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Monday, January 11, 2016

When Does Humor Cross the Line? Can it? (In Defense of Ricky Gervais)

I follow the fascinating and beautiful transgender woman Kat Blaque, a YouTube personality who is sharper than Occam's razor and who fights for trans-people's rights. I watch her videos and read her Facebook posts, but tend to lurk in the shadows. Until recently. Recently I felt I needed to comment on something she had posted, although I'm entirely aware that my comments may be unpopular if not controversial. Allow me to explain.

Kat recently posted outrage over the comedian Ricky Gervais's offensive seven minute opening monologue to the 2016 Golden Globe award show (video below). But she wasn't the only one.

The Huffington Post, in an op-ed, also cited that Ricky Gervais offended with transphobic jokes about Caitlyn Jenner at the Golden Globes.

Now, I'm not denying the jokes were offensive. They certainly were. But it seems to me that half the people outraged are outraged because they got the joke, while the other half -- the half that didn't get the joke -- are simply outraged because others are outraged. Which I find amusing. 

The Huff piece is a perfect example of a person not getting the punchline of the joke.

I don't know. It seems many might not be clear as to the fact that the joke is about the thing the person did, not about the person (FYI, Caitlyn Jenner accidentally killed someone in a fatal car accident). Ricky Gervais, the comedian hosting the Golden Globes, made a joke that Caitlyn Jenner, as a trans woman, does women everywhere no favors. That's the context of the joke.

In the Huff piece, they go through lengths to quote mine Gervais's past comments, mostly from joke related Tweets, to make him sound like a transphobic, anti-feminist, chauvinistic prick. The comment backlash seems to confirm that many feel the same way about Gervais, especially after his Golden Globe jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. But doth they protest too much?

Personally, I thought that was a bit of an overreaction to an otherwise well crafted joke.

In an online discussion on Kat's Facebook page I mentioned that

The joke was actually aimed at something Caitlyn Jenner did, playing on the old sexist stereotype about CIS women being bad drivers. Yes. It's offensive sure. It's also a pretty smart joke. He was able to make it both offensive to trans and cis women at the same time. Such is the nature of epater humor. Something most Americans don't quite get and blurt outrage and indignation at without fully understanding why the joke works -- even as it is still completely offensive. But feel free to be offended. That's your right, just as it is his to offend.

It was mentioned  to me that Ricky Gervais wasn't merely offensive for making a sexist joke, but that the greater offense lay in the fact that he had "dead named" a trans woman in the set up of the joke. 

Now, what "dead naming" means is that he used Caitlyn Jenner's birth name. In the trans community this is a huge taboo. It's viewed as disrespectful because you're challenging their very identity by not accepting how they feel on the inside -- by not accepting them for who they are after they've been brave enough to come out to the world. This dismissal of their personal identity, in effect completely ignoring their transition while only adhering to the antiquated notion that there are only two genders or sexes, and calling them by their former name and not the new name they select for themselves -- is highly disrespectful. It can also be a dangerous form of outing if nobody knew they were trans until they were deadnamed. This, I was told, was the real offense. 

I understand why it was offensive. Some might even say inappropriate. I'm not defending the joke to say it wasn't offensive -- I'm saying it was offensive. But that's why it works. Allow me to clarify what I mean an offense working for the sake of the joke.

In terms of the jokes target, the joke is no less offensive to trans women than it is cis women. It might even be more offensive. It's certainly not progressive. And it is, regrettably, hardbitten. The joke relies on a style of epater les bourgeois -- a type of humor which, by design, is intended to be offensive. It's the humor of the celebrity roast. It's demeaning, disheartening, and always controversial. Again, I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying it gets a laugh. There's a difference.

Additionally, we have to keep in mind that Caitlyn Jenner is only famous because of who she was in the past. There's simply NO OTHER reason for her fame. So to ignore her past persona is to miss the point that this person cannot be dead-named in quite the same manner because they were ALREADY famous, and then famously made a public transformation, and was famously open about it. If Caitlyn Jenner was anybody else prior to her transformation, then yes, dead-naming her would be a terrible thing to do. But everyone knows who she was already. The only thing dead-naming her could to is be offensive to Caitlyn Jenner. 

Now before you jump down my throat and say I'm defending the act of dead-naming, again, that's not what I'm doing. If you think I am, then you'll have to answer a very straight forward question for me. Who is Caitlyn Jenner and why should I care? And you cannot refer to her past persona or the fact she's trans. Now tell me again who she is and why I should care?

That's what I thought. Crickets.

So the set up is necessary. And since Gervais was going after Jenner, and only Jenner, and he was getting paid to roast her to the full extent of his British wit, that's exactly what he did.

Well, wait. Maybe he's set a bad example? Possibly. But I doubt it. The context is a celebrity roast. You can only say he's setting a bad example by taking what he did out of context. I was told that other people who admire Ricky might think it's okay to dead-name trans people because he did so on national television. But if that's what you think then my point above was probably not clear enough. He didn't dead-name other trans people -- he did it to Caitlyn Jenner. He's not after the trans community as so many have said in their irrationally driven emotional knee jerk to his offensiveness. He's after Caitlyn Jenner, period. And everyone else gets to be equally offended, because Gervais is an equal opportunity offender. If you don't get that. I'm sorry.

So why is this not a defense for his dead-naming her you might ask? After several paragraphs of explaining why it made sense, how can I still say with a straight face that I'm not defending what he did or saying it is acceptable? Because I'm not making a moral argument for what he did. Period. I'm saying what Gervais did carries a different weight and a different meaning because it was in a different context with different rules. And this needs to be taken into consideration, otherwise all you have are appeals to emotion and thus no case -- because as I said, you have every right to be offended. 

But, admittedly, I laughed for mainly a different reason, because although my own shock at having heard it was enough to illicit a nervous chuckle, one of those  'that's not funny bad humor' chortles, the thing that actually amused me was when everyone in the room, all of those glamorous, rich, and famous elite of society seized up in fearful tension because they had just been accosted by a joke that shocked people out of their conventional attitudes of what is socially acceptable and their complacent views about what is politically correct decorum at an awards show.

And that's why the joke works! We are glad to watch other people suffer the indignities of it. In displeasure of the thing, there is pleasure. This is something Voltaire pointed out in his famous satirical work Candide (no less controversial, mind you) over two centuries ago. And it's just as true today as it was then.

A proponent for transgender rights, Kat Blaque mentioned on her site that

"There are so many Caitlyn Jenner jokes you can make without dead naming her or attacking her because she's trans."

Well, yes and no.

Gervais could have made a hundred different Caitlyn Jenner jokes, sure. And while I cannot defend him dead naming her on moral grounds, nor would I want to, I can see why he used her masculine birth name so that American audiences unfamiliar with who she is and with the terms transgender or transwoman would be quicker to get to the crux of the joke -- and then be offended by it. Or not. As I said, humor is entirely subjective. Most people do not even know what dead naming is, or that it's even a thing, so most probably don't think anything of it. That's not Gervais's fault. 

The question is: does Gervais's humor actively disparage the transgender community and, if it does, was it done intentionally to hurt trans people or was it done unintentionally -- one might say accidentally? Is there a difference? I think Caitlyn Jenner might say there is. After all, there has to be a difference between accidental manslaughter via fatal reckless driving and accidental death by vehicular accident, otherwise she'd be in jail for killing someone. So trust me when I say, there's a difference.

Then again, maybe Gervais is equally ignorant. That doesn't make what he did any less offensive, but it certainly helps put everything into context. Yet as I have tried to emphasize, distinguishing where the comedian's personality ends and the comedy begins is not always so clear cut as to say -- that guy is transphobic because he made a transphobic joke. I'm afraid it's never as easy as that whenever the varieties of humor and comedy are concerned. You see, humor is a complicated thing.

And this Golden Globes debacle is complicated precisely because Gervais is a comedian. If he was anything else, if he was a xenophobic, racist, hate spewing politician like Donald Trump, for example, then it would be easier to pinpoint his personal ideologies and say -- here is a despicable human being. But comedians are less transparent precisely because they use risque and controversial material all of the time, to subvert, challenge, provoke, offend, and challenge us. They make into punchlines that which would come off as extraordinarily unacceptable in any other context. 

Except we know the context in this case -- it's a comedian lambasting the rich and famous. Some might say, the more offensive the joke the better. We can laugh at their pain as their egos get deflated because it makes them human and brings them down to our level. Sure, it's a little bit mean. But if you don't like a good roast -- avoid watching it. Nobody is forcing you to have to enjoy the anguish of the embarrassed elite and relish it like a fine pastry. 

But maybe Ricky Gervais simply has no right to dead name any transgender person -- even at the sake of telling a more economic joke. Maybe it will prove to be the case that only trans people can dead name other trans people in the same way that it seems that only black people can call another black person a "nigger" and get away with it. As if it doesn't matter. As if there was no double standard at play. Like I said, it's complicated. Humor ties itself up with public opinion and plays societal stereotypes against one another. It upturns cultural norms and knocks the legs out from under politically correct opinions. Good comedians can make it work. Bad ones will fail miserably. And sometimes even good comedians fuck up a joke. Maybe that's what happened here. Maybe not. But whose to decide what limits comedy should have?

And, well, if you were offended by Gervais's joke, that's fine. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to feel about an offensive joke. But what I don't agree with are those saying that Ricky Gervais shouldn't have a right to use offensive material or, likewise, the right to offend others. You see, that's not how freedom of speech works.

By all means, feel free to be offended. That's your right, just as Ricky has the right to offend (you, you, and, yes, even you). If you don't like Ricky Gervais or his style of humor, don't watch his comedy. It really is quite that simple.

After all is said and done, we need to come to terms with the fact that the content of a joke and the nature of the comedian are not always directly relatable. 

Case in point, one of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., once made a joke about letting people rape his dead corpse. I'm sure some were offended by the very notion of it. Others were probably disgusted. They'd have every right to be. But it didn't prevent people from laughing. Of course, this controversial joke doesn't imply that Louis C.K. is into necrophilia or that he supports rape in any form. He's a comedian. It's a joke. Everyone laughed. 

Likewise, Gervais told a transphobic joke. But let's not pretend that Gervais is a transphobe simply because he told a transphobic joke that one time when he was dishing it out to a trans who has actually killed someone, anymore than we'd think Louis C.K. is a sexual deviant with disgusting fetishes because he made a joke about it once.

The debate about what material comedians should be limited too is a useless and counter productive one. It seeks to limit the freedom of speech to only things which do not offend. It's politically correct, puritan, bullshit to suggest comedy, an entire genre of expression and speech, should be restricted to things that aren't offensive. Keep your Newspeak to yourself, thank you.

I suppose humor, and comedy, being subjective as they are have always been tied up with controversy. Consider the comedic genre of satire. 

Satire, mind you, is also offensive, for many of the same reasons. Satire can also play to the same vulgar or shocking content that epater les bourgeouis humor does and, assuredly, it's no less controversial. And unless you are prepared to censor all satire, then there really is no way you can censor epater les bourgeouis humor, or any other form of offensive humor, from the low brow to the high. 

The reason is, nobody has the right to dictate what you can or cannot say in a society that protects and regards, as an inalienable right, the freedom of speech.

When Voltaire wrote his satirical work Candide, he was exiled upon the threat of death. He had offended all the great politicians of his day, the king, as well as the Pope. Even Voltaire's language was considered vulgar, especially when he wrote things such as:

“I should like to know which is worse: to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, and have a buttock cut off, and run the gauntlet of the Bulgarians, and be flogged and hanged in an auto-da-fe, and be dissected, and have to row in a galley -- in short, to undergo all the miseries we have each of us suffered -- or simply to sit here and do nothing?'
That is a hard question,' said Candide.” 

Even by today's standards his language is pretty graphic and risque. Some may even find it offensive. And that's fine. But it doesn't make the joke any less funny. Or consider this line;

"A lady of honor may be raped once, but it strengthens her virtue." (Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 7)

Yes. Even rape jokes were not off limits to Voltaire. And those may be the hardest to pull off. 

Some might say, well, that joke crossed a line. Or that comedian crossed a line in saying what he or she did. But in the realm of comedy, I do not believe such boundaries exist.

That's what makes humor, and comedy, universal. These have no boundaries.

If you laugh at any of the jokes in Candide, it does not necessarily mean you agree with Voltaire's point of view about the world. It doesn't mean that you are putting others down by going along with the comedian and laughing at the bit. Sometimes our laughter is nervous laughter, sometimes it's an appreciation of the craft, and sometimes the joke is just genuinely funny while simultaneously being outrageous, offensive, or absurd.

Like right and wrong, humor and comedy are much more complex than just things that are or aren't funny. Humor is not black or white. Comedy utilizes well established formulas. There are genres of comedy. Comedy is scripted. It's a work of fiction, not so unlike a play, a movie, or a novel is. As a novelist, I write about murders. That doesn't mean I support murder. If a comic makes a transphobic or homophobic joke, it doesn't mean he supports transphobia or homophobia, necessarily speaking. That's an important distinction which it seems the entire Internet threw out the window along with the baby and the bath water after Ricky Gervais's controversial monologue at the Golden Globe awards.

Good comedians seem to be able to pull off even risque or controversial material well. Our taste in humor, our opinion of whether or not we found the joke particularly funny, is strictly a subjective exercise. In the end, we all have to make a judgement of whether or not the joke offends us. But if it does, so what? Who really cares other than the handful of people who just didn't get the joke? 

As the stand up comedian Louis C.K. says, if you didn't appreciate something he said during his act, what you can do is write down the reason why you didn't like it on a piece of paper, put the paper into your pocket, and then go home and kill yourself (yes, I always laugh at that bit). His point being, unless the joke is actually about you, it's not actually about you. The entire comedic routine is, as he says, a rhetorical exercise. 

So, think what you will about Ricky Gervais and his use of epater humor as he stood before the rich and famous and roasted a trans woman who was one of their own, but as a comedian I think he nailed it. I laughed, and I'm not transphobic, sexist, or anti-pay equality. In fact, I want universal acceptance and equal rights for the whole LGBT community as well as equal and fair treatment of women. I am a feminist writer and have written numerous articles defending women's rights and the feminist movement. To say I am against these things because I laughed at a joke that is in conflict with these things is simply to employ fallacious reasoning. 

What we should all try to do, I think, is try and be fair and realize that along with the complexity of humor there is a variety of tastes, tastes which are entirely subjective, and we may not necessarily be laughing at a joke for the same reasons. Our reasons are our own. And that's no reason to make a personal, moral judgement about anyone else other than ourselves. 

So you found Ricky Gervais offensive? Good for you. You didn't like his joke about Caitlyn Jenner. Fine.

Pushing back against the common place, conventional, and complacent views and attitudes of the general populace is a good thing. In my opinion, humor works best when it challenges us. And I find it can only do that when it pushes the boundaries of what society has set for itself as acceptable. It can push us to be better, or make us uncomfortable knowing we have utterly failed to be better, but either way -- such humor will always be necessary. It will always be a conversation starter.

The only people who don't get this, of course, are those without a sense of humor. In which case, I suppose the joke is on them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's your basic no-brain-pro-life-nonsensical propaganda bullshit

Click to enlarge
To preface this: It's my response to an absurd meme that shows a bunch of animals on the endangered animal watch list and then, next to these majestic animals, shows a pregnant woman with text that reads something like "It is legal to kill the babies of only one of these animals." 

It's your basic no-brain-pro-life-nonsensical propaganda bullshit.

Of course, I am in a bad mood today and so I just couldn't bite my tongue. I normal just keep scrolling. But today I had to point out the fallaciousness of the meme and that it's a false equivalency. The offspring of the animals depicted are protected by law, sure, but so are all human born babies. Human babies are not being murdered en mass after birth (only in the imaginations of whacked out pro-lifers completely detached from reality).

Needless to say, pointing out that this wasn't a valid argument of any kind ruffled the feathers of at least one super duper concerned citizen.

I love the paranoia of these zealot Christians masquerading as Jesus-Christ-Do-Gooders so they can dump their verbal diarrhea on nonbelievers whilst pretending that they actually care about the sanctity of life and things like morality. 

They don't. If they did they'd sit down and have a serious conversation and hash through the issue by paying equal respect to the other side's point of view -- at least hearing them out and considering the objections to their position. Of course, they don't do this. Because it's not about finding common ground. It's about being on the side or righteousness and thwarting evil -- and all the foot soldiers working for Satan -- like me apparently, according to this guys reaction.

I have to admit, the moment he didn't show any respect for reason and then went on how science isn't a reliable thing and showed a stupendous ignorance whilst pretending to have the moral high ground, I had no qualms with knocking him off his high pedestal. 

Granted, I knew I wasn't going to accomplish a damn thing. People this dense cannot hear reason if it was broadcast through a loudspeaker straight into their brain. I ought to know, I used to be one. But at the same time, rather than waste rational argument and logic on him, which would simply have gone in one ear and out the other, so I decided to have a bit of fun instead. I still abide by netiquette rules of fair play though, so if it's trolling it's of the very polite variety. At any rate, I thought I'd share with you the conversation because it was so goddamn entertaining.


I tracked down the (annoying) meme. Here it is:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Warped Views Part 1: Peering through the Lens of Religion -- How Religion Influences our Thinking (And On Child Nudity and Breastfeeding in Public)


Imagine a world with no religion.

I'm not talking about zero religious belief, spirituality, or superstition. I am talking about organized religion that reinforces all of these things and bottles them up in one convenient to access package of ideologies ready made to believe without any effort.

What if this influence faded into, well, nothing?

What would that look like exactly?

Now, hear me out. I realize it's not likely, nor at all that realistic. 

The psychologist Bruce M. Hood's books Supersense and The Science of Superstition do a great job at illustrating why we have superstitious beliefs in the first place. Apparently, our brains are hard wired to experience certain types of errors that lead to superstitious reasoning more often than not.

Jesse Bering's book The Belief Instinct applies this well known fact and asks how much do our superstitious beliefs feed into our everyday beliefs systems, including religion. It's no surprise that we come to discover that it's a lot.

So, please don't mistake me. I know religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's practically hardwired into how we think. At least, the superstitious aspects are.

Which is why I have always striven toward more rationalistic thinking, to try and counter-balance the superstitious nature of thought and the way the human mind is inclined to work.

But, like John Lenin posited in his song "Imagine," what if there was no religion?

Now, I decided to take this concept and apply it to some very mundane things which, on the surface, appear to be unrelated to religion but which, upon closer inspection, actually seem to reveal a strong religious influence.

Many of these things are cultural attitudes, ways of thinking, or even customs. At this point, the psychology only tells us there is a connection between human thought and behavior and religious / supernatural thinking, but what if we were to take a step back and pretend... as a thought experiment... of what would happen when we take the religious lenses off for a moment?

I'm going to start with an example that popped up in my news feed not so long ago.

I don't remember the source, but I had read a report where a woman had called the cops on her neighbor because the next door neighbor's kids were in the front yard, running around the sprinkler, on a hot summer day, without any clothes on.

Apparently one of the children was an eight year old girl, and the priggish neighbor felt that was just brazenly inappropriate, and called the cops on the kids (or more precisely, the kid's parents).

At first glance, this just seems to be an overly prudish and puritan person with a crippling sense of propriety that compels them to force others to the same levels of priggishness. It also seems to reflect a person who has not themselves experienced raising small children.

I think it's safe to say that small children running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day is a co-ed sport, and all of us who have raised small children seem to know it. In fact, it's a universal fact among experienced parents.

Apparently, for this woman, the nudity of a small innocent children playing across the street offended her to the point where she felt it was her *duty to call the cops on some innocent children playing in the water on a nice summer day.

First off, let's call it out for what it was: an overreaction, for sure.

But it got me to wondering, why did she feel this way? Why did she feel that this reaction was the appropriate reaction to be having here?

It's no secret. The reason most people are prudes is because the idea of sex offends them.

So the weird part is that she was obviously sexualizing small children to some small degree. That is, she was viewing them from the standpoint of an adult who knows about sex and imposing her embarrassment of sex and sexuality onto them. Needless to say, a child isn't yet familiar with this sort of thinking.

Stranger still, however, was that she viewed the children's play as inherently wrong because they were naked. She didn't just feel it was inappropriate, but she also obviously felt on some deeper level that it was morally wrong. This is evidenced by her response that upon witnessing innocent naked children playing in the water she called the cops. 

That, to me, doesn't seem to be the appropriate reaction. You only call the cops if you need help or are reporting a crime. She obviously didn't need any help. So it's clear that, in her mind, she was reporting a crime.

But there is nothing especially criminal about being naked (I'm not talking about indecency laws here -- just the act of being naked). Furthermore, what we can say here for certain is that there is nothing especially criminal about small children playing outdoors naked (especially in their own homes and own yards).

The only way a grown adult could assume that nudity was itself a kind of deviant or criminal conduct was to believe that nudity itself was somehow inherently morally wrong.

Now where have we heard such a story?

That's right. We hear of such a tale in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

As the Christian story goes, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit at the behest of the talking snake, full well knowing that God had commanded them not to eat of that particular fruit. She convinces Adam to partake of the fruit, and they both gain the knowledge of life and death. 

In their new found knowledge, they obviously come of age, and upon realizing they are sexually mature -- they become embarrassed and cover themselves (usually depicted as covering up with a fig leaf). God pulls back the curtain at the last minute, like a parent stumbling upon one of their teenage kids having sex on their bed with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and asks what they've been up to (wink, wink, nod, nod) and then berates them. In their shame they cover themselves with fig leaves and, like young adults who still get treated as children, are punished for their disobedience.

From this fable Christians have made all kinds of erroneous assumptions, but the most damaging perhaps being that sex before marriage is a sin (apparently Adam and Eve were created married? God created Adam a companion, sometimes interpreted by Christians to mean a wife -- not merely friends with benefits), that sex is designed (by God) to only be between a man and a woman (e.g., Adam and Eve not Adam an Steve) and that women are inferior to men (hence Eve gets the blame and the worse of the punishments). 

[It's worth noting that there are other passages found in the Bible where Christians derive the purity myth and the notion of not living in sin before marriage -- but they will often say that Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife and will claim that this fable, with a talking snake, represents the Christian model of one man, a husband, and one woman, his wife, concept of marriage and thus claim that anything that deviates from this model is wrong in the eyes of their God.]

Now it is likely that this fable was the driving ideological element that gave rise to the woman's own prudish views of nudity. She believed nudity was a sin, because she equates nudity with the ideas of sex and sexuality -- the very "crime" Adam and Eve got caught doing moments after eating of the forbidden fruit, and therefore thinks all nudity is sinful.

As such, the idea of some children playing naked in a sprinkler one summer day, was distorted by this woman's religious beliefs (faith) to make an otherwise innocent act into a sinful and depraved one from which she, for the life of her, couldn't tell the difference from an act of harmless innocence and a genuine harmful criminal act.

This is precisely how religion and religious beliefs can sometimes warp our views of the world around us.

Now, in my own deconversion, it took me a long time to realize that many things looked different once I had taken off the ruby lenses of my religious spectacles. After seeing the world anew, apart from my religious upbringing, I realized that I had to reconsider a great deal many things.

Of course, I can't help but wonder what other areas within society and our culture are governed by this overbearing act of religious influence upon our thinking.

As with the above example, where a woman found the nudity of innocent children playing outside offensive, I have to wonder... is this why so many find breast feeding in public offensive too?

I mean, when you pause to think about it, there's really no reason to get offended by a newborn infant drinking its mother's milk. If it didn't, it would surely die. But there are people out there that seem to be so offended by the sight of a bare bosom that they are willing to vote for laws that ensure a child must starve away, wailing and crying, and seeks to make it illegal for the mother to feed her child in public. 

I really cannot see how such a warped notion of public etiquette could come from a secular worldview and the understanding that we, as humans, are mammals. And mammal infants require their mothers milk. And thus it is perfectly natural for newborn infants to suckle from their mother's tit.

What is unnatural is to freak out by this fact. So much so that you'd want to make it illegal, or else really difficult, for a mother to feed her infant child in public.

It seems to me that this warped thinking can only arise from the same place -- the overly bashful, modest, since of religious bred propriety that is so completely embarrassed by any modicum of sexual nudity (and by extension nudity) because it likens sex to being a kind of morally wrong conduct and a sin, and thus views the human anatomy in utter disgust.

Many will claim it's not actually religion that is convincing people that it is not appropriate to breast feed in public. Some say it is a matter of protecting the women from would be perverts and molesters. But again, the reasoning behind this seems to share a common source. 

First off, I will say that if a person is stalking women who breast feed simply to get off on the sight of breasts, these people are sick. But it seems we find that there is a bit of victim blaming going on here. For we aren't calling out the perverts so much as we seem to be saying that it's the woman's fault for not being modest enough.

That's just insane on the face of it!

What we can do is write laws against ogling women who breast feed in public. Additionally, we can clamp down on sexual harassment. And, further still, we can create safe public areas for women who need to nurse their infant children.

That seems to be the proper response to help facilitate women who need to breastfeed in public.

What doesn't make sense, however, is to see a boobie with a small human being attached to the end of it suckling, and freak the hell out and then denigrate the mother with slander while calling into question her moral conduct -- all the while claiming you were the one who was offended.

That's totally the wrong action to be having.

And it's only an action one could have if their view of the world was distorted by their religion and religious beliefs so that they gained a rather warped, and even improper, view of things.

All things being equal, we have to seriously wonder. What else might be influenced by religious thinking?

Might tattoos and tattoo art be viewed negatively because of such forms of religious thought? What about body piercing? Or any form of body modification for that matter.

What about viewing pornography and the profession of being a porn star? Nothing seems to be wrong with these things except that, in every case, there is an admonishment of such to be found in the puritan and priggish teachings of religion.

But these are just a few examples. I'm sure there are plenty more we could purse out.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jesus Gets in a Fist-Fight with Anti-Abortion Protesters

In a bit of strange... The Friendly Atheist over at the Patheos blog has posted a very strange article about an altercation between a Fake Jesus and an anti-abortion protest crowd.

Apparently, Fake Jesus counter-protested anti-abortion protesters. The protesters didn't like being counter-protested, so confronted Jesus and created a scene. 

Tempers flared and one of the anti-abortion protester spat on Jesus. 

Apparently Jesus didn't appreciate that and JUDO kicked the motherfucker who spat on him. 

Now, in the aftermath of it all, the good ole Christian community -- who is in support of the rude and degenerate anti-abortion protesters (no surprises there) -- find out Fake Jesus's REAL identity and got him fired then ran him out of town in the name of -- Jesus? WTF?!

Needless to say, I don't condone violence of any kinds. But the Christian dude spat on his own lord and savior! Albeit, just an impostor. But still. Bad form.

I guess my only concern here is... what if it wasn't actually FAKE Jesus but the REAL Jesus the Christian spat on? 

I mean, what if Jesus had really come back? How is he greeted by modern Christians? By getting spat on. 

That's Christian love for you... willing to spit on their own Lord and Savior. 

I bet the protester who spat on Jesus didn't even to stop to wonder why Jesus was standing up for women's rights. He probably thinks, like most Christians, that Jesus had an opinion on abortion. He didn't. But if he did, and Jesus was pro-choice (rather than pro-life), then the Christian thing to do is spit on Jesus.

This is why I cannot take Christians seriously. The Christianity of 21st century America is a self-masturbatory cult that only chants the name Jesus so it can get away with not having to be held morally accountable for anything. It's nuts.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Snippet from The Swedish Fish

I just thought I'd share another short snippet of the Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot by opening up the book at random and sharing with you all wherever my finger so happened to land. This time it's from Chapter 18, pages 175 to 178:

In chapter eighteen, “From Personal Cause to Most Perfect Being,” we find out that the vague and nebulous hypothetical personal agent who spawned the universe is, low and behold, the one and only Perfect being as described by Christian theology!

Coincidence? I think not. Although Randal admits that a ‘personal cause’ is not a satisfactory definition for God, he explains that

I’m certainly not claiming that the statement ‘personal cause of the universe’ is a religiously satisfactory definition of God. But even if that description doesn’t say all a Christian wants to say about God, it certainly says something important. Christians believe that God is the creator of all things and thus that the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ has a personal answer: God.

Who, apart from religious apologists and theologians, claim that the universe must have a personal cause? Who outside of these same apologists and theologians claim that the universe must have their preferred brand of metaphysics, onto which they simply tag their idea of God, as the most plausible?[1]

Once again Sheridan asks how Randal can be so certain it’s the Christian God and not some other deity. This is a point that Sheridan has raised nearly every chapter so far, and so it seems Randal’s reluctance to answer it right off the bat has something to do with him wanting to massage away the painful criticisms of God, via apologetics, before he tackles the issue. There really is no other reason to put it off for half the book as it is a pretty straight forward question.

It seems Randal has no way out this time so he addresses the question and says that the first step in proving that the Christian God is the creator of all things is to supply more “specificity to the general concept of God.”

Yes, this pretty much goes without saying. If you want to identify the general concept of a creator deity with your concept of God, then you will have to specify your concept of God. Thus Randal quotes the medieval Christian theologian Anselm’s definition of God, and goes on to state, “God is the greatest conceivable or most perfect being. It is not possible to conceive a greater being.”

Sheridan then contends that this is rather an abstract philosophical description for the “Christian God.” To which Randal responds:

If God exists, he simply must be the most perfect being. But as long as we’re positing God, it’s legitimate to define God as the most perfect being there could be.

For some reason Sheridan goes along with it. But it’s not that clear Randal has any real reasons to assume God is the most perfect being in the first place, aside from citing Anselm. Anselm, it seems to me, was explicitly appealing to a general conception of God which everyone can agree upon. “What else does anybody mean by ‘God’ than this?” It’s only apologists who begin redefining God from a general concept to their specific theologically laden concept and then saying since everyone agrees that we all must have the same conceptualization of God. My bet would be Randal has taken Anselm’s definition of God and simply mashed it in with his.

Sheridan lets it slide though, and demands to know where one goes with the definition of God after the one Anselm provided. Randal replies:

Well, saying that provides a helpful way to eliminate those descriptions that fail to meet the demands of the definition.

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! Randal mixes things up a bit and cites the Mormon concept of God as an example which fails the test of meeting, with precision, the traditional Christian definition of God. But how is such a test not completely arbitrary? After all, Randal merely looked around and randomly selected the definition of God he liked best, in this case Anselm’s definition, which can apply to most other religions’ gods equally, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. The question is: what does he do about other God-concepts that meet all the criteria for the definition but are not the Christian God?

In Africa, the Akan people of Ghana believe that the deity Nyame is the God of All Things, and their theological description of Nyame meets all the criteria of Anselm’s definition, just to cite one example.

Of course, Randal would probably do what most apologists do and shift the goal posts, select another definition (most likely also at random) that is completely incompatible with the Akan people’s definition of God and then nitpick the details until he could find enough divergence between their theology and his to dismiss it as not-Christian enough.

The rub is that this goal post shifting strategy doesn’t actually prove the Christian definition true. All it really does is make it harder for others to stress the similarities by limiting the definition of God to precisely what works in the best interest of the apologist. That’s not a demonstration, mind you, it’s a cheat.

At the same time, the Akan people could likewise hold their template up to the Christian template, find where the Christian God diverges from their theology, and then dismiss the Christian God as not Akan enough to be considered the God of All Things, in this case the god Nyame.

Most apologists try to avoid this conundrum, of being held to the same standard they invoked in the first place, by simply denying the validity of other people’s idea about god out of the gate (sort of how Randal imagines scientists do it). But this is an undeniable bias, and one I would argue apologists need to try to avoid, especially if they’re going to contend that their God is the one you, and everyone else, ought to believe in.

[1] The William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll “God and Cosmology” debate at Greer-Heard Forum, February of 2014, is one of the best debates on cosmology and theism I have seen. If you’re interested in these questions, I highly recommend watching the video, available online at:

A Snippet from The Swedish Fish

I just thought I'd share a short snippet of the Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot by opening up the book at random and sharing with you all wherever my finger so happened to land. This is it (from page 213) here:

Raising the question of Yahweh’s imperfect character in the Bible, such as jealousy and homicidal tendencies, Sheridan challenges Randal to provide reasons for his continued belief that Yahweh is still a perfect being despite such failings.

Since I believe that Yahweh is the greatest possible being, I must conclude that he did not actually command these actions.

That’s right, true believer—God’s behavior in the Bible is just so shocking, so utterly detestable, so terrifyingly dreadful, so God-damned awful, that Randal simply saves God by affirming it wasn’t God that commanded such acts, but the Israelites acting on the false assumption that God commanded them to enact such atrocities.

Well, so much for “biblical authority.”

The problem I have with Randal’s assumption here is that he must ignore what we already know about the biblical account in order to posit an alternate history which assuages God’s ferocity by shifting the blame from God and placing it squarely on his people. Also, why he thinks the Hebrew war god can be even remotely identified with the abstract god of the philosophers is beyond me.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Are Mass Shootings a New form of Bullying?

It seems there is a mass shooting in America at least once a week now.

I really don't know of any other form of societal psychosis with such ill side effects that is as frequent except for, perhaps, bullying.

Now I'm not talking about mental illness here per se, although this does seem to be a factor we always need to keep in mind. But as I was thinking about some of the reasons for why mass shootings are on the uptick, aside from the number of guns anybody can get their hands on, it dawned on me... what if mass shootings were an expression of one form of serial bullying.

Now what do I mean by serial bullying?

Well, Tim Field, founder of The Field Foundation and Bully OnLine, coined the term to describe the character of a certain type of individual with very specific behavior traits that he cataloged while documenting over 10,000 cases of workplace bullying when he was manager of the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line.

Serial Bully Traits

Perhaps the most easily recognizable Serial Bully traits are:
  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.

After gathering their data and crunching the numbers, Bully Online and The Field Foundation found that serial bullying covers a wide range of people with an even wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

They discovered that:

Approx 20% (of bullies) are teachers, lecturers and school administrative staff
Approx 12% are health care professionals, including nurses, paramedics, GPs etc
Approx 10% are from social services and caring occupations including care of the elderly and people with special needs
Approx 6-8% are from the voluntary and non-profit sector, with small charities (social housing, disadvantaged children, special needs, etc) featuring prominently (these usually involve a female serial bully); this sector has show the highest rate of increase in calls since 1998
Approx 5% are civil servants not included in the above groups

See, traditional bullying involves an insecure person who puts others down, picks on the weak, and makes fun of others, sometimes hurts others, in order to boost their own self-esteem by getting laughs or simply to look strong.

Bullies are typically cowardly and weak, but because they tend to be popular, either through their uncouth antics or else because of intimidation and fear mongering, they usually gain a following.

It is this following that makes the bully dangerous, because they will feed into the bully's need to continually prove themselves in others eyes, and many times the bullies followers will assist the bully in inflicting harm or slinging insults because the bully has created an environment for themselves where this form of behavior is acceptable, even though every mature and rational thinking person knows that it is never acceptable to bully someone.

Bullies want to see people suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

So what if mass shootings reflect this same type of persona? 

We could very well say that mass shooters are often people who suffer because they are insecure, maybe even mentally unstable, lack social skills, and cannot integrate into civil society because they are secretly too afraid to be themselves, so they put up a tough facade.

Bullies have harmed and killed numerous people through the simple act of bullying. So have mass shooters.

The one thing that may separate traditional bullies from mass shooters is that bullies tend to be genuinely scared, and so continually try to mask that fear. Mass shooters, on the other hand, seem to have come to the point where they no longer care about what happens to them, and have given up -- and so the only way to inflict the sort of pain that a bully traditionally would is to lash out at as many people as possible.

Simple bullying isn't enough. A mass shooter needs to go the extra mile to make themselves feel powerful. So they resort to extreme violence.

We might wonder then, why do so many mass shooters kill themselves after a bloody rampage? My theory is that they simply don't want to face the consequences of their actions. Somewhere in their mind they still realize that justice is more powerful than they are or ever will be, and so the only way to overcome having to face the consequences of their actions, they kill themselves and escape any and all responsibility, opting instead to go down in infamy as a mass shooter. 

Let's recall the list of traits a serial bully has one more time.

  • Jekyll and Hyde nature - Dr Jekyll is "charming" and "charismatic"; "Hyde" is "evil";
    --Most mass shooters tend to hide their "evil" side until they go on the rampage.
  • Convincing liar - Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
    --Most mass shooters often find ways to obtain weapons and lie about it. This is especially true with underage mass shooters. They are also good at convincing others that they wouldn't harm a fly, but secretly harbor a desire to harm as many people as possible.
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
    --This one is hard to pin down, because most mass shooters do not like to operate in a social environment. They are usually the disenfranchised. They themselves might be the victims of other serial bullies, and the stress, frustration, and fear they have experienced they want to pay back ten fold.
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
    --Mass shooters often cite a "cause" or "reason" why they shot up a church, or blew up a school. Usually it is because they are attacking some feature of an organisation, individual, or even entire culture, that they do not like and want to see it destroyed. It would also help explain why many recent mass shootings seem to be racially motivated.
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
    --Do you remember the Columbine shooting? Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their fellow students and teachers, injuring over 21 others, before committing suicide. A year after the attack, an analysis of mass shootings in America by officials at the US Secret Service found that bullying played a major role in who the shooters selected as targets. This suggests that mass shootings may incorporate a form of retaliation by the attackers on the victims by blaming the victims for their own slate of problems. It was later found that, in the case of Harris and Klebold, they were the perpetrators of as many incidents of bullying as they were the victims.
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action;
    --This explains why many mass shooters are also suicide shooters. They want to escape any form of disciplinary action for their crimes.
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.
    --Many mass shooters seems to roam about aimlessly after taking out their intended targets when they go on a shooting rampage , racking up a large body count before ending their own lives or being taken down by the authorities.

Now, I'm no psychologist. But it seems that mass shooting interpreted as a form of serial bulling, seems to make a certain amount of sense. At least, it does to me. 

But mass shootings, if they are indeed a form of bullying, seem to me to stem from the disenfranchisement of an individual from society more than it seems to fit with a certain socioeconomic norm wherein bullying typically thrives. In fact, a 2010 study found that rejection of a peer group (a type of disenfranchisement) was the leading motivating factor behind most school shootings.

Either way, we are talking about an unacceptable practice regardless of where it rears its ugly head.

Viewing mass shootings as a form of bullying would also explain why it seems to be getting worse. 

Bullying is a behavior that is extremely hard to squash, especially when there is an environment that is ripe for it. 

America just so happens to be perfectly suited for the rise of mass shootings. And this plays out on a weekly, monthly, and annually basis in what has become all too common place, senseless mayhem and violence inflicted on countless innocent people by mass shooters, a new lot of bullies for the 21st century.

For more on mass shootings and school rampage shootings, please see:

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist