Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?

In 2016, I took part in the Godless Perverts reading at Skepticon. The performance wasn’t recorded, which opened up the possibilities for more than one performer. It also means no one outside that room knows what I said there, until now.

I lucked out on sex education. My house was the place the other kids came to learn how babies were made and whether the things that were happening to their bodies and minds were normal. Me? I didn’t have to wonder. I had the information before I could ever get curious.

Now, of course, we were Minnesotan (fourth generation here), so that means we didn’t actually talk about any of this. It came out of books. That the books were radical says more about the time they were written than anything, about attempts to codify the openness of the Sixties and to prepare new generations to live in that open world. Though who knows? They might be radical again in a year or two.

Photo by wilecany.

That our house was the house for these books also says a lot. It says some things about poverty and education, given how and where I lived, but it also speaks to religion and shame. Strict rules around pleasure and sexuality were one of the reasons my parents abandoned organized religion and promised never to foist it on their children. Apparently eloping before their scheduled wedding just so they could fuck felt ridiculous even to them.

Those books and their place on our public bookshelves were part of their efforts to spare us what they went through. I don’t know whether we were supposed to find the books on the private bookshelves, the erotica and the sex guides. As I said, Minnesotan. But they served the same purpose.

I entered adolescence with a solid sense of sexual possibility. I can’t quite tell you how I reconciled that with being pathologically shy at the time, but I did get over the shyness. Continue reading “Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?”

Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?
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Mock the Movie: Less Animated Edition

This post will not be a paean to Ray Harryhausen, but only because Mock the Movie is not about good things. It is about people who look at a good thing and think they can do better just because they have more modern tools. Yes, we’re looking at you, Silicon Valley. We’re also looking at Clash of the Titans, of course.

This one is available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Less Animated Edition”

Mock the Movie: Less Animated Edition

On the Weakness of Slurs

I was surprised to find I didn’t have a version of this on my blog. I’ve certainly said it often enough elsewhere, though the earliest I’ve found was in response to “critics” of Hillary Clinton.

We don’t use gendered, fat-shaming, homophobic, etc. insults not because they have to be reserved for the worst of bad people but because they say you think there’s something wrong with the everyday people they apply to.

“Ugh, that—I don’t usually say this—bitch!”

I see this or a version of this using another slur remarkably often. It reflects such a strange misunderstanding of how language works that I boggle every time.

If you say this, you’re trying to tell me that only “bitch” works in this context because it’s the only insult that’s strong enough for you. Weaker, lesser insults just won’t convey how terrible this person is. But that isn’t how slurs work.

Contrary to your assumption, slurs are among the weakest insults. That’s why they can be reclaimed. No one stands up with fire in their eye and says, “Yes, I’m a poopyhead.” There are a lot of proud bitches out there though.

The power of a slur doesn’t come from the insult. It comes from the reminder that we exist in a system ready to put bitches back in their place. That’s not an insult but a threat. And the power of reclamation comes from facing that threat and persisting anyway.

Any insult inherent in a slur is merely a statement that the person you’re using a slur on doesn’t know “their place”. That you want them to, because you can’t win whatever conflict you have on equal ground. And that’s just not particularly insulting, at least not to them.

On the Weakness of Slurs

If You Don’t Want Us Speaking Ill of the Dead

If it disturbs you to see people speak ill of the dead, it might be time to examine the apparent compulsion to speak well of them. There will always be those who mean so much to us that we have to eulogize them. Of course. Observances of death are for the living, including the mourners.

After that, well, we always have the option to say nothing. We take it too rarely. Even more rarely do we think about how our words may prompt responses, how our statements invite argument.

You don’t owe it to the dead to speak well of them. They can’t be helped or harmed by it. They’re dead. Your words, if any, are for the living. That includes the people injured by the dead. If you don’t want them to speak of those injuries, consider simply not speaking praise that erases them. It’s easier than you might think.

If You Don’t Want Us Speaking Ill of the Dead

Putting Sealions to Work

I’ve been gearing up to get back to more regular blogging here for a while without actually doing it. As commenting has shifted to social media, so have a lot of my observations of the world. But I don’t want to be dependent on sites that aren’t mine for retaining the things I have to say, so I’m going to try to put more of this here.

Today, I posted an anonymized snippet of conversation:

Them: If I’m wrong, why won’t you try to educate me instead of saying I’m ignorant?

Me: Have you read the article you’re commenting on yet?

I posted it because it amused me. Then a friend commented that the original sounded a lot like sealioning. Of course, that’s exactly what it is.

This person has already been arguing (read: asserting their opinion) at length. I’ve been commenting mostly short posts in return, pointing out they’ve already told me they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re frustrated because they’re working harder than I am and getting nowhere. So they’re trying to challenge me to do more.

Sealions: You can’t talk about this topic without doing a lot of work to defend yourself.

This person: You telling me I’m ignorant isn’t valid unless you do a lot of work to fix it.

Same argument, slightly different wording.

So why am I blogging this? Because my friend’s question made me realize that this is why sealioning fails so badly around me.

Even before we had a name for this kind of bad-faith arguing, we had sealions. Oh, did we have sealions. And I developed strategies back then that still serve me well dealing with them today. Namely, if someone wants me to do work, they need to demonstrate they’re willing to put in work themselves. Also, they need to do it first.

A lot of people don’t like that last part. Not just sealions, but onlookers too think it’s unfair not to go into this with the assumption people are really there for conversation. I don’t really care. It’s my labor. They’re my conditions.

At the same time, I’m already doing work. These interactions tend to start something like this: Continue reading “Putting Sealions to Work”

Putting Sealions to Work

David Silverman: Liar for the Defense

See updates at the end of this post.

Late summer is apparently the time of year when David Silverman gets a new website and a new story. Last year, it was Transformative Humanists of America. That was where the man who wanted everyone to identify as an atheist instead of humanist urged people to elevate forgiveness to the pinnacle of Humanist values.

If you want to know more than that, you’ll have to read about it at Pharyngula, since the domain itself has been surrendered. It’s okay, though. A new year brings a new rebranding.

Silverman is now apparently a “firebrand for good“. Of course, like “humanism”, “good” takes on its own meaning in Silverman’s hands. Looking at the site, it appears to mostly mean appearing on conservative TV. Oh. And saying, “Bitches be lying.”

I suppose the new site represents something of an improvement in intellectual honesty. He’s no longer arguing for forgiveness without mentioning that sexual assault is the thing he wants to be forgiven for. On the other hand, he’s now moved from preaching forgiveness to claiming he has nothing to be forgiven for.

His argument? Well, a whole bunch of people suddenly decided to lie about him. No, I don’t know what their motivation was supposed to be either. It doesn’t really matter, though, because he’s lying himself. He’s also very bad at keeping track of the lies he’s told.

Is that a strong claim? Yes, but I have evidence. Continue reading “David Silverman: Liar for the Defense”

David Silverman: Liar for the Defense

Mock the Movie: Not That Lizard Edition

Yonggary (or Reptile 2001 or The Reptilian) is not Godzilla, thank you very much. The monster is resurrected by aliens instead of being created by radiation, for one thing. Also…um…eh, it looks both worse and more fun to watch. We don’t really need more of an excuse than that.

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Not That Lizard Edition”

Mock the Movie: Not That Lizard Edition

Mock the Movie: Stylish Possession Edition

I freely admit at the outset that the only reason we’re watching The Secrets of Emily Blair this month is that every picture I can find of Emily looking horribly, inhumanly, grossly possessed still features her in killer eye makeup. Really, that’s it. Well, I mean, it also looks terrible.

[Warning for strobe cuts at the end of this trailer.]

This one is available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Stylish Possession Edition”

Mock the Movie: Stylish Possession Edition

Find Me at CONvergence!

We’re just under two weeks to CONvergence. As usual, I’ll be there, paneling and other stuff. Here’s where you can find me if you like that sort of thing.

Super Heroes and PTSD
Thursday July 4, 2019 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Hyatt 2 Northstar B
PTSD has become a much better understood concept in the past decade. Please join us for a discussion that will explore how super heroes from Batman to Spiderman and everywhere in between seem to suffer from this disorder, and how they deal with it. Participants: Peter David, Stephanie Zvan, Lathan Murrell, Sean Casey (mod), John Shea, MD

Writing Religion
Thursday July 4, 2019 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Hyatt 2 Greenway HI
We’ll discuss techniques that help ensure that you represent the effect religion (or the lack of it) has on your storytelling. Participants: Bryan Thao Worra, Rory Ni Coileain, Shauna Aura Knight, Stephanie Zvan (mod), Tim W Lieder

Detoxifying Fandom
Friday July 5, 2019 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Hyatt 2 Greenway CDE
Why does toxic fandom happen? How do we fight back against it? Can’t people just like things? Participants: Taylor Cisco, Shaun M Duke, Stephanie Zvan (mod), Boone Dryden, Ashley Myhre

Everyone Is Cancelled
Sunday July 7, 2019 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Hyatt 2 Northstar B
When a public figure crosses a line, they can be shunned by fans in our cancel culture. We’ll discuss how far someone can go, and whether canceling someone can be worthwhile. Participants: Rakhi Rajpal, Stephanie Zvan, Susan Willson (mod), AlysshaRose Jordan

I’ll also be in the Magic School party room with science demos aimed at young audiences and discussion salons aimed at older audiences. Minnesota Atheists is sponsoring the room again this year. I’ll update here with specific programming I’m doing there once our schedule is final.

Find Me at CONvergence!

So You Want a Positive Primary

I hear you. The unending negativity directed at Hillary Clinton over the last several decades certainly didn’t help turn her voters out in 2016. Neither did the disproportionately negative press. All the general cynicism about government made Trump’s “Drain the swamp” palatable to some where it should have been laughable. You don’t want that to happen again.

Neither do I. I’m overwhelmed and anxious about the ongoing harm that needs immediate reducing, and I’m not going to be any less ready to make that vote when I can actually do it in a year and a half.

Come fall of 2020, even if Trump is impeached and not running, I’ll be all about “blue no matter who”. In every election with a moderately plausible Republican candidate, not just for the presidency. The party has shown it doesn’t believe in democratic governance. It needs to be treated as invalid.

But it’s 2019. Still spring for a couple of weeks. And during this primary season, we’re having real, important discussions about what we want our country to be. Continue reading “So You Want a Positive Primary”

So You Want a Positive Primary