conclude – especially having looked at the wider statistics – that men are simply ‘privileged’ when it comes to the workplace.

Homelessness too is a men’s issue far more than it is a women’s, and so is the indignity of imprisonment: three in every four of the homeless are men, while men are overwhelmingly the majority of the prison population in both the UK and the US. In the West, poverty and the lack of prospects that comes with a criminal background are problems faced largely by men, and not the other way around. Indeed, there is even evidence to suggest that men in some western countries are given harsher sentences than women for same crimes. Note that this disparity is even greater than the black-white disparity in sentencing in the US, though if I am honest, I’m personally somewhat sceptical regarding the methodologies involved in both these studies.

As ever, for some the issues of one gender simply trump those of the other, no matter the statistics relevant to the topic at hand:

1 in 4 homeless women

Pictured: An odd way of saying “three in four homeless are men”.

 

As though not bad enough, these figures coincide with a greater likelihood for men to take their own lives. I am personally appalled by the number of men I’ve met and know who have at the least considered taking their own lives, and it is stunning to think that the lead cause of death among men my own age in the UK is suicide, while the disparity between women and men in this regard has only grown in recent decades. And the rush for a release from the mortal coil among men isn’t limited to self destruction. Men also have the pleasure of dying around 4 years earlier on average than women.

The experiences of many of these men during their lives are unenviable no matter their longevity. Divorce courts and child custody laws as they currently exist, in societies where marriages too often end in failure, serve to deprive men of their possessions and fathers of their children. In some countries entire organisations have campaigned against default shared custody with little public outcry (see previous entry on this subject), and around a quarter of children in the UK are currently raised in single parent households, typically with their mothers (though not in all instances is this simply men being prevented from seeing their children, of course).

Despite the various points and references above – which I am by no means being original in compiling – the concept of men as victims is usually approached as a marginal issue at best and laughable one at worst, with even British politicians somehow failing to know better than to snort at the notion. As radical a position as it may be, I feel that there is little amusing in men being the primary victims of violence and of murder, and even though around a third of domestic abuse victims are men, the issue is approached by charities and authorities as though virtually non-existent: As of 2015 around 7500 refuge spaces were available for women who were victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales, while men possessed a whopping… 60. That a third of abuse victims would be allocated less than 1% of available refuge spaces, essentially on the grounds of their differing gender, should serve to shock and disgust any right-minded reader.

Despite all of the above, some people genuinely seem to believe that men simply have a much, much better time of life than women, especially considering the gender disparity in politics:

they genuinely believe that since men dominate politics in the US, UK, etc, and since men dominate the most influential and desirable jobs in society, men therefore possess privileged representation, influence and power. The thinking behind this style of idea it so clearly flawed that it shouldn’t really require reproachment, but I’ll do so regardless: what is actually important is not shared identity, but ideas. Consider Bernie Sanders and Sarah Palin: who is to be trusted with women’s reproductive rights? The conservative pro-life Christian woman, or the pro-choice ‘stale pale male’? This should take you all of two seconds to answer. Jacob Rees-Mogg does not go home after a quick speech in parliament and contemplate how he can further his gendered agenda. Most likely, he considers how to benefit his friends and other well-to-do conservatives. If anything, the male domination of the worst jobs in society serves to demonstrate the lack of advantages that the male domination of the best jobs in society confers on them.

I am also uninterested in historical discrimination and privileges unless these clearly translate into present ones. The notion that somehow, by virtue of the historical privileges they once possessed and by virtue of ‘fellow men’ being in politics and business, privilege inevitably trickles down to the average man, is no more a sensible idea than when Republican Senators argue the same of wealth in the United States.

I have already occupied too much of your precious time with the length of this article. The point I am trying to make is quite simple, so I’ll put it clearly just for the sake of memory: The idea that men – who live shorter lives, work longer hours, who are more frequently the victims of violent crimes, who sustain more injuries and far more fatalities while working the most undesirable jobs in society – possess a position of eminent privilege compared to women in the West, is nonsense. To quote Christina Hoff Summers: “Men have to be the only oppressor class in history who are less educated, more victimized and have shorter lives than those they oppress, and who claim society’s most gritty and dangerous jobs as their exclusive preserve.”

Please note that I am not suggesting that women’s issues do not exist and shouldn’t be taken seriously. The fight for reproductive rights in the US and elsewhere continues, and the categorisation of tampons as ‘luxury items’ is a clear instance of injustice, without even needing to discuss the depths to which casual misogyny and objectification can sink. Among certain groups, the term oppression may even be well suited to the treatment of women on religious and cultural grounds. I am advocating merely that issues of gender be approached proportionally and with men’s issues in mind too.

Nor am I saying that men are in fact the disadvantaged gender in Western societies. Instead, I am simply pointing out that what ‘men’ as a collective possess is not ‘privilege’: it is ‘variation’. They are the majority of successful careerists and unsuccessful criminals, street cleaners and CEO’s, and this indisputable fact simply isn’t recognised all too often. It is too easy to point at the tip of the societal iceberg and claim ice to occupy all the high places, but there is a lot to see concealed beneath the waves, too.

A last thought – I shall be doing MOVEMBER this month, and sporting the most sporting of moustaches for the sake of men’s health. If you would be so kind as to consider donating even just a little spare change, it would be a tremendous help. Here is the link, and many thanks in advance.

 

In defense of Sam Harris

The wonderful Jerry Coyne, as fair as always. Enjoy!

Why Evolution Is True

Over at Quillette, Jeff Tayler, late of Salon, has written an eloquent and well documented essay: “Free speech and Islam—in defense of Sam Harris.

I’ve often written about the unconscionable and undeserved criticism, and even hatred, that Sam Harris gets—and not just from religious people! It’s often the nonbelievers and secularists who heap the most opprobrium on him: for supposedly being “Islamophobic,” for supposedly advocating “racial profiling” and torture, for supposedly advocating nuclear first strikes on Muslim nations, and even for daring to suggest that moral judgments may be “objective.”

I say “supposedly” in the last sentence because if there’s anything that characterizes the nastiest criticisms of Sam Harris, it’s that more often than not they’re based on either misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation of his claims. Most of us know this, but few people who engage in Harris-bashing bother to go back and read what he actually said. It’s just…

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Feminism? What’s That?

Feminism? What’s That?

Oh dear, the hottest of hot progressive topics. Dare I – a shamefully male, woefully pale, straight, cis-gendered, testicular tyrant – be so bold as to enquire about Feminism, and on the internet of all places!?

I’ve been wanting to approach this topic for some time now, but wasn’t really sure how I’d begin. There is so much that intrigues me about modern, first-world Feminism that choosing any one specific issue would feel too much like drawing a straw. But then it occurred to me that most conversations with others on this topic seem to collapse inevitably onto the following question: what even is Feminism?

Take my results on the following test for example:

feminism test

The four different forms of Feminism on display are, according to the given definitions, largely incompatible; they possess subtly differing origins, they believe different things, view society in different ways, and offer different solutions. I wholly recommend having a go yourselves. Please share the results, and state whether or not you regard yourself as a Feminist – perhaps I’ll make an interesting discovery, and make a graph or something… http://www.celebritytypes.com/feminism-5/result.php?trad=52&lib=87&radic=24&marx=35&cult=28 .

Add a healthy dose of unintended humour for good measure:

feminist vegan blanked

…and it quickly becomes clear that the term is used by a variety of people to refer to a mixture of different things. Hence the need to try and uncover some common meaning.

But despite how clearly malleable the term is, I have often found the question of Feminism’s meaning met with raised eyebrows and incredulous glances when asked. The usual reply (though inevitably only from Feminists) is that Feminism is about fighting for equality. “Do you believe in equality? Well, then you are a Feminist!” The point of this piece is to try and demonstrate that this idea – or as it comes across to me, this apparent mantra – is essentially unjustified, as by few reasonable means of defining a term or movement can this be evidenced as the case.

“But Mr. WorrisomeMemes!” I hear you cry, “How do you define anything?!” Without going too far down this route, I do recognise the difficulty of conclusively defining terms. This is why I am trying to demonstrate that, even using a wide range of means, one cannot comfortably reach the conclusion of Feminism simply meaning equality.

Take definition by popular opinion for example. I always manage a private chuckle when people accuse me of contrarianism regarding Feminism, as it is therein imagined that my opinion is that of a strange minority. To the contrary, the majority of both Americans and Brits fail to identify as Feminists (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/only-7-per-cent-of-britons-consider-themselves-feminists/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html ) consistently from poll to poll, despite consistently supporting gender equality. This is true often even of women (https://today.yougov.com/news/2016/02/23/less-than-third-women-feminists/). Oddly enough, this would put the Feminist with whom I speak in a fairly clear minority (which I must admit, is a satisfying thought).

Not that popular opinion is the sole, reliable means of understanding social movements or defining things. Would it instead help if I, as I am often told to do, consulted the dictionary? Indeed, one of the articles linked above does so, in an effort to dismiss the unflattering polls. And the author discovers that Feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. Case closed? In actual fact, the author decides to provide only one of the two offered definitions (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism ), the given one of which happens to reinforce their own beliefs regarding Feminism. The second definition – “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests” – can be outright incompatible with the first. After all, how can one hope to bridge the divide between the two genders strictly via the examination and rectification of the issues of only one, and reach an equitable outcome? Would the second definition really leave Feminism in the position of being an equality movement, or a lobbying one?

Some would argue that the two definitions are in practice synonymous by virtue of women’s marginalised positions in society. Before approaching this, I’m going to pre-empt some predictable incoming criticisms by saying that yes, women still possess a wholly unequal proportion of the worlds wealth. Yes, there are countries abound wherein women are still considered the property of men. Yes, women are routinely kept from engaging in sport, politics and education globally. Etc. Yes, I am aware. This post is meant to focus specifically on the Feminist movements native to the Western World in general, and more specifically those relevant to the US and UK. And in this context, when others speak of the supposed societal marginalisation of women, I am forced  (after many long years of thoughtful consideration) to reply “tosh”. If you wish to attack me on this point, please feel free to subscribe so that you can revisit my blog when I write on this point, as I shan’t elaborate on it here.

Moving on, we could turn to the opinions of both Feminist proponents and opponents, and it is here that things actually become interesting (apologies, dear reader). One might not be surprised to find that critics of Feminism consistently attack Feminism as some sort of supremacy movement, for not acting on mens issues, even for outright misandry. Critics from the now notorious Milo Yiannopolis to Karen Straughan (the most subscribed-to MRA on youtube – fun fact) make these points time and again. And yet, when one turns to the views of Feminists figures themselves, too little is evident to rebuke these points. How can one simply conclude for example, when presented with Julie Bindel’s advocacy for Political Lesbianism (yes, that is a real thing – 6:10, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCRohDqWDcw ) that Feminism doesn’t ever really take issue with men? Or take this clip from Germaine Greer, wherein she states “Women are mean to each other because they are forced to identify with their male family” (6:25, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-7yoV2eaFo ) – does this statement not simply scream that, if there is an issue, its inevitably men’s fault? Even when trying to define Feminism herself, the forty-odd year Feminist veteran cannot bring herself to cite equality, instead choosing not to define it at all (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1WFOoOGKaU ). Regarding her own activism, she identifies not as an ‘Equality Feminist’, but proudly as a ‘Liberation Feminist’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmsKdL-2vTA ). Does this seriously suggest an obvious and integral relationship with equality? Would one genuinely not raise an eyebrow to a Libertarian that took pains to distance themselves from ‘Liberty Libertarianism’?

These people are decades active, nationally and internationally recognised and published Feminist campaigners, and their opinions are taken seriously. These few clips and sources certainly aren’t enough to settle that Feminism is inherently about inequality, but they should be enough to mar the notion of its inherent equality.

Even looking at the history of Feminism, it is somewhat questionable to simply insist that Feminism equates equality (though I think it would be fair to say this is my weakest area of argument). Without question the further back in history one travels, the greater the need for women’s advocacy in Europe and elsewhere, and as a result ‘Feminist’ activity historically has in practice been egalitarian. And yet at the current height of women’s rights and freedoms in the West, Feminism shows no sign of slowing, and is in fact more popular than ever; there is little correlation to be drawn between its popularity and women’s societal progress, which one would expect from a equality-centred movement. The common thread throughout has instead been women’s advocacy, not merely women’s equality. In addition, another common thread would be the unfortunate attitude towards men from Feminists throughout: The Women’s Political and Social Union of the early 20th century neglecting to allow men to join their organisation (Rosemary Rees, Britain 1890-1939, page 47), the Radical Feminism of the 1960’s and onwards, and the current resistance of the National Organisation for Women – the single largest Feminist organisation in the US – to shared child custody (https://www.avoiceformen.com/mens-rights/opposing-shared-parenting-the-feminist-track-record/). These things do not speak of equality.

It is worth noting that too often when defending Feminism as equality, Feminists themselves are, whether consciously or not, using a motte-and-bailey style fallacious defence of their beliefs (briefly, the motte is an easily defended perception of an idea which is suggested to be the entirety of it, when in reality there are additional tenets that are more easily attacked, constituting the bailey. Give it a google!) The motte is the respectable idea of Feminism as equality, which is very difficult to criticize, while the bailey could include any number of personal additions to the concept, including belief in rape culture, widespread intersectional oppression, Gender Feminism, etc. One must note the moving goalposts in conversations on this topic.

I am not arguing that Feminism must necessarily be about inequality, or misandry or anything else. But the basic notion of Feminism simply and unequivocally as equality is nonsense, and should be dismissed by thinking people. As a result, I think I’ll go the less tribal route, and continue to behave and identify as an egalitarian. Thanks.

 

[EDIT: As others have pointed out, I could easily have included more Feminist thinkers, from Valerie Solanas to Bell Hooks to Robin Morgan, in my point on the views of Feminist proponents, but this was unnecessary.  The point – that well respected and widely recognised Feminists do not seem to advocate equality, yet are acknowledged as Feminists regardless – was made, and remains made.

Also, it occurred to me that I’d neglected another means of trying to understand the meaning of a word/term – the actual construction of the term itself. A movement or series of movements concerned with equality would be unlikely to align itself in some partisan manner with any one demographic, and, one would imagine, would attempt to remain as inclusive as possible. And yet, the term ‘Feminism’ is prefixed with ‘Fem’, denoting special concern for the female or feminine. Yes, this is partially as a result of the historical context of the term’s origin, but it presents a problem regardless when one can as easy adopt the label of egalitarian (from the French ‘égal’, meaning ‘equal’) or even other labels, and avoid all ambiguity.]

Mashal Khan: his Death and his Voice

Mashal Khan: his Death and his Voice

(Pictured Above: States affiliated with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The organisation has campaigned relentlessly for worldwide blasphemy laws, and many of its 57 member states possesses such laws of their own.)

 

A young man in the prime of his life was recently unfortunate enough to attract the irate attention of his fellow students at Abdul Wali Khan University in Pakistan, due to his unflattering social media posts regarding religion. For many of us the experience of sharing opinions online, only to have them received negatively and angrily by others, isn’t exactly anything new, nor is it really worth more than a raised eyebrow and awkward conversation. Personally, I make a habit of talking to people about contentious issues, but regret can still come through at times. Mashal Khan however did not even live to regret his online choice of words. His body was left beaten and bloodied on campus, battered with bricks and boards, and with a gunshot wound to the head. Footage of the aftermath can even be found online, though I shan’t link it here as I’ve not the stomach for it.

 

Now I have a question for you, dear reader: how easily can you imagine a world wherein you – yes, you personally – could be killed at any moment, set upon by colleagues or acquaintances, merely by virtue of your opinions, or even a rumour regarding your opinions? Your most powerful feeling should be of terror, followed by helplessness.  Could you imagine what form of dystopia this world would be?

 

This is the real world in which millions of people today live, in Pakistan and beyond. Harsh blasphemy laws exist still in myriad countries from Morocco to Bangladesh, and it is no wonder that so many people – from Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, to Imad Iddine Habib, to Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali – are forced to live abroad for fear of the retribution they would suffer at home merely for disagreeing. And this is to say nothing of the horrors of targeted killings and mob justice. A society in which we are free, socially and legally, to voice our opinions, is one to be cherished. This is why people worldwide took to the streets to stand with Charlie Hebdo in 2015, holding pens and pencils proudly aloft. This is also why many of those named above came to live in the UK and US. And it is why it is only right that we resist attempts to curtail freedom of expression and demands for blasphemy laws here in the UK and elsewhere.

 

This is also why those who would seek to defend groups they regard as the meek and defenceless from ‘harmful’ speech or ‘offensive’ acts, especially those on the political left, ought to pause and reflect on their chosen causes. Take as an example the recent behaviour of National Union of Students VP, Shelly Asquith. She recently claimed to her numerable Twitter followers that the University of Westminster was busy shredding copies of the Qur’an, in some mindlessly savage act of discrimination and hatred (and in collaboration with PREVENT). After careful investigation (which is to say, someone actually contacting the university) it became clear that this story was far removed from the truth. So, what did Asquith achieve from sharing her rendition of this event, her attempt to weaponize public outcry? She successfully lent succour to the narratives of extremist groups such as CAGE, and helped reinforce an air of mistrust between Muslims and others. All via spreading – and as of this moment, sticking to – pure misinformation.

 

This is the bizarre reality in which we live: In Pakistan, young Mashal was dragged from his room by the mob, and lost his life – as have so many others – because he wasn’t respectful enough about religion for the liking of others. And yet in this same reality, supposed liberals and ‘progressives’ on the other side of the world, as typified by Shelly Asquith, would demonise those that fail to be respectful enough towards some of the world’s largest and most powerful religions. The correct, moral and forward-thinking position is, apparently, to side with some of the most violent and regressive ideologues currently known.

 

It can only be by way of profound ignorance and stunning double-think that Asquith and others can believe that one must as a rule respect or even venerate what others venerate, and can believe that buttressing an air of suspicion and perceptions of persecution are the correct ways to achieve this. In fighting on the side of the religiously conservative (and worse) they make conversation all the more difficult, and in fact endanger some of the most vulnerable. Indeed, spreading rumours and siding with the oppressive on this topic genuinely has the power to get people killed.

shelly pakistan death tweet photo done

And threats of this sort are not something alien to London universities.

 

When asylum seekers such as Imad Habib claim to have been “betrayed by both East and West”, they are pointing out the failures of both their own communities and western liberals, and they ought to take notice. And the latter group, despite their relative freedoms to act such pleas for aid, are deaf to the issues of such as Habib. Freethinkers and others, the “minorities within minorities” as it is put by Maajid Nawaz, are the only meek and defenceless minorities for whom much of the left seem not to have time. They are overly sensitive to the demands of some, but outright dismissive of the rights of such as Habib. And the rights of such as Khan.

 

Such liberals as Asquith, and others, simply do not appreciate what it means to able to speak one’s mind, and more to the point, certainly don’t appreciate the implications and dangers of prohibited and controlled opinion. Their condemnations of others for imaginary crimes such as ‘desecration’ and the capital offence of causing offence, play into the hands of extremists and zealots, the reality of which they are utterly oblivious to. In the words of Hirsi Ali, “You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom because you don’t know what it is not to have freedom.”

 

One should appreciate what one has, but be under no illusions and avoid complacency. You (yes, again, you personally) in this age and this place, with your freedoms and securities, are one of the luckiest people to have ever lived. I say this with no exaggeration. You have rights and safeties beyond what many could have ever imagined, but they are precious and begrudged by some. As recent events in Turkey have demonstrated, no nation is immune to the ever-present dangers of censorship and Fascism. To use your rights is to defend them: refuse to be browbeaten from saying what you believe, respect only that which you deem worthy of it, and speak regardless of wider opinion, or better yet, in spite of it.

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Mashal Khan, quoting MLK.