Best of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve done a year-end review of my writing, but this year feels like the right time. I’ve written less here than usual, having done more activism off the blog, but I’ve also written more pieces I’m proud of on their own, not just for how they’ve shifted the conversations we’re having about important things, than I have in years. So here are some the posts you may not want to miss from 2015.

Power and ‘Political Correctness’“–“Institutions with decades of practice and journalists with professional training in the exercise of their power cannot or do not manage any better than that. This makes it ridiculous to point to the missteps of individuals who are new to power as indicative of broad failings of the group to which these people belong. Doing so is a basic exercise in essentialism, the fundamental attribution error occasionally leavened with racism or sexism.”

Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional“–“Unfortunately, many of the problems of these spaces are the problems of family as well. We pressure each other to conform to the way ‘we’ do things, whether our traditions are helpful or harmful. People play favorites, both in relatively harmless and grossly toxic ways. Abuse is perpetrated, both among peers and across inequities of position and resources. We protect the family as a unit over the individuals who make it what it is.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched“–“Again, other people disagree with you, both about it being cute and about it being intimidating. You’re trying to speak for a generation (or two) of women whose opinions you haven’t done the basics to assess. If you want to say, ‘I and the other women who didn’t find it objectionable didn’t find it objectionable’, go ahead. It’s a much, much weaker statement and meaningless as an argument, but it at least has the benefit of being true.”

Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces“–“As someone who spends a lot of time on atheist activism, I often find majority-atheist geek spaces more relaxing than atheist-activist spaces. They feel less like work, and I have a lot of friends who either aren’t atheists or aren’t activists. I have an admitted interest in keeping these spaces functioning for their original purposes. As someone who pursues atheist activism as social justice, I also have an interest in making sure atheists don’t cause the same problems for others that we’ve faced as a religious minority.”

We Have Always Been Here“–“I’ve spent decades now in spaces that women are supposedly only recently entering or trying to enter. I’ve resided all this time in places men claim I now want to usurp from them.”

Who Is an Activist?“–“As I stood at the podium with rain dripping down my nose (the canopy protecting the electronics had blown up in the wind as I waited to speak and dumped a good few tablespoons of water straight onto the top of my head; the pictures will be glorious), I asked people to put up their hands if they considered themselves activists. Most did, but there were a few holdouts. That’s right, people who were sitting in the rain for a political event designed to sway lawmakers, people who showed up to support legislators and policy advocates, didn’t all think they were activists.”

In Praise of Yoga Pants“–“So what I hear when someone tells me that yoga pants are a sign that we’ve lost control of our wardrobes is that they think I need to look like conformity or money. I hear them say I should be spending the time and money to buy access to clothing that looks like it was made for me. I hear them say that’s my responsibility, since clothing manufacturers aren’t already doing the job for me. I hear them say that I’m cheating. Okay. I’ll cheat.”

Let’s Stop Exercising Our Gender Anxieties on the Backs of Trans People“–“Trans people didn’t create gender essentialism and gender binaries. They aren’t, even the richest and most famous of them, in any position to enforce or even significantly reinforce them. Trans people are the grossly marginalized victims of gender policing, not the perpetrators. Taking our concerns to them as though they were responsible for easing/fixing them is ridiculous.”

The Easy Targets“–“What happens to people under those circumstances is increased danger and trauma. Coordinated political action and resistance can change things, but that’s harder for people to find the time and heart for when everyone around them is telling them they’re terrible. If you attack and shame individuals for being oppressed, you become just one more barrier hindering whatever fight they’ve got in them.”

But How Will You Unite Us?“-“Nor does working apart have to mean that our work can’t complement each other’s or that our numbers can’t be counted together. I frequently post on the same topics and sometimes even on the same news articles as people I have no interest in working with directly. We don’t stop having some common interests even when we have ugly history, and when we have enough distance to keep from fighting directly, we spend more time on those common interests. But it is the distance that makes that possible.”

Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?“–“Real modern political analysis tells us that the world is designed to revolve around the needs of a relatively small group of men at the intersection of several privileged identities and that everyone else gets some mostly if it will help pit them against each other instead of those at the top. That’s the reality we have to grapple with. That’s the situation we face when we plan campaigns, either political or educational.”

The Breakfast Club, Updated“–“Suddenly, into the silence, comes the sound of a tiny kitten’s meow. (Let’s not claim Hughes was hugely original in this movie.) Claire frantically turns down the sound on her phone, but Andrew, bored, demands to be shown the video. As the meows keep going, Brian first, then Allison, step cautiously behind Claire to watch. Eventually Bender makes a show of swaggering over to join them. ‘What the hell is wrong with that cat?!'”

Building a Better Workshop“–“So now that I’ve convinced you, as an organizer or potential workshop facilitator, that you want to offer real workshops instead of mini-lectures, how do you go about it?”

If You Want a Better Public Face of Atheism, You Have to Build It“–“I still want to challenge you, though. Take a look at your media feeds. Look at how often you talk about the big-name problems in atheism. Now, for each one of those mentions, how many people and organizations are you talking about who are doing good work? How many good voices are you promoting? Where are you directing people’s attention? If someone were to look to your feed for better alternatives, would they find an array of choices or a vacuum that would make them think Dawkins and Co. are their only choices?”

My ‘Theory’ of Codes of Conduct“–“Is there a problem with thinking? Nope. Is there a problem with this guy thinking? Not in particular. It sounds like he’s even pretty good at it when it comes to software. So what’s the problem? It’s the same problem that continually happens with people who define themselves as smart or as good thinkers: They forget about GIGO.”

Walking With Fear“–“When you’re alone, the fear tells you that you’re far from help. When someone is near, the fear tells you that you don’t know what they want. When you’re in the dim, the fear tells you that you cannot see what or who may be around you. When you’re in the light, the fear tells you you can be seen. Other people’s fear can’t make you listen. It can’t make you afraid. But it can refuse to ever rest silent. It does.”

There Is No Pure in Politics“–“So figure out where it is you draw that line. Who are you going to sacrifice for your fantasy? Then tell us. Be honest. Say to my face that my rights matter less than your imaginary purity. Say it out loud instead of putting your hands behind your back and trying to look angelic. It isn’t working.”

Patreon Posts

This year, I set up a Patreon to help encourage me to write longer pieces again, pieces that take on a topic in more depth and at a remove from current events and controversies. I’ve brought several of those pieces back to the blog.

Diet, Skepticism, and Getting It Wrong“–“Food is hard and weird and messy and inescapable. It’s tied to culture and ethnicity and socializing and memory and mental health in convoluted ways. For every individual food item, there are a dozen or more basic ways for things to go wrong for any person who eats it. The complexity of food is reflected in the fact that we’re just in the early stages of understanding diet on a scientific basis. All of those things should make us more humble as skeptics.”

Rules of Disengagement“–“Walking away under those circumstances is not a mark of indifference. Neither is wanting to torch the place. It’s often a redirection of the same passion that led people to work in these movements in the first place. If you’re one of those people, I don’t think and won’t say that you don’t care. In return, I ask you not to suggest that working to improve these organizations means I don’t care about the harm they’ve done in the past. Just as there are good reasons to go, there are also good reasons to stay as long as progress is being made.”

Abuse and Power in Activist Spaces“–“Lying is a simple example, but it’s hardly alone in behavioral strategies that can become abusive when applied in something other than self-defense. Setting your own boundaries is something that is literally beaten out of many people, but when failing to do so results in people having to deal with your more extreme defensive reactions because you were pushed past your limits, that can be abuse. So can externalizing blame and shame, even though those may have been skills you needed to keep from being destroyed by your abuser. Revenge fantasies that kept you alive in extremis become abuse when voiced to those who do not have the same kind of control over you your abuser did.”

We Need to Talk About Femmephobia“–“It is even harder not to internalize femmephobia when gatekeeping is specifically predicated on femininity. Why didn’t you give the women in your company promotions and equal pay? Oh, they didn’t ask directly? Their voices weren’t authoritative enough? They weren’t forceful enough in meetings? They showed an emotional reaction to stress? Goodness, femininity must be a terrible thing, a burden that keeps them from being everything they could be as a worker.”

In Defense of ‘Unhealthy’ Music“–“There is also nothing in that that is safe for an adolescent to talk about. Talk like that gets you taken away, yes, but to places where the lights are too bright, where you don’t get to choose whether to follow someone else’s tune, no matter what it is. Talk like that makes the adults around you sad and guilty and the other kids scared. Talk like that leaves you very alone. Music like this leaves you less alone.”

Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code“–“Then, as women developed the field of programming, the private sector started to understand just how much work it would be possible to get computers to do. Programmers gained status and pay and–over the course of a couple of decades–the idea that the work should be done by men. Women have always continued to program, particularly in government service, but they came to be seen as anomalies instead of the people who defined the field.”

Competing Models for Codes of Conduct“–“There are plenty of reasons that discussions around codes of conduct, their goals, and what should be included in them can be frustrating. Among people talking in good faith, however, the primary reason for frustration is that people are using different theoretical frameworks for codes of conduct and they’re not making those frameworks clear. It’s obviously difficult to come to any agreement about what should be contained in a code if you don’t agree on why you have one.”

Best of 2015
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