The Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence. (a.k.a. Harrison Bergeron)

A few days back, I cheerfully pointed out via a comment that when you say things like this:

I handle controversy really well; I do not break down in tears, jump to unreasonable conclusions about my safety, or have mental breakdowns.

…in the greater context of an article about how, in essence, those who can’t handle the heat should get out of the kitchen, (an idea which Stephanie excellently skewers here), that is ableism. Have breakdowns? Oh, it’s because you couldn’t handle controversy. You know, I’m just going to tell you (as someone who is neither your therapist or friend) that if you have mental health problems, you should just stay out of debate. Even if, y’know, it is about issues that involve you. Let us neurotypical people handle it.

I’m not going to tackle the resulting comments and blog post from the OP, because honestly, I’ve no interest.

What was interesting was the commenter who left one of those brief rhetorical comments (as you do):

Have you read Harrison Bergeron?

…with one of those faces of forced confusion and shock, O.o, the sort that always fail to convey their intended meaning by reminding me of these marsupials.

In brief, “Harrison Bergeron” is a dystopian short story by Vonnegut,  where ‘equality’ has become so inverted that those with talent are hamstrung and given handicaps to prevent them from expressing any ability better than anyone else. Those of intelligence wear earpieces that blast noise at intervals, the beautiful must wear masks, etc. In other words, the ‘equality laws’ have trampled the people. Harrison throws off the confinements, stands up against a world that wants him to conform to a normative idea of ability, and for a few brief moments, lives unconfined by society.

Now, to the actual question of my education: I have read it. In fact, due to a public school system that didn’t communicate required reading from grade to grade, it was part of my studies no less than three times.

Did I think the state of my high school literary education was actually the point of inquiry? No.

But, the “What about Harrison Bergeron?!11?!!” response is one I get often, and it’s still exams week(s) and I’m fed up.

You’re committing a logical fallacy. And it’s not even one of the fun ones. But, lest I fall into the trap of the Fallacy Fallacy, let me point out why, besides the obvious “this is a fictional short story”, “Harrison Bergeron” is not the appropriate response to actions to remove ableism.

Where exactly do you want me to draw the line? Do you think it’s utterly wrong to be saying sexist/homophobic/racist things, but when it’s fine to dismiss people on the basis of their mental health? Skin and gender and orientation aren’t up for mockery, but, hey, we gotta draw the line at being nice somewhere!

Then there’s this sticky situation:

Point 1: Ableism is treating a group of one type of able-ness as though everyone else should cope in their world, whether or not it serves them well.

Point 2: In ‘Harrison Bergeron’, less-preferred kinds of ability is forced to conform to the world, by use of handicaps, whether or not it serves them well, and leads to a heartbreaking climax…and THAT PROVES THAT DISCUSSING ABLEISM IS SILLY BECAUSE…..oh. errrr…….ooops?

If you’re upset with the way those we would call ‘normal’ are restrained to conform in Vonnegut’s tale, but not fussed by things like the Canadian government fighting to avoid updating their websites to work with screen readers for the visually impaired, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re upset with the earpieces (which blare noise to disrupt intelligent thought) in the story, but think it’s fine to joke around about illnesses like OCD and schizophrenia, which often have invasive and uncontrollable thoughts that prevent concentration, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re using “Harrison Bergeron” to tell me why I shouldn’t care about ableism and you don’t notice that it’s proving my point, you’re doing it wrong.

The Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence. (a.k.a. Harrison Bergeron)

No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

I’ve seen several Obama endorsements over the past few days, all of them acknowledging that Obama is flawed, but then making mostly negative cases.  They endorse Obama despite himself because of how much they despise the policies, campaign, and ignorance of the Romney campaign.

JT has the most detailed explanation of why you should vote Obama, Jen McCreight (who I love) has a short and not totally reasonable post against third-party votes, PZ has a detailed argument against third parties, and Andrew Tripp has an argument that we need more George McGoverns and fewer Obamas.

On the issues, I’m actually fairly close to Obama on most fronts.  He’s center-right, I’m left-center — I usually score a bit closer to Jill Stein though she and I have differences — but as candidates who represent your point-of-view, I don’t have any major problems with Obama that are also things I think he can realistically do anything about.  Yes, he is authoritarian in some of his presidential powers, but it is going to take someone truly extraordinary in the job of the presidency to reduce the amount of power of the job — or a strong Congress willing to take responsibility for their actions.  (I highly recommend Drift by Rachel Maddow if you’re interested in this topic).

So, if you love Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson or even, FSM forbid, Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode, what should you do?  According to my internet friends, vote for Obama.


I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.

He’s not totally wrong, but the fact of the matter is that the Green Party is putting up a lot of candidates across the country in many different levels of government.  Having a loss-leader green party candidate to get more attention for local races, and to try to get more matching funds for the party as a whole, makes a lot of sense.  Even I, denizen of a red district in a red state, have the opportunity to throw my vote away to a Green Party candidate other than Jill Stein.


If you’re voting third-party, you’re voting for Romney. Stop being an idealist and wake up to the reality of how our system works. I agree we need to have more parties in the dialog – trust me, I’d be way happier voting for someone more liberal like Jill Stein if I had the knowledge my voice would be heard – but that’s not going to happen by throwing your vote away and helping a Republican win.

This needs a huge caveat that this is only true if you live in a state where there’s any question of who is going to win the election.  The reality is that less than 20% of the American population lives somewhere where their vote has the potential to matter in the overall election.  It’s not me in South Carolina, it’s not Jen in Seattle, it’s not PZ in Minnesota, but it is JT in Ohio.  A vote for a third-party isn’t a vote for Romney unless you live in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, or Virginia.

I agree with JT’s conclusion:

Here’s what I suggest.  If you live in a state that is already decided (California, Texas, etc.), vote third-party.  Why?  Because in 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote as a third-party candidate, and that was not meaningless.  If forced the two dominant parties to realize that the people were pissed off.  That led to bi-partisan efforts that undoubtedly contributed to Bill Clinton’s success.  Even if it’s unrealistic to expect a third-party candidate to win, at least for the time being, I believe sending that message is still important.  Is it a perfect fix?  No, but it’s something to do in the meantime that doesn’t carry the risk of pissed away votes in swing states opening the door for the lesser of the two candidates with a legitimate shot at winning this year.

Now, let’s look at my ballot in South Carolina, so that I can show you why I am really not upset with people who don’t bother to go to the polls on election day.  So, you’re in the 80% of the country that doesn’t matter at all presidentially, surely you matter locally, right?  Not necessarily.  A third of the races in SC are people running unopposed.  Not only is this true for school boards or council seats, it’s true of the state house and senate.  It’s also true of one of our national house races.

The other day I was listening to NPR and a Californian called in to complain that, thanks to a new combined primary format, several places in CA had people of the same party running against each other in the general election, and he was very upset.  I wanted to call and scream because I am going to be given a ballot that says this:

House Representative District 02
Joe Wilson (REP)

The fact that I am de facto supporting Joe “You Lie” Wilson alone makes me not want to show up at the polling place.  Knowing that every single race where I do have a choice is going to go to the Republican doesn’t make me any more eager to waste the hour or so of my time it will take me to go to the polling place.  Of the 12 races I am voting on, 7 are people running unopposed.  The rest are polling strongly against my choices.  I can’t even write-in the presidential race for the amazing Rocky Anderson.

Geography has determined that I will never cast a vote for a winner.  A meaningless protest vote is literally all I have.  So here’s my recommendation: vote, but vote for whoever makes you feel good about voting in the first place.  Because the real work is everything we do to get the right people on the ballots in the first place and trying to convince those already in power to do the right thing.

Unless you live in Ohio.

No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

Behold the Blog: Black Girl Dangerous

Are you unsure if you have white privilege?
Black Girl Dangerous can fix that for you:

9. Do you regularly experience racism (note: racism is a system in which people are given less access to employment, education, safe and adequate housing, legal representation, etc. based on their race; racism is not people “not liking you” because of your race). If not, you may be white.


12. Do people assume, without knowing you or ever speaking to you, that you are unintelligent, a criminal, good with computers, a terrorist, lazy, that you don’t speak English, or that you are poor? If not, you may be white.

Is ‘love your body’ the most important thing we can be saying when we talk about body-shaming?
Lovemme on not loving yourself:

The fact that “love your body” rhetoric shifts the responsibility for body acceptance over to the individual, and away from communities, institutions, and power, is also problematic. individuals who do not love their bodies, who find their bodies difficult to love, are seen as being part of the problem. the underlying assumption is that if we all loved our bodies just as they are, our fat-shaming, beauty-policing culture would be different. if we don’t love our bodies, we are, in effect, perpetuating normative (read: impossible) beauty standards.

BGD is a collection of writers, established by Mia McKenzie, specifically as a space for the voices of queer women and trans* people of color. It’s fast and brilliant and means that sometimes I sit and giggle at my computer (“You want a shit sandwich or a crap-kebab? Choose! And remember that if you don’t choose a shit sandwich, then that’s just as good as choosing a crap-kebab.”) and every time I want to just go do something.

Behold the Blog: Black Girl Dangerous

Chicago Friends!

Kate here.
I have gobs of spare time laying around, and often I can’t figure out what to do with it.

Okay, not at all.

But one of the things I’ve happily let eat my spare time is this year’s Carl Sagan Day Chicago, which is happening in (eek!) just four days, November 1st.

Chicago’s secular community is gathering once again to celebrate the life and legacy of the great science popularizer, the beauty of discovery, and the fun of exploration.

The event will be held in Schmitt Academic Center Room 161, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The building is handicapable accessible, and accommodation can be provided upon request.

The three organizers, myself, Chana Messinger of UChicago, and Andrew Tripp of DePaul began with a meeting squashed into a break from speakers at the 2012 SSA Conference. The resulting google doc turned into G+ hangout planning sessions and emails and emails and emails. By the middle of September we had our speakers:

Dr. Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and a former colleague of Carl Sagan.

Dr. Angela Olinto, Chair of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, Associate Professor of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Studies Department at DePaul University.

AND an emcee, Matt Lowry, the Skeptical Teacher.

Last month we had our last planning meeting, where we created our Safe Space Policy, emailed groups who could be interested in sponsorship, and made final arrangements.

Since then we’ve been sponsored by Chicago Skeptics, College of Curiosity, and [aaaaaahhhh!] the Adler Planetarium, along with getting a project grant from the Secular Student Alliance.

Which is to say, this is going to be fantastic. Do you live anywhere near the Windy City? Come out to 2320 N. Kenmore (on DePaul’s campus, off the Fullerton stop on the Red Line) this Thursday. I’d love to meet you, the event is free, and you can eat apple pie and win tickets to the Adler. What’s not to like?

[Chana has her own post about Sagan Day plans on Friendly Atheist]

Chicago Friends!

Ever paid taxes in SC: You’ve probably been hacked

About an hour ago, WLTX broke a story about hackers.  It seems foreign hackers have broken into the Department of Revenue’s computers in the state of South Carolina and stolen 3.6 million social security numbers — from a state with 4.7 million residents.  Essentially, if you’ve paid taxes since 1998, your information has been compromised.

It gets worse — they’ve also stolen hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers.

I called the Department of Revenue who answered the phone, “It’s a great day in South Carolina, how can I help you?” and proceeded not to know anything about the breach.  Fortunately, she talked to someone else who I think googled it and found the news story that had a different number to call.  I called the number provided, which was for Experian, and got the following information:

They do not know whose information in particular has been stolen.  The breach in which the info was taken happened end to mid September and the state learned about it October 10th. They’re working with law enforcement so there shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.

In addition, the state of SC is providing one year free credit monitoring and ID protection through Experian for everyone who may have been breached.  They will be mailing out access codes to the protectmyid website or you can sign up on the phone through the 866-578-5422 number.  I signed up over the phone and it was relatively painless.

I don’t know how necessary the signing up thing is, but I feel like if something did happen the state would be more responsive to me if I’d shown an interest in protecting myself.  The website is sort of questionable — it lists all my student loans twice for some reason.  That was a number I didn’t like seeing.

Perhaps SC should invest in proper IT specialists instead of spending it’s legislative capital on phone greetings.

There will be a briefing 1:30 EST

Ever paid taxes in SC: You’ve probably been hacked

The Body Shaming and Media Rant

I’ve had midterms all week. This is what happens when I want to blog more than I want to look at yet another flashcard or set of notes. Incoming snark and citations. 

I post fairly regularly on my facebook about media trends, and the damaging idea that ‘pretty’ is some sort of acceptable value judgement. There’s a lot of material, too. There are the new Minnie Mouse ads. Literally anything on the Escher Girls tumblr.  That one time (oh, you mean last week?) when Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were treated as equals in their profession on the cover of Vanity Fair…. OH WAIT.  The fact that Oprah has a little theme called “Have You Lost Weight?” (And the URL says “How to Dress Slimmer and Avoid Looking Fat”, because that’s just spectacular.) with all the ‘slimming dresses‘ and ‘slimming makeovers‘ and strategies.

So I post about this. And I grouch about it. And I’ve recently noticed an odd reaction: a denial that media is a factor at all.

“Media doesn’t make people go out and self harm!”

“Aren’t you just blaming the media for what women do to each other?”

“It’s not that young girls are dieting more because of societal pressure–it’s because America/society is obese, and there’s more focus on health at early ages!”

So we’re going to talk about that.

While media doesn’t have a ton of influence on changing consumer behavior (McGuire 1985, 1986, since replicated), it does influence what we decide is important or pressing or worth valuing.  Political scientist Shanto Iyengar has a word for this, and it’s as accurate as it is terrifying: agenda control. (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987) For instance, media coverage might not change our opinion on child kidnapping or make us change our behavior, but persistant coverage of it will make us think it’s the most pressing crime in our area. Persistent coverage of the economy over coverage of environmental disasters will result public concern centered on unemployment and inflation, rather than oil spills.

So then, when you say to me that media doesn’t make girls* starve themselves to fit what they see on TV, you’re somewhat right. No, it doesn’t make them skip that meal, or step on that scale, or say that no, they’re just not hungry right now. But what it does do is tell them that the most pressing issue in their lives is how they look, and that pretty has a weight limit.

So yes, I do get to blame the media.

I get to be upset that ‘pretty’ or ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ is more important to showcase than ‘successful’ or ‘happy’ when you take photos of successful, happy women. I get to be angry that ‘slimming’ is one of the best adjectives you can pin to feminine clothing.

Kidnapping is still a crime, the economy is still worth caring about, and you can damn well want to look pretty or sexy or slim. But that shouldn’t be the single most important thing.

(Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008)

*Current research is mainly towards media and women’s eating, but men suffer from eating disorders, and acting as though disordered eating is exclusive to one gender is silly and dangerous.

Gilovich,T., Keltner, D., Chen, S. & Nisbett, R.E. (2011). Social Psychology (3rd ed.) New York: Norton & Company.

Grabe, S., Ward, L.M., & Hyde, J.S. (2008). The role of the media in body image concern among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 460-476

Iyengar, S. & Kinder, D. (1987). News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

McGuire, W.J. (1985). Attitudes and attitude change. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (eds.), Handbook of social psychology (3rd ed. Vol. 2, 233-346). New York: Random House

McGuire, W.J. (1986). The myth of massive media impact: Savagings and salvagings. Public Communication and Behavior, 1, 173-257.



The Body Shaming and Media Rant

Today in embarrassing moments for Mitt Romney

I admit I’ve had a few good laughs at poor Mitt Romney’s expense these last few weeks — killing Big Bird, binders of women, bayonets and battleships, but today came something that must sting coming from the Mormonest place on earth.

JT pointed me the direction of the Salt Lake Tribune which just endorsed… Barack Obama.  Now, to be fair, the paper endorsed Obama four years ago and was formed as the Mormon Tribune in order to criticize the LDS church.  That said, Mitt Romney helped organize the 2002 Olympics and is a Mormon. He should have gotten at least a nod or a thank you in such ostensibly friendly territory.

That is not what happened.

If this portrait of a Romney willing to say anything to get elected seems harsh, we need only revisit his branding of 47 percent of Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, yet feel victimized and entitled to government assistance. His job, he told a group of wealthy donors, “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Where, we ask, is the pragmatic, inclusive Romney, the Massachusetts governor who left the state with a model health care plan in place, the Romney who led Utah to Olympic glory? That Romney skedaddled and is nowhere to be found.

Perhaps Jon Huntsman will have the opportunity to run more successfully in 4 years time.  He is a man that Utah and Mormons and even the Salt Lake Tribune can be proud of, even if he is a Republican.

Today in embarrassing moments for Mitt Romney

Behold the Blog: All My Stubborn Ounces

I’ve been meaning to make some regular features of my blogging here, and now that I’ve lassoed a free half hour to myself, I’m starting this one: Behold the Blog. Every Monday, give or take the occasional midterm, travelling, or mid-quarter-life-crisis, I’m going to talk about a blog I hope is new to you.


To Feel the Stubborn Ounces of My Weight

You’ll see I haven’t put a link on that title. That’s because the best posts on this blog deserve a very clear preface. I’m going to let Cassy, the author, tell you in her own words:

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it.

Cassy is this lovely beautiful person I met almost exactly a year ago. I showed up to the first Carl Sagan Day Chicago, knowing very few people, and somehow in the hustle and bustle I ended up wandering over to the redhead holding nutella-frosted cupcakes.(Chocolate–it’s like magnets!). When I joined the Secular Student Alliance a few months following, we ended up as the only two members who woke up early enough to attend church: the culmination of our Send An Atheist to Church fundraiser. A little later, Cassy was the one of the two people I asked to make sure I didn’t skip out on my first therapy session.

And then, this summer, Cassy told her story:
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part I, Partner Rape
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part II, Date Rape
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part III, Relationship Violence
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part IV, Healing & Epilogue

She’s been blogging ever since. And she’s still the strongest person I know.

Behold the Blog: All My Stubborn Ounces

The Stories We Tell

One of the reasons I love writing at Teen Skepchick is the community of contributors, and the way we keep track of and care for each other. (For the record, Mindy is the best blogmum in the business.)

So, when we started talking about eating disorders a few weeks back, and discovered just how prevalent they were in our community, we decided to write a series. I offered to write a personal reflection of something or other, and promised to post it on Oct. 20th. I assumed I’d just write some sort of general overview, or a little anecdote, remind everyone that my story wasn’t indicative of everyone’s, and hit publish.

On October 19th, talking to friends in the wee hours of the morning, I told I story I hadn’t shared before–why I rarely talk about dancing, despite training for the majority of my life. It’s not a fun story, it’s not a pleasant story, but it’s the story I ended up writing for Teen Skepchick. I spent that night typing it, sent it to a friend for editing, and posted it.

It’s raw and painful and I’m damn proud of writing it:

I don’t call myself a dancer anymore. I talk about how I used to dance. I cut my hair short–I no longer needed it long enough to put up for a performance. Sometimes it overwhelms me. I can’t hear music without seeing choreography, and that’s been true for as long as I remember. But I no longer see myself performing the pieces.

Full text here. 

The Stories We Tell