Saturday, May 12, 2018

Video: Slick antitheism w/ Dillahunty

Clips from The Atheist Experience wherein popular host Matt Dillahunty masterfully addresses two of the most common retorts to antitheism.

The first is a video that anyone will enjoy regardless of belief. The hosts have a kind and respectful conversation with a believing caller regarding their reasons for disbelief and belief respectively. Things get emotional when the caller talks about her sister's death and the way religion helps her cope with it, quote, "If I didn't think I was going to see my sister in Heaven again, I don't think I could bare it."

Rather than do what many atheists would do, which is acquiesce to this sentiment with a reassurance of, "Well if that's what brings you comfort :) ", Matt points out exactly how being unable to cope without religion is not a benefit of religion, but an emotional disability that religion has purposely inflicted, one that leaves the caller vulnerable in the event that religion no longer works for her. The hosts discuss with her ways in which anyone, believer and non-believer alike, can more stably cope with loss without relying on the premise of an afterlife. The conversation goes well and the hosts demonstrate that it is possible to reject the notion of religion as a legitimate source of comfort and hope without being the callous boogieman antitheists are often dismissed as.

Secondly, we have a more intense video in which religion's role in good works is discussed. Matt and Traci point out how religious charity doesn't get to be used as a scoring point for belief because this propensity for good works comes as a direct result of the unearned privileged position religion has had in society and not as a result of any sterling qualities it uniquely provides. They also touch on the way this undue trust in religious charity allows for more corruption via the way religious charity is subject to less regulation -- if religious charities have nothing to hide and only pure intentions, they've got no reason to hide their numbers which every other charity has to report.

Both videos do a good job at discussing the fundamental issue that arises whenever someone tries to argue for religion's supposed benefits: the way religion games the system in favor of itself ahead of time, then expects to be praised for when it inevitably does well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future by Cynthia Eller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into Cynthia Eller's book already aware of and keeping in mind the criticism of her using "matriarchy" as too broad a brush. In reading though, I found this to be less of a concern than people made it out to be as Eller by in large sticks to addressing the most explicit notions of matriarchy, which are, in my opinion, the ones which are in most need of addressing. To this end, Eller makes a solid case with little wiggle room.

I grew up in a feminist and liberal household, and so for many years, I took for granted that it was just an established fact that prehistory was primarily goddess worshipping. Like many women, I took a bit of guilty glee in this, and enjoyed rubbing this "fact" in the faces of those who would declare male dominance inevitable and natural with a loud and proud, "Actually...." However, even during this period, not everything about the theory sat right with me. For one, I could never seem to get any solid facts regarding these societies, it always amounted to little more than "We found some statues shaped like women," which even to my young and unpracticed mind seemed like a stretch to say counted as definitive proof of women's rule. Secondly, the utopic flavor with which women's past was painted sounded extremely suspicious and far too good to be true. I could accept that there was a time when women's functions were given greater prestige, but peaceful and egalitarian? Why would they be? Because women can be mothers? This sharply contrasted with many facts that I thought should be obvious: not all women are mother material, not all mothers are kind, not all women are kind, and probably most damning, men can be just as invested in parenthood and general niceness as any woman — if fatherhood had clearly never lead to any kind of utopia, why would motherhood?

These were questions I struggled with but tried and failed to find answers to. I assumed that I must be looking in the wrong places, that if I found a truly professional source, they would give me evidence and explanation that made far more sense than the endless shaky platitudes of, "we found pictures of women and moms are so great so there you go!" mixed with a few mythical reinterpretations that held no more water than your average fandom headcanon. Unfortunately, no matter how seemingly legit the source, that always seemed to be the gist of their argument. Compared to other branches of history, prehistoric goddess world seemed, to be put it less eloquently, straight up pulled out of people's asses. Despite this, I initially met the discovery of Eller's book with a chilly response. Sure, the popular image of matriarchies as perfect utopias didn't jive with me, but the basic premises behind them still made sense to me, so they must have at least existed in some fashion, right? For external reasons (mostly a lack of time and money or ability to yet comprehend this type of book), I put off reading it, and only after growing out of my more sentimentalist approaches to feminism did I finally get a chance to sit down and hear what Eller had to say.

Eller does a fantastic job at addressing the matriarchy theory from both a place of objective evidence and ideological implication. The book doesn't so much present hard archaelogical evidence disproving matriarchy as it does meticulously pointing out that there is no evidence to suggest matriarchy did exist, and that if we are to apply inductive reasoning to the evidence we do have for the majority of human culture and history, there is ample reason to strongly suspect it never did. I imagine that for those who struggle with epistemology (which unfortunately seems to be a considerable amount of people) this will not be a strong selling point. People love to champion, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!" when faced with the weakness of their pet belief, and while this isn't untrue per se (as Eller makes clear several times in her book, which I've noted her critics seem to ignore), it definitely doesn't provide the glimmer of hope believers always think it does. Nonexistence, by definition, doesn't leave a mark on the world. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, but evidence of absence is functionally indistinguishable from absence of evidence. That's why we have the burden of proof and Hitchens' razor, "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." Feminist matriarchalists do do their best to provide evidence, but Eller works hard to strip away the mountain of fallacies, unwarranted assumptions, and hasty conclusions this evidence is based on. The case of prehistoric matriarchy is at best a soft "maybe" decidedly low on a totem of countless other possibilities, and at worst a complete fantasy.

The ideological half of the book, wherein Eller argues that the implications made by the matriarchy myth are undesirable, is the part more likely to stir conversation among the laymen (like myself). While Eller makes some assertions about sex and gender that I don't entirely agree with (the discussion of which would be a disgression here), her overall point is a solid one: propping women up as the super nurturing, super creative, super special heralds of peace is essentialist thinking rooted in historical misogyny and responsible for modern misogyny and misandry alike. Too many feminists are easily caught up in anything that appears to praise women without fully thinking through the implications, and this leaves the movement vulnerable to both falling backwards in terms of progress for women and falling apart in terms of being a useful tool for the betterment of humanity as a whole. Women are people, not archetypes. Trying to put them into boxes of narrow values and behaviors — even supposedly beneficial values and behaviors presumedly granting them prestige — only serves to hamper their potential as individuals and perpetuate gender norms in some form or another, the latter of which inevitably leads to judgments of superiority and inferiority, a game which Eller shows women are practically destined to lose when shackled to these boxes:

"The valorization of motherhood — as an ideal type separate from individual women's experiences of it — is a tactic that has served patriarchal cultures very well. Even as women's childbearing and childrearing activities have been named as the seat of a higher and purer morality — on the face of it, a very positive move — women have been bracketed off from historical processes, indeed from the entire project of culture. Romantics have hailed "Woman" as the avatar of "nature" for centuries now, as a being that could rescue us all from "the artificiality of civilization." But such views have typically left women firmly in their traditional places, not significantly disrupting the public, patriarchal world or its politics.

It is hard to believe that staying within a patriarchal culture's lexicon of femininity can provide a hardy alternative to the present order. Falling back into the traditional meanings of these stereotypes will be the path of least resistance. The is particularly worrisome when one takes note of the longevity and cross-cultural prominence of association between women, the body, and nature. These associations reach back through Western history for millennia, but, as Sherry Ortner notes, they are "hardly an invention of 'Western culture.'" According to Ortner, all cultures seek to negotiate the divide between "what humanity can do" and "that which sets limits upon the possibilities." This divide has frequently been linked to gender, with males representing freedom and females constraint, males "culture" and females "nature." There is a natural human tendency to favor possibility, opportunity, and achievement over impotence, restraint, and stasis, and so long as women are linked with the latter they will be relatively devalued."[emphasis mine]

Eller hits the nail on the issues I took with the assumptions made by matriarchy theory, and indeed, the assumptions made by many none-too-unpopular branches of feminism. This desire of many feminists to have their cake and eat it too — to paint women as simultaneously equal to and yet more inherently special than men — is only going to end in disaster. In trying to strip women of the traits that resulted in the "evils" of manhood we see today (war, oppression, disconnection from nature, etc.) you inevitably also stip them of the power and impact those traits have on the world. Progress can be a double-edged sword. The things that created many of society's worst problems also gave us some of our greatest accomplishments, both are side effects of our ambitions — which is not at all to say that those problems are inevitable or acceptable — but because the possibility of these problems arising is so inexorably entwined without our potential for greatness (whether we like it or not), to say that a world run by women would lack the former is to say that it would also lack the latter. i.e., To say that women could never be as bad as men is to say that we could never be as good as them either. It leaves women at the mercy of the world and expects them to be consoled with the knowledge that at least they can sleep easy knowing they're so very above it all.

I, for one, do not find morally pure impotence to be preferable to morally vulnerable potential. As feminism matures and deals with a changing world, it's going to have to accept that, as old Uncle Ben always said, great power comes with great responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability for when things go horribly, horribly wrong. If being fully human and not "merely woman" means having to internally confont the darkness history has shown humanity can harbor, I can accept that. Anyone who can't is free not to, but they would do well not to hold me back with them.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book for feminists, critics of feminism, and those with an interest in history alike. Eller makes not only a powerful case again matriarchal prehistory, but also provides hope in making the case that such a myth is unnecessary to pursuing equality. Our past does not define our future, "nature" is flexible and ever-changing, and we don't need to believe in fairy tales to accept their lessons.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

*dies* ["Ready Player One"]

The poster for the movie adaptation of "Ready Player One" just came out.

I heard it wasn't a very good book, mostly just nerdporn full of pop culture references. I may be a huge nerd, but it's going to take more than that to-

Wait a minute.


I-Is that... could it be...?

Mother of god.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Video: "Told You So" by Paramore

I've always liked Paramore, though I liked their RIOT! days more.

And then they dressed up like beatniks and my ladyboner pierced the heavens.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Article: Belmont Du Maurier, "5 Ways To Spot An Army Douchebag"

5 Ways To Spot An Army Douchebag

"The men and women of our armed forces are people who choose to serve our country with their lives. They are willing to sacrifice everything for our rights and privileges. Coming from all walks of life, the members of the military are diverse. In my few years of service, I have met and worked alongside many different personalities. There are those I’ve come to respect and admire. Yet there is also a certain other breed which exist within the military.

You can find them at the bar or on the beach with their dog tags hanging out. They’re cruising in Jeeps which cost them nearly two years salary, plastered in yellow ribbons and slogan-bearing bumper stickers (“If you don’t stand behind us, feel free to stand in front of us”). They make every effort to ensure you are aware that they are, in fact, in the military. They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. They are army douchebags..."

Sunday, December 24, 2017