Strawmanning my religion

So, I’m watching Glee (2×03) through the internets today and this week’s episode had some great songs, especially the Beatles number, but almost every moment that wasn’t music sucked. I felt like the whole episode was designed to strawman my religion- because of course, this week’s episode was about theism and prayer.

And yes, it was about theism and not religion, and it softballed the subject so badly that it wasn’t even funny. The only laugh moment I had was when Kurt added to his quip that Christianity isn’t always very friendly to women, which while absolutely true, is a little less self-involved than we might have expected from him. This was the only actual enlightened direct commentary on religion, and they barely even dented the bunch of adorable puppies they had representing the Religion Is Awesome When Life is Hard side by showing Finn that sometimes you can’t get what you pray for, or you get it in a horrible way. Which of course they immediately explain away by having Emma the guidance councilor pull an It’s More Complicated Than That, and we don’t get to see any of the emotional impact of that, because the reaction song didn’t really have anything visual to back it up, unlike the five or so the theistic kids got.

The rest was a terrible suck-fest full of theistic self-righteousness about being persecuted because the kids weren’t allowed to sing religiously themed songs. Never mind that Glee Club is extracurricular and may be allowed to follow different rules, because our Sometimes-Villain Sue Sylvester’s hate-on for prayer lead her to get Kurt to make a complaint about the religious content of the Glee club.

This continues the one thing that ruins my big bisexual love affair with Glee: the fact that it strawmans more liberal1 positions in order to make fun of them instead of actually trying to open up a debate. When Glee makes fun of conservatives, it makes fun of them for positions some of them actually believe. Nobody I’ve ever heard from believes you shouldn’t be able to sing “What If God Was One Of Us” in a public school, whether they’re American or New Zealanders. When Glee makes fun of liberal positions, we get get a mixed bag of chocolate and vomit. (sometimes the absolutely likely “My dads can’t sew”, and sometimes the terrible “gay boys are just like girls, only with penises!” Gay boys are boys who date boys, making them like girls only insofar as those girls are also androsexual) And frankly, no matter how many chocolates you get in a bag, one that’s filled with vomit really does risk ruining the whole bag.

The episode also completely failed to touch on atheistic spirituality: by which I mean there wasn’t even name-dropping for deism, (that would be me) Buddhism, reincarnation, humanism, (also me) and secular values. (yay!) Kurt “learned” a completely backwards lesson in which he gives up his right to a prayer-free space to worry or mourn in. Yes, it’s great that his friends were supporting him, but when someone asks you for space from your religion so they don’t have to confront your worship in a public context, that’s something they’re entitled to. Instead his friends essentially invade his father’s hospital room to pray in there after having been asked not to.

There were some less bad and more mixed moments, though. For one thing, there was very little of Season 1’s tendency to try and mock things by just showing them and assuming we know they’re ridiculous. If it’s meant to be ridiculed here, we knew why, even if it was completely wrong-headed of the writers to think we should agree, which made the enraging parts less so because the counterbalancing moments weren’t just little allusions telling us republicans are crazy. Probably the highlight mixed moment was when Sue confronted her sister about her frustration with prayer as a child, and her sister (for non-watchers, she has Downs Syndrome) gave us an “I’m okay, you’re okay” moment by telling Sue that God doesn’t make mistakes, which was precious, if it risked straying a little into Just World Theory and having conservatives foaming at the mouth saying stupid things like “yeah, Sue’s sister deserves to be retarded because God made her that way!”. I viewed as more of a “Hey, people may have teased me, but this made me who I am, and who I am rocks!” moment, and if that’s what they meant, Sue’s sister was totally capable of expressing that in a much clearer way.

So, in closing, the kids were absolutely right to pray for Burt, but nothing said they needed to do that somewhere that it would violate his son’s space and steal his right to control his own life. Because that’s all seperation of church and state is about: letting everyone have the space to not practice (or practice, if they so choose) their own beliefs, and not assuming that you get to invade other people’s space by putting your spiritual beliefs in it without permission and assuming they’re okay sharing them, or forcing them to debate you about them when they have other things they care about more.

1Glee is a social commentary and very rarely touches on economic issues, so I’m deliberately not using the words “left” and “right” here, because we’re talking a different political dimension. This will be comfortable to those who read about American politics where both parties are economically right wing, but readers from the rest of the world might appreciate the distinction. 🙂

Little problems are big problems

One of the most frustrating aspects of people who aren’t experienced with any type of discrimination is the assumption that small problems don’t matter. Why, goes the refrain, does it matter that people use language like “gay” to mean uncool, or “lame” to mean slow, when there are very real incidents of violence against gays, homelessness amongst out teens, or a lack of awareness of the very existence of the disabled?

The answer is that if you put a lot of small problems into a pot, mix them together, and then leave them to simmer, you get some really bloody disgusting soup, where the young girl who thought “gay” meant uncool might become a parent who evicts one of her children for being gay or lesbian. Where people who call things lame constantly ignore the disabled. Where getting away with the little problems starts producing big problems.

Discrimination is a slippery slope, and it’s simple pragmatism to get at small problems before they avalanche into bigger ones. If sometimes that means we come across as jumping down someone’s throat to make a point about something that doesn’t matter, perhaps that’s because there’s so much to do on this front that sometimes it’s hard to manage. I’ve owed apologies for this in the past. But I’d rather apologise and be able to love someone as a friend or a member of my family without the reservation of constantly thinking: “but I hate when you belittle who I am, or who my friends are”.

You look hilarious

My new passtime: Laughing at guys who queue uncomfortably outside lingerie shops while their friends/partner/relatives are inside. 😉 If it bothers you so much, at least arrange to meet her/them somewhere else. Consider my L officially OL-ed.

Why Labour are also fuck-ups

So, seeing I’ve been strongly critical of national on women’s rights, let’s do a retrospective of similar areas where Labour fucked up on identity politics, political freedom and non-discrimination. I have the feeling this is going to make me temporarily popular with certain other Greens who share with me a deep distrust of Labour, and of course I’m sure the National Partisans will laugh it up at both what I believe and the fact that I’m absolutely going to town on Labour. Don’t worry, you’re still in the targets, too. 😉

  • Pay Equity (for women): They essentially started the investigation into pay equity in the public service to make the problem go away until next term. Except that was stupid: Labour ran a healthy surplus for most of its terms in government, an ideal time to implement the increase in public sector wages that would be the simplest way to address direct pay equity issues. Not only that, but they knew they had a pretty good chance at being ousted coming up to their third bid for re-election, so if pay equity is as important as they’re implying, they should have put it on their list to fast-track before the election. Overall their reluctance to act on an issue even the most anti-feminist of women would appreciate in some sense has been inexcusable, and it made their criticism on this issue pretty hollow.
  • Seabed and Foreshore: Confiscating these was a disaster. Even if you accept they needed to be nationalised in some form rather than being claimed in settlement, the government should have at least let Maori have their day in court first and compensated Maori with something else in settlements if they did have a good claim. And even if nationalisation of some sort did go ahead, the seabed and foreshore should have been placed into the public domain (where everybody effectively owns it and has usage rights) rather than vested to the crown. (where we all just have to trust no government decides to do something incredibly dumb with it) Overall a fuck-up of massive proportions even if you didn’t want any seabed and foreshore claims going ahead. Not only that, but reversing this thing is part of the reason National doesn’t have to rely on the Greens to pass anything that Act don’t want to- both in the sense of the existence of the Maori Party, and in the sense of their willingness to form a coalition with National.
  • Marriage is still straight-only: And labour defended it as straight-only. I don’t see why we didn’t go whole-hog on this, civil unions lead that way eventually, and giving space to idiots like Gordon Copeland and Brian Tamaki only encourages them. Make them steam it out.
  • The bill of rights is still only paid lip service: The most ridiculous of bills are found consistent with the bill of rights that even a budding civil rights activist could see are not. If we’re going to maintain the idea that the bill of rights should limit the power of Parliament, let’s actually have at it. For one, we should be having judicial overrulings of implied restrictions of straight marriages for transwomen and transmen, and gay marriage. For another, Three Strikes should be disallowed if it passes. Labour made no move to tighten up our constitution here, and they deserve some of the blame for not doing enough every time National and its most extreme coalition partner rub it in their face with legislation with terrible civil liberties connotations.
  • No checks on Parliament’s power: As the academic and social elite of New Zealand, (as opposed to the financial and social elite, who they sit opposite to) Labour seems to think that Parliament knows best, and even the biggest partisan reformists are reluctant to act quickly and decisively on any constitutional reform. The lack of any meaningful review of laws leads to low-quality legislation as there is no disincentive to sloppy drafting, and only select committees save us from elected dictatorships as it is. More oversight of Parliament is necessary, and I don’t just mean opening the books to OIA requests. Unfortunately, the phrase “constutional reform” sets off monarchists even if it’s unrelated to a Republic, and Labour didn’t have the guts.
  • The EFA: While unlike many from the Right and Centre I don’t think law touched free speech with a ten-foot pole, and I supported the general motivations behind it, there were three big problems with this law.
    • Was not radical or tough enough: If Parliament was going to get tough on electoral laws, they should have gone whole-hog. Instead we have anonymous donations below a thousand dollars in a world where donating anything to a political party is an extraordinary act of partisanship for most. Donations through filter trusts may still evade pubic scrutiny of their real sources, and the loopholes in the EFA are generally still big enough to run a train through.
    • Poor drafting and implementation: Before I get to the political part, this law should probably have set every-year all-year caps at a more sensible rate on both party and issue campaigning. Beyond that, Labour left notification laws a muddle, and the procedure for dealing with them a farce, with even the minister responsible for the law being caught out on her opinions of what did or did not breach it very frequently.
    • Parliament should not regulate politics: If Labour had wanted to do this the proper way, rather than leave the Greens to negotiate a Citizen’s Jury into elecoral finance, they should have put all the relevant laws in the hands of a truly independent body with a similar structure and lobbied like any other interest group. That approach would have probably been a publicity boost, and if it left them with less cash in hand, it would be likely that experts would attempt to be equally hard on National’s large donors to equalise the playing field.
  • Gay adoption and provisions for other non-heteronormative families: This merited visiting in at least some manner after civil unions were passed.
  • Their list: While claiming to be a left party and generally supporting freedoms and championing the underprivileged, Labour betrays the strains of elitism that run through its more powerful tiers by retaining strict central control of their party list. One of the big, and legitimate, criticisms of MMP is that list candidates can be chosen entirely by backroom meeting in most parties. Righting it is as simple as adopting a postal ballot for your list and using it to encourage members to join. Labour should have joined the Greens in this long ago.
  • Prisons: Not only is Labour a staunch supporter of incubating more criminals with a policy of systematic over-incarceration and a justice policy based on vengeance rather than restoration of our community, but this is about the most likely aspect of their policy to get dramatically worse under Phil Goff.
  • Cannot really be called centre-left: Centre-left would imply that there are significant aspects of leftism remaining within the caucus and among senior party members. Labour has been a centre party and a staunch supporter of the flawed attempt at free-market capitalism that trade liberals have unleashed on the world since before MMP, and is remaining one after it. Only their focus on reducing unemployment and their staunch social liberals make them a positive force in parliament. (although that’s a pretty big “only”)
  • Environmentally kleptocratic: Despite their big promises of cleaning up New Zealand and moving towards sustainability, Labour put much more effort towards economic development and paid bare lip service to minimising global warming with their softball ETS that was hardly worth supporting.

Now, keep in mind that this is a very complete list in its strongest and most general form. Largely speaking, I think Labour is the third-best Party in Parliament and actually does more good than harm. I think that its policies for the middle class, its Keynesian streak, its financial (if not economic) management of the country, and its tax system are all very good “second bests”. Most of the MPs individually are good people who I have a lot of commonality with politically, they just have enough specifics wrong to drive me half-insane watching them failing so close to getting it right. Presumably even a pretty good government would generate a list at least have as long, and I think this last government has to be admitted as having managed okay on a fair amonut of issues by most of its critics.

But I have deep reservations on the current direction of the Labour Party, its priorities, its conduct, and its trustworthiness, and would not vote for it under any system where I had an ability to really choose another party. Labour has lost its hang of defending civil liberties, privacies, and its social liberals are mired beneath the free trade academics who think they can get a good deal for the country’s working class through imaginary infinite growth. It’s not gonna happen Labour, and you need to stop thinking that anything but a physically static economy can be branded with the word “sustainable”.mong

More philosophy: The Universal Right to Life

So, having been drawn into the topic of abortion lately by the comments, I want to wax philosophical1 about the antecedents to2 my beliefs about abortion.

One of the reasons I turned away from believing that abortion was largely wrong to seeing it as very difficult to understand (and eventually from there to believing that women are the best judges of whether they should have one or not) is the issue of the universal right to life. This may seem rather backwards to some people, as the right to life is a supporting argument to a pro-life position- but the reason it eventually led me to a pro-choice position was the problems with the universal right to life3 that make it a very extreme belief.

Firstly, the universal right to life is the most consistent justification for a pro-life point of view. It says simply that life itself grants the right to further life, and you only need DNA, enough size to have some sort of brain, and a pulse to have a right to life. As I said in the comments earlier, this has a number of implications: The first is, you better be one hell of an animal rights activist. Not only can someone who believes in a universal right to life that makes abortion immoral not eat meat, they have to be exactly as evangelical about vegetarianism as they do about their pro-life views. Also, you should probably move to somewhere they believe in reincarnation and sweep the street clear of insects if the right to life is to you, so sacred and universal, that you would never kill an animal.

Secondly, life implies violence4, and violence implies killing. Even if we don’t directly kill, business advantage takes food out of someone else’s mouth, we ignore poverty that leads to harm both here and overseas, we enable or directly wage wars, we stand back with our non-interventionist policies while other people oppress and murder each other, and that’s even ignoring all the times animals kill each other that we stand back and allow. If you believe in a universal right to life, you already have a lot of fires to put out.

So, many pro-life supporters don’t. There are two common restrictions on the right to life. The first is the personal restriction to killing: I believe in a right to life, so I will not kill. This is a functional position, but it prevents you from arguing for this standard for everyone else and thus imposing it by law, especially if you rely on others to kill for you- if you support war or soldiers, or lethal force in police action, or torture, or political assassination, or anything similar, even discounting the killing of animals involved in human life5. This really falls down when taken in context of other beliefs of the people who use it as an argument, because it’s so inconsistent with many pro-life values, it’s likely just a stand-in for the second idea.

The other idea sometimes comes bundled together with a personal restriction, a form that’s probably more viable than a personal restriction alone. In its most extreme form, it goes like this: Something about the human species makes us special, and anything concieved with our DNA has a right to life from conception. This is not usually an argument to the right to life from sentience or personhood, as these concepts are both very debatable in how early they apply to infants, fetuses, zygotes, etc… Neither is it an argument from human potential- this has its own problems. This restriction is usually about any human life being sacred, and it seems to have roots in an anthropocentric6 thought- it seems to be used as a justification that not only can humans not be killed, but that anything that prevents the proliferation of the human species is morally wrong. This sort of thought has always been problematic to me, and my opposition to it led to a lot of my current thoughts and beliefs- my criticism of “strong” catholicism, my Green beliefs about sustainable population, the view that the human race is just a particularly smart type of animal, and so on. This type of thought is fundamentally incompatible with modern life: it incites wistful denial of global warming7, it opposes birth control and sexual liberation, and it’s highly vulnerable to tribalism in its extreme form: “only people like me are really people!”
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Reaction: What isn’t wrong with hate crimes legislation

I picked up on an article in the online edition of the Times by John Cloud this morning on the extension of hate crimes legislation in the USA.

Firstly, let me agree with John Cloud on the critical point here: We can neither police what is in someone’s head, nor can we limit their ability to peacefully express their thoughts. This is what freedom of speech as a legislative principle is about. But hate crimes are not free speech, because they’re not speech. Punishing a hate crime more than an ordinary killing, assault, or harassment doesn’t risk punishing people for being wrong- rather, the angle of attack it’s most vulnerable to (and I don’t agree with this, I’m just being straightforward) is that it’s disproportionate punishment.

John claims that this additional strictness in sentencing is to punish someone for thinking bad things. I completely disagree: the extra punishment is because there are two crimes involved, not just one. The obvious crime is the physical or mental harm inflicted by the damage of the crime directly, and John correctly acknowledges that.

However, the less obvious crime is not that minority groups are outraged or encouraged to riot- no, those are reactions, not causes. The less obvious crime is that hate crimes are an act of domination. They tell people of other races, sexualities, or gender identities to shut up, take what they’re given, and to be very afraid that if they don’t comply with what a few violent and hateful individuals think, they will be harassed, hurt, or killed.

While these visions of kyriarchy might be protected inside someone’s head, or as words on paper, or even in a public speech, expressing them as violent crime aimed to intimidate and dominate the wider culture is indeed going further than a regular violent offense, and the harm that these acts of terrorism- and make no mistake, this is how hate crimes are intended to work, to terrify portions of the populace- need to be deterred with whatever extra muscle we can throw at them.

It’s also disingenuous to say that the only thing someone will care about with regard to hate crimes is the actual crime: I care about the motivation because that motivation spreads, and makes it more dangerous for me to be open about who I am, or for transgender people to transition, or for women to be out at night, or any number of other worries that come along with being who you are and doing what you want to. Hate crimes legislation is a strike back, it gives a little more courage, and tells everyone that the government is on your side a little.

John argues hate crimes legislation doesn’t need to extend to private land1 because hate crimes are already falling. I’m going to have to disagree with him that this is a good reason to abandon protective legislation: This law isn’t what’s going to end hate crimes altogether. The biggest reduction to hate crimes will come when everyone can actually understand and empathise with people of different sexualities, races, and gender identities, and I agree that hate crimes legislation, no matter how comprehensive and punitive, will make little difference. The point of hate crimes legislation is to act as a line in the sand, it starts as a symbol and hopefully gets people to think twice about making that leap from merely being wrong, which ought to never be a crime, to doing wrong- which often is. It gives courage to those of us worried about being a victim, and lets us act a little more closely to how free the average rich white guy can. 😉

1I’ll do him the favour of assuming his opposition to the bill proposed is not on the basis of it extending hate crimes protections to include acts of violence based on gender identity or sexual orientation, because I find the idea of someone opposing that appalling. Who knows if that’s optimistic or not?

Shorter Karl Du Fresne

So, I made the mistake after returning from town today of opening the newspaper, and was within minutes of getting to the B section of the Dominion Post assaulted with the misogyny and rape-apology of a piece from Karl Du Fresne, which fortunately for those of you who haven’t read it, is not online.

Here’s the “Shorter Karl Du Fresne”, or for those unfamiliar with internet memes, a one sentence summary of his article: “ACC is a welfare agency because it offers counselling to rape survivors.”

Firstly, I am going to assume that Karl is neither a rape survivor himself, nor has he consulted any in the construction of his article, given that he shows all the sensitivity of a rampaging rhinoceros. I was going to stay off the ACC “controversy” on G.Blog (and definitely here) because it’s being covered enough by pan-left blogs, but this forces my hand right here, political hot potato or not. (As this blog is intentionally non-partisan I promise not to touch the wider political issues of whether ACC is viable as-is 🙂 )

Firstly and foremost: Rape victims are victims by accident. Nobody asks to be raped1, nobody entices someone to rape them, and nobody deserves to be raped because their rapist or someone trying to excuse their rape thinks the victim2 is a tease. There is a definite theme in Karl’s piece that people (he specifies women- although we should keep in mind that it’s possible for men, especially very young men, to be raped) who don’t press charges are not really victims or survivors of rape, and that nobody is to blame for what might have happened to them because they aren’t willing to have the matter brought to court. There is a very good reason why most rape cases are never even reported, and those that are rarely result in convictions: People like Karl try to shift the blame from (alleged) rapists to rape victims, and wield the word “alleged” like a proclamation of innocence. I have some news for the Karl and anyone out there who think that rape is not a real workplace injury unless a trial has taken place: Innocent until proven guilty is a system we use to prevent the state holding a kangaroo court, not a denial that victims can ever exist without laying charges.

Furthermore, even if, as Karl implies, there are women out there who are trying to dupe the system… well, firstly, they would need that counselling anyway, and secondly, any decent counsellor is pretty good at identifying attention-seeking behaviour and differentiating it from other psychological problems. If someone really is using rape as an excuse, then they have a personality problem that needs to be dealt with before they can be taken seriously by their employer.

Between this and the issue that rape trauma can be debilitating and seriously turn around lives for the worse, ACC’s no-fault system is actually a great way to fund recovery and return to regular life and work for victims who want to become survivors and learn how to deal with the work environment again, and is well within its mandate of insurance for high-impact incidents, whether in our working lives or private lives. Karl’s note at the end of his tirade against this much-needed help is that:

Interestingly enough, an Auckland survey of women being counselled for sexual abuse found that 30 per cent had undergone 100 or more ACC-funded sessions of therapy. Despite that, many expressed disappointment that they were not getting enough.

Instead of perhaps taking from this that rape can induce real and sometimes debilitating long-term trauma, with many survivors having their memories of the event “triggered” by even tangential reminders let alone direct discussion of rape in general, Karl seems to want to imply that this is a waste of money that the state should not be paying for.

I disagree: when the state is an active participant in combating rape and rape-apology, and men raping women becomes as rare as women raping men, then maybe- maybe we can start labelling the cost of supporting rape survivors as “welfare”, at least in the sense of improving the welfare of our society. But when we as a society stand by and let this sort of thing happen, obstruct bringing the perpetrators to justice, glorify objectification and the suggestion of rape in our culture, and don’t even know that partner rape is a bigger threat than street rape, then we are certainly dealing with the occupational cost for women and other rape victims of working or even just living in our rape-friendly society, where women are still viewed by some as property that should not be taken from its proper place.

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