Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn
dachte

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Reunion of all Split Infinitives

Every so often, I feel terribly disassociated from some part of nature — I think of people like I'm not one, food as a nutrient-process, etc. "Stepping back into my skin" can sometimes take a bit. When it snows like this, I often think of our atmosphere as a chemical soup; rain ceases to be rain, snow or clouds become elements in the same kind of gas-soup we know exists on some other planets. It seems amazing that we can breathe it, that we're denizens of that vat. Maybe this is the chauvenism of air-breathers; to us the sea is a constraint because it squeezes those within it more tightly. We can remember that despite that, swimming in water is much like flight (for dimensions of motion) and requires less effort.

Yesterday I had a bad experience with a random guy at a bus stop that led to my suffering a bit of physical violence and later my calling the police. I'm still a bit shaken by it, and feel oddly violated. It's more complicated than that, but I'm not prepared to talk about it with the general public. I probably should've tried harder to get company last night, but I don't know a lot of people in the area anymore, particularly those within a reasonable distance. Come this summer, I'll have the interesting task of reinventing myself somewhere new and making a mostly-new circle of friends. I'm almost looking forward to it, as tiring as that is.

Again on the topic of feminism, I missed the controversy over this Penny Arcade comic. Like many geeks, I read it, found it innocuous, didn't actually find it funny, and moved on. My attention was recently drawn to the controversy surrounding it. The basis of the controversy is that it trivialises or encourages people to laugh at rape.

Warning: This is not a topic where I reach a solid conclusion, more a public thinking-through of various points.

My initial reaction is "of course that's not offensive and doesn't trivialise rape". There is a kind of comedy that would; one that tries to be normative by inducing sympathy for those inclined towards rape, paints rape victims as somehow responsible for being assaulted, suggests people routinely distrust claims of rape, etc. That would be societally irresponsible, and this is not that.

But ... would this comic still feel like comedy were it done with real actors, with the rape victim showing their suffering? My answer is that that would be different and offensive. Does the medium of it being a webcomic excuse it somehow? Dehumanisation (through depiction) is a complex topic; many of us laughed at horribly violent comics in youth that we (hopefully) would've found disturbing done with lifelike animals. I don't know whether that lowered our inhibitions towards violence or not. Having had odd experiences of feeling hostility towards cops after having played Grand Theft Auto 3 (and subsequently selling my playstation because of how disturbed I was towards that), I'm not sure if I buy the "it's just depiction" argument anymore, although again, comics do seem to be a bit different.

I also wonder about porn. I have porn, literary (text stories), animated gifs (of real people and anime), and a few videos snagged from sites like TNAFlix or Youporn. Most of it is vanilla, some of it describes things I would not actually want to do but might enjoy as fantasy. Is it demeaning to women/men? Some percentage of it probably is, but I don't take it as normative and don't feel the desire to do with real people the things that I'd find morally questionable. I think porn is mostly different from public media; it's not normally a group activity to look at porn, and it's not likely to contribute to public norms. I am not certain about this; perhaps some people who see some of the morally questionable types of acts depicted porn do become more inclined to adopt values that make them possible (as I did for GTA).

Is fictional depiction of rape different than that of murder? It's probably more sensitive in that while it's an easy and entirely broad conclusion that murder will never be accepted in society, societal consensus on what constitutes rape/sexual assault moved in recent memory and is still the topic of cultural struggle. One of my sets of grandparents expressed an opinion that women have a duty to submit to sex when their husbands desired, some religions/cultures place similar obligations, and in many states a husband could not be charged with the rape of his wife because the marriage provided standing consent. I likewise had a long debate with some people online who believed that once penetration in sex begins, if the female says no and the male keeps going, that should not be considered rape. I was surprised that this is not an uncommon idea. Similarly, some cultures still blame victims for being raped (even to the point of punishing them while forgiving their attackers). In theory, were there already broad/stable consensus on what rape is and that blame lies with the assaulter, the argument that "we joke about murder and it's worse than rape!" might have some weight (perhaps — some people might prefer death to rape and I don't mean to demean that perspective).

Is it ok to joke about rape? I'm not sure. As above, I don't think any joking that clearly intends to blame the victim or contextualise rape as appropriate should ever be considered appropriate. Jokes that suggest to the sexually frustrated "the easy way out" of forcing oneself on another are not appropriate. As to the Penny Arcade comic, I don't think it crosses the line of being clearly inappropriate; I do understand why it might offend people, but I am unconvinced that it trivialises rape or moves culture in the wrong way. Still, I am not bothered at people speaking out about it.

One thing I do find highly offensive is people who refuse to consider the issue fully and lash out at those offended, especially if they're acting out of a libertine spirit that refuses to recognise pain. As the timeline I linked above shows, once the controversy unfurled, Penny Arcade had t-shirts made specifically to mock the offended, and were terribly dismissive of the concerns and emotions of those affected by rape. While I think the original comic was ok, their handling of the criticism, alongside the general "any tabboos in society must be broken down; feeling offended at anything is childish and we must desensitivise people about everything as a good deed" attitude some parts of geek/libertine culture has, that's nothing short of reprehensible (even if they back off to sounding reasonable later).

The libertine spirit is at times an ugly part of geek culture. I'm glad that the earlier phases of geek culture were not so anti-structure, and hope that future generations of geeks are getting/making something more accepting of traditions and constraints.

Completely unrelated:

Also, some thoughts on a recent PZ Myers post on types of atheism:The opening is not promising; again PZ shows his trollish love of offending people, emphasising his visceral reactions. Oh well.
  • On dictionary atheists, I think he raises an interesting issue and has some good arguments, but I don't think they're sufficient to make his point. I recognise that atheism may come to mean (to some people) more than the baseline definition of "does not believe in gods", but I would prefer people not use the term too generically; I recognise that there are groups under the atheist banner with which I would not like to be associated (like Objectivists). Just as theists might consider theism a broad and uncomfortable banner, I consider atheism a broad and uncomfortable banner.
    • Responsibility - I think it is a worthwhile thing for people to feel responsible in some way for the official acts of groups with which they choose to identify. This entails them either leaving the group if it does something bad enough, reforming a failed group while repudiating its failures, or ensuring that its acts remain good. This is only possible when the group is cohesive, and atheism is too broad a banner for that.
  • Back to that point, I disagree that being atheist necessarily means anything more than a disbelief in gods. The "thin" definition of atheism makes more sense as a specific part of a layered identity because it allows us to more precisely talk about what other parts of that layer are there. We don't want an atheist movement. We want more specific movements that happen to be atheistic as part of their ideas, and *then* we must perform the vital task of asking what else we stand for.
  • I disagree with him that babies are not atheist. I do think they're naturally atheist in that they lack belief, but they may not be part of any specific atheist culture. Distinguishing the two is helpful; a society of people that had not invented or heard of gods could rightly be called atheistic.
  • On the offensive phrase he mentioned, I agree with him (but note that he has not been consistent on the matter) - PZ has frequently badmouthed religious people in general in unfair and inaccurate ways. Still, he's being more reasonable here, and I am glad to see it.
  • His exploration of the "one less god" argument is fair.
  • I am not sure where I stand on atheist pride - to me it's a single judgement in a forest, and it's a complex one at that. Many great minds throughout history have come down on both sides of this matter, and while I think that atheism is the right answer, I can't claim it to be an easy position (either emotionally or by reason) to reach. If it were so simple, it would not be a matter for debate. I believe there to be no gods, but those who believe in them are not stupid, they're just wrong on a complex matter. Maybe I could convince some of them of this in a debate, but with many others it'd come to a standstill no matter how carefully I argued and how high quality the discussion were. That leaves little room for pride, and no room for treating them as if they're unintelligent.
I think what there is room for is being comfortable with the identities we wear and insisting on the same amount of recognition for them that people generally consider due them (this might feel weird when people can say "I believe this to be divine law, respect my beliefs" and I do the same with "This is a philosophical commitment I have, respect it" — for genuine commitments, I expect both to be treated the same way). I know who I am, I'm willing to talk about what I believe, what my ideas and commitments are, and there are things I consider unacceptable that others may not. My beliefs are not nihilism nor an "everything's cool" — I don't want a christian funeral, I don't want to be married in a church, and I do want my own rituals, my own culture, and my own mental space. Carving it out is my own responsibility.

Progressive doctrines that describe a potential path to communism (I don't commit to this as dogma):

Recently I've been facing a number of difficult issues from my past, especially as I've come to the realisation that a lot of the ways I have self-esteem problems, difficulty trusting people, and interaction oddities directly relate to abusive events in my past. I'm hoping reopening these things can be productive enough to be worth the pain of treading burnt soil.
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  • Sneezes while Sneaking

    I recently came across Kat Walsh (a prominent-and-awesome Wikipedian I used to know)'s Women on Wikipedia essaylet. I don't have a lot to add on…

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    I went for the Encyclopedia Britannica's offer of free access to their online edition to web publishers (which includes frequent bloggers). As I…

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