This is America

One of the phrases that I am heartily sick of hearing (from my own side, no less) in response to the treatment of immigrants and refugees is “This isn’t America.” I understand the sentiment—the people who are saying it mean that what is happening is horrific, and doesn’t match with our stated position of Greatest Country in the World.* But it’s a statement that is brimming with so much privileged ignorance and naivete it almost makes my teeth hurt. Because for anyone who is paying attention, this is and this has been America. We are pretty high in the rankings for “Treating People as Subhuman and Putting Them into Camps and Boxes.” It’s kind of our MO. And I should know, because I’m from one of the states where we very famously put people into camps and boxes.

Wyoming is one of those states that pretty much only shows up in your history books when something bad is happening. We get a couple early shining moments with the whole “Equality State” thing (Though long-time readers know how much of a crock that is) and then it’s basically “Things that Show Up on Depressing History Timelines: The Greatest Hits.” The Teapot Dome Scandal. Native American Resettlement. “Buffalo Bill” Cody exploiting a mythologized west. The hanging of Tom Horn and the death of the “Wild West.” Matthew Shepard. Missile silos. Being the last holdout to change the drinking age to 21. Dick Fucking Cheney. (We also brought you J.C. Penney’s. I’m never sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.) And of course, Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

From 1942 to 1945, legal US citizens of Japanese descent were involuntarily held at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. At its peak it held 10,000 people, which made it the third-biggest town in Wyoming at the time. (It wouldn’t be terribly far from third now.) Internees were torn from their jobs and careers and forced to do jobs in the camps for subpar wages, or were used as manual labor for nearby ranches. Children took classes indoctrinating them into the glories of the US, which I’m sure would have taken a bit better if they weren’t inside a fucking barbed-wire fence.  Many Wyoming residents worried that the prisoners were being “coddled” or treated too nicely. Prisoners who thought that they should maybe have their constitutional rights back before they were forced to fight in WWII were charged in a mass trial as draft dodgers. Because if something can’t be described as “Kafkaesque,” then where is the fun in that?

Most of the people at the camps came from the West Coast. When I was learning about Heart Mountain when I was younger, I wondered if those people, used to warm weather, thought that they were literally being sent to the coldest part of Hell.

If you’ve never been in a Wyoming winter, then count your blessings. It’s not just the snow, or the cold, or the bleakness, though all of those things are terrible. It is the wind. The wind in Wyoming is vicious to the point of malevolence. It will find any crack, any crevice, and use it as an entry point so effectively you’d swear your front door was wide open. It will whisk the oxygen out of your lungs and leave you gasping like you just stepped onto the surface of Mars. It will howl like a demon being tortured by a cat. It will reach speeds that are referred to as “hurricane force” in places that have water, but here are referred to as “Wednesday.” And it is relentless. The wind is hard enough to deal with when you had the shitty fortune to be born here or the dumb idea to move here. It’s bad enough when you have access to adequate building supplies, and blankets, and heating. When you have indoor kitchens and bathrooms. For the prisoners in the camps, with their tarpaper walls, shared mess halls, and outdoor latrines, surrounded by barbed wire and prairie… I can think of few ways we could better show our inhumanity than by picking Wyoming as the location for these particular boxes and this particular camp.

And now, our country is looking at a period that should be one of our greatest shames and saying, “Don’t you guys think it’s time for a reboot?”

You don’t need me to tell you that Trump’s blustering is just that. That there is very little chance that the children who have already been separated from their families are ever going to see their parents again. That the private adoption industry, heavily Christian and heavily invested in by the GOP, anti-abortion groups, and of course, the fucking DeVos family, is going to make out like a bandit from this cluster. That Trump’s executive order, while seemingly kind enough to stop separating families, actually makes many things infinitely worse, including allowing for indefinite detention. That if we spent a fraction of the money we are wasting on holding these people on revamping the immigration and asylum system or addressing the humanitarian crises that drive refugees here we could save money *and* stop committing human rights violations. You’re all smart people. You’re all reading what I’m reading.

But what people apparently do need me to tell them is, “This is America.” It shouldn’t be. It sucks that it is. But like apple pie, putting people into camps and depriving them of their rights is something that we borrowed from the Germans and put our own spin on before rebranding as ours.

We can’t make progress unless we are being honest with ourselves, and with our past. Acting as if this is something new and unusual masks how frequently the US has used this as a tactic in the past, and the many iterations and practice runs that we’ve had. This idea didn’t spring out of nowhere, and acting as if it has will make it all the easier to happen again. We don’t need more tragedies in state histories. We don’t need more innocent people at the mercy of the elements. And we don’t need pretty lies about what kind of country we have in order to work towards having the country we want.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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*Or at Least Greater Than a Lot of Other Countries, Fuck You, Swaziland, You Don’t Even Sound Like a Real Place.

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Featured Image of five children of Japanese descent holding their hands over their heart during the pledge of allegiance in 1942, by Dorothea Lange, CC0 Public Domain 

Trump Is Separating Families and Putting Children into Camps

Trump is separating families and putting children into camps. Call your Congresspeople to stop this. NOW.

 

 

Trump is separating families and putting children into camps. Call your Congresspeople to stop this.

 

 

 

 

Oh, you wanted more? Why? What more does anyone possibly need to say? Trump is putting children into camps. Hell, not even camps soon—tent cities. You know, like those things Joe Arpaio put prisoners in, and even then we said it was inhumane?

ICE agents are separating breastfeeding mothers from their infants. They’re telling parents that they are going to give their children a bath; they take the children and never return them. Godwin’s Law is dead in its grave because this is literally what the Nazis did.

I’m an English major, and I don’t have words for how wretched this is. I’m almost numb with helplessness and horror. But I’m not numb enough to keep from contacting my elected representatives. So you should do that, too.

Signed: Feminist Fury (with extra fury this week)

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Featured image is of the ICE logo with the words ABOLISH ICE superimposed, CC0 (Public Domain)

 

Roseanne vs. Puerto Rico: A Fight Where All of Us Lose

Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we really can pay attention to two awful things at once.

Last week, a few different infographics and tweets started floating around that compared the abundance of media attention on Roseanne’s comments to the dearth of media attention for the new report that showed that over 4,600 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The overall tone of these comparisons was scolding—it implicated both media outlets for covering the deaths so little and Roseanne so much and viewers for caring more about the Roseanne news than the Puerto Rico news. But I’d like to break down this comparison a bit more, because while there are aspects of it I agree with, I think that it also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way that our attention spans work.

Agreement point 1: I absolutely agree that the media should have covered the deaths more, and covered Roseanne’s comments a bit less.

This death toll, which is almost equal to the death tolls from 9/11 and Katrina combined, absolutely deserved increased attention, potentially at the expense of coverage of Roseanne’s comment. The fact that Fox News apparently managed to diminish coverage of the Puerto Rico deaths to just 48 seconds out of a day and a half of news coverage is absolutely sickening. It should certainly be a larger part of our cultural consciousness.

Agreement point 2: The disparity between the coverage reflects in some way on our inability to address systemic racism.

As Pete Vernon points out, “We’re comfortable calling individual actions or comments racist, but struggle to paint systemic issues—the criminal justice system or the lack of attention to Puerto Rico, for example—with the same clear strokes.”

I agree to this up to a point—I believe that it is harder for us to come to grasp with systemic racism, because it is a giant problem with few obvious solutions besides “be less racist” and “get into a time machine and prevent colonization.” But I also think that we often give individuals a pass on their own racism because they are either “joking,” deemed too culturally important to lose, or it is too uncomfortable on a personal level to confront them. We’re sometimes willing to admit that a system or institution is racist, but when it comes to applying that same label to individuals within the institution (especially people we care about), we start mumbling.

Counterargument 1: The Roseanne comments are still important, even if they are not as important as the death toll.

One of the things I will go to my grave arguing about is the extent to which the media and pop culture influences and is influenced by those who consume it. While Roseanne’s comments are certainly not as important as the death toll in Puerto Rico, they are still important. First, it’s very important that someone in a public position of power and authority said something terrible and was actually punished for it. When was the last time that actually happened? (Aside from the smokescreen of concern on the right for Samantha Bee saying the C word. We might talk about that later.) I’ve lost count of the number of politicians and other public figures who have said absolutely terrible racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic bullshit and had absolutely no consequences happen. I don’t believe that Donald Trump created terrible people, but he sure as hell emboldened them. And every time they have been able to spew their shit in public with no retribution has only emboldened them further. ABC actually punishing Roseanne for her words is actually a very important moment in the current conversation.

Not only that, but her comments, and ABC’s response, bring up a whole host of other questions. This isn’t Roseanne’s first brush with racism and terribleness. (Google “Roseanne + Hitler outfit.” I’ll wait.) Why would ABC, knowing Roseanne’s history, greenlight a reboot of her show? Why would liberal women, queer women, and women of color (looking at you, Sarah Gilbert and Wanda Sykes) sign up to work on a show helmed by a woman who has become increasingly vitriolic, conservative, and hateful over time? Why did anyone think this particular jaguar was not going to eat their face? We need to be having a conversation not only about the people who do terrible things, but the people who enable them. Trump is a ridiculous pumpkin, but there are dozens of people enabling his terribleness. Roseanne would have (hopefully) slowly faded back into obscurity if it weren’t for the popular renewal of her show. Now instead of a shameful historical footnote, she’s a goddamn martyr for people who misunderstand what “free speech” means.

Counterargument two: We should be caring about both things. / Things are only a “distraction” if you let them be.

The thing that ruffled my feathers the most about the infographics was the way that it seemed to scold viewers for caring about the Roseanne comments at all. You’ll see this pop up every once in a while when there is a big pop culture or gossip item. The media will be in a tizzy over the lighter topic, and there will usually be a deeper topic happening simultaneously (because seriously, when is there ever a day where something terrible *isn’t* happening?) Viewers get scolded for caring about the light item, everyone gets called sheeple, and we’re all told to stop getting distracted. I remember this happening when Mike Pence was confronted at Hamilton. Pence was met with boos from the audience and a prepared statement from the show’s creators and stars. Trump, accordingly, lost his damn mind on Twitter, and then Vox scolded everyone for caring about the Hamilton incident more than / letting it distract us from the then-top level scandals of Trump’s various conflicts of interest and “in all but name” bribes he received from foreign leaders staying at his hotel, and Congress still had time to stop some of his more disastrous cabinet nominees. (It was a simpler time.)

But, and this may surprise you, I can care about two things at once. Sometimes I even manage somewhere between “three” and “what feels like goddamn a million” depending on how stressed I am and how much caffeine I’ve had. And just as it is important for Roseanne to be publicly punished for being racist, it was important to see art and artists, (and particularly a form of art where the lead character was being played by a gay, HIV-positive actor) confront Mike “Hoosiers don’t discriminate (except all the gays are evil and we don’t like them, plus Mulan is making girls want to be dudes)” Pence in a public forum. I can, and did, care about both Pence’s Hamilton visit and Trump’s conflicts of interest at the same time. Just because I was laughing at the idea of Pence getting booed by a bunch of theater-goers doesn’t mean that I wasn’t also writing my Congressperson in a vain attempt to keep Betsy DeVos from being confirmed. And again, the more “serious” issues likely should have been receiving more attention. But calling either the Hamilton incident or Roseanne’s meltdown a “distraction” is a disservice to both the events themselves and to the mental acuity of culture consumers.

Counterargument 3: The death toll, while an important news story, also wasn’t something we didn’t already know (sort of).

Now, before you call me a heartless bitch, let me explain. (Though if you call me a heartless bitch, I’m one step closer to getting a blackout on my “woman writing on the internet” bingo card!) The death toll is indescribably tragic. I’m disgusted in our government, in our country, in our response, in everything. I cannot believe that Puerto Rico is about to face another hurricane season and that they still haven’t been given the support they need to recover from the last one. I can’t believe how long it took the president to respond to Puerto Rico. I can’t believe how much less we care about Puerto Rico than we cared about Houston. I can’t believe we left so many people to die.

What I can believe, and what anyone who has been paying attention has always believed, is that the death toll in Puerto Rico is much, much higher than the official 64.

Puh-leaze. Within weeks of the hurricane I was reading multiple articles about how the hurricane itself, and the lack of access to water, electricity, food, and medical care that followed, was resulting in more deaths than could be handled by many local mortuaries, and that many morticians were having to quickly bury or cremate people rather than send them to a centralized hospital for government autopsy (the only way for a death to be counted as an official consequence of the hurricane) because the roads were impassable, the mounting bodies were a health risk, the centralized hospital was overwhelmed, etc. I was reading articles about families having to bury their family members on their own property because they had no way to get them to mortuary services. While we may not have known the exact number, we have known that the death toll had to be in the thousands. After watching the clusterfuck of a response, there was no way that the death toll wouldn’t be in the thousands.

And again, it is important to the conversation to know the exact number. It is important for the death toll to be brought forward in the cultural consciousness once more, because we’ve been doing our best as a country to forget about Puerto Rico and just hope all will be fine the next time it is overtaken by a hurricane. But the report was not a bombshell. Not to anyone who has the awareness to distrust official numbers. So it is disingenuous to imply that caring about Roseanne’s comment’s more than reporting on the death toll means that people did not care about the death toll report. For many, it just meant that people weren’t paying as much attention to a report that was telling them what they already know.

And in all of this, it is important to remember that emotional fatigue is a real thing. I truly do my best to care about as many issues as I can at once. I read internet news, listen to podcasts, and read political and social science books in the precious little free time I have. But while caring about things is certainly not a zero sum game, there are some very real limits to my time, my attention, and my mental and emotional well-being. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ve probably noticed that the last couple months have seen a nosedive in terms of me getting a Feminist Friday post done on an actually freaking Friday. Part of that is scheduling, but part of it is emotional fatigue. Trump has been president for almost two years. I have been screaming into the void for almost four years, and it has been equal parts cathartic therapy and weekly reminder of how terrible the world is. I’m my own production of the Gift of the Magi. Yes, it would be fantastic if people could care about everything all the time. But we have to be patient with others, and with ourselves. We have to be kind to ourselves. We have to acknowledge that it is okay to care about multiple things, and just because someone else isn’t caring in the exact way and amount that you want them to doesn’t mean that they don’t care.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a Perto Rico flag hanging outside a building in New York, by Christopher Edwards, CC BY SA 2.0

I Don’t Know How To Convince You That “Privilege” Isn’t An Insult

It’s just a way of describing the systemic power differences that we need to address.

 

Hey there, fellow white folks. Can we talk about “privilege” for a second? Because I really feel like we need to. Mostly because of the way people react when I bring it up.

I feel like a lot of the time, when I try to talk about privilege (especially white privilege, but also straight privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, and so on) that people get up in arms about it.

“Privileged? Me?”

They take it as an insult. As though I’m saying they didn’t work hard in their life.

I need everyone to understand that privilege doesn’t mean prosperity. When someone says you’ve got privilege because you’re white, it doesn’t mean you’ve got an easy life. It just means you’ve got a relative advantage over someone in your identical situation who isn’t white.

Maybe you’re white and poor. Life is definitely hard for poor people in America. And being white probably doesn’t help you enough for you to feel it. But being black and poor? In America? In general that’s going to be (at the very least) a little bit harder than being white and poor. That’s the privilege part.

This does not mean that all white people have it easier than all nonwhite people. I think maybe that’s what you’re hearing, and it’s not what we’re saying.

I feel like when I say the words “white privilege” you hear “you’ve got it easier than [insert wealthy black celebrity here].” I am not saying that.

(Though I think I am going to point out that plenty of the wealthy black people you’ve heard of started off poor. Jay Z? Raised in the projects. Oprah? I mean for real poor.)

Or maybe you think I’m saying that being white is more advantageous than being rich? No, again, I’m not saying that, though it’s worth pointing out that it’s relatively harder for people of colour to escape poverty than white people. But it’s not easy for anyone.

See, each kind of privilege is a sometimes small but definitely persistent advantage a person can have over another in the same situation. That’s all.

Is it the word privilege people hate? Is it because folks have been denigrating people from other situations as “privileged” for years and now they hate the word?

Would it be an easier sell if we called it “relative advantage”? “Systemic advantage”?

How do we address this, other than to give it a name? And how do we move forward with a more equal society if we ignore it? This is something that has to be reckoned with.

So, friends, I’m asking you to understand what privilege is. Understand that it’s not an insult. It’s not personal. It’s not saying you don’t work hard, or that your life is easy. It’s putting a name to a systemic set of relative advantages and disadvantages that, when put together, work to make the world we live in less equal.

And getting rid of inequality is something everyone should want.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image is of the words “This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never'” projected on a brick wall, is by J. G. Park, and is in the public domain. 

Debunking the Roseanne Arguments

Because comparing this absolute unit to Trump isn’t racist (even if it’s insulting).

 

One of the biggest tragedies to befall the media has been the steady rise of false equivalencies presented in the name of “fairness.” After Fox News proclaimed themselves “fair and balanced” (and somehow never had a lawsuit brought against them for false advertising) and began declaiming the “mainstream media” for being biased, so-called “liberal” outlets have been falling all over themselves to prove themselves fair-minded. They also want it to be known that they are totally cool, they didn’t narc on you for smoking that cigarette after 5th period, and they have definitely had alcohol. They’re not squares.

The inevitable result is a decline in the objectivity of the press and a decline in a basic understanding of reality. For example: climate change is a thing. It is absolutely, provably, a thing. It is also provable that humans have had an effect on climate change. That’s just objectively true. Where we have some grey area is the extent to which humans have had an effect on climate change, and the best ways to decrease our impact. So a truly “fair and balanced” debate on climate change would look like this:

Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “I believe that if we go to a more vegetarian diet and decrease our reliance on animals for meat, we would reduce our environmental impact by decreasing the CO2 produced by animals and decreasing deforestation that occurs in order to provide for grazing land.”

Person 2, also a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “When you account for things like climate and transportation, a vegetarian diet does not actually have less of an environmental impact for people in many areas where a plant-based diet is not readily available. It’s certainly not a bad idea to try to decrease our meat intake, but I think that we’ll have a large impact if we can continue carbon emission capping programs for large corporations.”

The two people have a shared basis in reality, and a difference in opinion. They can have a healthy, productive debate. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, what we usually get is something like this:

Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “Humans have an impact on the clim—”

Person 2, who has no scientific background but does run a blog that has been tweeted by the president: “FAKE NEWS. The climate just goes through cycles! WHY DO YOU THINK WE HAVE SNOW?”

One of these people is a scientist, and one of these people is an ignorant fool. But they are presented to us as if their opinions are equally valid. In order to avoid claims of being biased, mean, or stuffy, news outlets have thrown objectivity out the window in order to make two sincerely unequal positions seem equal. In addition to harming the notions of reality and truth, this tactic is pathetic because it just doesn’t matter. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, will keep fact-phobic conservatives from feeling as if they are the injured, maligned party in a cruel world full of PC police and feminazis. Did any of the journalists who wrung their hands over Michelle Wolf’s “mean” speech pointing out that Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies all the time and also wears eyeliner increase the “extreme conservative/conspiracy theorist” demographic in their readership? Did it keep Trump from calling these outlets “fake news” multiple times? Of course not. They have already been declared the enemy. But they keep trying anyway. This desperate attempt to compromise values and morals in order to seem “cool” affects every outlet from CNN to the ostensible bastion of liberal thought, the New York Times.

I have grown too weary to count the number of times that the NYT has pivoted between doing truly important, hard-hitting journalism and offering a (lukewarm at best) “hot take” in which they turn themselves into metaphysical pretzels to try and appeal to red-state voters who are going to hate them anyway. This takes the form of hiring conservative writers and doing little to nothing to edit their thoughts in the name of “expanding perspectives,” normalizing neo-Nazis in sympathetic “think-pieces” that show that they, too, go to the grocery store, bemoaning the white working class that the Democrats supposedly abandoned while giving basically no shits about the black/brown/anything-but-white working class that has been abandoned by everyone… the list goes on. So when Roseanne Barr proved for like, the billionth time that she was a racist and then finally got punished for it, Richard and I both held our breath for the hot takes, especially from the NYT, on how this is a terrible blow for free speech and is also somehow helping Trump while also killing puppies.

Somewhat to our surprise, the NYT wasn’t… totally terrible. Yet. I’m writing this on Wednesday, and they have two full days to fuck up before this gets posted. (As if I’m going to go back and edit my work to update it. Who do you think I am, someone with more integrity than most journalism outlets?) While they were a bit too sympathetic to Barr and a bit more concerned with how this is going to affect ABC/congratulating ABC for becoming the first major broadcast TV outlet to hire a black woman as entertainment president in the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fucking-Sixteen, nevertheless they were at least willing to go all out and call the tweet “racist,” which is a very low bar that many outlets did not meet.

Unfortunately, many other “hot takes” are trumpeting about how this is a violation of the 1st Amendment, how this is just the same thing as the NFL protest, and on, and on, and on. So I’m going to do my best to slowly and patiently break those arguments down. It’s gonna take a LOT of patience.

First argument: ABC firing Roseanne is a violation of the First Amendment.

My answer: No it isn’t.

My answer, with more detail because Richard is mouthing the words “please elaborate” at me: The First Amendment protects your right to speak without receiving consequences from the government. So ostensibly, if I write a book called Donald Trump is a Cave Troll Who Made a Wish on a Genie Lamp and Turned into an Approximation of a Person, the government could not arrest me. The First Amendment also has some restrictions, like not being able to share military secrets or inciting violence (they don’t enforce that second one particularly strongly, imo). However, if I was writing the same book and suddenly went on a thirty-page tirade about how men should be killed en masse and used sparingly as breeding stock, my publisher would be well within their rights to be like, “Elle, this is weird and violent. We don’t want to publish your book any more, or reward this kind of thinking by giving you money.” My theoretical publisher is a private entity, not the government, and can fire me with cause.

There are obviously some (also poorly enforced) discrimination protections that would hypothetically keep me from being fired just for being a woman, or for having a baby, or for other protected reasons, but “being a violent weirdo” is not a protected status. Neither is “being a racist asshole.” There is a difference between “protection from retribution against your speech by the government” and “protection from all consequences for your words and actions.” We are all entitled to the former—no one is entitled to the latter.

Second argument: This is exactly like the NFL kneeling thing!

My answer: Well… kinda. But not in the ways that matter.

Jack Holmes puts it pretty well:

In truth, the argument applies in both cases: ABC and the NFL can both fire employees for their speech if they think it’s alienating customers. The only difference is that ABC fired someone for free speech that was racist. NFL players are protesting racial injustice in policing and the criminal justice system, but their opponents suggest they are disrespecting The Flag or The Anthem or the armed forces. This is factually untrue, and the difference between the two cases is moral: Those offended by Roseanne Barr’s comments are offended by racism. Those offended by Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling have ascribed it a meaning that ignores—and often contradicts—his clearly expressed intention. The repercussions imposed on him are unjust. 

So basically, “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” Yes, the NFL legally has the right to fire someone for behavior that they think is hurting the brand. (Though their case does have some big old holes in it, labeled “discrimination” and “collusion.”) But Barr was fired for being a racist (or rather, a racist who finally was making enough of the public uncomfortable that her racism was suddenly a punishable offense) while Kaepernick is protesting racism. You’re basically comparing getting fired for resembling a Nazi to being fired for protesting Nazis.

Having the legal ability to punish employees in both cases does not mean that the cases are morally on the same level. There is a difference between “could” and “should.”

Third argument: By firing Roseanne, ABC is showing that they’re intolerant!

My answer: Oh my God, it is OKAY to be “intolerant” of bigotry.

Here is where we get into that whole “fair and balanced” issue again. Not all thoughts and opinions are on the same playing field. “Global warming is fake” is not an equally valid statement compared to “global warming is real.” Likewise, “it is bad to be racist” and “it is okay to be racist” are not equally valid. Pretending that Roseanne’s tweet is in the same moral realm as the NFL protest, or pretending that negative reactions to Roseanne’s tweets are in the same realm as, for example, negative reactions to pro-LGBT statements, is disingenuous. Again, this is about both morality and humanity. If someone is screaming in my face and I ask them to stop, or find a way to force them to stop, I am not being “intolerant” of their speech. They were screaming at me. It was rude and (probably) uncalled for. It is not small-minded, unjust, prejudiced, or any of the other synonyms for “intolerant” to make someone who is saying hateful things stop saying hateful things. There should be consequences for saying terrible things, in the same way that there are consequences for violating other moral norms. Again, Holmes tackles this pretty well.

“There should be consequences for hateful or racist rhetoric, it’s just it’s the job of private citizens—and companies—to enforce them in the right ways and at the right times. That used to be called having some common decency and moral judgment.”

Now, obviously, this can get us down a rabbit hole of who gets to decide what is moral and what are norms and blah, blah, blah. But if you use “the good of humanity, the promotion of equality and equity, and the ending of injustice” as the lodestones for your moral compass, you should probably do ok.

Fourth Argument: Roseanne didn’t mean anything racist by what she said, she was just trying to be generally insulting.

My answer: Shut the hell up and learn to use Google.

Seriously: go google “Roseanne’s racist history” and “racist history of comparing black people to apes.” I won’t wait, because I have better things to do with my time, but I assume this will suffice for you.

Fifth Argument: People have called Trump an orangutan, which is the exact same thing! Why aren’t you mad about that?

My answer: …*heavy sigh* please re-google “racist history of comparing black people to apes.”

It is a very, very different thing to compare a white person to an ape or monkey and comparing a black person to an ape or monkey. Because of things like “racism” and “history.”

 

That (hopefully) covers it. This shit is exhausting, y’all.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

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Featured image is of an orangutan, not Trump, is by cuatrok77, and is shared under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

You Should Treat Robots Like People

It’s about you as much as about them.

 

Last week, Google unveiled a version of their digital assistant that can make voice calls to set up appointments for you. It’s so well done—even throwing in the odd “um” and “uh” to really complete the illusion—that some people can’t even tell that it’s a robot assistant calling and not a human one. I think that’s great.

But boy, some people don’t. In fact, the backlash was so severe that I heard Google is going to implement some kind of “this is a digital assistant calling” thing in the future, so that you’re not…what, accidentally nice to a robot?

“But you’re tricking people!” I hear you say. And in response I say: “So what?”

What, in all honesty, is the negative outcome of a robot “tricking you” into thinking it’s a human when it’s calling to book an appointment? All I can think of is “I might treat it like I treat a human,” and that doesn’t sound like much of a reason to me.

In fact, to me it sounds like you’d be an asshole to everybody if you could get away with it.

That’s the only way I can read these statements. If you’re upset at being tricked into thinking a random appointment scheduler is a human, it’s because you’d treat a robot differently. It’s pretty unlikely you’d treat it better (and if you would, well, you can probably ignore the rest of this), so you obviously see some sort of cost associated with being polite to people, and therefore try to avoid it whenever possible.

And boy does that sound like a lot of anti-atheist argumentation I’ve heard over the years.

It’s like this old chestnut: “If it weren’t for god, heaven, and hell, people would just do whatever they wanted!” When someone says that, to me it sounds like they’re saying “if nobody would punish me, I’d start doing things we generally consider immoral.” Meanwhile my atheist friends are all “there’s no evidence for the existence of any kind of deity, so uh, go wild, I guess.” And by “go wild” they usually mean “treat other people with decency because you’ve decided it’s the right thing to do, not because of the threat of punishment.”

And you know what? That’s not great. Because in this world—this real place where there’s no evidence of a deity and very few robots lurking about (yet)—here today there are a lot of people you can get away with being an asshole to. Especially if you’re white. Think “calling the cops on black people for going to Starbucks.”

If “I will act as poorly as I can get away with” is your go-to mentality, you’re going to be a pretty bad person.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to not care if it’s a robot or a human calling you. Instead, I want you to suck it up and treat anyone and anything who calls you up on the phone with simple, basic courtesy. And I want you to get used to it, too.

Because if you can’t, if it’s that hard for you to be polite, if your time is worth so much that the slight chance you might be wasting a tiny fraction of it on accidentally being nice to someone who you won’t get punished for being mean to, then you need all the practice you can get.

Because there are a lot of people out there you can get away with being a dick to, but you still shouldn’t.

Treat robots like people. Maybe it’ll give you the practice you need to treat people like people.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of an old-school flip-phone transformed into a robot by Joe Wu, CC BY 2.0

Appalling Work, Donald

Redo the work and bring it in tomorrow. It’ll be a day late, but it’ll be better than this.

Appalling work, Donald.

Signed: Feminine Fury

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Featured Image is of Gandalf in the famous “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” meme. Main Body Image is of Donald Trump’s recent letter to Kim Jong Un with MANY red corrections on it.

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.”