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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 13,433

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Supporting Atheists on DU

As a theist, I enjoy the privilege that comes with our culture's assumptions about religious belief. So I feel a bit awkward starting a thread with this title. I deal with the ubiquitous, entrenched, oppressive effects of patriarchy all the time, and while I appreciate allies from the other gender, I do sometimes wish they'd stop assuming that their support is something that it isn't.

(For the record, I'm always grateful when good people do things that promote equity, community, and connection. But it is and should be sort of the default, not a lets-hold-a-metaphorical-ticker-tape-parade accomplishment.)

So, I do feel kind of hypocritical coming up with this. On the other hand, I also know the real value of allies who can speak from within the "cone of privilege" to make others aware of the privilege we share and how it affects those who live outside it. So I'm trying to think from within my experience of being outside the patriarchy cone of privilege, and apply it to being within the theoarchy cone of privilege, if that makes any sense. And this is what I come up with for supporting atheists here:

First, don't knee-jerk, reflexively go to the default "not all believers" defense mode, yes? I think most atheists are well aware of the diversity among theists, but the reality remains that belief itself, in any variety, entitles privilege, and in the struggle to end that privilege, there's really not that much difference between my gentle and (I hope) non-toxic practice of Christianity, and the skeevy would-be theocrats who want to use the overall structure of theoarchy to empower their own particular brand of Christianity. It's all theoarchy, and that's the problem. Not my specific belief, or yours, or even <gag> Pat Robertson or Ayatollah Khomeini's.

Second, check and re-check your asssumptions. About belief, about atheism, about believers, about atheists, and about the theoarchy we live in. Let me examine just a few of the commonest ones I can see from my feminist standpoint:

"All atheists are alike, all atheists believe the same thing, all atheists want the same things." Yeah, right. Just like feminists, huh? There's no spectrum at all among us feminists, we all have perfect unity of belief, purpose, strategy, awareness, etc. Puh-leeze. Any given atheist is speaking for themself, and worth listening to from that standpoint. But don't assume they're speaking "for" or "on behalf of" ALL atheists.

"Poor things, they're so handicapped by not having the experience of faith in their lives." I think if I were an atheist, this is the one that would drive me eye-crossingly, mouth-frothingly insane with annoyance. Here's the analog from my experience: "Poor women, they have that monthly mood swing thing, the bleeding and all-- not their fault but they just don't enjoy the benefits of masculine emotional stability, right?" Stop assuming that a life without faith is inferior to a life with faith. Just stop it. Take that on faith, if you have to.

"They're just so bitter and hateful, so argumentative and demanding-- it's self-defeating!" Hoo, boy. How many times have women heard that one? Or African Americans, during the civil rights struggle? Yeah, the "strident woman," "angry black man" crap. In any civil rights struggle, there's a leadership role for anger, for rage, for raising awareness, for negativity, AND there's a role for dialog, for open-mindedness, for building alliances and making strategic compromises. Atheists will deal with what's needed when and how, it's their struggle. No one is requiring you to engage with the ones expressing anger. If it bothers you, just disengage. But don't generalize from the experience.

Yes, some atheists feel a need to ridicule beliefs and believers. Boo-hoo, how terrible. They're oppressing us here in our theoarchy cone of privilege. You know what? If our beliefs aren't strong enough to stand a little ridicule, maybe we should be looking to our own faith rather than their lack of faith.

So, here on DU, I'm committed to doing those things. Not because I want the Undying Gratitude and Respect of the atheists here, any more than I feel obliged to acknowledge what should be the default operating style of men (working to overcome patriarchy) with Undying Gratitude and Respect.

But because while the struggle of atheists to overcome theoarchy is THEIR struggle, in the long run it benefits me and every other believer. Just as the ultimate end of patriarchy will benefit my grandsons and their sons.


A Woman Scorned vs. A Woman Wronged

And other idioms, assumptions, quotes, stereotypes, etc.-- and why they are minefields.

But-- let's start with "A Woman Scorned" versus "A Woman Wronged"

Surely you recognize the phrase, "a woman scorned," and its larger context from Congreve: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

It has, in the 317 years since its appearance, become a cliche', a cultural shorthand, recognized wherever the English language holds currency. (Incidentally, it's also a paraphrase, not a quote. The actual quote is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.")

What does it say about women?

It says that when we feel "scorned"-- a word that has connotations of "rejection, dislike, disrespect," and more particularly, sexual rejection-- we get, not just angry, not just sad, not just resentful or depressed, but even more "furious" than hell itself.

Now, kindly think about this in the context of a few other words and phrases, such as "hysterical" and "on the rag" and an endless parade of others affirming that People With Vaginas (PWVs) are just so emotional, yanno. Not logical, rational, analytical folk like People With Penises (PWPs). All out of proportion.

Overreacting and all.

Yeah, those PWVs. They're ALWAYS overreacting. Hysterical.

Say, that's one helluva no-win box y'all have corralled us into, isn't it?

So, let's take a hypothetical PWP who gets called out for tossing off the phrase "woman scorned," who then A) Plays the "overreaction" card, and then B) claims that there's no real difference between "woman scorned" and "woman wronged."

O rly?


Here's the deal: There are about 4,000 years plus of written patriarchy, and about 600-700 years' worth of written English patriarchy, defining women in words written largely by men. Painting a portrait of women in harmony with what the men wanted to define us as, wanted to believe about us.

Write something, get it published, get it widely read, and suddenly it has currency all out of proportion to its validity.

Those quick shorthand phrases: "A rag and a bone," "woman scorned," "deadlier than the male," all of them... they are descriptions, and therefore definitions of PWVs, by PWPs, that have become cultural shorthand, and reinforced the patriarchal stereotypes and assumptions that form the strong bulwark against equity.

They're so powerful, so accepted, so ubiquitous, that we PWVs even find ourselves using them, without a thought. They encapsulate dog whistles we respond to just as much as the PWPs. They are the perfect linguistic judo that betrays us into defeating ourselves.

So, yes, when we call someone on them, we are reacting.

But if you think we're "over-reacting," think again.

I'm truly sorry that the desire of PWVs for equity in culture, society, economy, and politics, has rendered all that history, all that language, into a minefield, which requires the individual of any gender to stop and think, before using a quick shorthand. To analyze and decide, rather than tossing off the easy bon mot. It's a damn' nuisance, I know. To everyone.

But we are half the species, and in respect to oppression, patriarchy has been built longer, deeper, and more persistently into humanity's perception of "normal and right" than virtually any other kind of oppression.

It's gonna take at least that much effort to overcome it.

Can't we start here and now, by questioning those "easy" cliche's and idioms and quotes, etc., before we toss them off?

Or at least by saying "Whoa, never thought about that, yes I can see how it's sexist now that you've brought it to my attention. I'm not gonna use it that way again!" rather than going straight to doubling down with "overreaction" and self-justification?


What should, and shouldn't, "have consequences."

First, let me differentiate between what I consider an "effect" versus a "consequence."

You put your hand on a hot stove burner, the EFFECT is a nasty burn. The stove burner isn't providing a "consequence" for your stupidity or absent mindedness, any more than it's providing a "consequence" for the teakettle you just put there.

If you want a big, powerful car and you don't have the money to buy it, so you decide to just take one from a parking lot, you can expect a CONSEQUENCE of getting arrested when you're caught, and possibly further consequences from the court.

In a gray area there's a third thing: The risks we knowingly or unknowingly take.

In the late 1940s, my father started smoking because it was what young men did in those days, and no one knew it carried a risk. He died of lung cancer in 1970. A young woman I was close to in High School chose to go motor-cycle riding with her boyfriend, even though he didn't have a helmet for a passenger. He offered her his helmet, but she "wanted to feel the wind in her hair." This did not turn out well, and our whole class attended the funeral. I've often wondered how he feels about it, after all these years.

We can say that taking risks "carries consequences," but in fact, they're more like "effects with odds." No one decided that smoking should be discouraged and therefore added carcinogens to tobacco to create a "consequence" for smokers. (They DID add carcinogens to tobacco, but not for that reason.)

In other words, "consequence" has an ethical or moral dimension. When you do something that is deleterious to the well-being of your species, tribe, family, social group, etc., a consequence may be created to sanction that behavior.

So here's a short, VERY incomplete list of stuff that should definitely have consequences:

  • Spewing toxins into the air everyone has to breathe, the water everyone has to drink, and the soil that produces everyone's food.
  • Making sick veterans who have sacrificed to serve their country wait so long for health care that they get worse or die.
  • Seeking election ostensibly to serve the interests of everyone, and then acting entirely for the benefit of a few.
  • And then covering it up.
  • And then lying about the coverup.
  • And then lying about the lying.
  • Cruelty.
  • Child abuse.

And here's something that should generally not have consequences:

  • Having consensual sex.

(Which isn't to say that it won't have personal consequences, if, say, you're in another relationship at the time and the other person doesn't know you're cattin' around... there may definitely be some individual impact, there. But that's between y'all.)

Just my tuppeny'orth.


Wanna hurt Hobby Lobby? ORGANIZE THIS:

"Your Reason Not To Shop Here" boycott.

This is how it works:

You print up TWO sets of flyers, and you set up a webpage or blog with info on it.

Set One:
Includes a brief statement about how HL owners are fucking over female employees and chipping away at Church/State separation rights by denying women health benefits based on the owners' religious beliefs.

Includes a list of LOCAL alternative places to shop for crafting and decorating supplies.

Set Two:
Includes information about the HL retirement plan investments in companies that manufacture "abortifacients" (contraceptive pharmaceuticals and devices.)

Includes a list of LOCAL alternative places to shop for crafting and decorating supplies.

Then you run a no-buffer zone boycott protest as close to the door of the Hobby Lobby as you can get. On one side, the signs have crosses and pro-life slogans, and the protesters hand out Flyer Two. On the other side, the signs have 1st Amendment and equal rights slogans, and the protesters hand out Flyer One. On EACH side is the banner: "Your Reason Not to Shop Here."

Setting up protest coverage for something like this is a lot of work. Start by identifying volunteers. You're looking for two- to four- hour shifts, at least 2-3 people in each group (so 4-6 people) throughout opening hours at HL.

But if you're serious?

If this happens in DOZENS of cities, if it goes on for a couple of weeks, you WILL hurt HL.

Do not engage in in-store actions or stuff that makes life difficult for the low-wage employees that are already getting screwed over.

You know what will chap HL management asses? Seeing those HL employees standing around in a just-cleaned store with fully-stocked shelves, DOING NOTHING.

Yes, some employees will be RIF'd. That's inevitable. With luck, they'll be able to find jobs at the competing shops that are getting more business. And better benefits.


Misogyny and Homophobia: Chickens, Eggs, and Opposition to Marriage Equality

I thought long and hard about the title for this post.

The "money shot" is really the last two words: "Marriage Equality."

First, let me confess to a couple of dirty little secrets about myself:

One: (Of this, I am not ashamed.) I'm a cis-woman, but my sexuality/orientation is "bonobo." I don't 'get' how the shape of an individual's naughty bits is supposed to influence whether I think a person is hot, whether I'd like to have sex with them, or whether I could have a long-term intimate partnership with them. I never have. I find it utterly mystifying that it matters to others, but a lifetime of cultural conditioning has taught me the norms and expectations, even if only from a purely intellectual standpoint.

Two: (Of this, I am deeply ashamed.) That same cultural conditioning led me to regard the institution of marriage as something relevant only from the standpoint of the specific legal and economic benefits appertaining thereunto. Thus, for a number of years, I supported "civil union equality" but wrote off marriage equality as not worth offending potential allies who might have religious issues over. (I SAID I was deeply ashamed, and yes, I've learned better, and am working to make amends.)

So the marriage equality fight is mine, now, in a very visceral way, based partly on that shame and need to make amends (which is the only positive thing you can do with shame) but also from another reason that I hadn't really grasped until very recently.

Let's put it out there first and foremost that the REAL driver behind the anti-marriage-equality effort is the same culprit behind most of what's wrong in our society today: The need of Our Beloved Oligarchs to keep us at each others' throats so that they can keep emptying our pockets into their offshore accounts.

Our Beloved Oligarchs have no real moral convictions about whether homosexuality is right or wrong because, let's face it, they have no moral convictions. Period. They have only the utterly pragmatic need to maintain and increase their own power and wealth.

That being the case, they work through their paid shills and grifters (some of whom have genuine, if revolting, moral convictions, and some who merely cynically exploit the demand) to find highly divisive issues that are broadly congruent with their real goals of maintaining control.

Marriage equality is a made-to-order banquet for them, from that standpoint.

Yes, the opposition to marriage equality deeply rooted in homophobia and the whole ignorant, "ick factor" fear of Teh Gayitude among the flocks shepherded by those shills and grifters.

But the other, less-obvious roots go just as deep, and focus in on the "E" word: "Equality."

We can see it in the escalating volume and venom of the misogynistic attempts to keep women fearful, keep our bodies under their control, keep us in our second-class status in a whole array of social and economic areas.

You know how they've been saying that letting gay people marry will "destroy marriage?"

They're RIGHT.

They are absolutely, one-thousand-percent spot-on accurate with that.

Because the institution of marriage has never been notable for equality.

One side of the heterosexual marriage equation has ALWAYS gotten the fuzzy side of the lollipop. (Oh, and-- MRA trolls? Fuck off with your 'women have had it easy because they didn't have to go out and win bread' crap, okay? Just fuck off with that.)

So, what happens when we can no longer identify the "less equal" partner in a two-party marriage, by the shape of their naughty bits?

Marriage becomes a different institution. A mutual arrangement between two equal parties, for the support of themselves and their offspring, bolstered by a social infrastructure. (Yeah, SURE it always was that. Say "hi" to your pet unicorn for me, too.)

So, which reason ("icky gayness" or "uppity wimmin") is the most fundamental, important core of the anti-marriage equality effort?

That's where the chicken/egg part of the title comes in.

This is the fight of every human being who cares about equality.

It is my fight.

I have a LOT of skin in this game.

There will be no compromise, and no stopping, short of total victory.

No church, no sensible woodchucks, no pragmatic temporizing will deter me.

I see the possibility, I see the future. I see equality on the horizon, and marriage equality is a shining road to get us there.

No way am I gonna let anything run me off this road.


Divided by a Common Language

Let's start with the assumption, I think widely agreed with (but often for reasons that are individually divisive, alas...):

Our culture is at best dysfunctional, and more accurately pathological, when it comes to gender, gender expression, sexuality, and sexual expression (Which, by the way, are all different things. Not dealing with that is part of the dysfunction/pathology.)

We've made progress. Great progress, amazingly fast in historical terms, but agonizingly slowly in terms of individual lives.

Speaking of "in historical terms," perhaps one of the oldest and strongest tools that retards progress, is also one of the most indispensable elements of human life and culture: language.

Here in the US our primary languages are mostly Indo-European derived. Let's stick with English since it's the basic language of this message board. Modern English carries no grammatical gender; that is, we do not assign gender-based construction elements to nouns or other parts of speech.

Old English, which split off from Germanic/Saxon centuries ago, carried grammatical gender and the remains of this are visible in our pronouns: We have pronouns for three genders; masculine, feminine, and neuter. Or, "he," "she," "it."

Straightforward enough on that level, but then layer in the baggage of our confusion around gender, gender expression, sexuality, and sexual expression-- the fruit of myriad cultural elements including religion, economics, and various sociopolitical constructs. All of which essentially devolve to "norms."

Norming is a tool we use to build and reinforce communities. Language is a key element of norming.

As we try to work our way out of the dysfunction, we smack our noses against language-related social norms. This thread illustrates some of the issues.

The first practical issue raised in the thread brought me up short. I'll paraphrase: "But I work in customer service, and we are required to address people politely, using 'Sir' or 'Ma'am,' and adding 'Mister' or 'Ms.' If it's insensitive and rude to ask someone about their gender, I can't do my job."

Setting aside, for the moment (it DOES matter and should be part of a larger discussion) the cultural norms around adding honorifics as a signifier of politesse, the thing that occurred to me was this:

First, we bump up against the deeply-engrained contemporary prejudice that dictates "neutral" pronouns are so hostile and dismissive that they completely dehumanize the object thereof: ("OMG, check out what just walked in the door! Is it alive?") We also smack into the reality that we're backed into a lose/lose corner that only gets worse as we attempt to expand the language artificially to reflect the reality of the gender/expression spectrum.

That is, while it may be practical to develop new pronouns (hir, shim, etc.) not only is norming their use a formidable challenge, it represents an ephemeral response to a rapidly-evolving reality, and one that presents powerful backlash issues.

(Yes, I know we can't allow backlash to discourage us. It will always be there. We overcome it, again and again. But it slows progress, in some cases significantly.)

As our understanding of the gender/expression spectrum evolves, we are realizing that there is a growing number of general classifications we identify with.

Because that, at the root, is the issue: Identity.

I have it, I want you to recognize it and respect it.

I want how you interact with me to demonstrate that.

Language is part of how you interact with me.

Making language into a flexible tool that allows us to do this freely, without placing each other in difficult/uncomfortable states, is essential. Whether it's the chicken, or the egg, it's an important strategy that will ultimately be critical to progress in human relations and human rights.

In the mean time, we're in this awkward space where we want to recognize each others' humanity and respect each others' identities, even when we're in unfamiliar territory as regards gender/expression, and sexuality/expression.

To complicate matters further, we're also up against those who are strenuously opposing social and cultural evolution, and who will push to subvert, invert, and pervert any efforts to achieve useful consensus.

I don't know any answers.

But sometimes it helps to think about and discuss the questions.


Reality Check Here, Please

First-- The facts I as I know them:

At some point in mid-2009, Army Private Bergdahl went missing from his unit in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, units of the Taliban claimed to have captured him, and the Army verified that he was a prisoner.

Between 2009 and 2011, while he was still prisoner, the Army promoted him. Twice. Once to Specialist, and then to Sergeant.

Sometime in 2012, official US Government channels confirmed that they had engaged in negotiations with the Taliban to free Bergdahl.

In February of this year, the government again confirmed that negotiations were underway "via intermediaries" to obtain Bergdahl's release.

A few days ago, President Obama announced that Bergdahl would be released, and that five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay would be released to Qatar.

Since then:
  • Various elements of Congress have gone ballistic, claiming that they were "out of the loop,"
  • Various elements of the US media and a swathe of the punditry have been having major pearl-clutching attacks about "negotiating with terrorists"; and
  • Allegations are flying about Bergdahl being a deserter, mentally ill, a criminal, etc.

Are those facts substantially correct?

May I ask one question, please, particularly aimed at the active-duty and veteran military service members on Democratic Underground?

How would you feel about the next time you have to head out into enemy territory, if the consensus of opinion generally resolves to "We should have let the crazy bastard rot there, and kept the terrorists in Gitmo"?

I'm just wondering.

Because, as far as I can tell, once again this Administration has been making difficult choices in a delicate situation, attempting to balance security and transparency, keeping options open and an over-riding priority in view, and has achieved that priority.

Who is most likely to regard that as a Worst Case Scenario? And why? And what are the implications for our active duty military in hostile territory?


Why Can't Doctors Identify Killers?

This Op-Ed in the New York Times makes the points better than I ever could, about why fixating on "mental illness" in the case of horrific mass killings is pointless.


While it is true that most mass killers have a psychiatric illness, the vast majority of violent people are not mentally ill and most mentally ill people are not violent. Indeed, only about 4 percent of overall violence in the United States can be attributed to those with mental illness. Most homicides in the United States are committed by people without mental illness who use guns.

Emphasizing the point:

...we have to acknowledge that our current ability to predict who is likely to be violent is no better than chance.

Large epidemiologic studies show that psychiatric illness is a risk factor for violent behavior, but the risk is small and linked only to a few serious mental disorders...

And then the author begins to point out the real issues:

...drug and alcohol abuse are far more powerful risk factors for violence than other psychiatric illnesses. Individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol but have no other psychiatric disorder are almost seven times more likely than those without substance abuse to act violently.

And, finally:

If we canít reliably identify people who are at risk of committing violent acts, then how can we possibly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are likely to kill?

I think, too, that it's important to note that the author himself, a professor of clinical psychiatry, acknowldges that "As a psychiatrist, I welcome calls from our politicians to improve our mental health care system. But even the best mental health care is unlikely to prevent these tragedies."

If you factor in all of the things that contributed to this tragedy, in other words, what factors is it even possible, much less feasible or simple, to affect and control? I'll leave off here with the author's words, again:

We have always had ó and always will have ó Adam Lanzas and Elliot Rodgers. The sobering fact is that there is little we can do to predict or change human behavior, particularly violence; it is a lot easier to control its expression, and to limit deadly means of self-expression.

If pusillanimous pols, wholly cowed by the oligarchs getting rich from selling us the means to efficiently slaughter ourselves, are too blinkered to connect these dots, we must expect an endless and escalating stream of said slaughter.

To me, it's that simple.


I hereby propose we rename these things.

Because obviously "currency" and all the vocabulary attached thereunto is no longer fully descriptive.

Therefore, I propose we rename the dollar, the "word."

As in, "I went to the store today... yanno, a bag of groceries that used to cost me twenty-five words is close to fifty these days?"

Now, we do have some other references that need to be revamped, too.

For instance, I used to call one of those pieces of paper that had Abe Lincoln on it a "fin." Nowadays I guess it's a "remark."

"If you don't loan me a remark for gas, we're not gonna make it home."

And what used to be known as a "sawbuck" should probably be called a "comment."

It has Andy Jackson on it: Must be a "statement."

"I gotta statement. Let's go get a pizza and a 6-pack for dinner tonight!"

We used to call it a "Benjamin," but I think nowadays it's more like a "discourse."

Put up a thousand words and you gotta "harangue."

Anyway, just makes more sense to me.

But then, I guess I'm finally part of the Silent Majority.


For Mercy's Sake, Get 'em a Coffee...

...or a Red Bull. Or a beer. Or... whatever.

It hurts just to LOOK at them!

They've tried EVERYTHING.

They tried voting against it (I've lost count of how many times...)

They refused to cooperate, in droves-- refusing Medicaid expansion, declining to set up state-based exchanges, anything-- ANYTHING they could do to monkey-wrench the mechanisms, regardless of how many of their own voters they denied security, freedom, peace of mind, health, even LIFE, in the process.

They spent vast sums (Again, I've lost count) on propaganda to convince everyone How Awful It Is.

They've spun, shaded, and outright LIED until they're blue in the face and sweating buckets with the effort.

They've willingly made asses of themselves, on every form of public stage, with frantic antics to stop it.

My god, it's been painful to watch.

And for all that-- all the effort, all the money, all the lies...

"Obamacare" still met its projected enrollment goals.

Can you imagine how many people would be enrolled right now, entitled to health care regardless of pre-existing conditions, with no lifetime maximums, and no risk of being dropped if something awful happens to their health, and even subsidies to help them afford it-- without all that painful effort from the GOP?

If EVERYTHING they've thrown at it over the past couple of years has STILL not sufficed to keep it from meeting enrollment goals-- (seriously, it's made me tired just watching the poor barstids) what would things be like now had they simply shrugged and said, "hey, let's see how it works?"

Oh, yeah... and the beauty part now?

The cherry on the Sundae?

I love this part: The only thing they can do now is point out the parts that don't work very well. Which means they themselves will be ginning up the momentum for fixing the bits that don't work very well. Which means they'll have only themselves to thank, when those bits get tweaked, and it works even better.

So... geeez, give 'em a coffee. Or a hot chocolate. Or a glass of red wine, or SOMETHING.

For mercy's sake...

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