Judging the Past

Thomas Jefferson Birth of a Nation Gone with the Wind

“You can’t judge the past by the standards of the present! It’s not fair. We’ve advanced so much since then. People back then didn’t know better!”

I see the point. But also — no.

Of course we can judge the past by the standards of the present. That’s how we move forward.

We look back, at history or old movies or whatever — and we say, “Wow. That was messed-up. Let’s not do that again.” We read history about slavery and colonization; we watch old movies depicting queers as pitiful and disgusting; we hear old songs that romanticize sexual assault; we see old cowboy shows where Native Americans are shown as savage enemies. We cringe. We cringe so hard it makes our faces turn inside out.

And we say, “That was some fucked-up garbage.” We learn. We pay attention to patterns. We learn how to see bad patterns, in ourselves and our society. We learn how to prevent, how to interrupt, how to intervene, how to resist.

Judging the past is how we move into the future.

Continue reading “Judging the Past”

Judging the Past

How Bad do Things Have to Get?

Poster with symbol of resistance reading "Resistance Is Not Futile"

How bad do things have to get?

You might think leftists need to stop painting conservatives as heartless bigots and stop painting the Republican Party as the Evil Empire. You might think punching Nazis or throwing milkshakes at fascists is unacceptable violence. You might think the word “fascist” is leftist hyperbole.

How bad do things have to get before you’ll change your mind?

Fascism typically turns the heat up a little at a time. “First they came for the socialists,” and all that. Each new horror is just a little bit worse than the last, normalizing the ones that came before it and numbing people to ones that are coming. It’s easy to see in retrospect that strong action should have been taken earlier — but when it’s happening, it’s easy to convince yourself that it isn’t really that bad. Especially if you’re not one of the main targets. Yet.

So how bad does it have to get? We already have concentration camps. We already have a sharp rise in violence against people of color, trans people, immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants. We already have an executive leader blatantly ignoring the Constitution and saying the law doesn’t apply to him. We already have the executive branch, the judiciary branch, and half the legislative branch corrupted and useless as a check on power. We already have serious rollbacks on women’s bodily autonomy. We already have white supremacist culture permeating police departments and widespread in the military. We already have historians who study fascism saying that yes, fascism is on the rise in the United States.

How bad do things have to get, before you’ll recognize that this is a crisis? How bad do things have to get before you’ll stop seeing this as a problem that can be addressed with civility and debate? How bad do things have to get before you’ll agree that milkshaking — a form of resistance activism that’s been shown to be effective, one of the few forms of resistance that increasingly powerless people have — is acceptable? How much violence does the regime have to inflict before you’ll accept the morality of self-defense?

I don’t want you to answer right away. I just want you to think about it.

Your position should be falsifiable. If you’re an atheist or a skeptic, you should already be allergic to unfalsifiable opinions, goalposts that keep moving. So if you think fascism is not on the rise in the United States, draw your lines. Think now about what you’d consider business as usual, and what you’d consider to be crossing a line. Don’t let the heat get turned up another degree, and another, and another, while you insist that 200 degrees is certainly very hot but technically isn’t boiling. Don’t insist that, because you don’t personally know anyone in the cooking pot, the people screaming about the heat are being hysterical. Draw your line. And make it one where the goalposts won’t keep getting moved, a foot at a time, deeper and deeper into fascism.

(From a comment made on Facebook.)

How Bad do Things Have to Get?

Godless Perverts Social Club in SF! Discussion Topic: Sustaining Resistance

image of protest march with text describing event

We’re having a Godless Perverts Social Club on Tuesday, October 3, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th St. in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), 7-9 pm. Our discussion topic for this evening: Sustaining Resistance.

How do we sustain political resistance for the long haul? How do we stay involved and informed, without becoming overwhelmed and burning out? How do we move forward with our everyday lives, without letting fascism become normal? Join us for a discussion about self-care, taking care of each other, deciding on priorities, taking breaks, folding resistance into our everyday lives, and more.

The Social Club is free, and all orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Wicked Grounds has beverages, light snacks, full meals, and amazing milkshakes: please support the cafe if you can, and please tip generously. If you can’t afford cafe prices, Wicked Grounds customers have bought you coffee or tea: just ask for your beverage to paid for “from the wall.” Continue reading “Godless Perverts Social Club in SF! Discussion Topic: Sustaining Resistance”

Godless Perverts Social Club in SF! Discussion Topic: Sustaining Resistance

Charlottesville, and the Spirit of America

american flag flying on cloudy day

Content note: racism and racist history, including violence.

Reactions to the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville: “This isn’t America!” “This isn’t the real America!” “This isn’t who we are!”

Fellow white people in the U.S.: Please stop saying this.

White supremacy, and the violence that supports it, has been baked into U.S. culture since Europeans invaded the country. Continue reading “Charlottesville, and the Spirit of America”

Charlottesville, and the Spirit of America

Compassion and Abstraction

abstract photo

Abstraction gets a bad rep. It’s often seen as cold, calculating, divorced from emotion. But I’ve found the exact opposite. Abstraction is crucial to my ability to have compassion. Abstraction helps me step back from my own experience, and look at it in a bigger picture — a picture that includes other people.

Here’s an example. We’ve all seen progressives who are very skilled at critiquing oppression that affects them — and utterly clueless about ways they oppress others. We’ve all seen, for instance, white feminists go after men who derail conversations about sexism, focus the conversations on themselves and their hurt feelings, chide women for being uncivil and harsh, demand to be educated on demand about Feminism 101, argue arrogantly instead of listening, accuse feminists of being divisive, and pull out the “not all men” card. Then, in conversations with black women about racism in the feminist movement, those same white feminists will turn around and do the exact same things: derail, make it about them, argue instead of listening, say black feminists are being divisive, etc.

Abstraction helps me not do that. Continue reading “Compassion and Abstraction”

Compassion and Abstraction

January 20, 2017: Refusing My Consent, and Grieving the World

the word no

I do not consent to this.

It’s January 20, 2017. It’s inauguration day. And I do not accept it.

That’s an odd phrase: “I do not accept this.” It can mean denial, refusal to acknowledge reality. Or it can mean resistance. I’ve been doing a bit of both: I’ve been sinking into work and organizing, and I’ve been sinking into escapist distractions. I’ll probably keep doing both. I can’t work all the time, I’ll exhaust myself. And I can’t let myself think too much, or for too long, about the world we’re in now. Especially not when I’m alone. I need my escapes into other worlds: worlds where people mostly treat each other decently, worlds where wrongs are righted.

I think I’ve read too much science fiction. There’s a part of me that keeps looking for the key to the alternate reality. One of the most painful things about this election is how close it was. Just a few thousand votes in a handful of states, and it would have been different. The other reality seems so close to this one, and it seems radically wrong that we can’t reach it, that it doesn’t actually exist. It seems wrong that the other world could have been so close to our grasp, and yet be so radically different. The flawed country making itself gradually better, moving three steps forward and two steps back, building on the legacy and momentum of the last eight years… and the worst sides of this country, the dehumanizing racism, the leering disgust of women, the repugnance toward the body, the poisonous fear of the new, the contempt for knowledge, the naked greed, the selfishness masquerading as individuality, the hatred of the stranger masquerading as love of the country, all made flesh at once. So close.

And because the other world is so close — was so close — it makes certain kinds of pain hard to heal, and hard to bear. I know I need to move forward, not dwell, learn lessons and move on. But it’s hard to not feel rage, at people I once saw as part of my extended chosen family, people who should have known better but helped make this happen. And it’s hard to not feel guilt; to feel like I should have done more, better, sooner.

I feel somewhat bad, writing this today. I feel like I should be inspiring righteous anger, issuing clarion calls to action. I know I’ll do that, some of it anyway, in the months and years to come. I know that resistance is not futile. And I will resist. I have already begun to resist, and I’ll continue. But today, I’m deep in grief. I’m grieving the world we could have had. I’m grieving for the world we’re in now. And I am refusing my consent.

Do what you need to do today. Console each other; rage; retreat and regroup; distract yourself; spend all day poking the wound and taking its measure; cry; protest. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is a form of resistance.

Other work in a similar vein:
Depression in a Fascist Regime
The World We’re In Now (my talk at Skepticon 9)

January 20, 2017: Refusing My Consent, and Grieving the World

Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates


Godless Perverts is starting a book club! Want to talk books with other nonbelievers interested in sexuality and social justice? Come to the very first Godless Perverts Book Club, Tuesday January 17 at Borderlands! We’ll be discussing a wide variety of books over the coming months, about sex, gender, atheism, religion, science, activism, resistance, and other topics in the Godless Perverts wheelhouse.

For our first selection, we decided to read a hefty article instead of a book, since part of the first meeting will be devoted to getting things off the ground and choosing the next book. We will be reading the Ta-Nehisi Coates article in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black.” The article addresses issues around identity politics (a.k.a. civil rights), respectability politics, and the role and functions of the President. While this is not specific to godlessness and perversion, it should lead to some good discussions regarding the current political climate, what we expect from politicians (whether friend or foe) and how we should hold politicians accountable. The article is about a 2 hour read (17000 words).

The Godless Perverts Book Club is at Borderlands Cafe, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates”

Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates

Godless Perverts Social Club in SF Dec. 6! Discussion topic: Participating in a Resistance Movement


Godless Perverts is having a Social Club in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th St., on Tuesday, December 6! 7-9 pm. Our discussion topic: Participating in a Resistance Movement.

How can atheists and alt-sex people participate in a resistance movement? What do we uniquely have to offer? Some of us have limited time, resources, abilities — what can we do? In the coming months and years, more people will be needing more help — how can we step up our game and help them, without burning out? What can we do to resist white supremacy, misogyny, anti-queer hatred, anti-trans hatred, and other forms of systematic oppression? What can we learn from the history of other resistance movements? How can we take care of each other?

Note: This meetup is open to all nonbelievers, and all believers supportive of our mission, who want Godless Perverts to be part of a resistance movement in the new world. If that doesn’t describe you, please consider whether this particular meetup is the right one for you, and please don’t attend just to argue against this goal. Thanks.

Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers.

So please join us! Hang out with other nonbelievers and chat about sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, science, social justice, pop culture, and more. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Social Club in SF Dec. 6! Discussion topic: Participating in a Resistance Movement”

Godless Perverts Social Club in SF Dec. 6! Discussion topic: Participating in a Resistance Movement

Niki Massey, 1980 – 2016

Niki Massey on stage at Skepticon
Niki Massey on stage at Skepticon 8

Niki Massey, one of the founding members here at The Orbit, died yesterday, at the appallingly young age of thirty-five. (The cause of her death is still unknown: please don’t speculate on it.)

I’m struggling for words, so this may be brief. Niki was an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer. She was a force of nature: she filled every space she was in with humor, rage, passion, intellect, honesty, and love. She was fierce: many people writing about her have described her brilliant and unparalleled snark. But she was also deeply kind. She was kind in that way that shows up as fierce anger towards those who cause needless pain.

She was brave. Brave doesn’t mean not having fear: it means being afraid, and moving ahead anyway. She was strong. Strong doesn’t mean not having weakness: it means having weakness, and moving ahead anyway. She had so many strikes against her — a culture that hated her race and held it in contempt, a body that betrayed her, a crappy social safety net that forces sick people to struggle and claw so they don’t fall through the gaping holes. And she kept fighting, for herself and for others. To give just one example among so many: I was gobsmacked by the fact that she struggled with serious physical disability and anxiety disorder — and still did clinic escorting at abortion clinics. To give one more example: At last year’s Skepticon, when a scheduled speaker no-showed, Niki stepped up and gave a full presentation to hundreds of people with zero advance notice — and hit it out of the park.

She was thoughtful and insightful. Her rants were hilarious — holy shit, were they hilarious — and they were full of rage. But they were also needle-sharp in their perception. She could smell bullshit a mile away, and pinpoint its true source with deadly accuracy.

Niki was my friend, and my colleague. But the word “colleague” doesn’t begin to describe the intimacy and value that a working relationship can have. When you work with people doing work you’re passionate about, work that is embattled and attacked every day, work that is working to change the world, you can become closer than blood family.

It was a delight and an honor to know her and to work with her. The world has become smaller without her. I love you, Niki.

If you want to do something to honor her memory, please consider donating to Whole Women’s Health of the Twin Cities (the place where she did clinic defense) or This Week in Blackness — or, if you can, volunteer to do clinic escorting at your local abortion clinic. Here is some other good writing about her. I’ll update this list as more writing about her comes in.

Who Niki Massey Was, by Stephanie Zvan, at Almost Diamonds
For Niki, by Olivia, at We Got So Far To Go
Rest in Power, by Ania Onion Bula at Alyssa and Ania ‘Splain You a Thing
Remembering Niki Massey, by Alex Gabriel, at Godlessness In Theory
The word for Niki was VIVID, by PZ Myers, at Pharyngula

Niki Massey, 1980 – 2016

The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country

american flag flying on cloudy day

(I developed these thoughts in a radio interview with Charone Nix, Mandisa Thomas, and Rogier. I can’t remember now who made which point, so I’m crediting all of us for all of them.)

I’ve been thinking about Colin Kaepernick and other sports figures sitting down or kneeling during the National Anthem, to protest systemic racism and racist police brutality. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to love one’s country.

There are things about the United States that are tremendous, and things that are terrible. And many of the tremendous things exist because people saw something terrible, and protested. We ended slavery, expanded voting to include women and people of color, created a social safety net (or the vague semblance of one), created protections for voters, established safety standards for the food we eat, established child labor laws and workplace safety laws and a minimum wage, and much, much more — because people looked at the way things were and said, “No. This is not acceptable. We can do better. We must do better.”

Protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism. Seeing things that are terribly wrong with the country, and speaking out in whatever form (short of violence) is available and effective, is one of the highest forms of patriotism. It says, “We can do better. Our potential is so much greater than what we are right now.” To look at a country with rampant poverty, inequality, voter disenfranchisement, racist police brutality, homophobic and transphobic violence, institutional trivialization of rape, and more — and think, “Yeah, whatever, that’s the best we can do” — how is that patriotic? That’s not love of your country. That’s giving up on your country.

There’s a lot to be said about the National Anthem protests, and many people have said it well. It’s been pointed out how absurd it is to shrug off or rationalize the reality of racist police brutality, but lose your shit over a football player sitting down and not singing a song. It’s been pointed out that a relationship that demands unquestioning support even when you’re treated terribly isn’t loving — it’s abusive. It’s been pointed out that it’s absurd to fetishize symbols and ignore the realities they represent. It’s been pointed out that Jackie Robinson also refused to stand up for the National Anthem, for pretty much the same reason as Colin Kaepernick: we love our rebels and protestors from the past, and yet excoriate them in the present. (Prophets have honor in other countries, and the past is another country.) It’s been pointed out that “when nationalism and religion are understood as functionally identical, we see what Colin Kaepernick’s crime is: heresy.” It’s been pointed out that anti-racism protestors are told to protest nicely and politely in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone, are told not to march in the streets or block traffic or even call people racist — but when someone protests by literally sitting quietly, that’s not okay either.

All of that is true, and important. But it’s not my point today.

Patriotism is often performative, in much the same way religion is often performative. I don’t think this is always conscious or cynical (although I think it sometimes is), but in circles where patriotism is equated with goodness, performing patriotism persuades people of that goodness, and bigger performances are seen as more authentic. Displays of both religiosity and patriotism are “in-group” displays as well — and as such, they’re often driven by fear. In some circles, there is considerable pressure put on people to perform both patriotism and religiosity, and a significant cost to not doing so. The demand that patriotism be performed is all too often a demand, not for genuine love and work, but for unquestioning conformity.

But protest is patriotic. Seeing our potential to be better, speaking out about how we could be better, and working to make things better — often at great personal cost — is patriotic. In the words of Carl Schurz: “My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.”

The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country