Sunday, February 1, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Freedom to, Freedom from, and the Freedom to be Offensive

Hello, Internet!  Hope you're all having a lovely day in some non war-torn country right now.  If you are in fact in some war-torn country then congratulations on getting a stable connection.  Today, we're going to talk about freedom, specifically that of the press, something that the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo and some of the responses suggest people don't really understand.
In the wake of the attack, there has been a surge of support for Hebdo.  Personally, I say this is a sign that as a global culture we're doing well.  Some of my colleagues disagree.  According to them, Charlie Hebdo should have been more culturally sensitive and not published the image of the prophet  in the first place.  This seems harmless enough; we can all agree that being offensive is generally to be avoided as a matter of common courtesy.  However, that isn't their point.  Their point is that it shouldn't be allowed.  And that, my friends, is how the Orwellian nightmare state starts.  You see, part of the importance of satire is making people think about things that they otherwise took as a given or never even noticed.  You know what the fastest way to do that is?  Offend them.  Call attention to the issue by making it a point of contention.  You're always going to offend someone with everything you say, so use that.  Freedom of the press is the freedom to say things knowing that you won't be prosecuted for offending someone powerful, and freedom from reprisal by angry mobs.  It is, in short, the freedom to be offensive without fearing for your life.  It is not possible to have a free press without the freedom to offend.  As to the people who say that it's about cultural sensitivity: Where does it stop?  Where do we draw the line about how many people have to be offended before it becomes out of bounds?  The answer will always be one, specifically the one who's writing the laws.  Political correctness is a lovely idea in theory, but in practice it turns into a way to shackle ourselves.  Enforced censorship chafes and draws resistance.  It breeds resentment, underground back-channel media, and eventually rebellion.  But how much easier is it for "them" to get us to put the chains on ourselves?  How much easier would it be to put in place legislation we cry out for to make us safe than to ram it down the throats of an unwilling populace?  How much more enforceable does state-sponsored politically correct thought become when the culture as a whole does the enforcement, when those who refuse to follow the rules are not celebrated underdogs but socially scorned for not keeping up with the times?  We won't lose our freedom when it gets stripped away at gunpoint.  We'll lose it when through a thousand petty little nanny laws and politically correct edits we merrily sign it over of our own accord.  You see, the greatest challenge of determining political correctness is in figuring out how offensive is too offensive, and what would cause that offense.  Then you get committees or agencies who set what is or is not offensive, and they rule the world forever.  After all, what's more offensive to the king than the suggestion that he is unfit to rule?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Navigating the Murky and Dangerous Waters of the Campus Rape Debate

Hello, Internet!  Good to see you all again.  Today we're going to talk about rape culture.  What is that, you ask?  No, actually you probably don't, because you've heard that term thousands of times online and in the news, and probably have a pretty firm idea what it is.  If you don't, go read the Wikipedia article.  I'll wait.  So, why am I talking about rape culture today?  Because my school, along with a good many others, is under investigation for complete failure to deal with rapes on campus, following Senator McCaskill's probe into the matter.  This has stirred up a lot of debate online between a lot of extremely angry and significantly less coherent people on both sides.  On the militant left, they want significantly harsher rape laws, a definition of the term that encompasses so much that it would be useless, and just about everything short of castration at birth.  On the militant right, near as I can tell, they would like it very much if everyone would just accept that women exist solely for their pleasure and stop investigating it altogether.  Neither of these positions is particularly helpful to lawmaking or reasoned discussion.  To make those possible again, here's a guide to the main problems and points of contention between the two.  Maybe then we can all stop screaming at each other and get something done.

  • Problem 1: What is rape?  This seems like a fairly self-explanatory question, but then I hear words like "eye-rape" and it becomes clear that someone needs to sort it out.  How about we just go back to the dictionary definition of rape?  Attaching that term to the end of something else both obscures what's actually happening (eye-rape is when a man looks at a woman in a sexual manner without her permission, and not some kind of horrifically violent act at all) and dilutes the meaning.  Yes, this means I don't consider it rape when a guy and his girlfriend get drunk, have sex, and wake up the next morning wondering what they just did.  That's wrong, yes, but it is not rape.  Find a new word for it so we can discuss it separately.  NOTE: This does not apply to taking advantage of someone who's too drunk to resist. If they're resisting, or if they would resist if something weren't preventing them from doing so, that's rape.  In fact, let's just make that the definition of rape and move on.  Add a sub-clause saying that anything imbibed unknowingly or unwillingly (compliance drugs, spiked drinks) counts as preventing them from resisting.  Threat of physical violence also counts.  Telling them to stop counts as resisting, by the way.  I think that covers everything.  
  • Problem 2: How do you get people to report rape?  The problem here is that someone coming forward is likely to be accused of lying, secretly wanting it, or doing something to bring it on themselves.  None of these are good responses.  I think we all can agree on that.
  • Problem 3: Who handles these cases?  On campus, this is a major issue.  Currently, with a complete lack of self-awareness and common sense, athletics departments investigate their own, fraternities handle these internally, and students handle the rest.  Who thought this was a good idea?  Is the fraternity going to report one of their members and bring trouble on their own heads?  No, of course not.  Is the football team going to drop their star quarterback?  No, they'll cover it up because their priority is on winning.  Students have their own biases, so many of them that relying on their judgment is pointless.  The first solution many bring up is to immediately involve the police department, which seems like a good idea, but bringing them onto campus opens the door for all kinds of things we don't want.  If, in the course of their investigation, they find evidence of alcohol served to minors, they have to do something about it. Drugs, likewise.  Where does it end?  Random searches of dorms for contraband and spot-checks with dogs?  No, that's a bad idea.  My solution?  Have an impartial group with no ties to any department or campus organization.  Make their sole mandate to investigate these cases and, if they find evidence that supports the accusation, turn over all evidence and the case to the police to prosecute.  Their job is not to look for other violations, so there is no problem with letting them investigate, and they have no reason to be biased.  It might actually work.  It also solves the problem no one really wants to talk about, fake rape cases.  I have friends who it has happened to.  One got drunk and slept with a girl who was dating another guy, both consenting. Other guy found out, so the girl accused my friend of being a rapist.  He was cleared, but people still bring it up.  Another had a bad breakup, so his ex accused him of raping her repeatedly.  Again, cleared for lack of evidence, but even after she admitted she was lying it hung over him for a long time.  If you have impartial and confidential outside investigators, this kind of case gets handled quietly and goes away without anyone being harmed.
  • Problem 4: How do we deal with rape culture?  The answer is simple: more education, not just of students, but of everyone.  Teach people what rape is, how to deal with it, why it is wrong, and why it is unacceptable.  Start early, too; make sure that people grow up believing it to be not just illegal, but socially intolerable behavior.  If rapists are social pariahs, they won't have anyone covering for them.  At the same time, teach the administrators and officials who deal with rape to stop acting like it's a minor problem.  "Boys will be boys" is a terrible response to any question, both because it excuses terrible behavior and because it implies that there's nothing to be done about it.  There is a lot wrong with that way of thinking, too much to explain in this post, so I'll just say it's antiquated, counterproductive, insulting to both parties, and basically an excuse not to do anything.
Thank you all for reading.  I hope this has given you something to think about and maybe some ideas for how to improve the situation.  If it does, then get out and do something.  Push for this kind of change and tell your friends who aren't politically involved to join you.  Maybe if we in the middle start having a voice, we can drown out the extremists on both sides and move forward with plans that will actually make a better world.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hey, I Like Fried Chicken Too, or Not Everything Has to Be Offensive

Hello, Internet people!  How are you all?  So glad to see you all back here.  Anyway, last night (UPDATE: about three months ago when I wrote this) my roommate and I were having a conversation about how incredibly easy it is to offend people these days.  He gave me a great example of a discussion back at the beginning of the year.  He and some of our neighbors were talking about something and he happened to mention that he likes fried chicken.  A girl in the group immediately called him a racist.  His reply, which is amusing in context (neither he nor I are actually racist in the least) and insanely offensive out of it, was to say that racism would be if he had suggested that they get some fried chicken and watermelon and go watch the lynchings.  Now, look at that statement, which is intentionally beyond the pale and extremely insensitive if he meant it.  That is, yes, a great example of racism.
However, saying you like fried chicken is not racism at all.  Fried chicken is good.  I don't actually know anyone, vegans aside, who dislikes fried chicken.  It's great.  If you haven't tried it, go get some now. Seriously.  You'll thank me for opening your eyes to this reality.
So why is it racist to like this wonderful food product?  The best answer I can come up with is this: people really like to get offended by stuff these days.  Being offended is a great way to avoid having to actually talk about anything meaningful, share anything personal, or think about anything that might in any way disagree with your personal worldview.  It functions as a combination of a shield against anything you do not want to think about and, simultaneously, an excuse to dismiss and insult people.  We're not allowed to do that these days.  If you don't like someone, it used to be that you could find some excuse to stab them repeatedly with a rapier.  Nowadays, society frowns on that sort of thing.  Society even frowns on getting angry and verbally assaulting someone for insulting you personally.  You can't take out your personal issues on anyone anymore. Call them a racist/sexist/one percenter/religious oppressor/YouTube commenter, though, and suddenly you have a blank check to do what you want.  There is nothing deemed too extreme to apply to a white supremacist, abortion supporter and suspected liberal.
The problem is, being a racist/sexist/Nazi/what have you is in fact a bad thing.  Discrimination is bad and should be rooted out.  However, it has been my experience that most of the time when people cry discriminatory language, there is nothing actually discriminatory being said.  Going back to the first example, what is racist about liking to eat fried chicken?  Similarly, I once said in a discussion on affirmative action that we needed to recognize that neither competence nor incompetence in a job are race-dependent qualities. This is, I'm fairly certain, the opposite of racism, since I said all races are equally capable, but the overwhelming sentiment of the class was that I was some kind of heathen misogynistic beggar-punching child-raping Communist-Nazi hybrid and probably a Christian (I grew up with some remarkably radical and mildly psychotic left-wing folks).  Most of those insults, you will note, have nothing to do with each other, contradict themselves and each other, and have nothing to do with the topic, yet I swear to you I didn't make any of them up.
The roots of this issue lie in two distinct but intertwined problems.  First, deciding what is and is not discriminatory language is very difficult to do.  Some terms are agreed upon to be offensive, certainly, but most of the time people do not use those, or use them as an intentional joke.  As a result, you can say something in a crowd that neither you nor anyone you know finds offensive and still have a brigade of people forming up to tar and feather you in seconds because they have a different set of offensive words.  Second, though, as I said earlier, people love to be offended.  Aside from giving them the excuse to vent their personal frustrations on whoever is the target of the moment, it has another, much more powerful quality: it creates common ground.  Politics, culture, religion, even movies and television, these things are all individual things and one person's choices may not be reflected around them.  However, the overwhelming majority agree that discrimination is bad.  That makes it an easy target for creating a small version of an angry mob, a whole group of people who can band together through the common bond of beating down the newly designated common enemy.
The most prevalent modern example of this is the Social Justice Warrior, an Internet phenomenon in which people jump on the bandwagon of feeling offended and proceed to dogpile someone with an unpopular opinion for being offensive.  This does not require that it be offensive to the SJW in specific or anyone at all really.  In fact, it does not even require the target to say anything.  One person posts something, another disagrees and quotes some popular excessively simple and only superficially understood philosophy, and a whole swarm of other SJWs appear out of the woodwork to support and amplify the statement in an instant mutual admiration society.  Few to none of them actually understand what they're saying, but they pretend to for the sake of popularity.  The same effect plays out in the real world when one person pretends to take offense and most of the room agrees with them for the sake of agreeing.  Usually one of them knows what they're talking about and actually is offended (why they are getting offended and believing in whichever philosophy is currently being spouted is another issue entirely), but the rest jump on to be part of the group. It's the same mentality that leads to going along with genocide, going along to be part of a group, and while it is inarguably on a smaller and less lethal scale, the psychology is the same.
So how do we fix it?  The answer is quite simple: Have your own opinions.  Think about them.  Learn them. Express them eloquently, and don't be afraid to be the only one disagreeing.  I suspect that most of the time you will not be on your own, since personal beliefs are rarely as monolithic and pure as those expressed by the Social Justice Warrior.  Think about this effect and the Social Justice Warrior the same way you think about witch hunts and the townspeople watching their neighbor burn to death on the stake because the mayor wanted more land for his cows.  Then feel the same way about joining the SJWs as you would about burning an alleged witch at the stake to give the mayor more pasture land.  If enough people do this, maybe we can finally get over the touchiness and intentional ignorance that plague society today and get something positive done.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pavlov's Wolverine (The story of how we have all trained to approach anyone who disagrees with us like a cornered grizzly approaches its pursuers)

Hello to you all, Internet!  How are you all?  Great/We all have those days/I'm sorry to hear that (delete where appropriate).  The other night, I went out to dinner with an old family friend and his wife and niece. The wife and niece both believe in intelligent design, whereas I am an agnostic and regard intelligent design as a theological position, fine to believe in but not the same as science.  Now, as I hope is apparent, I am very much a believer in intellectual discourse, but I still had to fight back the impulse to let go with a torrent of insults, statistics, and half-remembered Dawkins quotes.  By the look on my father's face (another evolutionist with even stronger political and scientific views than mine) he was having the same issue. They were both having the same problem on their side, I suspect, presumably trying not to jump straight to calling us both hell-spawned heathens who want to take all morality out of America and remake the country into the new Sodom.  Later, I thought about why this happens.  I have concluded that we have all been trained by a lot of absolute cretins who call themselves reasonable proponents of these positions that the only way to have a political discussion is to pile-drive the other side into oblivion with a lot of statements with a tenuous at best connection to logic and insults disguised as supporting arguments while shutting out their equally illogical and insulting ideas until they give up and leave in disgust.  It's a kindergarten argument with bigger words, but exactly the same effect, and while most people agree that this is not productive, we can't seem to get out of it.
As I tried to figure out why, I thought back to all the political discussions I have had over the years with people who I do not consider friends.  In most cases, they follow a very predictable path.  They open with a question to which the questioner knows my answer.  "Should schools be allowed to religiously indoctrinate children?" I reply with the answer they know I'll give, in this case, "Of course not.  Religion is a personal choice."  They then say something along the lines of, "If religious indoctrination is wrong, than why do you support teaching evolution in schools and banning creationism?"  To which my reply is something like, "Evolution is science, and taught in science class.  I have no issue with teaching creationism in theology class, but it isn't science, according to the definition of science as things that can be proven."  They go on to ignore most of what I said and say several predictable points: Science is just a belief, religion is important to child development, the Bible says it happened so it is fact, and, if they're really clever, that evolution is just a theory (using the colloquial definition of theory, not the scientific one, which is another hot button issue of mine, but that's an entry for another day).  By the way, these are all quotes from a real conversation I had a couple months ago, including the one in the next paragraph.
The problem here is that we are having two different conversations.  I am intellectually debating something, while they are attempting to convert a nonbeliever. This become apparent in the inevitable response to my next statement, regardless of what it may be, which is generally reminiscent of "You just want to strip away morality from our children so that your communist gay agenda can go forward.  You're a hypocrite who indoctrinates children with your 'science' and pretends it's anything more than another religion.  You should be more open minded."  This is about where I just give up and walk away, because they have already locked in the track of this conversation, and no matter what I say they will reply with the exact same thing every time.  The dancers and the stage may change, but the dance is always the same, and that dance is a spastic, poorly executed waltz set to Benny Hill music that leads straight into an open septic tank.
I use this example because it is a fight I have pretty often, as I know several creationists and consider it rude to flat-out ignore someone starting a conversation despite knowing where it is going.  The same thing happens with abortion debates.  Lest you think I'm being overly critical of the right and defending the left, you will have a similar argument if you try to defend the continued existence of religion to a rabid atheist, and heaven help you if you get cornered by someone who is of the hyper-militant bent of  feminism, veganism, or, worst of all, the political correctness crowd (as in, "you can't use that word, it might be offensive to X or Y minority who have never expressed any objection to it and I am now going to force you to listen as I explain what a terrible person you are) who usually combine all the worst qualities of the groups above with a healthy dose of socialism.
I have no problem with any of these groups on their own.  If you want to be a creationist, go ahead, that's a personal religious choice.  If you don't believe in abortions, don't get one.  I actively support equal rights for women, gays, and minority groups.  So, if I am neutral or supportive toward these groups, why does their mere mention provoke irrational rage?  Here we get to the title.  I assume you know about Pavlov's dogs, and if you aren't take a second to look it up on Wikipedia.  Learning is good.  Much like the dogs were trained that the bell meant food, we have been trained by years of exposure to these people that any political statement means the speaker is going to attack us and that there is no point in trying to defend yourself with logic and calm intellectual debate.  Much like the dogs eventually started slobbering at the sound of the bell even if there was no food, we have started to react to any public mention of political views by getting defensive of our own and shutting out whatever they have to say.s
This is a problem in two main ways.  The most obvious is that it makes everyone hate each other.  How can it not, when everyone who is not a known supporter is a potential attacker to be eyed like a wolf circling another wolf, sizing them up in case it comes down to fangs and claws?  However, the other outcome is so much worse: we have lost the ability to compromise.  Political discourse stopped being about finding the best way to run the country and became a no-holds-barred fight for pack dominance, where the winner is whoever shouts the loudest and sticks with it the longest.  There is no room for compromise, there is no agreement that maybe both sides have something of value to say, there is no synthesis of ideas into something workable.  Like a trained attack wolverine reacting to an intruder, we leap to the attack with a hiss and claws outstretched, hoping that we can maul our opponent into submission before they do the same to us. That is hardly a way to run a country, don't you think?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On the Origins of Stupid: The Culture and Climate of the American Idiot

Hello, Internet!  Due to a combination of technical difficulties, final exam stress, spending quality time with my family, and the recent death of my grandfather, ModeRadical has been offline for a while now.  I am happy to tell you that this blog should be getting onto a regular schedule now, including a couple of guest writers if they send me anything.  Now, recently, I have noticed something a bit disturbing about American culture, as I have started watching the news again.  As an aside, when looking for news, go to Al Jazeera America or the BBC.  They have neither the gibbering racist ignorant lunacy of FOX nor the smug, self-righteous, self-satisfied, equally ignorant leftist dogma of MSNBC.
  Now, anti-intellectualism.  Our culture today is rabidly anti-intellectual.  I grew up an intellectual, so I'm quite familiar with this effect.  People use "nerd" and "geek" as insults, but they're just terms for people who are smart or particularly obsessively familiar with something.  These should not be insults.  It should not be commonly accepted practice to insult someone by calling them smart and good with technology. That's just idiotic and backward.  It would be like wallowing in a septic tank and then insulting someone for not smelling like human feces.  Yet that's basically what we do.  Not only do we do that, but we actually glorify stupidity and ignorance.
  Let's take a moment to pick on reality television. Specifically, let's pick on a show called Swamp People.  The premise is to follow the carefully scripted lives of a bunch of people who live in the swamp without the benefits of technology for no discernible reason.  Why are we glorifying this lifestyle?  If they lived in Africa or South America, we'd be sending them aid money, but here in the US we give them their own reality TV show.  What?
  Think about that one for a minute.  If you think this isn't a problem, consider the fact that there are people out there who really, genuinely believe that vaccines cause autism, based on the fact that the people supporting this position publicly have roughly the same intellectual capacity as tree slugs, while vaccination supporters all use big words like "inoculation" and "clinical trials".  We are so anti-intellectual that some people would literally rather let their children die of smallpox than accept that someone might be smarter than they are.  Does it sound to you like those people should be running the country?  I could say the same thing about the anti-GMO movement, global warming deniers, those people who believe video games are the gateway to Satan, the abstinence only movement, or pretty much any other reactionary movement that looks at progress and starts shrieking "Bad! It burns! Hissssss!" and trying to pass legislation to send us all back to the Stone Age.
  Some people in those categories I listed have legitimate, researched reasons to believe them.  If you do, then good for you, and I say that without an ounce of sarcasm.  Send me an email explaining it, I really would like to know and I really would like to be able to have a reasoned discussion about it.  But supporting a position because you don't understand the other side and defending your position with the argument that if it were right it would make sense without explanation is so far from logic I'm pretty sure anything smarter than tree slugs can see how wrong it is.  Don't be like the tree slug.  If you don't understand something, learn about it.  Form whatever opinion you like, just make sure that opinion is based on facts, not fear of them.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Suggestion Box

Hello again, Internet!  I am pleased to announce the newest feature of ModeRadical, the suggestion box.  If you want me to do a piece on a specific topic, just write it in this form and I will add it to the pool of possible topics for the next post.