There Shouldn’t Be an App for That

Because consent is more slippery than a yes/no before-sex contract.

 

I consider myself a generally well-read, up-to-date person. Often this is to my own detriment, as I usually know the exact reason that the world is on fire, or the newest thing that should make me despair about humanity. It also makes me a total buzzkill. Whether I’m explaining why we should stop using helium balloons if we want to be able to use MRI’s in the future, or pointing out that Santa Claus shares a lot of characteristics with abusive partners, I can be counted on to provide an informed, depressing reality check. Which is why it’s actually a little bit surprising that I find out something new and weird about the world that I didn’t actually know. Especially when it’s something that I really should have known. Case in point: someone having the bright idea to create an app for consent. 

Consent is something that is both incredibly simple and functionally complicated. Far beyond the old, over-simplified “no means no,” we’ve moved on to “yes means yes.” Consent has to be affirmative (silence does not equal a yes, only yesses or other signs of affirmation equal a yes) enthusiastic (not the result of coercion, badgering, or other negative action, but rather something the person genuinely wants) and sober (you legally cannot consent if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol). Admittedly, this can look a little weird in practice, and often requires a lot of communication between partners—a nod can be a yes, as can other body language. Sometimes consent is not a super formal “Is it acceptable if I insert my penis into your vagina right now?” but rather a “Are you ready?” or “Is this okay?” The idea of affirmative consent is new for a lot of people, and many people who haven’t been practicing it can be understandably confused. But that confusion is no excuse for the dumb idea of turning consent into a literal contract.

Reina Gattuso does an admirable job of explaining the many reasons that a consent app is a bad idea, but they really boil down to one point: consent cannot, and should not, be reduced to a contract. Consent is a mobile concept—I can think that I will be okay with something, only to change my minds moments later. I can be okay with something on Tuesday and not okay with it on Wednesday. And while there is nothing wrong with going over lists of activities with a partner and deciding what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing, you should never feel beholden to that list.

I can’t get over the sensation that a consent app serves the same purpose as a non-disclosure agreement—a way to cover the ass of the person doing the bad thing, and not really anything helpful for the person who is likely to be hurt. I can easily see consent apps and consent contracts being used in court to paint a rape survivor as a flip-flopping liar, or used to pressure a survivor to stay silent. Let’s just not, okay?

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image of “terms and conditions” based on: bfishadow, CC BY 2.0

Let’s Talk About “Societal Norms”

Because there are better ways to run a society.

 

I “godwinned” myself this weekend, at a national conference.

It was a conference focusing on scholarly publishing and blockchain technology, and I’d been invited to talk about citation indexing because the combination of the two (blockchain technology and citation indexes) is a personal hobby of mine. Yes, I’m great at parties, why do you ask? Anyway the talk went fine, and I got through the whole thing without, I think, horribly offending anyone.

But there was another talk, by a self-described “blockchain skeptic,” which did not go over quite so well with the crowd.

Now before I go any further, I want to point out that I am absolutely in favour of skepticism when it comes to the usefulness of blockchains. Here’s a handy flowchart to find out if you need one (hint: you probably don’t). The vast majority of things are not sufficiently improved by the added cost and complexity of a blockchain to warrant the use of one.

But that said, this presentation had a number of serious issues. There were some very strange claims. The claim was made that privately-delivered packages are stolen off America’s porches more than USPS-delivered letters because stealing letters is a “federal offense,” which is wrong because packages are simply more likely to contain things of value that can be fenced anonymously. The claim was also made that Bitcoin isn’t a currency because it’s a security, which, well, the SEC disagrees with, anyway. The claim was also made that we don’t need a self-sovereign identity (a government-free secure ID) because we have social security numbers, which was just a terrible argument because have you even looked at the costs of identity theft?

But the chief claim that made me twitch was the assumption that “societal norms” are a simpler, more reliable way to do most things.

And boy did that not sit well with me.

Here’s one example: the presenter said that speed limits are governed by societal norms, and that’s fine. If a speed limit is (say) 30 miles per hour, you can probably go 40 miles per hour. The police generally don’t mind, he said, until you get to 41 or 42, and then they really get you. It’s a societal norm that certain rules can be bent. On the surface this seems like it gels with my experience, except I’m white, and, well.

Have you ever heard of “driving while black”?

See, societal norms are not just. They are not fair. They are privy to racism, sexism, and bigotry of all stripes. Societal norms automatically privilege those in power. There are a lot of places in America where it’s generally agreed that you can break a law with impunity, but only if you’re white. Waiting for a friend at Starbucks before you buy anything? Fine. But if you’re black that’s “loitering.” Having a loud party on your lawn? Fine. But if you’re black that’s “disturbing the peace.” You see where I’m going with this?

Societal norms replicate our worst biases.

So I godwinned myself and pointed out that societal norms are both powerful and often dangerous, in that they also gave us the Holocaust. The societal norms in 1930s Germany gave Jewish, queer, and white people different speed limits—if you replace “speed limits” with “rights to even exist.”

Societal norms are almost always a terrible thing to rely on, because society is made of people, and people can’t be relied upon to be fair and just to one another. It’s not that we don’t ever get it right, but all you have to do is look at the rise in actual Nazis in America, or at the rate of white Evangelical support for the lying, self-aborbed, racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist president of the United States, to see that “norms” are easily made worse with only the slightest of nudges.

Frankly, given with how much ease they privilege the powerful at the expense of the dispossessed, it’s probably a moral imperative to get away from reliance on societal norms.

So does that mean we should use blockchains to help govern society more? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they’d just help us, as members of society, to replicate the problems of societal norms in more high-tech ways. But what it does mean is that “societal norms work” is a bad argument against looking into whether new technologies might be able to help.

Because god knows we need all the help we can get.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Featured image is of a speed limit sign reading “Speed Limit 25 Miles,” by Eric Fischer, CC BY 2.0 

Okay One More Thing About White Supremacism

If someone calling you a Nazi is enough to make you act like one, I got news for you.

 

I know I talk about a lot of “qwhite interesting” things on here, from how people support white supremacism without ever saying out loud “white people are better” to how supposed “free speech” supporters are nothing of the sort, but I find myself compelled, once again, to write a little bit here about the latest terrible take.

A journalist (who shall remain nameless) has essentially formulated a response to those of us who know a white nationalist when we see one, indicating that it’s us—the ones who call them white nationalists, white supremacists, and Nazis—that are driving them to become white nationalists, white supremacists, and Nazis. The logic seems to be that we—by labelling them something awful—are somehow driving them to be more radical.

I’m here to say, in short, “no.”

If you’re accused of white nationalist sentiment, and your response is “You want to see white nationalism? I’ll really show you white nationalism!” you really didn’t need us to call you one.

You just needed an excuse to show it off.

A normal person, a person who hates white nationalism, who hates white supremacism, and who hates Nazism, when accused of white nationalism, white supremacism, or Nazism, will try to demonstrate the precise opposite. They will not try to be more white nationalist, white supremacist, or Nazi-like. They will try to be less so.

If you find yourself in the unpleasant position of being called a white supremacist, consider:

(a) listening to why the person thinks you’re one

(b) comparing that description of what you’ve done to white supremacists, and

(c) not doing any of the things that make you even remotely like a white supremacist.

And just for the record, when someone’s calling you a “Nazi,” it’s not because they think you’ve already built camps and are marching millions to their murder.

They’re saying you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t care enough to stop it. The kind that joined the Nazi party because, well who else were you going to vote for? Because, you know, that Hitler fellow, he really just says what he means, you know? At least he’s honest.

Those people were Nazis too. They were every single bit as responsible for the murders that took place.

If you double down when someone calls you a white supremacist? You were definitely already one.

Don’t double down; fix yourself.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image is of the Wiktionary definition for “double down.”

 

Things That Make Elle Mad (This Week)

Because even in the low-energy weeks, there’s time for lists.

 

Normally when I do a list post, I at least have the energy to add links about what I’m talking about. Today I don’t. Sorry folks. But to make up for it I’m adding extra rantiness to the earlier ones, and trying to make the later ones short, witty bon mots.

Here’s ten eleven things that are making me mad this week, roughly in order of most-described to least-described.

1. Apparently at least one of the women who was abused by Eric Schneiderman was advised by friends and loved ones not to come forward, because Schneiderman was “too important” for the Democrats to lose. Let me make something very clear—no one is so important that we cannot afford to lose them if they abuse women. No one. If Barack Obama was revealed to be an abuser it would hurt my soul, but I would drop him like the heavy end of a couch if it meant his victims felt safe coming forward. (Barack Obama don’t you dare turn out to be an abuser, my poor heart can’t take it.)

2. Gina Haspel is one of the best case studies in both “women aren’t necessarily feminists, a woman in power is not necessarily good for women” and “criticizing someone while they are a woman is different from criticizing someone for being a woman.” It is not sexist to point out that Haspel oversaw torture. It is not sexist to point out that Haspel destroyed evidence. It is not sexist to point out that Haspel gave wishy-washy, disappointing answers and refused to condemn her former actions during her hearing. It is not feminist to have a torture condoning, evidence destroying, human rights violating person as the head of the CIA, even if she is a woman. Breaking the glass ceiling isn’t worth it if the shards fall down on women and other oppressed groups.

3. We treated Monica Lewinsky really terribly and Town and Country is continuing the process. You don’t disinvite Monica Lewinsky from an event when Bill Clinton confirms he’ll be at an event. You disinvite Bill Clinton. Good rule of thumb from Miss Manners: If there’s going to be an awkward confrontation between two people, you disinvite the person who has credibly been accused of rape.

4. Fox cancelling Brooklyn Nine Nine is the saddest thing since they cancelled Firefly. Fox doesn’t know a good thing when it has it.

5. White people really, really, really need to stop calling the police on black people unless an actual felony is happening. And even then (because in some states just having a bag of weed is a felony) we should think super carefully.

6. No one should listen to R. Kelly anymore. Stop it.

7. I don’t want to read any stories about where Donald Trump Jr. is sticking his dick. Stop it.

8. Donald Trump pulling out of the Iran deal is incredibly, indescribably ignorant.

9. Aaron Persky needs to shut up forever.

10. So does Roman Polanski.

Oh, and

11. “Be Best” is a ri-goddamn-diculous name for an initiative.

 

That is “What is Making Elle Mad Right Now.” I hope it was educational.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured Image: A feminist blogger “to do” list. Source: own photo.

Let’s Talk About Robin Hood (2018)

Because I’m a medievalist and I need to understand what’s going on here.

 

This is about a new movie that’s coming out soon. The movie, starring Jamie Foxx and someone named Taron Egerton, is called “Robin Hood.” It’s a new take on a story you might be familiar with, about a lord returning home from the crusades to medieval England only to find that King John has taxed everyone into oblivion and is ruling like a tyrant. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor ensues.

But I have so, so many questions about this take.

Here’s the trailer.

Actually, I have only one question, and the rest of them stem from it:

WHEN DOES THIS MOVIE TAKE PLACE?

Let’s take a look at some stills.

Okay, in this first shot, you see the city in which this all takes place. Look at those beefy as all get-out walls. Look at the truly massive foundations. Are those tile roofs on all the buildings inside? And what’s going on with the footings of the industrial-revolution-style bridge off to the left? Are those concrete footings in the water? Well, okay, none of this is at first glance totally impossible in a medieval setting, but it’s pretty outlandish.

Okay things are getting weird here. Is that an industrial steel sculpture? And look at those textiles. The fashion is of course modern, but look at the leather of that suit jacket, and the fine texture of the vest beneath. I guess it wouldn’t be totally, completely, absolutely impossible to imagine—

—okay stop right there. That bottle. That’s a machine-made bottle. There’s no way around that. It looks like a Heineken bottle for chrissakes. There’s no doubt about it: that’s post-Industrial Revolution materials science.

Which I guess explains the riveted steel construction of this… armored troop carrier? Tank? Out of place premodern submarine? Thing?

Not to mention the huge quantities of steel everywhere and… whatever this lock-and-load crossbow-slash-grenade-launcher thing might be.

Okay, so this is, um. I know, it’s a post-apocalyptic society! Yeah, that’s it!

…except then why are they talking about returning from the crusades? At 1:30 in the trailer, a voiceover (probably Foxx) says:

“You were a crusader. Now you have to be a warrior.”

Okay that’s weird. And not just because crusaders were warriors, in no uncertain terms.

So it takes place after some kind of apocalypse, but not too bad an apocalypse because we still have modern materials science and industrial-scale metal production, but the crusades are still a thing, so… maybe there were other crusades?

Yeah, that’s it. There’s no internet anymore, and the islamophobes won (causing the ruination of society in some kind of war that pushed us back to industrial revolution technology), and now there’s some kind of persistent and/or permanent front in an ongoing war, so if you want to be a dick to Muslims you have to actually get up and go fight them in person. Okay wow, that’s bleak, but it’d explain the whole “crusades” thing except—

Wait. Why is everyone using crossbows? And what’s this?

Are those catapults?!

If you can make perfect glass bottles, and truly vast quantities of riveted steel, and beautifully uniform textiles and leather jackets… where’s the GUNPOWDER?

Where are the guns? Where are the cannons? Where are the bombs? If you’re in a state of constant war, and you’ve got enough wealth and manpower for huge numbers of metal-clad, lock-action crossbow-wielding civil defense soldiers at home, why doesn’t anyone have a gun? Why are you using catapults to throw stones over the walls instead of using gunpowder to blow holes through them?

Is there not enough nitrogen? Did we lose the Haber-Bosch process? Is that what caused the apocalypse? Did half the world starve because we somehow lost all ability to artificially produce nitrate? I AM SO CONFUSED.

Look, I know the answer, the real answer, is because someone thought “hey wouldn’t it be cool if it looked like this?” But it just makes me twitchy when you see such sloppy worldbuilding without the writers even hanging a lantern on it or anything. It’s the kind of thing that turns this:

into this:

and that just makes me feel like this:

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image is of a dude about to throw a molotof cocktail in the Heineken bottle in a medieval-ish film, from the Robin Hood trailer.