February 8, 2013

An Open Letter to the American Humanist Association

To Whom it may concern:

I posted a comment on the AHA's Facebook site, critical of the AHA's stance on the VAWA, and comments made by the AHA's Executive Director, Roy Speckhardt.

These comments were of a critical nature but did not amount to anything even resembling offensive speech or hate speech.

However, my comments were removed and I was banned from further commenting on the page; the only conclusion I can make is that I have been censored for criticizing these comments from Mr. Speckhardt.

If secular humanism is about reason, then silencing those who disagree with you is equivalent to the tactics of oppressive religion.  It is the tactic of religious authority to silence "heresy".  

Freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States for a reason.  When you take it upon yourself to be the arbiter of what speech and what opinions are allowed or not, and when you actively silence those who disagree, you have made yourself the very reason why freedom of speech has been guaranteed in America.  You are essentially behaving in the same manner as the intolerant and oppressive religious absolutists that humanism once stood against.   It is, in a word, bigotry.

Did you know that many Men's Rights advocates are also Women's Rights advocates?  Did you know that many of them are also Humanists (with the capitol H and everything)?   And yet you associate them with religious fundamentalists and...Rush Limbaugh.  This is as intellectually dishonest as it is slanderous.   And it is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to silence and marginalize those who do dare to speak against a very specific ideology.  

As a Humanist and a strong supporter of Women's Rights, Gay Rights, Men's Rights, Gender Equality, and consequently Human Rights myself, I am understandably offended by these recent events.

I am notifying you that I protest this, that you have alienated a former ally today.  And I am also informing you that I am not alone.  

Included below is the text of my banned comments.

"The disingenuity and intellectual dishonesty with which this article was written are extremely disappointing.
The fact that Roy Speckhardt even bothered to associate the MRM with conservative fundamentalists or worse, the implication that they seek to rationalize being able to perpetrate domestic violence, is the worse sort of false equivalency that I have ever seen.
A logical fallacy of this magnitude has no place in an organization that is purportedly about rationalism and empiricism.
Mr. Speckhardt, I believe in human rights. I believe that all people--whether they possess a penis or a vagina, should be safe from domestic abuse. The VAWA does not take this into account, and its language even denies the existence of male victims of domestic abuse. This is why MRM groups oppose it.
The fact that the AHA has not only supported this, but taken action to silence and expel anyone who dares to speak out against it is the most un-humanist thing that they could possibly do: Silencing someone for disagreeing with your own ideological views. It is absolutely disgusting.
If this is the way the AHA is going to conduct itself, then it is not a humanist organization, but just another ideological political advocacy group.
I am a rational empiricist and a secular humanist, and until now I have supported the actions of the AHA, but in light of these activities, and the silencing of debate, I hereby condemn the AHA and withdraw all further support for the organization under its current leadership."

February 4, 2013

Could Anthropology Replace Feminism in the Study of Gender?

                Here is why anthropology truly is the key, over all other disciplines in the humanities, to understanding the human condition and what it means to be a member of our species.
                Anthropology is one of the only fields in the humanities or sciences to explicitly assert that the story of humankind does not begin with history, nor end with the present day.   It is often poetically called “The most scientific of the humanities, and the most human of the sciences.”
                While it isn’t as purely empirical as the hard sciences (read: physics), it does base its conclusions on both hard data and empirical observation, but tempers this with attempting to examine society from as many perspectives as possible; including separating one’s interpretation of something from one’s own pre-conceived cultural notions. 
                It is telling of this attempt to separate understanding from ego-centric contextualizing that two words exist almost solely within the field to describe this perspective shift: emic and etic.  These two terms, coined by an anthropologist named Kenneth Pike in the 1950’s, describe how different perspectives can color our understanding of cultural elements.  The term emic describes the view from the perspective of an insider, while etic describes the opposite.  
                This of course was not always the case; once upon a time anthropologists studied cultures like the great white hunter studied wildlife; emerging occasionally from their western-style house on occasion to write down the curious things that the ignorant savages were doing that day.   It is a credit to the self-policing nature of the science that it recognized this flaw in both methodology and interpretation and by the middle of the 20th century had largely revised the models by which the entire discipline operated. 
                Separation of the emic from the etic is harder than it sounds.   The most famous illustration of this difficulty is in the short ethnography titled “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”.
                That’s all rather academic and dry for most people, of course.  When they turn on the news, they want to hear about things that they can relate to.  A war in this country, a robbery at that store, what these celebrities did and why they did it, etc.  People rarely stop to think about how they’d understand these issues if they stood on the other side of them.  
                Even with politicians, celebrities, and their friends and neighbors people are quick to say what they think these people ought to have done in a given situation, and can’t understand why they didn’t; but rarely do they ever try to put themselves in the shoes of that person, and really understand them.  Understanding must come before passing judgment on a person, one would think.  Otherwise, how do you know you wouldn’t do the same thing in their place?
                This is the problem of perspective played out in our day to day lives, and one that Anthropology seeks, with varying degrees of success, to elevate itself above.   This is not to say there exists a 100% success rate, but self-critique and self-examination (as well as normal scientific peer review) help over time to identify these errors; something that is largely unique among the humanities and further demonstrates Anthropology’s nature as a science. 
                There are numerous academic disciplines that do not share this characteristic.   One in particular seems to have far-reaching influence both on academia, the legislative agenda, and the media.   I’m speaking now of feminism.  
                Before you begin throwing eggs at me, and I can already hear the angry shouts in the distance calling me a filthy stinking male oppressor and misogynistic hateful bastard, I would like to ask that you please hear me out before you cast your assumptions on my character and motivations. 
                No, I am no misogynist.  My criticism of feminism does not derive from a dislike of any kind for women; nor does it constitute a backlash against any perceived loss of “male privilege” that exists as a consequence of feminist action. 
                On the contrary, as a gay male, I am particularly equipped to understand both a female and male perspective of society, at least to a certain point.  And needless to say, I am familiar with the experience of being "othered", lumped in a category not of my choosing by society as "one of those". That is not to say that gay men are like women, but many do have mental activity that more closely resembles the female rather than the male pattern.  This has been scientifically measured using MRIs.
                Conversely, I grew up in what one might call “a man’s world”.  I was socialized as a boy, identified as a boy, and certainly still do.  In the parlance, you would probably refer to me as “butch”.  I think that’s fair.  At least on a superficial level I come across as just another guy.    And largely, I am. 
                I’m a guy who is tough and stoic on the outside, like men are expected to be.   On getting to know me well, however, people soon suspect  that I am in fact sensitive and caring, and perhaps even nurturing—as women are expected to be.
                I have numerous friends of both genders, and of varied sexual orientations, but most of my acquaintances are heterosexual.   Some of my closest friends are and have been heterosexual men.  And I’ll tell you a secret about them: inside they are every bit as sensitive, caring, and every bit as capable of being nurturing and emotionally supportive as any woman.   The problem with this is that as a man you’re not supposed to show it.
                This is not simply an expectation of society as a whole; this is ingrained into our reproductive instinct.  While numerous exceptions can always be brought forth, heterosexual women are largely drawn to alpha males; that is men who are strong and independent.  
                This has become so ingrained in our culture in fact that “nice guys”, often referred to in the popular culture as betas, are socially punished almost universally for their being sensitive and caring men.   Among alpha-type men they’re seen as inferior men; aside from commiserating about romantic troubles, they tend to be scornful of each other too.   Women will be very quick to "friend zone" such men; a good listener is ideal friend material, but sensitive and caring will only occasionally tickle the female reproductive glands. 
                More extreme feminists, and indeed many men as well, will take it even further than this by rejecting the notion that a man can be inherently kind and supportive.  Rather, they often characterize the behavior as disingenuous manipulations designed to secure the affections and consequently sexual favors of women.  
                There are probably a handful of men who do just that; but the fact that a man is genuinely caring and understanding does not mean that to be so he must not also have a romantic interest in someone he cares about.   And yet, almost universally such behavior is regarded as purely manipulative when in fact it is often quite genuine, even when there is romantic interest involved.
                This basic assumption of motive in “nice guy” behavior (“Why is he being so nice to me?”) tells more about the person doing the judging  than it does about the person engaging in that behavior. The attribution stems entirely from an egocentric attempt to understand their actions, rather than truly trying to put oneself in their shoes. 
                In seeing ulterior motives, a typical alpha-type man might say “Why would I bother being so nice to a woman if I was him?” And for someone whose identity is largely tied to masculine sexual desirability, he would  tend attribute the actions of a nice guy as an attempt to generate interest from a woman.   For a woman, there may be other issues at play. There are many good analyses out there, but allow me to summarize.  According to feminist theory, such a man has increased his (implicitly desirable) feminine characteristics of kindness, empathy, nurturing and caring behavior and has directed this towards a woman.  This is the so-called “evolved man” that many feminist thinkers seek to cultivate.  And so by extension he should be the ideal man to mate with, right? Though women less inclined to feminism are honest about their disdain for nice guys, working from feminist theory it is difficult for a woman to explain to herself why she does not find nice guys attractive.  The knee-jerk response to this is usually to externalize that cognitive dissonance by vilifying his (unreciprocated) romantic interest as somehow malicious and wrong, or even predatory. 
                In other words, if he is nice to you and ALSO interested in you romantically, then it is because of something wrong and also possibly mellifluous about him. He may even be written off as "creepy". Though it is a separate topic altogether, this is but one example (and a fairly covert one at that) where feminism marginalizes or outright demonizes male sexuality.  

                This brings us back to the issue of cultural perspective as it relates to feminist thinking;  it is easy to assume or ascribe motives to others, but one must be careful that they are not also imposing their own culture, cultural assumptions, or personal issues on others in their interpretations. 

                And this is where Feminist theory fails.  

                Many feminists will tell you that if you are a feminist then that means you believe women and men should be equals in society.   If only this were true, then few people indeed would have any issue with feminism, and those few who did probably would truly be the misogynistic jerks and indoctrinated women whom feminists characterize their critics as.  
                Feminism is not really about this. This realization is becoming increasingly apparent not just to men who have been hurt by the one-sidedness of the debate, but even to people like me who are allies of gender equality, and greatly despise both oppression and the abuse of power in any form. 
                It is truly intellectually dishonest to assert that feminism is only about women’s equality and rights in society, when in fact it is about social power and ideological control of our culture’s morality.  This is typified by the words of Gloria Allred: “If you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot.”  One could very easily paraphrase this as “If you’re not with me, you’re against me”.   Or,  “You ascribe to my interpretation of this ideology, or you are its enemy.”  
                Let’s set aside for the moment the problem with supposedly promoting equality between two groups of people by focusing entirely on only one of them.  Rather, examine the attitude from which such an assertion could be made.  This attitude is not academic, scientific, or even truly intellectual.  Feminist theory is dogmatic in nature.  The sentiment of this statement is the attitude of the religious leader arguing from a position of presumed moral and spiritual authority.   This is the attitude of the fundamentalist and the extremist.   It is also morally and intellectually dishonest, when faced with criticism that feminism has misandric tendencies, to reply to such criticism with "No you're wrong, it is really just about equality for women", without truly addressing any of the criticisms,  followed by silencing dissenters by accusing them of heresy misogyny.
                Certainly, this attitude is not reflective of all feminists, but all feminists derive their social ideas (related to gender) from the same sources, which are fundamentally one-sided in their interpretation of human behavior and the societal power dynamic.
                Feminism and Women’s Studies, as an academic discipline, lacks the ability to self-critique or entertain alternative points of view for the purpose of testing the validity of its own assumptions.  Not only is the attempt not made, but any criticism is written off handily as a function of the patriarchal oppression.  Worse still, those who dare to challenge the teachings of the Church assumptions of feminist theory are silenced and subjected to the inquisition a campaign of degradation and slander. 
                Taking this one step further, the very suggestion that there are areas in which men are treated unfairly by society is often ridiculed, and anyone who attempts to advocate for these issues is seen as a dangerous misogynist; as if also caring about men's issues somehow detracts from or hurts feminism (one wonders, if it were truly about equality, why feminism would dislike any discussion of how men can also be harmed by the abuse of power in gender politics).  In light of this behavior, it becomes clear that the feminist school of thought is dogmatic and ideological rather than rational and academic.
                 And that is what I wish to discuss in more detail throughout the subsequent entries into this blog: I will try, to the very best of my ability, to remove myself and my own preconceived cultural notions from the picture, and try to objectively examine the gender dynamic in our society in greater detail.
                It is my hope that in doing this I myself can come to a greater understanding of these issues, and how to solve the social problems stemming from them. If by some bizarre chance, others also feel inclined to read and comment on my thoughts, then all the better:  I’d like to promote a constructive and healthy conversation about gender politics, sans all the hate and finger-pointing that seems to be present.  
                In that spirit, I invite you to comment below, if you have criticisms or comments.  I’ll do my best to respond to as many as I can, or even address those issues in a subsequent entry.    
                Until then, namaste!

PS:  If you have gotten this far, I thank you for taking the time to read this long-winded and probably also rambling and incoherent first entry.  I promise to do better next time!