Environmental Worldview

I am coming close to finishing my degree in Environmental Science and was asked by a professor to write about my environmental worldview. What follows is my response to that assignment.

The world is an old and natural place, built and maintained by physical forces, and occupied by chemical living things that evolve and change over time. I do not believe that life has intrinsic purpose, or that this planet we live on exists for us, any more than it exists for any other species, extant or extinct. I believe that the forces that control Earth and all life on it are natural, understandable, and even predictable with the right knowledge. Since humans have rational brains that are able to learn about our world, we also have a moral obligation to make choices that will keep the world a livable place for our fellow humans and other species.

My sense of justice requires that I try not to make the world harder for others that I share this world with. This means that I want to work for environmental justice, especially focusing on people who have had environmental harms pushed on them by a racist, classist, and ableist culture. This means that I want fight policies that lead to the destruction of the land of indigenous people, or that lead to climate change that disproportionately impacts developing nations. The same groups of people who have been economically and socially marginalized in the United States and around our globalized world also experience environmental injustice and I believe my efforts to improve the world must be focused on these people.
I also believe that humans are not the only species worthy of my efforts, and that humans should not destroy other species for our own ends. I am outraged by the rate of species loss created by environmental harm caused by human activity. I believe that we have a responsibility to preserve the planet not just as a place that humans can live, but as a place where we can coexist with the other life.

I also believe that the best way to make decisions is to ensure that those decisions are informed by accurate facts. I do not want to make my environmental decisions based on what feels good, but on what the best scientific knowledge shows. I believe that while scientific methods do not always come up with the correct answers, they are still the best methods we have to understand the world and predict outcomes. When I work based on scientific consensus, rather than fallacy or propaganda, I believe my work will be most likely to have the outcomes I desire.

I understand that working from a scientific basis means making hard choices. I do not believe that science will bring us a panacea through technology, but that technology may be one part of larger tactics to make the world a better place. Sometimes the facts show us that any decision we make will have consequences that we do not desire. It can frustrating for individuals and for cultures to decide between environmental causes and economic ones, for example. But I believe that in the long run protecting the environment from further harm is usually the best choice for everyone, because we need to think not only of ourselves, but of other people, species, and the future.

Environmental Worldview

“Stupid” Is The New “Gay”

CN: This post includes examples of ableist and homophobic language used to illustrate my points.

In modern English speaking cultures (and I suspect many other languages too) we often use ableist words as shorthand for other ideas. When we encounter an idea that we don’t agree with we may say “that’s stupid.” In having this response we haven’t given much actual information about what the problems are with the idea expressed, but we have made our disdain for that idea clear. We will often also make our disdain for the person expressing it clear with “You’re an idiot.”

This is a similar (but more persistent practice) as expressing our dislike of an idea with “That’s so gay” or our disagreement with a person with “You’re so gay.” During the last few decades this practice grew, became deeply ingrained in many people’s daily language, and then has largely died out as homophobia has become far less socially acceptable. While some still use it, it is generally seen as outdated and clearly coming from a place of prejudice. I haven’t heard it in public for awhile.

In both cases people are expressing distaste by comparing something or someone to a group of people we see as lesser in some way. In both ways they are degrading both the specific idea or person we dislike, and the group of people they’re comparing them to. What they are saying is “This idea is so bad it must have come from someone who is cognitively disabled” or “You’re so disgusting to me you must be similar to a gay person.” These statements assume disabled people and queer people are the bad thing people don’t want to be compared to.

Unfortunately, as we effectively encouraged people to stop calling things “gay” when they didn’t like them, we often encouraged them to use cognitive slurs instead. “Don’t call things gay when you really mean stupid!” is basically what I said all through the 90’s and early 00’s. I didn’t see that I was asking my peers to replace one group of people as the target of ridicule with another.

I did this because I believed that I was trying to get people to correctly identify what the problem was with the thing they objected to. I thought that the real problem with a bad idea WAS that it was stupid. I have a much better understanding now, and wish that instead we could actually properly identify what is wrong with a thing or idea. Instead of either “That idea is gay” or “that idea is dumb” it’s more accurate and less harmful to say “that idea is wrong” or “that idea is hurtful” or “that idea is mean.”

“Stupid” Is The New “Gay”

Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?

So… it’s been awhile since I posted. While I’m tempted to apologize for that, I’m trying not to because honestly I needed this time. But I do want to take a moment to explain what’s up, and what will be up with this blog in the near future.

First of all, I’m swiftly approaching my graduation from University. In anticipation of that graduation this past few months has been incredibly busy – I quit my job in March, submitted my research thesis, applied to several graduate schools, have been applying for jobs for after graduation, all while doing my last quarter of classes. I’ve also been working several part time jobs, and calling my representatives regularly, going to protests when possible, and catching season 2 of Sense 8. I frankly haven’t had time to write.
Continue reading “Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?”

Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?

Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

CN: Addiction, mentions of overdose.

Bill SB 81 in Georgia has been proposed with the intention of making opioid pain medications less available in an attempt to fight opioid addiction in Georgia. It requires, among other things, that prescriptions for any Schedule II, III, IV, and V drugs have prescriptions limited to a five day supply at a time. People who use Schedule II medications to treat ADHD and related conditions quickly noticed that as written the law would require them to get a new prescription every five days for medications like Ritalin and Adderal. After reading the bill, it appears to me that this would also require people who use testosterone medications to get a new prescription every five days as well, since testosterone containing medications are Schedule III drugs.

These medications often already require the patient (or parent or caretaker) to carry a physical paper prescription into the pharmacy. The new regulations would require medical providers, patients, and pharmacies to do staggeringly more work and paperwork. Some of these medications are usually used for years or a lifetime, and certainly many patients would really struggle with getting to their doctor’s office and the pharmacy every week. Continue reading “Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill”

Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

CN: Discussion of harassment and hate speech, transphobia, racism.

In previous years, the more feminist factions of the atheist and skeptic movements pushed events to deal with problems of discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in various ways. One of those ways, and perhaps the most successful one, was encouraging events and groups to have an anti-harassment policy or code of conduct that would spell out what types of behavior were acceptable and how unacceptable behavior would be handled. At the same time, science fiction and fantasy conventions, tech conferences, and other events dealt with the same issues and also responded with a push towards robust codes of conduct. As more and more writers, speakers, and leaders refused to speak at events without good codes of conduct, these policies became common, with almost every relevant event having one displayed on their website.

However, having a harassment policy, code of conduct, or other similar document for your event is not enough. It actually has to be a good one, with clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and consequences for those who do not follow it. Those who experience an incident of discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment, or similar problems need to know how to report these things and how they will be handled. “Don’t be a dick” isn’t sufficient as a definition of what behavior is and is not welcome at your event.

Just one example of a terrible code of conduct came to my attention recently. The event Gateway to Reason will take place in St Louis in late July and does have a code of conduct on their website. While Gateway to Reason is not alone in having a poorly considered conduct policy, theirs is particularly problematic and I’d like to discuss some of the ways it could be improved.
Continue reading “How Not To Write a Code of Conduct”

How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death

CN: Suicide, grief, family stuff

My uncle died by suicide, last Monday. Mom called to tell me that night. It wasn’t totally unexpected, though I know Mom and others tried very hard for a long time to help. I was never close with him, haven’t seen him in around 20 years, and we weren’t close while I was growing up. For ME, this isn’t a personal loss.

But for Mom it is clearly a profound loss. She sounded vulnerable and heartbroken on the phone on Monday in a way I don’t think I’ve really heard from her before. It was, I think, the first time she ever really reached out to me for emotional support. She called me before my brother. She didn’t call to pass on information. She called because she needed to hear that I’m safe, that I love her, and that I’m here for her.

I told her I’m so sorry. I told her I love her, and that Spouse and I are safe and well. I told her I’d come to the funeral with her if she wanted (she doesn’t want me to, for complicated but good reasons). I told her to let me know if there is anything else I can do. I told her that I unfortunately know something about going through this kind of loss, and I know it’s particularly hard.

I never want to hear that pain in Mom’s voice again. I wish I could protect her from all of the loss that is likely to come in her life as she ages. But I am also so grateful to have the kind of relationship with her now that she will call me when she needs comfort. I want to be here for her. Mom and I struggled and worked hard to build a good relationship. My childhood was hard and we were adversaries much more often than allies. As time passes we continue to learn and grow, now as more than just allies, but as companions.

I ache for Mom’s loss, and for the pain my uncle must have been in. I am also incredibly grateful that she and I are in a place now where I can be there for her. Families are complicated, but I am glad I have mine.

Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death

Just Do Something

I know not everyone is able to participate in every kind of resistance that we are told to do. Our diversity of strengths and abilities is a big part of what makes movements to resist fascism great.

Those of us who can lobby our lawmakers in person should do that. In person lobbying is absolutely the most effective form of telling your representatives what you want.

Those of us who can call should. Write scripts, or use scripts written by others, to help. I believe the people who tell me it’s effective.

Those of us who can’t call should write. I’m told paper letters are better than email. Handwritten apparently better than typed? But fuck no I’m not handwriting a letter because my handwriting sucks. Writing letters, or even emails, is better than no action at all. Just because you can’t do the most effective thing doesn’t mean you don’t do the somewhat effective thing.

Those of us who can protest should. Those of us who can punch Nazis should, if we have a good opportunity. Those of us who can occupy airports today should. Those of us who can sit outside our lawmaker’s offices should. Those of us who can donate money should. Those of us who can write should. Those of us who can create protest art, and songs, and t-shirts, and signs should. Those of us who can feed protesters should. Those of us who can elevate the voices, in real life and online, of those who are most marginalized should. Those of us who can talk to family, friends, and co-workers about resistance should. Those of us who can dig into arguing with conservatives should. Those of us who can troll the comments sections of Brietbart should.

Feed someone’s pets while they’re out of town protesting or occupying. Knit. Paint. Sit and have quiet frank conversations with uncertain family members. Raise socially conscious children. Recycle. Make one phone call to a lawmaker or a thousand. Drive someone to the polls on the next election day. Design an incredible protest sign even if you can’t be the one to carry it. Glitter bomb a fascist. Scream in the face of a racist. Buy a drink for an exhausted lobbyist. Hug an immigration lawyer.

Just do something.

Just Do Something

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook about the word “sapiosexual” and how it is ableist, among other problems. While many responses were good, several people objected, claiming that we were telling them who they should be attracted to or who they should sleep with. I’ve seen this with many other discussions about people’s attractions related to race, weight, and other traits as well. Someone usually comes into those discussions and says “I can’t help who I’m attracted to! I can’t just decide to be attracted to someone!”

I think what isn’t clear to some people is that we’re not asking people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to. Rather, when someone’s preferences are in line with some axis of oppression, it’s worth examining how society has lead us to those preferences. It is absolutely not true that our desires exist in a vacuum – they’re a product of our culture, and our biases.

In other words, if you find you are only attracted to white people, it would be a good idea to examine your feelings about race. If you find you are only attracted to thin people, you may have underlying negative feelings about fat people. If you only are attracted to people you deem to be “smart enough” it’s likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence. If you defend these preferences aggressively when someone points out you may be coming from a place of prejudice, then you especially need to examine your biases – they’re showing.

In fact, there is evidence that prejudice corresponds with sexual attraction in these cases. Last year an Australian study found “Sexual racism, therefore, is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.” Body size preferences also seem to be influenced by culture, according to this study which found “The universality of an ideal [waist-to-height ratio] is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.” In other words, our culture and the biases of that culture influence our sexual preferences.

No one is saying you have to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to. Attraction doesn’t generally work that way. However, since attraction is in part based on our subconscious biases and prejudices, we can use our attractions to help us better recognize in what areas we may be judging people unfairly. Furthermore, I suspect working to become less racist, sizeist, ableist, and otherwise oppressive will likely change our sexual preferences over time. Challenging our own prejudices often changes many things about our views of the world, and I doubt that excludes our sexual outlooks.

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

How I Prepare To Protest

I mentioned in my Beginners Guide to Protesting that it’s a good idea to carry food and water to a protest. This is true, but it’s not really the whole story. There are more things that many people recommend having with you, especially as you get more serious in terms of how long you want to spend out at a protest or how much risk you are willing to take on. I’d like to share here a bit more about what I wear and bring currently to a protest march, and what I’m going to start doing in the future.

I want to be clear here that these are my own choices, and reflect my own risk tolerance. The risks you are willing to take on may be higher or lower than mine. Your financial means may be higher or lower than mine as well.
Continue reading “How I Prepare To Protest”

How I Prepare To Protest