Art Bell (1945-2018)

Art Bell died this week.

If you don’t know who he was, well, he was probably best known as the former host of Coast to Coast, a paranormal-themed radio show broadcast back in the 1990s. There’s probably no real reason you should know who he was, and if I’m being honest, I don’t even know who he turned into. I don’t know if he was a good person in his personal life, or what he did after the 90s. As far as his Wikipedia article says, he didn’t get up to anything more controversial than a quick remarriage after the death of his wife.

But here’s what I remember of Art Bell.

I’ve always had insomnia. Like, imagine an autistic kid who didn’t know there was a name for it, who literally banged his head on his pillow to fall asleep on a regular basis (much to the concern of his parents and the annoyance of his older sister). Imagine a kid who couldn’t make his mind shut up for love or money, and whose legs have ached since forever, especially in the small hours of the morning. Sleep and this kid have never been much better than acquaintances, and that’s in the good times.

Now imagine that kid’s parents give him a small, AM radio, powered by a couple of batteries (double A’s, I think), so he can stick it under his pillow and at least not die of boredom while he’s lying in bed, awake.

The kid, you obviously know, is me.

There wasn’t a hell of a lot to listen to at night, not on AM radio in the Toronto suburbs in the 1990s. There was baseball and hockey, sure, but aside from the 92 and 93 seasons—when the Jays even attracted fans from the less-masculine among us—that didn’t mean much to me. There was a show called “Lovers and Other Strangers” that still cracks me up to this day when I remember it, mostly for the love letters they read in sultry voices and for the sheer, unironic abundance of Kenny G. Soprano saxophone that was the siren song of late-night AM radio.

And then, later at night, so late it was really more like morning, there was Coast to Coast AM.

God it was weird. They covered everything, from Bigfoot and other “cryptid” sightings, to ghosts and psychics, to alien abductions and government conspiracies. It didn’t matter if it was real. It was fantastic, in the most literal sense of the world.

Lying there in my bed, head pressed to the pillow that muffled the sounds of talk radio for everyone else in the house, I heard stories. Calling different numbers from east and west of the Rockies, I heard a parade of long-time listeners (first-time callers) sharing their personal experiences, opening the door to a whole world that existed beyond the one I knew. For a couple of exhausted hours in the time of the night that even the monsters under my bed were too tired to come out, I had a front-row seat to strange, bizarre, and sometimes dark fantasies made real.

The truth value of the things covered was essentially nil, but the truth claims held something deeper. In retrospect it’s a little bit sad. So many of the callers were people who were genuinely scared of things they didn’t understand, or who were sublimating the terrible stresses of their daily lives into a kind of performance art without even knowing it. I think many of them genuinely thought they’d been abducted, or were the target of a conspiracy, or that they’d really seen Bigfoot out of the corner of their eye while they were out in the deep forest in their early twenties, some decades ago. Many more probably knew they hadn’t seen the things they were saying, but just desperately needed someone, anyone, to take them seriously for a moment’s time. Just for thirty seconds on the end of an echoey, staticky phone line.

Art Bell did that for them.

Of course the genre isn’t what it used to be. The successors to the late-night tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory talk shows have gone from the realm of harmless cranks endlessly rewatching the Zapruder film, arguing whether it was one bullet or two, to people openly subverting the country’s faith in democracy and screaming at fever pitch that the first black president—not, of course, because he was black, never that—wasn’t a legitimate president because he was “born in Kenya.” It’s gone from people calling in at 3 in the morning to talk about that time they saw the chupacabra on their ranch to a red-faced Alex Jones wannabe ranting that the woman who would’ve been the first woman to be president—not, of course, because she was a woman, never that—was a literal tool of the Devil who had to be stopped at any cost.

And maybe Art Bell had a part to play in that history. Maybe in entertaining the minor conspiracies, the outlandish ones that never gained any real traction, he carved out a space that could be exploited later by his more malicious successors. Maybe the world would be a better place today if he hadn’t been who he was and done what he did.

But for that kid with his head to the pillow in the hours of the night that even god wasn’t awake to see, Bell’s absurd little show was a lifeline into a realm of possibility. For a couple of hours when nobody else was around, the impossible was possible, for better or worse, and every dark thing that ever haunted your dreams was out there, somewhere, waiting to be seen—or caught on camera.

Art Bell died this week. He was 72.

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Featured image is of Art Bell in his recording studio, and is taken from various unattributed twitter feeds. If you know whose photo this is, let me know, as my google-fu is clearly lacking.

When Silence Is Supportive

Greetings, fellow male and male-adjacent (i.e. living with a greater or lesser amount of male privilege) westerners. This post is addressed to us, not to anyone else. Everyone is, of course, free to read it, but this is more about keeping our own house in order than anything else. It’s a post about a piece of advice.

This is not a revolutionary piece of advice. This is not “woke.” This is very explicitly old advice that I keep seeing us not taking, and often see myself not taking, which is why I’m bringing it up. Here’s the advice:

Give underprivileged voices space.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen.

Here’s what I mean.

***

CUE SCENE

Woman 1, tweeting about her day: Ugh men are such trash.

Woman 2, sympathizing: God, I know, what now?

Woman 1: Dick pic. Again.

Woman 2: Don’t they know that it’s repulsive?

Man: [says literally anything]

Woman 1 and 2, simultaneously: *hit block button*

END SCENE

***

In this scene, there were two women having a conversation about a shared negative experience at the hands of a demographic (in this case, men) that you, a man, belong to. There is very little you can say in this instance that is helpful. You could #NotAllMen them, which is highly inadvisable for reasons that ought to be pretty clear to anyone who can use google at this point. You could also try to be supportive, something like “I’m so sorry that you had an awful experience (Again. At the hands of people like me.),” instead. This isn’t the worst response, but does insert yourself into a conversation where your presence isn’t required.

Instead, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. That’s what I’d advise.

Is it hard when you want to be helpful and reassuring to sit on your hands and say nothing? Sure. It’s so tempting to insert yourself into a conversation with even the best of intentions. I screw up a lot, too, because I was raised to think that everyone wanted and/or needed to hear my opinion, and I’m still trying to undo the way that arises out of my own privilege. Also, Twitter flattens social hierarchies and makes you feel close to people who you’re not, and that’s a challenge, too.

And I get the irony, I do. I’m saying this in a blog post that I want people to read. I’ll probably tweet about it, too. On the other hand I made this space and set it out from the beginning of this post to not be up in someone else’s mentions about it.

What can you do, then? Well, you can listen and learn. You can make a separate conversation with other people about how you can change the cultural norms that have led to these women’s shared negative experience. You can boost their voices, too (with their permission), seeking out and sharing pieces written by those like them who have put their thoughts into words.

But all of this relies on, first, you backing away a little and asking yourself “is my input really required here?” and “will my input replace the voice of someone else?” and “would my silence be more beneficial than my speech in this instance?”

Because while sometimes silence is complicity—not speaking out against oppression, for instance—at other times it’s actively supportive.

Sometimes giving people the space to have a conversation without you is the best thing you can do. So think about it, I guess. And try to be good.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of a cosplayer making the finger to lips “shh” gesture: Jennie Park, CC BY 2.0

White Supremacism Is More Than Saying “White People Are Better”

You just have to put white people’s comfort over the rights of anyone else.

 

Had a fun (read: banal) little bit of back and forth yesterday on Twitter Dot Com with someone convicted of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to “nazi salute” when prompted with antisemitic speech and then putting a video of it on YouTube and leaving it up to drive traffic to other videos.

I said (not really to him, but someone had tagged him into the coversation and I hadn’t noticed) that I didn’t believe the “it was a joke” defense because of his association with a white supremacist (one “Tommy Robinson,” aka Stephen Christopher Yaxley, formerly of the notorious anti-Muslim hate group the “English Defense League“) and his simultaneous wearing of a symbol commonly worn by white supremacists with a hard-on for vikings, the Valknut. He responded demanding proof that his buddy is a white supremacist, in the form of the demand: “Find me evidence of Tommy saying that the white race is superior, which is a requirement to being a white supremacist.”

I didn’t have the time or energy at that moment to explain that there really is no such requirement, but here, I’ll say it now:

You do not have to say “the white race is superior” to be a white supremacist and/or to support white supremacism. You don’t have to get caught on tape saying it. You don’t have to be photographed wearing a white sheet over your head with little holes cut for your eyes. You don’t have to get a membership to a Nazi party or give Nazi salutes in rooms full of people chanting things like “white power” or “Trump! Trump! Trump!”.

You just have to act like a white supremacist.

So here’s just a few things white supremacists do, that, if you happen to find yourself doing, you might want to think long and hard about. Because maybe, somehow, you don’t know that you’re participating in white supremacism.

Well, here’s your chance to stop.

 

1. Giving preference to white people over others.

Here’s a photo of the White House intern pool. Notice anything? I’ll wait.

If your workforce looks like this, when white people make up far less of the population than the roughly 97% shown above, then you’re probably participating in white supremacism.

Fun fact: you get bonus white supremacy points if your automatic response to this is something about “merit.”

 

2. Implying that nonwhite people should “know their place.”

Expecting nonwhite people to be silent, to not speak up for their own wellbeing, to be grateful for their success as though it’s somehow something you allowed them to have? Yeah, that’s definitely something a white supremacist does. So don’t do that.

 

3. Spreading conspiracy theories about nonwhite people “infiltrating” or “subverting” a country.

Xenophobia, fear of anyone or anything different, is the primary weapon of white supremacy. It’s used to take insecurities about change in a person’s neighbourhood, town, or country, and elevate them to the point where the people who harbour them start advocating for white supremacist positions, like “separate but equal” (see below). This is, in point of fact, why I don’t believe Mr. Yaxley’s claims to not support white supremacism: because he’s spreading xenophobic lies about “Islamism spreading across the country.” In Yaxley’s defense, he does seem to limit his personal bigotry to the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. The fact that Muslims are by and large nonwhite is, I’m sure, totally inconsequential.

 

4. Advocating for the division of society along racial lines, even if you say “everyone’s equal.”

White supremacists love this one, because it lets them pretend they’re not what they are. Out loud they’ll say things like “everyone’s entitled to a homeland,” and then use it to advocate for a white ethnostate. Fun fact: you can’t make a white ethnostate in a place where nonwhite people currently live without being a white supremacist. The action of preferentially removing people from where they live so that white people can be more comfortable is literally putting the comfort of white people over the rights of nonwhite people, and that’s a white supremacist action.

 

 

This is the thing: you don’t have to say “white people are better” to be a white supremacist.

You just have to consistently put white people’s interests, or even their simple comfort, over the rights and comfort of everyone else.

That’s it. That’s what makes a person a supporter of white supremacism. That’s what makes a person complicit in white supremacism. Even if they never say “whites are better” out loud. It’s not “thoughtcrime” to point this out. It’s not “1984” to call racism racism. It’s putting white people over nonwhite people over and over again, using whatever excuse you feel like coming up with at the time.

So if you find yourself doing these things, white folks? And you don’t like people saying you’re supporting white supremacism or you are a white supremacist? Here’s a quick tip: stop.

I’ll see you all next week.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Featured image of a family of Klan members (one adult and three children, in Klan hoods and robes): Image Editor, CC BY 2.0

Voltaire Didn’t Say It And You Shouldn’t Do It

Not all speech deserves “defending to the death.”

 

In a common misconception, people often “quote” Voltaire with the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This was not, in point of fact, written at any time by Voltaire, but rather by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

And anyway, it’s a damned foolish statement to begin with, mostly because it’s almost universally a lie.

No country on Earth pays such slavish devotion to the idea of completely unregulated, unrestricted speech as America. You can picket a soldier’s funeral with “god hates f***s* signs, credibly threaten a country with nuclear annihilation, and support a political candidate with unlimited sums of money, all in the name of “freedom of speech.”

But despite this, there are many kinds of speech that US law does not protect, and if you think about it for even a moment, you don’t even want it to.

Perjury—that is, lying under oath—is not protected. If it were, witnesses could just lie with impunity on the stand and it would deal a major blow to the rule of law. Defamation isn’t protected, either, in both the written (libel) and spoken (slander) forms, on the premise that if you’re going around lying about someone else in an effort to ruin their character, that too is bad for society. Blackmail is speech, too, but again, of the unprotected variety. Once again, this is because if it were legal it would be bad for society—are you getting the connection yet? Solicitations to commit crimes, incitement to “imminent lawless action” (whose definition is still up for debate), “fighting words” (again, it’s weirdly undefined), and “true threats” all make the unprotected list in this country. America does not protect a lot of harmful kinds of speech, and for damned good reasons.

So why do people keep using this fake quote? Why would you defend someone’s right to say literally anything “to the death”?

Well, many countries have problems with censorship, so in part there’s a fear of that. But a large part of it is something else. Something I talk about a *lot*. Are you with me yet? If you read my tweets you’re probably there by now. You got it: social hierarchies of power, otherwise known as “privilege.”

When someone quotes Hall (thinking they’re quoting Voltaire) what they’re mostly saying is that they’ll even defend speech that offends them. They’re not (usually) saying they’ll defend speech that harms them—I haven’t seen any perjury legalization rallies lately, but you let me know if you do—they’re just saying that “people shouldn’t get so offended.”

And here’s the thing: mistaking harm for offense is all about power.

If you’re white and male and straight and all the majority demographic categories in this country at once, it is almost impossible to use protected speech to harm you. You have, at this moment in 2018, so much social capital that, say, if you’re a man who gropes women and who thinks he can get away with it because he’s rich (say), and people go tell everyone about it, you can still be elected president of the entire goddamned country. Remember, it’s not libel or slander if it’s a real true thing you yourself have been caught on tape bragging about. Telling everyone “hey that guy grabs women by their genitalia without their consent” is protected speech, and no matter how egregious, it doesn’t seem to do harm. Because that’s the privilege of power.

Now think of hate speech. Not the kind that explicitly endorses violence, which many legal experts do consider unprotected (but which is still up for debate because people are terrible), but the kind that doesn’t. The kind that gradually dehumanizes a minority group, the kind that calls for legal but unjust actions, that has a cumulative effect of diminishing the social capital of an already marginalized group.

To someone from a group with a lot of social capital, this might be offensive, but to someone from a group struggling to achieve equal rights, it is actively harmful. Until a majority of the population considers a marginalized group worth standing up for, change does not happen. Gay marriage didn’t happen until a majority of the American population came on side. And that kind of achievement was held up for decades by legally-supported anti-queer speech.

So if you’re straight and some noxious human windbag says queer people are subhuman and don’t deserve the right to marry, and you’re not a completely unforgivable bigot, you’re offended by that speech. But if you’re queer and gay marriage isn’t legal yet? Especially if there’s an ongoing debate as to whether you should have rights? That speech harms you.

And now’s the point where I have to say “no, I don’t think being a completely reprehensible human being should be illegal, per se,” because someone’s going to come along and interpret my explanation of power, speech, offense, and harm as a call for the criminalization of being Ricky Gervais on any given Tuesday night in public. No.

What I’m here to do is to point out that if you say “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” you’re probably lying to yourself. There are plenty of kinds of speech you wouldn’t defend to the death, because those kinds of speech would cause you yourself harm rather than simple offense.

What I’m here to do is to ask you, the next time you think about saying that, to instead ask yourself exactly how much harm you think speech should be allowed to do, to whom it should be allowed to do that harm, and what your justifications are for where you draw that line.

Because all societies have to draw a line, and all individuals have to draw a line, and nobody draws that line without reference to their own positions of privilege and power.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of a statue of Voltaire is CC0 (Public Domain).

Let’s Talk About “Tribalism”

Tribalism sucks. But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

 

I’m going to break a pretty major rule of writing right now, not just because it’s my blog and I can do as I like, but because in this case it’s the literal subject of the post: I’m going to start with a definition.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tribalism in the following way:

tribalism, n. 

Pronunciation:  Brit. /trʌɪbəlɪz(ə)m/, /trʌɪbl̩ɪz(ə)m/, U.S. /traɪbəˌlɪzəm/

a. The condition of existing as a separate tribe or tribes; tribal system, organization, or relations.

b. Loyalty to a particular tribe or group of which one is a member.

It’s a word you hear a lot these days, and it’s almost entirely referring to meaning b. And among those references, it’s essentially always in relation to a “group of which one is a member” and almost never in relation to a “tribe.”

What they’re talking about is the increasing tendency, especially in America, to hold all your opinions not based on facts and evidence, but based on a sense of identity. It doesn’t matter, for instance, if you’re white and lower-middle-class and that you won’t see a dime of the trillion dollar tax cut, because Bob who’s been working at Wal-Mart for twenty years got a thousand dollars, and you like Bob because he’s a lot like you.

“Tribalism,” as we’re calling it, is a short-circuit in our brains. We automatically sort people—automatically, as in, without even thinking about it, not on purpose—into “in groups” and “out groups.” My people and your people.

This crappy part of our brains was probably useful once upon a time. If you’re a hunter-gatherer in a hostile landscape, banding together with a limited group of others to gather and defend resources is a great idea in an evolutionary system. It helps strike the balance between effort-sharing, profit distribution, and competition. If you work together, you do better—to a certain point. When the group gets too big, your share goes down because of various inefficiencies. Plus, of course, it’s pretty profitable to kill and steal from other groups, so everyone being in the same group limits whose lives you can destroy for your own gain. Humans are the particularly nasty result of, well, really it’s thermodynamics, but we can talk about that later. The point is, we (the descendants of the survivors of this system) used to find it really profitable to band together and lock others out.

And now that we all have to live together, and now that we don’t (openly, at least) accept that murdering others for what they have is an acceptable practice, it’s a piece of particularly destructive evolutionary baggage.

Economics mostly operates on the idea that people are, by and large, “rational actors” who do what’s in their own best interests, except that we don’t and a lot of that is because limited acts of altruism—only for the in group, you understand—are also, weirdly, advantageous. Add to that the modern problems of propaganda, bizarro political identity formation, and shifting demographics, and you get poor white male Christian Mike defending tooth and nail the need for tax breaks for billionaire white male Christian Ted at the expense of his own social safety net.

So: tribalism sucks.

But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

As someone who’s studied the Middle Ages more than most, I have a chip on my shoulder about the way scholars of earlier years created the myth of the “Dark Ages,” a period of unenlightened thinking between the totes amazeballs Roman Empire and the second coming of awesomesauce the Renaissance. I mean they literally called it the “rebirth,” as though all through the Middle Ages culture and thinking were dead. This is a lie. But part of how that lie operated was in the naming of things.

The Romans built “roads.” The insular people of the “Dark Ages” made “trackways.” I kid you not. Roman roads and “Anglo-Saxon” trackways. Nomenclature carries meaning with it, and it’s rarely innocent. In this case, it’s used to imply “primitivism,” a devaluation of a thing because it doesn’t fit a certain model of “modernity” or the then-prevailing (deeply-flawed) view of “progress.”

And that’s why I hate that we’re calling in-group/out-group dynamics “tribalism,” because we (and by we I mean western colonizers) have spent hundreds of years using the word “tribe” to denote that same kind of primitivism.

Look at the first line of the Wikipedia definition of “tribe”: “A tribe is viewed, developmentally or historically, as a social group existing outside of or before the development of states.” It’s the “developmentally” and “before” that’s the problem there. We’ve spent so long making a distinction between “civilized” people who live in “nations” and “primitive” people who live in “tribes.”

Now step back and look at what we’re doing with “tribalism.” We’re taking something decidedly negative, an evolutionary throwback in our brains that causes us to be irrational and nasty to one another, and we’re calling it by the name of a form of social organization that we’ve historically denigrated for being “primitive.”

Calling something as dangerous as in-group/out-group prejudice “tribalism,” to me, sounds pretty damn insulting to everyone whose social organization white colonizers have spent the last centuries calling “tribal” as a placeholder for “primitive.”

So here’s my suggestion: let’s stop. Don’t call it tribalism. Call it factionalism. Call it identitarianism maybe, or sectarianism. Call it in-group/out-group community formation. Call it literally anything but “tribalism.”

Let’s try to stop factionalism (or whatever we agree to call it), but let’s also try to stop calling it that, too.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Featured image: The definition of “tribalism” from the Oxford English Dictionary (Online). Source: OED.

On Being an Autistic Person

I can’t tell you the number of times people on the internet have tried to correct autistic people about the way we refer to ourselves.

Y’all need to stop.

As you may or may not know, I’m autistic.

I don’t make a secret of it, but I don’t often go around trying to explain what it’s like, so I’m taking this opportunity to put it in words. And to explain something that really annoys me, while I’m at it.

Autism is a whole a spectrum of neurodiversity, so it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me it means a little trouble with “seeing the forest for the trees” (details overwhelming generalities); as well as trouble with dry sarcasm (I’m okay with the kind of sarcasm that you sing); more subtle facial expressions (loud ones get through); and properly communicating what I mean through my body language (yours is usually fine, if I remember to pay attention). I have some mild sensory issues, too: touching cotton balls, paper napkins, and dry crystal glasses makes me intensely nauseated; I don’t have the auditory filtering that lets you neurotypicals navigate cocktail parties; and my body doesn’t give my brain great feedback (which has made exercise a little… fraught… on a couple of occasions, and makes me more comfortable when moving, including swaying and rocking). When I was a kid I threw a lot of “temper tantrums,” and when I got older, I had “anger management” issues. Except they weren’t tantrums or a bad temper, they were meltdowns, and they’ve almost entirely evaporated post-diagnosis, because hey, it’s amazing how knowing what’s wrong makes things easier to fix.

I am an autistic person.

Now here’s the thing: I can’t tell you the number of times people on the internet have tried to correct autistic people about the way we refer to ourselves. You can’t so much as whisper “I’m an austistic person” on Twitter Dot Com without some “autism parent” popping up to tell us we’re not “autistic people” we’re “people with autism.”

Y’all need to stop.

Austim is, as best we can tell, a difference in brain architecture. It looks like there are a number of genes involved, and that there may be environmental factors affecting the expression of those genes. It’s not contagious. It’s emphatically not a disease. While many of us would be very happy to have some of the “comorbidities” mitigated (or done away with entirely), under no circumstance does autism itself need a cure. It’s a variant organizational structure specific to our brains, not a disease.

It’s like our brains run Linux, instead of Windows or OSX. They work, just not the same way.

A truly shocking amount of who you are is a function of the shape and design of your brain. The ways you think about things are, in my opinion, one of the most defining features of your identity. Autism is a defining characteristic of my identity. I don’t “have autism” so much as I “am autistic.” It’s who I am.

Think about it like race or gender: people don’t “have Blackness,” “have womanness,” or “have queerness.” Someone is Black, they are a Black person. They are a woman. They are queer.

“Person-first” language—”person with/of X” formulae—were invented to foreground the personhood of groups that were traditionally denied personhood by other (usually white, male) people. Some of them are even still used by the people who identify as such. For example, if I’m not mistaken, “people of colour” is still in use, but it’s complicated.

It’s important to remember that the people who came up with it, and who use it, often mean well. I appreciate that. But.

You would never come up to someone who said “I’m a Black person” and try to correct them. You would never say to a gay person “don’t let your gayness define you!” (And if you would, ew, go away.) (And let’s not forget that there are people with multiple overlapping identities, like (say) queer black people, who probably get twice this crap.) But people with truly stunning regularity tell me and other autistic people that we’re not “autistic people,” but rather “people with autism.” That we shouldn’t “let our autism define us.”

Do. Not. Do. This.

As someone who’s studied the development of languages at the graduate level for longer than many people even attend post-secondary school, I will be the first to admit that language is a slippery beast that rejects all attempts to corner it and make it obey rules.

But as a matter of basic humility, you do not tell people how to interact with their own identities.

The vast majority of autistic people prefer to be called “autistic people.” Use that as your starting point. If they want to be called a “person with autism,” call them that.

I’m an autistic person. You can call me that.

Signed: The Remixologist.

***

postscript:

A final note before I go: under no circumstances should you ever tell an autistic person that they are not “autistic enough” to offer insights regarding your child—your child who uniformly “has more severe autism” than we do. I’m an autistic adult. Your autistic kid’s still a kid. They’re going to change as they get older, but I promise you, they will never be less autistic. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now, because it’s a whole other post and more.]

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post-postscript: I’ve come to realize that one of my comments above may have been harmful in its lack of intersectionality, and I’ve added to them to point out that identities are not either/or, and that there are plenty of people who are, for example, black, queer, and autistic, who probably have to deal with a whole dogpile of garbage at once. (12/3/2018)

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Photo source: Neil Conway, CC BY 2.0

We Need To Talk About Cilantro

Cilantro can make even curry, one of my favourite meals, into the modern culinary equivalent of an unscented urinal cake.

Here’s the thing: cilantro is disgusting.

It is.

I’m not sorry if I offended you and your love of your precious soap weed, whose presence makes a dish taste as though the chef accidentally used palmolive instead of olive oil.

You won’t get an apology out of me, either. If you keep reading, you’re just going to get increasingly florid descriptions of the way cilantro can make even curry, one of my favourite meals, into the modern culinary equivalent of an unscented urinal cake.

Cilantro is utterly, unforgivably vile.

Are you still here? I have to admit I’m surprised. A study back in 2012 found that I’m in the minority in thinking that cilantro and toilet duck are in the same class of edibility. It’s not everyone that thinks ciantro is better suited for the torture chamber than the kitchen table, or who thinks that you could probably save salt and till the soil of your enemies’ lands with cilantro if you wanted to poison it for untold generations to come.

Apparently, “the prevalence of [people who understand that, in a list called “things you should add to food,” cilantro should probably be ranked somewhere near botulism] ranged from 3 to 21%. The proportion of subjects classified as disliking cilantro was 21% for East Asians, 17% for Caucasians, 14% for those of African descent, 7% for South Asians, 4% for Hispanics, and 3% for Middle Eastern subjects.”

Among white people (which I am—I can only take my shirt off in daylight if everyone around me is wearing eye protection), fewer than one in five of us would willingly exchange the worldwide fungal blight on bananas for one that forever destroyed the world’s cilantro crop. And that’s up in the high end.

But you know what? I still think we’re right, here.

Evidence is starting to pile up that the reaon you people like cilantro? The reason you don’t think that cilantro should be added to tide pods and lead paint to prevent children from eating them, the reason you don’t think that it’s an utter injustice that it was garlic, and not cilantro, that was chosen as something nasty enough to repel vampires, is simply that you can’t actually taste it. Not really.

Another study seems to suggest that “one of a cluster of olfactory receptor genes, perhaps OR6A2, may be the olfactory receptor that contributes to the detection of a soapy smell from cilantro in European populations.” And yet another found “new associations … between [recognizing cilantro for the chemical and biological weapon of food destruction it is] and variants in three genes (TRPA1, GNAT3, and TAS2R50).

It’s not like we’re the ones who can’t taste how “wonderful” cilantro is. It’s not like we’re missing something that lets us taste this “god’s gift to the kitchen.”

It’s that you can’t properly taste how utterly despicable your toxic nazghul catnip really is. You don’t have the sensors for it.

Well lucky you.

Lucky. Lucky. You.

I didn’t ask for this superpower. I didn’t ask to know that god invented a weed whose taste can at best be described as “not technically a war crime.” I didn’t stand in line for the ability to know that there are things in this world that have a taste that’s about as pleasant as a case of the shingles. I didn’t volunteer.

So fine, go ahead and ruin your guacamole with it. Throw it into your green thai curries as though you wouldn’t have been just as productively served by using the prep time to dislocate your fingers one by one. Put it on everything. Make the world taste like a giant green tidal wave of stygian detergent and unbelievable disappointment.

Just don’t expect an apology when I politely decline your offer to share.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Photo source: Henrique Pinto, CC0 

I Don’t Know How To Convince You That GMOs Are Good

What would it actually take to prove to you that you’re wrong, that genetic modification is no more dangerous or harmful than any other kind of human agriculture?

On the heels of yet another study demonstrating that GMOs aren’t harmful and are in fact Very Good Things, I feel as though I need, once again, to address the 1-in-5 Americans that think the risks of eating GM foods are “high.”

What would it take? I’m asking you.

What would it actually take to prove to you that you’re wrong, that genetic modification is no more dangerous or harmful than any other kind of human agriculture? To prove to you that it is uniformly better in most cases? I can’t think of all the things I’ve tried to say.

They’re better for the environment. They increase the food supply using less land and often less water than traditional (and organic!) crops.

They use fewer and less harmful pesiticides than traditional (and “organic!”) agriculture.  Roundup (i.e. glyphosate) is safer and a better alternative to the other necessary pesticides.

They’re safer for humans because we know exactly what genes are changing, unlike the results of selective breeding which captures tens of thousands of unnecessary (and unstudied!) genetic changes. Unlike shooting your oranges with ionizing radiation so they won’t have seeds next time.

They’re healthier for humans. There’s rice that introduces vitamin A into the diets of malnourished children. There’s corn that contains less mycotoxin because it’s healthier. There’s potatoes that produce less cancer-causing agents when fried.

They’re not bad for farmers. Thy aren’t the only crops that are patented. The story about farmers being sued for seeds blowing into neighbouring fields is a complete fabrication. Nobody in India is comitting suicide over GMOs. Most farmers buy new seeds each year from other farmers who specifically grow seeds because it’s more efficient than trying to grow your own, so nobody even cares if they don’t grow well the next year from seed because that’s not what modern farmers even do.

They save taxpayers money. When farmers make more money—and they do with GMOs, because they can get the same or bigger yields with less investment of time and money in combating problems—they need fewer subsidies.

THERE IS NO FISHMATO. There was an attempt to make tomatoes frost-resistant that failed and it never went to market. There are zero GM tomatoes on the market and the only one there ever was failed commercially because of economics, not safety.

There is literally no argument against GMOs that holds even the tiniest bit of water, and all it takes to learn this is the tiniest bit of Google-fu and the ability to give just the most microscopic bit of credit to the group of people who’s only job is to study these things for a living—you remember them, right? Scientists?

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it?

You’ve lost the ability to trust in expertise.

You’d rather have your conspiracy theories about “Big Agro” and “Monsanto Shills” than a healthy stable food supply―so long as you get yours, that is.

Well right now there are Seven Point Six Billion Human Beings on this one exceptionally-taxed planet and that number’s not shrinking anytime soon. And we’re already using all the land we can. So you’d better suck it up and start trusting in science and scientists again soon otherwise the next time there’s a famine somewhere you’ll either A) be partly to blame, because your fear of expertise—that’s what that is, by the way, you’re afraid of people who know more about something than you, long and short of it—is doing things like leading your elected representatives to Ban GMOs in Europe For No Good Reason or B) be one of the starving multitudes yourself.

I don’t know how to convince you that GMOs are good, because I don’t know how to convince you to trust in expertise again.

But I sure as hell hope you suck it up and figure it out yourself, because we’ll all be in a heap of trouble if you don’t.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Photo source: David Kessler, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

 

 

The ‘American Dream’ Is Trash

There’s something deeply wrong with the idea of the “American Dream.” It was supposed to be the embodiment of hope, but instead it’s spawned real-life bigotries.

 

Everyone loves Oprah Winfrey. She’s an incredible human being in many respects. She was born into potato-sack-dress poverty to an unmarried teenaged mother. She worked hard in high school, learned how to give speeches and won a contest at the national level and got a full scholarship to a university. She got a job in local television, and through sheer personality, intelligence, and business acumen got her own show—and later her own whole entire media empire. She has a net worth of nearly three billion dollars. Literal rags to literal riches.

That’s the story of the “American Dream”: that someone can go from the worst poverty to the most astonishing economic success through hard work and sheer force of will. “Only in America,” they used to say.

Except that it’s never just hard work and willpower, is it?

Winfrey benefitted from a lot of factors, and not all of them innate. As a teen, she was identified by a federally-funded program called Upward Bound that moved her to a more affluent high school where, yes, she was made fun of for being poor, but where she also had the opportunity to learn to give the speeches and enter the competitions that would lead to her getting a full-boat ride to college. And she had a whole lot of luck.

None of this is to discount how amazing Oprah is. She’s a force of nature, and she’s worked harder for her money than I’ll probably ever work at anything in my entire life.

But because one person does a thing does not mean it is possible for everyone, or a reasonable thing to except from any more than that one specific unique person.

This is the problem with the American Dream. I call it Bootstrap Logic. Here’s how it goes:

  1. The American Dream is open to all.
  2. The American Dream is acheived through hard work.
  3. If you don’t achieve the American Dream, you didn’t work hard enough.

By this twisted logic, poverty becomes a symbol of laziness, and wealth a symbol of moral rectitude and personal effort. There’s no room in this equation for federal aid, no admission of the power of luck, no understanding of just how unique every single intensely rare rags-to-riches story is.

And certainly no admission of the ways systemic issues like racism and poverty contribute to the marginalization of whole groups of people in America.

The American Dream is about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” doing everything on your own, because you, the individual, are solely responsible for your success in life. And if you don’t achieve success, well, that’s your fault.

But here’s the thing about that line about bootstraps.

Try sitting down.

Now pull on your bootstraps.

Are you standing yet?

No of course you’re not, because it is a literal impossibility to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. That’s what the saying means. You cannot pull yourself up by things attached to your feet.

Look, I’m not saying social mobility is impossible (though it’s getting harder) or that people can’t get anywhere through hard work (some can). But this “American Dream,” this idea of the “self-made” success story, this linking of “hard work” to social mobility, is bad and wrong and should be thrown on the trash heap of history.

By equating wealth with effort it makes failure immoral, and makes those who don’t achieve the heights of success de facto worthy of the aid of no-one and the scorn of all.

The “American Dream” is a mythology constructed to make the rich feel satisfied that they earned it, and to assuage any guilt they have for not helping the poor.

The “American Dream” is a lie created to convince the poor that if they don’t become rich that it’s somehow their own fault.

The “American Dream” is complete and utter trash.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Photo source: Michiel Jelijis, CC BY 2.0

A New Beginning

Dear Readers,

If you’re here, it’s because you decided to give us a chance on our new project. Thanks for that. This Week In Tomorrow was, after nearly four and a half years, getting to be a little stuck in its ways, and it didn’t afford us much ability to change and adapt to the world and to ourselves.

We’ll still be posting about a lot of the same content—especially Elle: her Feminist Friday and Ellements of Film posts will definitely be continuing.

What you’ll see less of is the Sunday news roundup. Last week’s was, unfortunately, the last. When we started This Week, a basic roundup of the latest cool science and technology news wasn’t so easy to find. These days, they’re a dime a dozen. So instead you’ll be getting less summary and more opinion, less technology and more social commentary.

And I’ll probably talk more about things that interest me—autism, cryptocurrencies, rockets, anime, economics, politics, anything. Whatever crosses my mind that week.

This Week In Tomorrow won’t be coming down, at least, not soon. But there won’t be any new content there. Its time has come. We hope you’ll continue to follow us Into the Void.

Sincerely,

Richard and Elle.