Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Hawkeye Initiative and the Laughably Unnatural Feminine Man

How knowledgeable I am on comic books is the same sort of situation as my knowledge surrounding computers. If I'm around someone who knows nothing about comics (or computers), then they think that I am super well versed on the subject, some sort of technological (or nerd) genius. When I'm around someone who actually knows about the things, then I come off as a more realistic assessment: a decently learned amateur. With comic books in particular, I know the characters and some of the arcs, but I definitely don't think of myself as a comic book person.

I talk about comics because I have been reading the new tumblr du jourThe Hawkeye Initiative. The basic premise of the blog is to take the pictures that portray women in comics sexually and replace them with the masculine dude character Hawkeye. The obvious argument being forwarded is a basic one about the male gaze in comics: women are exclusively portrayed as sex objects in a way that the male characters aren't.  In particular, putting Hawkeye in the place of the "Strong Female Characters" (the tumblr references both in words and in style the ideas of Kate Beaton of Hark a Vagrant) shows how those poses are not empowerment. Not only that, but the women in comic books are frequently extreme examples not only of strange bodily contortion, but of an unhealthy body standard. The short io9 article summarizes the general feeling behind the project well: it has an argument (or rather, a vague yearning/reaction), but it is also a source of humor or fun.

When I was reading the blog though, it reminded me of something that I saw perhaps a year ago that shared not only the same critiques (although in a different context), but the same method. In "Men Ups", the photographer has collected a series of men and places them in the same poses and situations as those from Vargas style pin-up art. Like the Hawkeye Initiative, there is a feminist concern behind it, although it is perhaps more subtle in the Men Ups series. As the artist says in an interview, the concern is about how gender and physical appearance affects women, to see the "unnaturalness" of women's (feminine, rather) poses and expectations.

Like almost everything, I feel a couple of different things about this. I mean, I enjoy both of these quite a bit, but I have to wonder whether I enjoy it in the same way as other people. That is to say, I enjoy it because I like seeing a kind of transgression of what we consider gender normative behavior. Having Men in pin up poses is both fun because hey, some of the guys are pretty cute. But also because there are so infrequently representations of male femininity, especially ones that could be interpreted as positive. Really when there isn't a whole lot to go on, you go with what you have. I don't think this interpretation is unique to me; really, I think that quite a few people I know (especially in the Bay area) might enjoy things like this for the same reasons.

However, there is another side of it that I can't quite put out of my mind. And the earlier way that I talked about, the naive appreciation of the pictures, is most assuredly not the intention of the artists. Much like the Jezebel article on the Men-ups states in the title, they are "So much more than just men posing as pin-ups," as if that is not in itself a critique of how gender is enforced in our society. The reason that these pictures are 'feminist' is not because men are shown transgressing gender boundaries, or at least that is not the primary reason. There is another felt reason behind what makes these pictures feminist or transgressive.

This is not the first time putting men in traditionally women's poses has been done. When I heard about either of these, what immediately came to mind was the work that John Stoltenberg did regarding pornography, called the Pose Workshop, as described in What Makes Pornography Sexy? To summarize, Stoltenberg would have workshops where he would have men take on the poses that women take in mainstream pornography. This would be the way that he would teach men about how pornography is inherently degrading to the person doing the posing. We see here the same basic premise as the Hawkeye Initiative, and perhaps the same as the Men-ups (however, the Men-ups is a much more ambivalent thing). Now, it isn't flesh and blood people, but the men and women are replaced by drawings.

I can definitely understand the idea behind all of these. Women in comic books shouldn't be exiled into only being sexual objects to be ogled. Even if there is a place for those representations (and I think there is, along with people of other genders), that shouldn't be the exclusive representation allotted to women, much the same with pornography. 

However, I think that the problem I have is that it seems that the method to achieve this aim is to put men in these poses to show how 'unnatural' or 'weird' that they are. Both of the recent incarnations are done for humor, described as 'hilarious' in the Jezebel article, and that has a distinct history of seeing men acting femininely as hilarious (but in an unsettling way). The argument is that it is obviously un-intuitive and laughable to think of men posing or acting femininely, why should women be portrayed in such a way? My problem here is that, although I like both of them, I have the distinct feeling of being laughed at. The combination of femininity and 'male' bodies is read as so disjointed that it is the cause for humor. These two artistic ventures seem to use this humor to make an argument, and exploit some people's reliance on gender norms without critiquing them, perhaps even furthering them.

I'm going to continue to enjoy them. After all, I can appropriate them for my own opinions and ends. But it's important not to confuse my ends with the ends of the other people who view and laugh.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Feel Good Theology

I guess this is the first post in a long time. That's kind of how that thing goes, I suppose. These are very scattered thoughts.

What I'm kind of interested in right now (at this very moment) is the theological surroundings that I'm finding myself in. I'm taking an actual theology class where it is harder to remain disconnected (/academic/historical) so I am having to confront the fact that I disagree with people more. I think that the main problem that I see (other than the blatant 'de-mythologizing' liberalism and un-divinization of Jesus) is that lots of these theologies are at their heart 'feel good' theologies.

I'm not necessarily saying that everyone should be filled with shame or be worried about going to Hell. But I'm having a hard time really connecting with a notion of God that is basically the mother figure writ large. In its own way, it is just as faulty as God-as-stern-dad-figure. What I mean to say is that God doesn't seem to be actually challenging or transformative or painful in this context.

I think some of the people that I am around are afraid of conceptualizing God or religion as having any sort of negative feelings associated with it because they are in their own ways wounded. Many are LGBT which means that religion is already associated with being dissociated from communities. Religion and the the 'word of God' have been used to inculcate shame in them. They are already in a way harmed by God (or at least, God's followers) and therefore don't want to associate those feelings with God any beyond the idea that God also suffers with them. So God becomes someone who simply co-experiences, an inert force or security blanket to help us feel better. They have a (justifiable) reaction against a limiting, commanding version of God. We aren't asked to experience anything negative or painful in our journey towards or with God (even if that pain is simply one of growing). In more sentimentalist theologies, God becomes the erotic, that is 'feeling good'.

But what does that leave us?

I have a hard time understanding my life in that way of viewing God. When our experiences are given so much importance, I feel like we border on a Christian solipsism, where God is whatever makes us feel the best (in whatever way you want to imagine that). Talking about God is then just talking about ourselves, and I think that I already do enough talking about myself. God isn't a divine therapist, and treating God that way makes God all about us. We treat our desires as if they are sacrosanct, sometimes even calling them God. This all makes us feel better, and perhaps life would be easier if I could actually believe that.

God gave us desire, but God doesn't have to be omniscient to have understood that in giving us free will and desire, that that would necessarily lead to sin, and therefore suffering. Because if we were free to only do the right thing, then we aren't really free at all. At least while we are on this planet, there is no utopia where everyone will get what they want or need without the harm coming to some other person. I can not in right conscience act like desire is an inherently good thing when I see the desire for resources harm so many people, or the desire for power destroy lives. Desire is not good. Only God is good, everything else is instrumental.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things Coming Soon

Hey all, I feel like it is probably better to not just drop off the face of the planet. Anyhow, I am in the middle of some serious paper writing right now (maybe I'll put up short synopses of them after I'm done), so I haven't been able to pay as much attention to a blog as I perhaps would wish to. Thanks if you've been coming back to see if I put things up though!

The final weeks of classes make me feel like the grandmother from the Flannery O'Conner short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." If only I had impending deadlines every week, I would be the most productive person on the planet!

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Response to Possibly the Most Frustrating Essay I've Ever Read

I commonly read things that I disagree with. I frequently read things that anger me with their poorly thought out arguments and hypocrisy. I sometimes get blamed for the problems that I have to deal with as a trans* person. But never have I read an essay that managed to seemingly exist solely to be the perfect mixture of smugness, "false consciousness" argument, lack of historical or anthropological understanding, uninformed ideas on the method and nature of religion, and victim blaming that this essay seems to exhibit. I am going to assume it is an argument in good faith, but if I were a more cynical person (I know, right?) I would chalk it up to being simply a computer generated, personally tailored collection of things that anger me in an essay.

There is a response from someone else at my school here, but I think i want to run through my own issues with this essay, because that is my Wealth given right/privilege as a person with internet access. I've discussed this somewhat with Anna, so I am also going to credit em with some of the formulations of the thoughts that come out in this response. This is probably going to be what might charitably called "Too Long," so I'll make subject headings, like a "real academic"

Lack of Religious Studies Knowledge/Deconstruction

I find that most of the people writing articles like this seem to think that they are either 'above' reading actual religious studies methodology/scholarship, or they think that it is "the Man" trying to keep them down. I'm just going to say that, unless you are going to pay attention to the last hundred or so years of people discussing what 'religion' means, and whether that is a tenable term for a conversation, then I feel like maybe you should re-examine what you are doing.

But, I will discuss how her definition of religion (or lack thereof, with merely an implication) is a problematic, racist, and imperialistic artifice later. What I really want to address are some of the ridiculous, and provably false things that the author has written.

Anyone who ever writes something like "all religions [x]" or "all atheists [y]" is not only in danger, but willfully setting themselves up to being proven wrong by actual facts. For a person who scoffs at people for thinking that they are absolutely right, she seems to have either not gained any sort of evidence to make her claims worth listening to, or has forgotten all of it in favor of making grandiose statements that are not only false but embarrassing. When you make statements with "all" in them, you are on the track to failure; your faith in your cause has blinded you to nuance. Let alone one that reifies a concept like religion into one mass (which is philosophically unjustifiable anyhow). Although the author assures us that she is very postmodern, apparently this does not apply to her understanding of religion. I had a teacher (Robert Minor) who began his book “When Religion Becomes and Addiction” with the Chapter Title “Religion doesn’t do anything,” which is true. Religion is not a thing, it has no essence, so to treat it like it does is a fallacy. The fact that she uncritically accepts the concept of religion as an essence, and takes the traditional view of what it is undermines her completely objective, rational self identification (which is already a specious concept in and of itself).

So when she says that religions are fundamentally in tension or contradiction with queerness, she first of all misunderstands how queerness functions in other societies, but also how 'faith' does, and how they interact with each other. In fact, saying that "queerness is always counter-intuitive" shows that she has not seemingly read very many books of how queer people function in different religious contexts. Did she know that some religions mandate queer relations? Even in America! I mean, say what you will about how incredibly cissexist some of them are, but I think the entire lesbian women’s/Goddess spirituality movement shows that queerness and religion can be the same thing. I mean, even the Ayatollah of Iran is alright with binary identified trans people. Hot Damn, it's almost like if you make statements like that, you are just asking for people to point out the ways that you are wrong.

That's not even to mention trans* or gender divergence in religious practice. I mean, she even really kind of admits this, but then just is like "WELP, NOT SCIENCE." I mean, do I have to point her to the multiple Indigenous traditions, some Dogon peoples, and the multiple cross dressing saints of the Christian tradition? Believe it or not, what we consider queer was (and is) not always considered 'counter-intuitive' in other cultures. Not only that, but it has not been damaging in ever society at every time. Making statements like that is just begging to look like you are uninformed .

Imperialism and and Western "Everywhere"

Despite her (promised but never delivered, perhaps invisible?) postmodernism, she reminds us for what seems like an uncomfortable amount of space that she is in fact, not being racist or imperialistic. I wish I could magically say I wasn't being racist, and then it be so! Moreover, the truth is that everyone who might make the argument that her essay is racist, are in fact racist themselves. That is a pretty wonderful logical trick that she has going on there, but it's based on a somewhat faulty premise already: she seems to be speaking only to white people.

If white people were the only people who were pointing out that the arguments that she was making were culturally imperialist, she might be onto something. The truth though, is that there have been plenty of queer  and trans* women of color who have brought this up. First. Apparently the author either thinks that the arguments that these women of color (also, the invisible trans* men of color [surprise, trans men are invisible!]) make are so far below her that she does not have to deign to answer to them, or that she doesn't have either the argument or the courage to disagree with them. Instead she speaks about people of color to the other white people in her intended audience. Great. Nothing wrong or paternalistic about that.

Anyhow, like I said a little earlier, how she conceptualizes religion is basically imperialistic. Why, you might ask? Well, the very use of the word religion to generalize onto all societies outside of the western is in itself not justifiable in any rational way. She uses what amounts to Sigmund Freud's usage in his seminal Future of An Illusion, where the important part of religion is the dogma (or faith). Of course, this in and of itself is an imperialist concept, and talking about religion as if it has an essence is a function of imperialism. The simple fact of the matter is that privileging beliefs over actions in understanding religion is a very Christian/Western way of doing that, which makes things like ritual invisible. I mean, the fact that the author wants to act like “religion” or “faith” are concepts that you can take and place on other cultures is basically itself not only a fallacy but an imperialist one: only cultures that come from the Greco-Roman tradition actually have the word ‘religion’ in them, or ‘faith’.

What the author seems to be saying is that she can take Western concepts, place them in contexts where they don’t fit, and then judge these other societies by her concept of what faith is. Wow, that doesn’t sound like cultural imperialism at all. Of course, the author then tells us that telling her something is culturally imperialistic is in and of itself culturally imperialistic (I think I see a pattern here). This is an embarrassing tactic which basically shows that she either 1) has no ability to distinguish between societies and people 2)has no argument, and is still speaking to white people only 3) thinks that people who say “you’re intolerant of intolerant people” is a great argument, or 4) all those three. I am going to go with number four.

However, to show how not imperialistic she is, she brings up Buddhism, because WHY NOT? Of course, she doesn’t really have any sort of argument for Buddhism being against trans* people, so she uses what seems to be a vaguely Nietzschean argument that it isn’t life affirming. Not only does she seem to be grasping in this situation, but she also fundamentally misunderstands Buddhism (which she apparently thinks is all one belief system). Of course, she decides that since she has addressed a single non-Abrahamic religion, that obviously her feelings can be extrapolated onto all of history in all societies, including the future. Of course, if she were to address religions that have no concept of anything happening after death, her argument falls apart, but obviously it was painful enough to address not white cultures even for a short paragraph, and she moves on.

Historical Lack of Awareness

Not only is everywhere the West according to the author, but also history never happened! This is understandable, because looking at history reveals that her arguments are specious at best; at the very least, we see that there is a great more deal of nuance going on than a person who says that all (western conceptualizations of) queers are counter-intuitive and religion is always terrible would care to admit.

The most interesting thing going on is that in any sort of realistic sense you could make the argument that much of the oppression of trans* people stems not from religious ideas, but from those of science. the Enlightenment need of categorization that were diametrically opposed led to the binary gender system that exists today, which is where a lot of the problems for trans* people exist. The medicalization of gender, and advent of psychoanlaysis and psychology have generally stood as the vanguard of status quo oppression, and to this day recognize trans* people as mentally ill. That seems much more reactionary than many religious groups that exist today (or historically), but I imagine that the author is probably not going to rush to claim that psychology is a moral intrinsic evil.

We can still see this today, and it is not pastors who hold the keys to the access of hormones, surgeries and other things like that. In fact, I have been more frequently attacked for my gender on the basis of science than of faith (perhaps that is from the circles I run in). What I mean to say is that trying to say “SCIENCE GOOD RELIGION BAD” is a position that not only insults those religious groups and people that are trans* affirming, but also ignoring those secularists that aren’t.

Serious Logical flaws And Oppression Reductionism

Of course, it is not only the lack of thinking that anything outside of the modern West has ever existed that makes this essay wrong. There are also ridiculously flawed arguments within it that, even granting that the author is not imperialistic, make this a sad work that insults our intelligence.

First, there is the simple fact that this is basically working as an oppression reductionism. This is similar (although not identical) to when people say that there really isn’t racism, but just prejudice towards poor people. What the author seems to be saying is that trans* oppression is relaly just a function of religious oppression (which is only a tenable position if you ignore vast amounts of reality), and therefore we should worry more about getting rid of the oppression of religion than trying to solve its symptoms (ie. cissexism). Of course, this could only be a tenable position if the only oppression of trans* people came from religious sources; this is in my experience not true. I have had too many people say that there are scientifically only two genders, and they are chromosomal, to even grant that as a realistic analysis of the problem of trans* oppression. It is transphobic in the same way that saying racial oppression is only class based is racist.

Unfortunately, that is not the only flaw worth speaking to. Of course, the main thrust of the argument basically says that trans* people participate in their own oppression because by saying God exists, you legitimate the position of people who are not trans* affirming. The fact that this argument is something that the author finds logical seriously undermines the idea that religious people are defined by their lack of rationality, and that atheists are always the most ardent followers of Reason (capitalized for reification purposes)

First of all, this argument reasonably leads to the only moral action being complete monastic withdrawal (which is ironic), or suicide. If ascribing to ideas legitimates the worst elements of that idea, then there is basically no way that one can not be constantly legitimating the worst horrors of the human race. That is basically akin to saying that if you think that using the scientific method can be used to better people’s lives, then you are legitimating the underlying ideologies of eugenics, scientific racism, ablebodied supremacy, anti-queer and gender binarist thinking, all of it. They all think/thought the same thing about science too. In fact, believing in an ethic at all supports the underlying idea of ethics, and therefore you are supporting every other single person who has ‘ethics’ no matter how horrific they are. This argument can be taken to such ridiculously absurd conclusions that it is worthless in any form. Are you an anarchist? Well, if you believe that the material world exists, it turns out you are supporting Stalin/Franco/every other authoritarian in the world since you legitimate the idea of an existent material reality that under-girds their authoritarian philosophy. And so on.

False Consciousness/Victim Blaming

But why oh why would trans* people be in religious practice if it obviously always hurts them in every place in every time (including the future)? Obviously there is nothing good that they can gain out of it, and we shouldn’t actually... I don’t know, listen to these actual trans* people. So what the author decides to do is use the particularly annoying tool of false consciousness. Basically saying, “I know you why you do that better than you do,” which is extremely condescending, and really has no response. If the person is legitimately no longer listening to the people that they are actually describing, it feels to me like she is basically doing the same thing Western anthropologists did in other cultures for years: act like they were the objective arbiters of everything as opposed to the people who were actually living it. It’s basically a very convenient way to say that in reality, if religious trans* people weren’t so goddamn stupid/naive/brainwashed, then they would agree with the author. I’m not saying that this is particular to her argument: you come across false consciousness attacks with an unfortunate frequency, really. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

So why could trans* people possibly be religious, since it validates the vague notions of the reified concept of religion? Well, the answer for the author is that trans* people who are religious are like battered spouses (the author implies a gendering of this, an abused woman. I’m unsure whether this is because when she says ‘trans people’ she only means ‘trans women’, as has been characteristic of her essay, or what). This is honestly insulting and condescending as hell, not only to trans* religious people, but also to abuse survivors/victims/whatever they identify as.

This metaphor is not only completely unsuitable, but also leads to a really unfortunate implication, when you take her argument into account. Not only does her “trans* religious people validate religion, which is always evil” sound basically like lesbian separatism (which has always been kind to trans* people,), insofar as one could say “being in a non abusive heterosexual relationship validates the heterosexuality of abusive relationships,” but it also ends up making what amounts to a victim blaming argument.

What I mean is that trans* religious people are “doing it to themselves” in this metaphor. She compares religious trans* people to abused people, yet also says that they perpetuate their own abuse and the abuse of others; the abuse is their fault, and that they are complicit. And what is her advice? “Just get out of the relationship,” basically, which I’m sure has never been said to a person in an abusive relationship. I hope I am not the only person who sees that argument/metaphor combination as completely messed up. Comparing people you disagree with to abuse victims takes away their agency almost as much as calling them barnyard animals (sheeple), but telling them that they are basically their own abusers is just the exact same victim blaming attitude that perpetuates sexism in our larger culture.


I don’t really have a conclusion, other than to say that I’m writing this conclusion long after I wrote the original piece. My friend asked me why I felt compelled to write it if I wasn’t personally hurt by it, which led me to ask myself what about this hurt me?

Part of it is that it really angers me when people talk about religion like they know what they are talking about, when in fact they are completely incorrect. The conservativism that was present in this essay angered me in the same way that other conservativism does: I felt like it is a step backward in trying to achieve respect and liberation for all people. I also feel upset that my identity is being used in order to attack other people’s cultures, along with my own. I’m not deluded enough to think that anything I said will change someone’s mind if they already believe that religion is/was/will always be evil: that is, in itself, a faith claim and moral judgment that is improvable. But don’t act like you are being a jerk
on my behalf, please.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Respecting identities: Are There Limits?

Something that I hear a lot from people in activist communities/internet activism is something that can be broadly generalized to "It's not anyone's place to question another person's identity." This can also filter to gender identification, pronouns, sexual orientations, and other things like that. I'm interested, because as of the past couple of months, there has been a sort of rise in activism from segments of the internet where these same people feel like one obviously cannot accept that person's identity, without accepting some rather unfortunate consequences too.

Of course, there have been people that identified in ways that the mainstream and perhaps even radical circles chose not to acknowledge as correct or worthy of respect in the past. They would probably still not be accepted within social justice movements today. What I am thinking of is the growth and subsequent marginalization of pro-pedophile groups like NAMBLA. Sure, you have the odd queer activist who will defend the right of NAMBLA to lobby for pederasty: you have Allen Ginsberg, or Harry Hay for instance. But the majority of queer activist groups, along with most of the other social justice groups, refuse to see pedophiles as an oppressed group, or as a legitimate identification that requires the level of respect that other sexual and gender minorities do.

But something that has come up more recently is taking the rhetoric and ideology surrounding transgender people (and their narrative) and affixing them to other identities. Perhaps the most "out there" version of this would be the Otherkin phenomenon. That is, people who feel like they secretly have the soul/essence of some sort of other species (or mythological creature). Describing themselves as having "species dysphoria" and use the societal understanding of trans* people as "X in a Y's body," they pattern their ideas on one specific type of transgender self-understanding. Sometimes they want to do surgery in order to realign themselves with what they feel they are on the inside. You get the picture. To most people, this seems ridiculous if harmless. Of course, intuitive "ridiculousness" by society is not really a good metric of whether something should be respected, in my opinion.

Feelings get a bit more heated, however, when it comes to people identifying as a group that they are not "Really" part of. Two examples that I have seen recently are those who identify as transabled and those who identify as transethnic/transracial. The basic rundown of these two groups is that transabled people see themselves as dysphoric due to their lack of a specific disability, whereas transethnic people generally see themselves as identifying as a race that they were not 'born as'; this also sometimes includes surgeries. It's hard for me to find a lot of stuff on transethnicity, but from what I've heard, it basically tracks that way.

I bring those up, because most of the people that say that a person should not question another's identity are very quick to judge whether these identities are 'appropriative' or 'correct' or other things like that. That seems to me, to be a bit hypocritical.

That might anger people, but I guess what I mean by that is that although those identities do seem to me to be intuitively different than transgender ideology, I have seen the concept of intuition used in ways that are transphobic before. What strikes me is that people who on one hand say that we should never criticize certain types of identities are generally the ones to think of these as completely untenable. For me, I think it is rather arbitrary to say "gender identities/sexual orientations are unquestionable" while ethnic or racial identities are. Both are socially constructed, and also have less division than is generally credited by society. In fact, race and ethnicity are much less binary than gender is in Western society.

This would seem to lead me to three solutions:

1) Racial and ability identities should not be questioned, much like gender identities should not be questioned.

2) They are somehow different.

3) Not all gender identities (or ways that gender is conceptualized in trans* ideology) deserve respect.

I am not sure where I fall on this. Accepting choice 1 seems to have a whole lot of unfortunate consequences: people in blackface, racial essentializing, all of that. While most activists would take number 2, I want to point out some flaws that I see with many of the arguments that are made on that point.

While the majority of people I see who reject the idea of transethnic identity claim that transethnicity and transgender identity have nothing in common, there is a level of irony in the statements that they make: since most of the people who identify as transethnic would be called "white people who want to become people of color," the arguments mostly take the form of appropriation: that is, privileged people taking the identity of those who are oppressed. But I feel like I have heard that argument before... where have I...

Oh wait! Here it is!

I mean, honestly. Part of the reason that I feel uncomfortable with the arguments against these people is because most of them track pretty easily onto the arguments that some lesbian feminists make against trans women. Even the argument that transethnic people grew up white/don't have the culture or history of non-white people has a sort of "womyn born womyn" stylizing behind it. Or that transethnic people make non-white peoples into a stereotype: also a Janice Raymond argument against trans women.

So that details my discomfort with most of the arguments being currently used against people who identify as these groups.  My own discomfort comes from essentialization of whiteness and different ethnicities; however, I recognize that that also reflects my discomfort with the transgender essentialist narratives. I also find the wholesale co-option of transgender rhetoric a bit unrealistic. While ethnicity (and perhaps disability) might function in similar ways to gender, I see that the rhetoric is being used without the theoretical grounding. By this, I mean that I would expect transethnic discourse to reflect postcolonial ideas more than queer theory, if it were trying to understand ethnicity and race in the context that they are understood in a theoretical sense today.

Although, like I said, I am still undecided.

Friday, March 2, 2012

On Original Sin

I'm not Catholic, and Episcopalians don't really need to believe in anything (This statement is really more of a joke than anything), but I've been thinking of the concept of original sin. I'm not exactly sure whether the concept of original sin is something that is around in Anglican thought very much: regardless, we never really talk about it, mainly because I imagine it is "kind of a downer." That's understandable, because it kind of is. I mean, it's not as bad as Calvin's idea of "total depravity" (although that would be a sweet band name). However, the Episcopal church has also kind of moved away from an Augustinian idea of how sin works, so we don't really see it as a necessary argument to have.

To be honest, Augustine doesn't really seem to me to have a cogent idea on sin throughout his work. That's not bad, because we all change our minds. But he makes the argument that evil doesn't really exist: saying that evil is a lot like cold or darkness. Evil is merely the absence of good. That sounds compelling, right? But at the same time, he somehow believes that Satan is around and is a manifestation of evil. That always seemed to me to be a contradictory position, and I want to argue in better faith than "Well, looks like he was still a Manichee." Not only that, but if evil is merely the absence of good, then how does there become a stain of evil that is passed down in a hereditary manner from the beginning of people? I just don't think that the concept of original sin was thought very well through in the light of his philosophy of evil.

However, by rejecting that notion of original sin, I don't want to follow a lot of newer theologians and say that sin has no real place in our worldview. I think that is a temptation, but it is very clear that people are doing sinful/bad things in the world, whether through negligence or through actual willful harming of other people. To say that that is not important in how the world works seems to basically be giving a free pass to people who have been benefiting off of harming others (ie. oppression). Ignoring the fact that people do bad things does not make those bad things go away, nor does it help the people harmed by those actions.

Karl Rahner has an interesting concept of original sin that I think is possibly the most cogent one in recent history. He said that it is impossible to live in the world without causing harm to others. Perhaps not on purpose, but it still happens. As more and more people willfully or ignorantly harm other people, we live in a world where it is impossible to exist and not cause harm or oppression to other people: that is original sin. I think that conception of it helps with certain things: first of all, it is realistic and not some sort of weird genetic metaphysical state (a la Augustine). Yet again, it also posits sin as something not completely individualistic, and therefore something that can be used to guilt people into paralysis, but as a reality of society. There is an amount of negative things that we do that are at least partially out of our control. I think it moves past the debt/guilt model of sin that seems to be the real problem those who dislike the notion of sin are getting at.

I'm not exactly sure that I have a full thought here, more along the lines of just a couple of thoughts collected. If you have anything that you want to say on the subject, then feel free to add to the discussion.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Liberal Democrats for Santorum: Really?

I have been seeing more and more people bring up the idea that Democrats/"progressives" (scare quotes intentional) should vote for Rick Santorum, which I find positively infuriating. From what I can see, as an organized force it began at Daily Kos, and now I have started to hear people talk about it that I actually know in real life.

I mean, I guess I should qualify that at the beginning, I found the concept of a Santorum campaign pretty entertaining. The sheer ridiculousness of his political positions was enough to promise some sort of entertainment. But I've felt myself backing away from that kind of thought. Sure, Republican candidate Santorum might be an interesting thought experiment. But do I really want to go there? I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't make any sense, and all the arguments that I kept hearing for Democrats supporting/voting for Rick Santorum were not only somewhat incorrect, but they came from a place a great privilege.

The crux of the argument is that if Rick Santorum was elected in the primaries, he would have no way of ever beating Barack Obama: therefore there is no problem with supporting Santorum. I don't find this argument convincing at all, and I think it shows a lack of political awareness that is pretty profound. After all, I would say that no matter who the people running are, you are generally going to get 40-45% of people voting simply along party lines. Even more if you consider that racism affects this election. And then, you have the simple fact that no one on the earth knows the future. Conceivably any damn thing could happen between now and November: Iran-Israel war, Eurozone meltdown, et cetera. All of these could put Barack Obama in a much worse position to win any sort of election: then you would have a President Santorum. So, the entire idea is based on a relatively flawed strategy.

I also think that propping Santorum up is kind of a shitty thing to do to a host of minorities. The more time that Santorum is able to talk about how we should get rid of contraception, the more that becomes a legitimate view in the public square. Let alone his stances on abortion, which are already kind of mainstream in lots of places. Let alone the fact that this is basically a way of raising up a person who has made a job off of hate speech against queer people 'for the lulz' (the founding idea was called Operation Hilarity, after all). Everyone wrings their hands about queer kids having self esteem issues, but then we are supposed to say that it's alright to pour toxic misinformation and hatred out into the public consciousness even more because we want a politician to win by a bit more? To me, that seems like being a terrible ally to women, ethnic minorities, and queer people. And you are moving the Overton Window in the opposite direction of what you want.

Moreover, most of the arguments for this have a lot of privilege coming from those who argue for it. Most of the people that I've heard argue for this are in most ways unaffected by what would happen if Santorum became President: that is, they are people living in relatively liberal areas, are white, well off, cis* and frequently are male. There are obviously exceptions, but this has been my experience. So it seems like they are kind of bargaining with someone else's livelihood, and that is what I would call "a dick move." Then they tell the people who are a bit leery of electing someone who would have a much worse impact on them, that they are being overemotional, or any other number of misogynist/homophobic words. Politics is war, right? Never mind that that hypermasculine concept of politics is part of the reason we are in this problem right now.

You know what? They think that Santorum couldn't possibly win because the people I've seen only hang out in liberal echo chambers. Either online, or in the Bay Area. The thing is, I know a lot of people back in Kansas who would agree with a lot of what Santorum is saying I mean, I have no doubt that he would win there: he would win in a lot of places. So don't tell me how ridiculous his candidacy is, because I've lived places that Kris Kobach won election.

In the same vein, I hear a lot of people respond to the claim that giving Santorum a stage to say all his terrible things is necessary because his ideas need to be put to people upfront so that they can reject them. I don't know what hypothetical fantasy world these people live in, but I think I might fill out some immigration paperwork. Oh wait, I know, it's called living in the Bay Area and being a well off, white, cis, able-bodied person. Only if you live in the Pacific coast and never stop in between cities would you think that people are not confronted with being queer, or being a woman, at all times. If we should really put up the face of these ideas, we should all just write "Fred Phelps" in for the ballot, then people would really have to face up to bigotry. Well, that is if people weren't already aware of the fact that lots of Republican politicians are generally bigoted.

You know what? There's a reason that Santorum is where he is now. It's not because he hid his secret hatred of queer people. It's the fact that his stuff gets put out there, and he wins, because lots of people agree with him. There are just a lot of bigoted people in the world, and it all can't be like the rich white gay paradise that is San Francisco or Berkeley. If you think that anti-queer people bigotry is something that doesn't come up in midwestern states, or that people there would all of a sudden say "or wait, Rick Santorum doesn't like gay people? That's terrible!" you live in bubble that ignores the fact that in most places, lots of people agree with him.

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Just Replaced a Bad Word with a Worse One

I'm tired of the word "progressive." It's become the self-identifier of people who may have used to call themselves liberal, and has become pretty much the de factor monarch of terms used to identify a rather nebulous group of people who are defined by "Not being conservative." In a weird Mircea Eliade way, conservative is likewise defined in that via negativa: conservatives are those who are "not liberal/progressive/commies."

I discussed with Anna perhaps a couple of days ago, and we both agreed that it didn't make any sense to call oneself a liberal: it hardly stands for what the term originally meant. I mean, I suppose liberals of our day share some with Locke and Smith, but when economists like Hayek and von Mises also fit that category (and perhaps more closely), it's time to get rid of a word like that. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that was the reason that people fled from that word. In fact, the reason why is because conservatives somehow managed to make their self identification a negative thing, and so they promptly ceded ground and ran away from it, to "progressive." Not even to mention things like "socialist."

Progressive wasn't really a new word though. It really actually recalls an attitude and movement starting in the late 1800's. The fact that we are recalling the good old days of that time period is a little depressing in and of itself. But I want to critique why it is that we might be using this word (if it is anything more than simply nostalgia).

I think my main problem with the word "Progressive" is that it has this whole Western teleology feeling to it: there is obviously Progress (with a capital P) and we will continuously get better until our society is some sort of utopia. This implies that anyone who happens to disagree with a progressive happens to be 'regressive' or a backwards person. We have certainly never heard this rhetoric in colonialist thought before. Oh wait, yes we have. So apparently there is some sort of objective measure that progressives all have the innate knowledge of, and will assist all the other people in achieving.     

You know, Liberal is a terrible word for someone with the vague area of politics that I occupy: I disagree with much of what would be called 'liberal' thought. But at least it actually refers to a system of belief- it actually says something about the person who claims to be a liberal. With the word "progressive" you simply have a political notion based upon the vague idea of "Progress," which is not only something completely unfalsifiable (and therefore improvable) but also sound and fury signifying nothing. It's basically like claiming to be a "Good People" political group. Who wouldn't want to progress? I mean, even neoconservatives think that they are enabling progress by giving their version of it (democracy) through wars. I mean, you only have to look at the collection of groups in the world that call themselves "Progressive" to realize that the word has basically no worth. And not only does it have no real meaning, the only true depth it has is one that is a concept generally used to further things like cultural imperialism. So... great choice?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pitfalls of Sex Positive Christianity

I realize that my blog seems to make me seem like a super reactionary person. Those who don't necessarily know me super well might get an incorrect impression, because I seem to mostly use this blog to criticize things that 'progressive' people say or do. I don't want that to come off as "So let's go back to tradition" because that's definitely not it. I just think that there are so many people already talking about those things in ways that are way superior to mine that I figure I might as well write about things that aren't beating a dead horse, so to speak. I might change that though, but just to clarify.

So, with that, I want to say that I have some serious reservations about how the embodiment/sex-positive Christian theology thing is talked about. Maybe that's just a hold over from my more conservative childhood, or perhaps it has to do with reading too many ascetic writers. But a lot of the rhetoric just seems to kind of make me feel weird. Obviously it is better than the whole "Sex after marriage only or you are going to hell" camp, but there are still some things I don't thing are very compelling. Or perhaps, over compelling to the point of seeming compulsory.

The first is that I find embodiment theology to basically be arguing so heavily on the side of sexuality being sacred and important that I overemphasizes it. The critique is that Traditional Christianity (TM [there is nothing wrong about that reification]) has been negatively obsessed with sex and sexuality; what the solution seems to be from many sex positive theologians is to be obsessed with sex and sexuality, but positively. I guess you might be able to make the argument that that is the only way to overcome the sex negativity of Traditional Christianity (ughuhguhguh). However, the lengths that they go to to reconcile sexuality with Christianity actually seems to have its own problems.

Most of the authors I've read have been in love with Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic," which I personally don't have a great opinion of. I think it's a totally ahistorical way of looking at asceticism, along with being a bit essentialist and kind of sidelines asexual people. Why I mention it is because Lorde's essay is a great example of the trend in sex positive Christianity (even though Lorde wasn't Christian) to see sexuality as something that is necessary for spirituality, along with being completely universal.

The first problem here is that some people don't like sex. The idea of making the Erotic some sort of spiritual force or will to Power (or whatever) seems to be excluding asexual people from any sort of spiritual existence. I mean, it also presents everyone who doesn't agree with the sex positive theologians as people with a false consciousness, which is a really condescending way of doing theology. But moreover, I think it is sacralizing and spiritualizing something that doesn't necessarily need it.

Sex isn't some sort of mystical experience. It's not some sort of higher spiritual practice. Not inherently. It's an action. Like any other action, it can be made sacred or it can be made sinful. But don't tell me that somehow sexuality and spirituality are really tied or something and sexual desire is some sort of sacralized idea. Sex is just a thing that people do. I'm not trying to cheapen things, I just think that it is being afforded a great deal of more theological and metaphysical importance than it actually deserves. I'm not saying that it can't be a good or even great thing that brings people together. But I think many of these writers fail to realize that a lot of other things can also act in the same way; they are so busy arguing that sex is good that they make sexuality some sort of idol and reification. And in doing so, by pitting themselves as the "us" vs. the sex negative "them", they close out a lot of people from their theology.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Short Interlude: Why I'm Annoyed with the Contraception Debate

Ok, so I know that this is kind of breaking up the flow of my last post. But I kind of just want to voice my entire ambivalence to the arguments that I have recently seen regarding the contraception "debates" that have been going on recently. Mainly two things that I've been thinking.

First: are we seriously at this point where we are arguing about whether people should be allowed to use birth control? I mean... if someone thinks that that's a winner for politics, then ok. But I think that is shows how ridiculously terrible the entire political scene is right now. We've been ceding ground to people who want to take away sexual liberties for the past 40 years, and now we're at the point that condoms and birth control are being debated. That is so messed up that it kind of makes me want to scream. Also, the fact that some religious beliefs may not like birth control, doesn't mean that it's something that they don't have to pay for. I wish I could work for the Quakers and not have to pay taxes that go to war because of my "religious conscience," but I'd still get put in prison.

That is one that goes without saying. The second feeling I have on it is a bit more complex. I'm not Roman Catholic, and I disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on a lot of things, but I'm getting really frustrated by the rhetoric that is going on around this.

I don't think people quite realize the societal level that anti-Catholicism runs in this country, and there have been a lot of comments that I've heard from ostensibly "Progressive" (I hate that term, but it's a self identification) people have given into it. There is kind of the same thing going on for Mormons because of Romney, but I would talk about that later if necessary. But there have been a lot of people spreading rumors and general comments about Roman Catholics, or the Church that I think are pretty suspicious. Insofar as they have a long history in American Anti-Catholicism.

What I mean is, that I've heard plenty of people say things such as "The Catholic Church controls all the Catholics in Congress", or that Rick Santorum would answer to the Pope if elected President, or calling Catholics 'papists'. I've heard that the Catholic Church was why George W. Bush won his second term, because of their massive influence and money. Never mind that those people don't get that Catholics are generally more leftist in politics than the average person. Look, we've heard all of this before, and it was when we had JFK running for President. We can say that Rick Santorum would be a terrible President without falling into rhetorical conspiracy theories that were prominent 50 years ago.

The other thing that pisses me off is the recent mentioning of Catholic child abuse scandals. Now, there are a couple of different reasons for this. One of them is that almost all of them are done in the context of joking ABOUT CHILD ABUSE. Scoring cheap political points by making jokes at the expense of children who have been abused (even if the joke is intended for their abuser) is gross, and the people who do it should think twice before doing it. You're still joking about rape, even if you "mean it for good reasons". The second is that it follows a lot of the unfortunate trends of talking about Catholic child abuse scandals. The emphasis on Catholic priests' sex abuse over other faith traditions echoes both the American idea of priests as homosexuals, but of homosexuals as child molesters. From what I've been able to find, The John Jay Report on Catholic child sex abuse notes that the prevalence of abusing priests is about 4%, which is about the same amount as pedophilia across demographics.

What I'm not saying is that that is alright. But I think the obsession with Catholic priests is one that echoes a long history of messed up attitudes. We don't bring up teachers abusing students every time that they disagree with us, so why do that with priests? I think it comes both from American prejudices of the Catholic Church, along with homophobia, since the abuse is statistically more homosexual than places like schools.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Going to School to Be a Glorified Part Time Worker (and a call to action)

When I talk to most people about my plans for when I get out of school, I think that we have very different visions of the landscape that I am looking out into. I'm definitely better off than most people, but I just want to kind of outline what going into higher education is like:

So, let's say I hypothetically get accepted into a Ph.D program. Great! That is pretty difficult, since they are really getting rid of a lot of acceptance into those programs (for reasons we'll see later). I could hypothetically get a full ride scholarship, or maybe just a partial one. If any scholarship is involved though, you can better believe that I will be in some sort of T.A. position. What that means is that I will be a 'teaching assistant' for a class that is taught by a long term professor, usually with a large student class.

I'm pretty conflicted about the idea of T.A.'ing. On one hand, it's a good way of teaching graduate students how to teach, and it gives you a good amount of experience. On the other hand, I think it can get in the way of the learning that Ph.D study requires in a lot of instances, usually by forcing a student to do a whole bunch of work that is not really helpful for learning how to teach. This basically amounts to menial work like grading papers. This allows for teachers to teach giant classes and have T.A.'s do the work that isn't lecturing to a giant class full of students who aren't exactly paying attention; not quality education, but also it allows for the school to hire less teachers.

In any case, I would do that for some years, and then graduate. Yay! At this point, I am either incredibly lucky to have not gained any debt, or I am in debt to a bank. This debt is basically permanent: even bankruptcy can't get rid of student debt. So, at an interest rate of about 6% compounded a year, I will start to look for a job.  There's basically two types of jobs that professors can get. There is a job that is tenured, and there are non-tenured jobs. Now, when most people think about a professorship, they are thinking a tenured professor. But perhaps they shouldn't, and here's why:

There's a pretty big difference between a tenured professor and a non-tenured (also called adjuct or visiting) professor. Tenured professors get paid a decent salary, and also get health benefits, vacation, etc. All the things a reasonable full time job would give. Adjunct professors do not get the same thing: many times they are paid barely above minimum wage for a position that is technically part time, but requires more than 40 hours.

So why would you hire a tenured professor? Well, that's exactly the question that schools have asked themselves, and they've decided that they mostly don't need them anymore. So they'll hire some, just like some poor Americans become honest-to-God rich from 'working hard'. But the majority will be Adjunct, and they can fill in the gaps with T.A.s (see?), sometimes even undergrad students. If you look closely, this is exactly what has happened at jobs like Target/Walmart. As opposed to hiring one person for 40 hours a week and having to pay pesky things like benefits (or a real salary), they will hire two people for 20 hours a week, paying significantly less to get the same amount of work.

Well, not really. The quality goes down, sure. But in America, it's not the quality of the college education you get, it's the bare minimum that you get it. It's a status symbol for putting in a certain amount of money.

So, with the decrease in tenured jobs, I will probably have to settle for a 25k per year adjunct job, with no benefits. The sad thing is that you get people defending this system, because you have to 'pay your dues' to get a tenured position. Or to teach because it's 'what you love'. Well, besides the Stockholm Syndrome/abusive husband logic that goes into that, I would say that this system is rigged to generally allow people who are already well off to get these full time professorships. Only people who have some sort of buffer of money can live that way for the years required to get a good job. And these people with the buffer are generally upper class, white, etc.

Of course, there won't ever be enough tenured jobs for all the adjunct faculty (since they keep getting rid of the tenured jobs), so what does that mean? That means that the people who can't financially afford to hold a sub-living wage will have to drop out of it. It's basically a system that is predicated on crushing intelligent people's dreams, wasting their resources, and continuing the racist, sexist, classist status quo. All in order to tie people up into wage slavery to pay off their exorbitant debt they got in the process.

This isn't even to mention the fact that many people are shoved into college by a society that requires it for any job you won't get scoffed at for having, only to call you entitled if you don't take that same job because it won't pay your student loans.

With that in mind, I'm going to (in the next post) investigate the ethical and political arguments for a Student debt/loan Strike.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is something ever 'just a preference'? (Pt. 2)

Right when Anna talks about how insightful I am, I have a post about Ska puns. Sorry if anyone was expecting any different.

But! In my last real post I was talking about whether something being 'just a preference' was a way of avoiding responsibility if the preference seems racist. I think that using that example, I was able to show that it is not really  tenable to say that showing racial preference has no ties to racist thinking, and that it being out of one's control doesn't really make it any less of a problem. At the very least, I think that I raised questions as to the legitimacy of the 'well that's just what I like", and why at least in the instance of desiring other people, that is not a complete defense against criticism. At the end, I said that I was going to bring this question to gender, and look at whether this criticism of 'just my preference'  could be extended in the same way.

Just for some background in my feelings on gender: I think that it is completely a social construct. That isn't to say that there aren't personality traits that might be inborn; there are certain physical characteristics that one might be born with, or a set that one feels more comfortable with. However, the grouping of 'male/men' and 'female/women' is socially constructed, and the ways that we understand people as being grouped into them  is definitely not some sort of objective reasoning. Let alone that there are two definite categories, male/female, is its own opinion, not fact. Just to give a quick, very cursory Gender theory 101.

So in the light of that thinking (which postulates both race and gender as categories which are socially created) we come to a challenging thought. If your sexual preference being based on race feels to many people as intuitively prejudiced, then why is it different with gender (barring heterosexism/cissexism/tradition)? That is to say, don't all the arguments that I made in the previous post about race apply in perhaps similar ways to identities like 'straight' or perhaps even 'gay' or 'lesbian'?

What pushed me to write this this time was a recent news article where Cynthia Nixon said that her gayness "is a choice". Later, she withdrew that statement. This drew a large amount of ire from the mainstream LGB people who believe that there is some sort of physiological or genetic cause to their orientation. I disagree with them, based on the notion of gender that I have above, but I don't really want to discuss that at this post.

The question might be: "Is it problematic (not a word I enjoy, but I'll use here) to distinguish between who you are attracted to based on gender/sex?" As we saw before, the majority of arguments are going to fall along the same two lines that the race question did, although this time with much more emphasis on the first response than the second. To show those again in this new argument, it would be:

1) Not being sexually attracted to (or especially to) a certain gender/sex is not (cis)sexist

2) If it is (cis)sexist, then since it is not under my control, it is not unethical (/I'm not (cis)sexist)

Now, we see that a lot of the reasons that people brought up for finding certain races preferable are also used for having a certain orientation. However, there is a change in emphasis.

The one that is most obvious is that people will hold that the genders are biologically different in ways that races aren't, namely dealing with how genitals and secondary sex characteristics are configured. This sounds similar to Devin's comment that people might use race as a shorthand to mean certain physical characteristics, although in this instance it is much more obvious. There are two problems with this argument from what I can see: it denies the variety of different types of people might have the same primary (and secondary) sex characteristics (and is therefore cissexist/transphobic), and it is also based almost completely on bodily objectification of other people.

The first problem here is that when one says woman, they mean 'vagina' and when they say men, they mean 'penis'. This looks over the fact that there are women with penises, men with vaginas, and a range of possibilities in between. And, to be blunt, you can not see someone with clothes on and know for certain what is going to be under them. Not only that, but there is a great deal of overlap in body shape, type and so on between people of all genders. So saying that you are using shorthand to certain physical characteristics is presupposing that there is only one type of each gender. This is cissexist/transphobic in ways that are, to me, rather obvious.

The second problem is that when one says this, they are basically saying "all I care about in my partner is what junk they have," which while I wouldn't qualify it as transphobic, I would certainly say is either sexist or just generally unethical. to use an example: A straight man is into women, generally. But if he meets a transsexual woman who has not had any surgery (because she doesn't have money, doesn't want to, etc.) most of the time he will not count her as a person to sexually desire. What this implicitly says is that it's not being a woman that he is attracted to, but that the vagina is the most important quality when it comes to his attraction to women. This seems obviously objectifying, and kind of unethical. This likewise goes for gay men who don't want to date someone without a penis, lesbian women who don't want to date someone with a penis, straight women who don't want to date someone with a vagina, and all the people who would not date intersex people. It would appear that the preference is not for the person, but only for their body, which I find to be somewhat unethical.

Another argument for it being 'just a preference' is that people are attracted to a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about people of a certain gender. A lot of times, I kind of consider this to be a form of essentialism, but we can see how this basically trades in stereotypes just like people saying that 'asians are more [x]'. This will not always be the case, and to try to exclude people because their stereotype doesn't fit your attraction is not beyond criticism.

For instance, there are plenty of women who are just as masculine as most men. Beyond the objectifying primacy of genitals (as just discussed) it is hard for me to see why someone who is attracted to men for their masculinity would not likewise be attracted to masculine women. To say that it's a different form of masculinity seems to me to just be essentializing women as not being able to be as masculine as men.

So I guess that would be my response to the first point. Maybe not as fleshed out as I would want, but I can always add to it later. Now, onto the second response: this occurs much less frequently dealing with gender than race, mainly because the first response is still very acceptable. But I think the second response falls apart for many of the same reasons it did in the earlier post.

One perhaps can not change their desire, but one can certainly change how you look at people, how you group and categorize them. I reject the essentialism that someone can just instantly spot who a man or woman  instinctively. And grouping people into 'man' and 'woman' is what allows for identities like 'gay' and 'straight' to exist. Without understanding people first as (definitely either) man or woman, the categories of gay and straight become very hard to use, and mostly unhelpful. So in that way, I would say being straight or gay is a choice: a choice to see men and women as the two main categories of people that exist, and to choose your partner based on that. I'm just not sure how ethical I think that choice is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ska Puns for All!

I love making puns with the word Ska. If I were ever to be in a ska band, I already have three thematic releases to put out, each dealing with their subject matter within the song.


Albert Skamus
Jean Paul Skartre
Skaul Kripke
Immanuel Skant
Thomas Skabbes
James Madiskan
Baruch Spinoska
Skarl Marx
Skan Fei zi
Mikhail Skakunin
Errico Skalatesta
Hannah Skarendt
Friedrich Nietzcheska


Skaugustine of Hippo
Thomas Skaquinas
Skathanasius of Alexandria
Skanselm of Skanterbury
Maximus the Skanfessor
John Chryskastom
Skambrose of Milan
John Skassian
Teresa of Skavila
Thomas Ska Kempis
Skatherine of Siena
Peter Skabelard


Joseph Skalin
Fidel Skastro
Skaugosto Pinochet
Skadam Hussein
Ayatollah Skameini
Francisco Skanko Don't tell me these aren't awesome, because they definitely are.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Is something ever 'just a preference'? (Pt. 1)

I was having a discussion about this earlier, and wanted to see if maybe writing down my thoughts would make them more understandable. I'm a little edgy about writing about this, since some people might take it as an attack. I'm not trying to condescend to anyone, or de-legitimize their feelings. After all, I'm not always right.

On to the actual subject:

A lot of people seem to act like saying that something is 'just a preference' completely safeguards them from any criticism. Sure, there are preferences that are not really an ethical issue. Take one's favorite color, for instance. but then there are preferences that a lot of people (myself included) think are kind of ethically questionable. The example that I'm going to use for this is sexual attraction based on race.

You see this everywhere, and you see criticisms of it less than that, but still frequent. Take for instance, the John Mayer fiasco where he said (in possibly the most stupid way) that he is not attracted to women who aren't white. More generally, you see it in personal ads, saying that people either dislike certain races, or like them more than other races. The language implies that the average person is white, of course. There are identities along these lines: "Rice queen" (someone who prefers asians), et cetera. Racialicious has a very good article on the coded racism-via-preference that goes on on Craigslist, particularly.

Now, most people who either don't like certain races, or like certain ones especially so, would say that they are not racist at all. These things are just a preference, and they are not under their control in any way. There are two arguments (in fact, two contradictory arguments) going on in this statement, so let's break them down:

1) Not being sexually attracted to (or especially to) a certain race is not racist.

2) If it is racist, then since it is not under my control, it is not unethical (/I'm not racist).

As for the first of these, I would say that this might be true in a world where there is no such thing as racism, or history. As it is, we see that the preferences just happen to generally be for white people, and they just happen to not like certain people of color. It seems very convenient that these preferences would just seem to line up with historical racism like that. And before you say 'well, some of them are specifically into black/asian/other PoC', when you look at a majority of these, we find that they prefer stereotypes of them. The reason why one can say 'I prefer asian women' is because you think that asian women are somehow different than white women, and this difference almost always reflects stereotypes. If you don't believe me, try looking for a person who wants to find a feminine black man or a decisive, energetic asian woman.

So saying that having these preferences doesn't line up with racist legacies is an excuse, and a wrong one at that. But what about argument 2? This one is something that you find when people are feeling defensive because you may have noted that their 'preference' seems a lot like prejudice.

I would say that there are a few assumptions going on in that statement. The first is that you cannot ever change your preferences at all, ever. The second is that if something is not under your control, you have no ethical responsibility for it. I'm interested in how many people think that either of those is true. Can we change or control who we desire? And if we can't, are those desires completely outside of the realm of criticism?

While I don't know whether you can change who you desire, or if you desire, I do think that we can change the categories that we see people in. Most of the people talking about race in these examples have a very simplistic notion of it, which allows them to separate people into very clear boxes. Not only are these boxes themselves pretty unhelpful (since people can be biracial, or all different sorts of 'asian'), but the labels that people place them into come with historical baggage of stereotypes. After all, one might ask for a black woman, thinking all sorts of stereotypes of 'bossy/sassy/whatever', and get the exact opposite. Even physically, there is not one type of 'asian man', et cetera. So dividing it into groups like that seems to be a problem, more than desiring certain qualities themselves.

Even if you can't change that preference, does it suddenly make it sacrosanct and unable to be criticized? Not completely, I don't think.

If we accept that preferences like this are a function of oppression, it isn't hard to see why: we are constantly bombarded with stereotypes and other racist (in this example) imagery. Does it make it fine to believe other racist things? Not really. We can admit that while it isn't completely the fault of the person for being raised in a racist society, that doesn't make the preferences or ideas any less of a problem. Of course, will this only function to make people more ashamed of their desire object choices? I'm not sure. But maybe they can take the way their desire functions as their unfortunate legacy in racist society, while trying to create a world where that legacy is minimized.

So that was basically the groundwork to argue that preferences are able to be criticized. In Part II I want to look at whether an analogy can be made between race and gender, and whether that makes identities like 'straight' or 'gay' themselves oppressive.