Aug 132020
 

I.

You can tell a person’s character by how they treat vulnerable people.

Throughout history there have always been victim populations. People who are targetted for abuse specifically because they are vulnerable and unpopular. A small subpopulation that doesn’t have the ability to defend itself, that is denigrated by the rest of society as unclean or immoral, and that anyone can throw a punch against to make themselves more popular without any fear of retaliation or consequence.

In a noble society, such a group would be protected. In most societies their plight is ignored. In some of the worst societies, what few protections such groups may have had are systematically stripped away to make them more and more vulnerable.

There are people who say “If I was a 1930s German I would have stood up against the Nazis” or “If I was an early American I would have stood up against slavery,” not realizing that the problem isn’t standing up for a group of noble innocents, it’s associating yourself with a group of hated criminals in front of all of your peers and coworkers.

In 2018 Kamala Harris had an opportunity to gain public favor. To do this, she would have to target a group of people already hated by much of America. A group of people who already don’t have any protection of the law in their workplace. A group made up predominantly of women, minorities, and the poor. She would have to make their already precarious lives more dangerous, taking away some of the few tools they have to defend themselves, and turn the police even further against them. And if that wasn’t enough, Harris would be doing this by furthering the slander that this group is mostly child rapists.

She did this knowingly. Many advocacy organizations contacted her to plead on behalf of the hated group, as most of them can’t do so themselves. People I know in my personal life did some of this work, as they were Harris’s constituents at the time. But Kamala Harris saw the popularity to be gained by attacking this group, and judged that to be more important than standing up for a vulnerable, hated subpopulation in her state.

On March 21, 2018, Kamala Harris voted for H.R. 1865, known as Fosta/Sesta, to advance the persecution of sex workers, and to advance her own career at the cost of their misery and their lives.

II.

It sickens me that the two realistic options on the presidential ticket this year have an opportunistic abuser of the vulnerable on one side, and a wanna-be tyrant with contempt for democracy on the other. It makes me want to burn down the entire system. It makes me want to vote for someone who would do his darndest to destroy these corrupt institutions rather than bothering to actually lead the nation or act as an administrator.

This leads me to realize that’s exactly what Trump is. Trump is the brick thrown by the rioter. He is the molotov cocktail of the enraged, the wrench slipped into the works. In 2016, a vote for Trump was specifically a vote to destroy the system. He is the riot vote. The “a city/country on fire and in ruins is better than this” vote. We’ve had four years of a country on fire. It’s bad. I can’t believe these are my options.

But notice that Kamala Harris’s opportunistic abuse of the weak is what launches this brick-throwing. Kamala Harris is the reason Trump was elected in 2016. Too many people would rather see the system burn than see opportunistic evil like her’s take power.

III

Why yes, the funny part IS that a large part of the reason she got Biden’s VP nod was because there have been many violent riots recently, and people are afraid and want a cop to stop the violence. The cycle continues.

Aug 022020
 

Chicago 2012

In my recent review of A Memory Called Empire I posted

“there is nothing exceptional about this. It’s…. fine. It’s fine. But it’s not good. It’s certainly not genre-defining or among the best things published that year. It’s just a space opera story being stretched out to meet publisher demands for a series. That is not inspired, and it’s not inspiring.

I know there’s at least one Hugo nominated novel that I just don’t get every year, but I don’t think anyone is doing Martine a favor by pretending they think her novel is a Hugo contender. I feel bad that this happened.”

A few days later, A Memory Called Empire won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

This has made me really reflect on myself, SF in general, and what The Hugo Awards are/mean. Here’s what I’ve come to–

The Hugo Awards are given out by the participants of The World Science Fiction Convention. It’s a fancon run by huge SF fans, and it’s great. :) They read a lot of SF, and at some point in the past decided “Hell, we have this big ol’ party/con every year, why not vote on what our favorite books/stories of the last year were, and give them an award?”

As these cons are attended by people who read A LOT of SF, they were pretty decent at picking out really good examples of SF lit. Since the con is often attended by people in the SF publishing industry, and frequently by VERY big name authors in the SF field, the awards they gave out started to get some attention. In time they became a marker of overall quality in the field.

And yes, ultimately it’s a popularity contest. That means works by popular authors are more likely to be noticed, and outstanding novels by unknowns will sometimes be missed. That’s just how things are. Nonetheless, usually things that are really good become popular, so it works out enough that one accepts that The Perfect should not be the enemy of The Good.

But of key importance in a popularity contest is who the audience is. If you are a vegetarian, the Best BBQ In The South of 2020 isn’t gonna matter to you, because as good as it may be considered among BBQ aficionados, it just isn’t for you.

This is why I never bothered with Lit Fic awards. I don’t care how great some piece of LitFic is, I’m not gonna like it cuz it’s LitFic. The Hugo Awards were what I really cared about, because the people who voted on them were like me. They were nerds and dreamers who got excited about fantastic magical devices and weird alien societies, and heroes going through scarring trauma but saving the day in the end. They created a big ol’ nerd con they could all go to once a year where they’d all geek out together over the latest Fantasy epic or SF mind-fuck.

For the last several years, this has been less and less the case. And before we go nuts, I want to stress this is not a bad thing in itself. I’ll explain myself.

When guys hear I’m in a book club, they always assume I’m the only dude in a sea of women. This is because that’s what most non-SF book clubs are like. Ours is different, we have a nearly 50/50 split, sometimes favoring men a little. I assume this is because SF/F is typically viewed as a Guy Thing. There’s a stereotype of the SF nerd, and he’s not female.

We are fortunate to have a wide variety of people in my book club, and it makes for interesting discussions. We even have what I nowadays think of as “the white woke woman.” She’s not a social justice warrior. But she is white, well-educated, politically liberal, works in academia, etc. I want to stress here that none of these are bad things. We all love her, she is a joy to be around, and I consider her a friend. If you were to picture the type of lady that attends monthly book club meetings reading Lit Fic, you’d see her.

She loved most of the things nominated for this year’s Hugos. She was far more into the shorts than anyone else, they really spoke to her. And that is wonderful. It is always a pleasure to see a friend taking true delight in something! It is good for there to be joy in the world, and watching people experience that joy is great, and I don’t want to take that away from anyone.

But it strengthened my impression that the typical WoldCon attendee has been trending further and further away from the SF nerd that used to include me, and now consists mostly of the woke lady reader. I didn’t think anything of the fact that A Memory Called Empire was nominated — every year there is always some nominee that has no place in the Hugo pantheon IMO, but got in through a fluke of popular convergence. They are always sifted out during the voting process. This year, the sifting out decided that A Memory Called Empire is indeed the highest peak that one can aspire to within WorldCon circles.

This isn’t that surprising, when one thinks about it. Men Don’t Read. Not literally true, but when you look at the numbers, women consume FAR more written fiction than men do. If you want to be a successful author, your best bet is to write Romance, that’s where the majority of the money is. Failing that, LitFic aimed at women audiences is also huge. Whether this is because men are inherently less interested in reading, or if it’s because our sexist society systematically discourages male reading, or something else entirely, is unimportant. Women read a lot more, and they predictably have differing tastes in the aggregate.

In the past, SF had a certain aura about it that kept it mostly restricted to SF nerds. Most non-nerds stayed away, in part due to the aura of weird nerd crap that SF exuded. There were definitely nerd women in those circles (like I said, half our book club is women), but they were way outnumbered by the men. Also, they had tastes pretty similar to the other nerds, which is why they pushed through that aura of nerddom in the first place.

In the past decades, SF/F has become very mainstreamed. Normies read and love it now. Which is great! I love when people love things. :) But it means that the ghettos that used to be populated by SF nerds have been gentrified by regular readers. And most of those readers are woke women. They are educated and fairly well off. (It’s not a coincidence that going to WorldCon is far more expensive now. It’s also often an international destination event.) That’s simply how the demographics work out when a written genre becomes popular. Most heavy readers of most fiction words are educated, well-off, and women. Demographics aren’t good or bad, they’re just the way the world is.

So the Hugos are now, in effect, an award given out by a type of person with tastes very different from my own. I am glad they have a community they are happy in, and an award they can give out to celebrate works they love. I admit I am sad to be evicted from a place I used to consider a home. But I ain’t fancy, I’m a basic boi that reads a bunch, and I don’t fit in anymore. When all your friends move out, ultimately you gotta realize it’s time for you to move on as well.

What does this mean for me? It means I can no longer say anything is “Hugo material” or not, because my judgements of quality do not mesh with the audience of the Hugos. It means I don’t really need to bother reading Hugo works, any more than I read LitFic award winners, because they don’t say anything useful about what I will appreciate. And it means I gotta go looking for a community that is more like me, and likes the things I like, so I can go geek out with them and feel at home again. Maybe we can even throw a con for ourselves so we can meet up IRL and fanboy about the latest thing with cool swords and explosions and tormented heroes and freshman philosophical quandaries. :)

On the plus side, WorldCon was my nerd home for a while, and I’ll always have those memories, and the friends I made there

Jul 212020
 

Sorry for the long delay, I guess sometimes “tomorrow” means “in over a week”!

I.

Anyhow, yes, Emergency Skin is meant to be funny. I don’t think this should be controversial. I mean, there’s a dick joke in the first paragraph. Not only does the poor protag obviously not know what is desirable in a human body (long thighs?), but he’s being sold a long penis when we all know a long, thin penis is no one’s friend.

Most of the humor in the story is of this style – we see a naive protagonist being lied to by a narrator that is taking advantage of him. It’s a sort of comedy of errors, as we see a couple of complete idiots bumbling about in a Three Stooges-style fiasco, getting more and more wrapped up their buffoonery. Like, how can you not laugh at a society that thinks they’re The Best Evar but apparently hated women so much they replaced them all with “pleasurer robots?” Their entire society is so mentally and culturally deficient that it’s pretty clear that they were politely given the tech to leave by a humanity that really wanted them to move away, and they’ve lied to all their descendants claiming that they were so very smart that they found a way to leave the planet when no one else could. As if they’d had the capability to do cutting edge research, or accumulate vast wealth, with the three brain cells they had left. :D

Anyway, this would just be a straight-up farce if it was simply a depiction of this society of charicatures, but it turns into a satire when we see one of these flunkies coming back to Earth to interact with normal people. At that point, Emergency Skin reads very much like a take down of bad message fiction. It’s holding up a mirror to writers of bad message fic and saying “See, this is what you look like when you don’t do this well.” Writing good message fiction is a skill, and takes a lot of work. When it’s bad, it’s really bad. Satire can point this out via demonstration, and make us laugh along the way.

The really cool part of Emergency Skin is that you actually feel sympathy for the protag here, because he’s so niave and doesn’t know any better. He’s being used by the narator, and so we cheer when he sees through their lies and decides to go back and help his fellow citizens. There’s an actual good character arc, which is pretty unusual for a short satire piece.

II.

Poe’s Law is an artifact from the atheism wars on the early internet, which states that it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied. No matter how ridiculous of a religious claim you made, someone would think it was serious, because why not? Religions are already looney toons. Religious people would often get upset about this, saying that it was plain freakin’ insulting that someone would say they couldn’t tell the difference between an absurd parody and a real religious claim. This sometimes resulted in hilarious own-goals, when it was discovered the original claimant was in fact a religious person expressing a sincere belief that the objecting theist had claimed was so ridiculous that only a liar trying to Own The Opposition would pretend to be confused whether it was a joke or not.

(Related fun study – some conservatives thought The Colbert Report was a pro-conservative show. From a study: “conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.”)

Which is to say that the meta punchline is Emergency Skin is being Poe’d. At least a couple people in our book club assumed Jemisin was writing this as a serious piece of anti-something propaganda. I’m not entirely sure what the “something” in this case is, but I think some combination of Billionaires, Capitalists, Whites, and Men. And, sure, those are all popular targets of the illiberal woke-ists out there. But I don’t think an objective reading of the story can support this.

III.

The story, as a satire, is pretty obviously about idiots the rest of humanity didn’t want to have around. They are shown to be a dysfunctional society brought to the brink of extinction due to their own mental, moral, and cultural failures. They’re just barely keeping old tech functioning, having to scavenge repair parts from Old Earth regularly. They are a fascist slave-owning society with dogma and philosophy completely inimicable to scientific advancement or functional capitalist systems. There is no way they got off Earth on their own. They were basically kicked off, and teach their descendants blatent lies. They do their best to hide these lies from the scavenger scout, but the truth is so blindingly apparent, and the society is so inept at even something as basic as lying, that the figleaf of falsehoods is blasted away immediately upon arrival.

The story, as serious criticism, is…. let’s say “problematic.” It’s the story of a minority group of humans. This minority group has distinct physical features (skin color, facial structure, hair) that make it obviously different from the rest of humanity. This minority group is also mentally, morally, and culturally retarded. Yet despite being vastly inferior to the rest of humanity, they have somehow insideously taken control of major power structures on Earth. In addition, they’ve tricked, defrauded, or outright stolen vast amounts of wealth from those who created it and should rightfully own it, and horde it for themselves. When the rest of humanity was in its most desperate situation, they stabbed humanity in the back and abandoned us, taking all their stolen wealth with them.

Basically, they’re 1930s Jews in Nazi propaganda.

What’s more, it turns out that once they were left to themselves, their true nature of theiving untermensch is revealed, and their new world collapses. Meanwhile, now that Earth is freed of their insidious leeching, Earth flourishes, and ushers in a New Golden Age where everyone has plenty and there is no more strife. By extension, the reader is left to wonder that if only… IF ONLY this vile minority of sub-humans could somehow be removed from the planet everything would be sunshine and roses.

So, yeah. I know this is combining Poe’s Law with Godwin’s Law, but reading this as a serious work of modern cultural criticism, one would be forced to say that Jemisin basically recreated the worst kind of exterminationist Nazi propaganda. And, to be quite honest, I don’t think that’s remotely plausible. It’s as silly as saying Colbert is a secret Republican, or Obama is a secret Muslim, or Scott Alexander is a secret Nazi.

And come on! This is a story that includes lines like “Beautiful? That’s… You’re only saying that beacuse they have skin.” Or “They want everything for everyone and look at where it’s gotten them! Half of them aren’t even men.” These are jokes, and pretty good ones!

Also, would an author that seriously embraced that sort of ideology be one of only two (of the twelve short work authors) who didn’t make the story available freely to all? And be the only author who made the story available ONLY at Amazon, so people are forced to give their money to the boogeyman of the leftists? I had to install a Kindle app to read this, I don’t think anti-capitalism is a driving value here. :)

Jul 072020
 

I was recently brought to my attention by my cohost at The Mind Killer podcast that HBO is run by simpering cowards. They will not make available the five South Park episodes that have Muhammad in them.

Two of these episodes, Cartoon Wars part 1 and part 2, are still available to the South Park Comedy Central website (linked).

The other three: Super Best Friends (alt); 200, and 201 (combined), are available at various torrent sites around the internet. I can’t vouch for any of these links, I didn’t download them myself.

The episodes also are likely available on the DVD versions. Super Best Friends is in season 5 and 200 & 201 are in Season 14. Again, I have not bought these, so I can’t verify they are on the DVDs.

And here’s my drawing of Muhammad from way back in the day. Remember the cartoonists massacred in Paris. HBO has spit on their memory.

 

Jun 162020
 

I. TERFs are shitbags

I didn’t really know what a TERF was or why anyone cared for a while. If some minority of women didn’t think that some women were “real” women, how was that different from any other form of dumb gatekeeping? As usual, enlightenment came in the form of a blog post

If you ever visit a racist internet forum or user group or whatever, you’ll notice that they do the same thing. They talk about every single gruesome crime committed by a black person or an immigrant or a Muslim, anywhere in the world. They seek these out […] [in] TERF blogs, a large share of the content is – yep – circulating gruesome, horrifying, and detailed accounts of random crimes or acts of bullying committed by specific trans people. […] Doing this warps your intuitions. It is possible to target any group of more than a few thousand people with this tactic, it tells you nothing, and it’s bad.

TERFs don’t just do the usual shitty gatekeeping thing — they actively practice blood-libel. That’s basically all I need to know about them. They’ve outed themselves as horrible people who deserve contempt. Maybe in a time before social media, that would have been the end of it.

II. Universal Guilt

Societies tend to be in favor of guilty people being punished and innocent people being left alone. This is all well and good normally, but some groups want to really dominate everyone. Millenia ago religion came up with one of the simpler mechanisms of control — universal guilt. It starts with Original Sin, sure, but that’s too abstract for the common folk. The real money is in making normal behavior “deviant.” The more powerful the drive to do the “evil” thing is for everyone, the more power the church has. Once you make sexual attraction itself a sin, you’ve really got ’em by the balls.

Governments picked up on this. It’s very inconvenient having citizens you can’t threaten with imprisonment at any time, which is why it’s impossible not to break some law simply by living a normal life. The more impossible it is to not break a law while trying to live, the more power the government has. Then the government selectively enforces the law based on how much you’ve annoyed them.

This is also the reason there are words you can’t say. Much of the purpose of having such shiboleths is for the creation of victims. It gives the punishing organization control over people’s lives. And the more such words are things people feel driven to say, the more power the organization has.

 

III. Outrage Junkies

I’m not going to re-examine the guts of the social media mob, it’s been so extensively documented that there’s nothing for me to add. Self-righteous rage is addictive, and many people need someone new to hate and destroy every week to keep their endorphins going. The bigger the target, the stronger the rush. And a juicy fall-from-grace narrative that allows people to get in on a plunge from truly outlanding heights… well, that is a prize you don’t get every day.

Enter JK Rowling. Rowling has a long history of championing progressive causes, from women to minorities to the queer community. She’s among the most famous people in the English-speaking world, and a billionaire, and has used that fame and wealth to advance the causes of progressives. It would be quite a scandal if she was a Secret Nazi.

Rowling has never displayed hatred of trans persons. (Yes, she fears cismen as a class, but I think such fears are largely legitimate) She hasn’t participated in bloodlibel showcasings of trans criminals, nor of dehumanizing speech. The worst one can say she’s done is prioritized outreach to ciswomen, and expressed fears that safe spaces for women could be phased out for gender-neutral spaces instead.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with someone prioritizing helping other people like themselves who have had the same struggles in life. No one can help everyone, and many people are motivated to help minority groups which they themselves belong to. This is fine, and common. Very few people complain that scholarships for black people don’t accept applicants who aren’t black. Or that support groups for immigrants don’t support people who aren’t immigrants.

I think it’s unfortunate that bathrooms are the defacto safe-spaces we have for women in public areas, but if there is a social goal of providing such safe spaces for women (both cis and trans), then they must prohibit men from entering (both cis and trans). I am aware that it’s debatable if such safe spaces are needed at all.

What Rowling is “guilty” of is using words that are tabooed. Of (most recently) pointing out (correctly) that our society used to have a word for “people who menstruate” and now such a word no longer exists. And being flippant and salty about it.

 

IV. Creating Frankenstein’s Monster

Because certain people are so eager for their outrage porn, when Rowling has uttered tabooed words before, they were quick to denounce her as a transphobe and a TERF, and spread the word as quickly as possible.

It’s obvious that Rowling’s first missteps were, as is normally the case, the missteps of someone who thinks that merely being a good person and being allied with progressives will offer some protection. “These people know I’m not evil” is a common mistake of someone questioning official dogma they think might be wrong.

It’s been a while since then, with a few outrage cycles. The noteworthy part of this latest situation is that in her response post, Rowling cites TERFs and repeats some TERF talking points, despite not being a transphobe herself.

As has been pointed out before, when good people censor the truth, then the only place people who want to know/say the truth can go is forums held by bad people. If one was never allowed to say “Black criminality rates are higher than the US national average” one couldn’t follow that up with “due to government-aided impoverization and the legacy of racist policies.” If the only place one could go to even utter the question “Why are black criminality rates higher?” was the forums of racists, the only answers one would find is “because black people are inherently bad.”

If the only place one can say anything in the vein of “I’m uncomfortable with governments treating a cisman who says the words “I’m a woman” as a woman for policy purposes” without being turned into a pariah is in TERF forums, then one will go there to say it. As surely as horny teens will fool around regardless of how evil sex may be in the eyes of God. And once in the forums of the TERFs, one is going to be assaulted by their vile sewage.

This is the stupid, stupid cycle of wokeism. The thought-lines must be kept pure, so deviation is met with exile, and exiles are subsequently exposed to drowning oceans of hate-mongering and bloodlibel. The justice mob ruins lives AND makes society worse by their own metric. But hey, at least they feel really good while doing it.

Frankly, I’m relieved that Rowling appears to have remained mostly trans-friendly, with a possible blindspot regarding safe-spaces. I think she has a strong heart, and she’ll ultimately resist the hatred spewed by the TERFs. But man, what a horrible thing to do to someone. Way to go, Wokes.

 

V. Why Bother?

I pondered for some time about whether to write this at all. I lost one of the most important relationships of my life by publicly & repeatedly opposing woke dogma a few years back. Usually the price of speaking up isn’t nearly that high, but there is a social cost every time, and a lot of stress.

In large part it goes back to pedophile priests.

When I was an atheist activist, I was outraged by pedophile priests and the cover they got from their parishioners. Not just The Church. I couldn’t believe how much ordinary people would just not say anything about it. It wasn’t their business. Their priest was fine. Why involve themselves in this mess that wasn’t their fault?

I think maybe it was unfair of me to expect church-going people to denounce pedophile priests. They aren’t to be held accountable for someone else’s actions. But I never could get over the silence. It still angers me.

I don’t want to be the person who is always silent. Who sees denunciations I think are unfair, but leaves it alone because it’s not my business. That’s how everyone ends up thinking everyone is a woke-ist, when most people are not.

To call Rowling a transphobe is to devalue the word to the point where it’s not useful in fighting actual hate. Those calling her such are outrage-porn addicts that don’t care what damage they do as long as they can get their next hit. Don’t be like them. And if you see something like this happen, if you can afford to take the hit, dropping even just a “I disagree” helps. :)

Jun 132020
 

I.

In the Left 4 Dead video games, most levels are bookended by “Safe Rooms.” You leave the Safe Room at the start of a level, and the goal is to survive the trek to the Safe Room at the end of the level. The thing about these Safe Rooms is that they really are safe. Once you are securely inside them, you can’t be hurt by the zombies in any way. It’s a huge relief to rush inside one at the end of a level.

For a significant portion of the female population, the world is filled with predators. They have to be on gaurd at all times while around then, a message that is repeated to them over and over from all sides, and which is often personally reinforced through traumatic violence. Yes, not all men, but enough that one lets down their guard only at their own peril.

Through a confluence of social conventions, however, there is a sort of quasi-safe-room available in many public locations. This doesn’t by any means fix the problem, but it does sometimes help a bit. I was unaware of these safe rooms until a friend clarified for me. If a creepy man is following a woman around, maybe harassing her, just doing all sorts of things that make her feel very uncomfortable and threatened, there’s a sort of temporary escape that is sometimes avilable. Currently, a woman can duck into a bathroom with the full assurance that any man that tried to follow her in there would be stopped by anyone else around — men and women. She has the full force of society behind her to have that safe spot that no one man can enter, and she needs to give no reasons or excuses to go in there. It is unconditional.

There’s a number of advantages to bathrooms doubling as safe spaces. A man can’t follow his wife into one (for the publicly-given reason that they are public and he may be intruding on people who are not his wife). A woman can extricate herself from an iffy situation by claiming she needs to pee even if she doesn’t because that’s a plausible excuse at any time and can’t nobody contradict her — there’s no requirement to declare fear. Perhaps most importantly: there are practical reasons and legal requirements that such rooms be available in nearly all public areas. It would be much harder to have simple “safe rooms” set up everywhere for the explicit purpose of protecting women.

II.

I have recently been presented with arguments that such safe rooms are not necessary, and in fact may do more harm than good. ie:

At a certain point you’re just feeding into bad intuitions and anxiety, and it is bad to encourage a constant state of unjustified anxiety. Claims that “men are so violent and unpredictable that we as a society have provided you emergency anti-man zones for your safety” are hyperbolic and misandrist.

Moreover, there are some things that become less safe because we as a society think they aren’t. If there are more women walking around after dark, those women in general will be more safe. And since a lot of the harassment is partially caused by the general perception that women are weak and scared and in danger, because some people enjoy the power trip, if we could get rid of this cultural assumption it’d probably help. Introducing bathroom asymmetry reinforces the “women are Different” idea and that’s harmful.

Furthermore, while it would certainly make the most afraid people more axious (until they were able to see violence hasn’t increased and they are able to adjust to the lived experience of a less-scary world) the gains from making more of society gender-neutral outweigh the discomfort people would experience during the transition.

I am not yet convinced by these arguments. But I think they have potential. I am including them for completeness sake.

III.

Let us assume for the rest of this post that it is a good thing to have safe spaces for women in society, even though that might not be the case.

A particularly vulnerable subset of women are transwomen. In many areas transwomen are targetted for violence at a higher rate than ciswomen, and with greater ferocity. They are in even greater need of such safe spaces than ciswomen (though admitedly in much smaller numbers).

If we grant that safe spaces should exist, that means common, legally required, and socially-sanctioned safe areas must be designated as places that men can’t go. Society will discourage them from entering, and possibly stop them if required.

Allow me to slightly rephrase, since we are living in a period of vocabulary transition and words can mean a number of different things that people can (and do) misrepresent.

To go into women’s bathrooms one simply has to be a woman, whether cis or trans. Men (meaning cis and trans) shouldn’t be allowed in women’s restrooms if we want to preserve them as safe spaces.

In practice, this means bystanders prevent cismen & transmen from going into women’s restrooms. And “Does the person in question look like a man” is the only criteria they can reasonably use.

Yes, there is a subset of women (both cis and trans) that may look masculine enough that they are geninuely mistaken for men and trigger a safe-space-protection response. This sucks. I’m not sure what can be done about that while preserving the safe-space concept. I assume it will be pretty rare.

It is, of course, possible to go to entirely ungendered bathrooms if we want to simply preserve them as places people go to relieve themselves and abandon the safe-space idea entirely. But as long as it is a social goal to have an area that men aren’t allowed to enter, then people who are believed to be cis & transmen must actually be disallowed from entering it.

(To reiterate: the people who simply deny transwomen access to women’s bathrooms by saying “But thur men!” are assholes.)

Jun 112020
 

I’m a Polish immigrant. I’ve had certain experiences in my life that no native-born American will have because of this, and even a few that no non-Polish-immigrant will have. In addition, I’m eligible to join certain organizations in some major cities that accept only Polish immigrants as members.

I also have some very woke friends, because I don’t discriminate against people for having bad politics. :) It’s not uncommon to sometimes hear things like “Only Native Americans are true Americans, everyone else immigrated here!” or something similar. This is mainly used in arguements against racists or anti-immigration bigots.

But, in theory, such a friend could say to me “We’re all immigrants, only Native Americans are true Americans. You have no moral right to exclude me from your organization. Moreover, you have no right to claim I am not an immigrant! We are all immigrants! You are a racist bigot, and the world should know you deserve to be shunned.”

Would a person who was born in a different country not have a valid complaint here? That there are in fact some material differences between the two groups, and that conflating the word “immigrant” to such a degree erases my experience, and the shared background I have with other immigants?

To be fair, I came here so young that this barely effects me, but my parents would be extremely put out, and I would be strongly on their side. Or should my parents be required to sit quietly for fear of being called anti-immigration bigots?

May 022020
 

It’s been interesting seeing local beautification in the Age of Corona. Around my neighborhood I’m finding painted rocks set in strategic places. Other rocks with inspirational messages on them. A fence with a christmas lights strung up on it in the shape of a giant heart. Basically, the whole neighborhood looks to be slowly transforming into a Burning Man encampment. This is the sort of heart-felt, homemade decor that enlivens the Playa.

I find the resemblence striking, because I’m willing to bet none of my neighbors are Burners. 100,000 people out of the entire US population makes for an incredibly low base rate. And yet, they converged on the same sort of decor when they were left to their own devices, with a lot of free time and no way to hire professionals.

This leads me to believe that there is a common psychological working among most people that leads to a convergence on this sort of decor. Simple, colorful, warm, inviting. This is the sort of thing people like to make for each other and themselves, when they want their surroundings to be pleasant rather than imposing and impressive.

Cory Doctorow calls Burning Man “a dry-run for a post-scarcity society.” When people aren’t impressed by displays of material, and with people having all their waking hours to do whatever they like, I expect a lot more of our world will be decorated in these personal ways. I find this to be aesthetically pleasing. :)

Mar 302020
 

I hear a lot about “that asshole that bought up all the hand sanitizer and has a garage-full that he can’t sell now.” And how he (and others like him) deserve punishment. This seems wrong to me. The real villain is the retailers that didn’t increase their prices as soon as it was apparent there would be a run on hand sanitizer. (Except actually, it’s the American Public)

At some point it became incredibly obvious to everyone in the nation that certain goods were about to become EXTREMELY in demand. Everyone would want them all at once. When this happens the best thing to happen is for the price of these to rise, for several reasons.

1. People will buy less. When hand sanitizer is $1/bottle and the masses are worried they’ll run out, they will fill their shopping carts to the brim with just that. It promptly runs out. Surprise. When hand sanitizer is $10/bottle, they’ll still buy a few, but leave a whole lot more to the next person. During a shortage, we WANT everyone to buy less. The mass public seems to think a few guys with a few crates of hand sanitizers in their garage stripped the entire country bare. This is laughable after a single minute of thought. The problem is everyone alive buys 100 bottles all at once so they’ll “have enough to ride this out.” It’s just enough for their family’s own personal use, of course, so it’s ok…

2. Substitute goods become viable. Distilled liquor can be made into hand sanitizer fairly easily. But it’s not cheap to do so, both because the liquor is more expensive, and because these distilleries are small operations rather than giant bottling factories. Right now, some distilleries are making hand sanitizer for their local communities and giving it out for free. They can’t afford to do so for very long, though. If the price of hand sanitizer were allowed to rise, more distilleries would be converted, and this could be a sustainable source of sanitizer for much longer.

Likewise, as surgical masks run out, people have been posting instruction on how to make DIY fabric face masks. Thank goodness these are technically a different product than disposable surgical masks, people are actually allowed to sell them at a profit.

3. Excess stockpiles are released. I pick up my toilet paper from Costco, which means that once every four months I get a four month supply. I still had 6+ weeks left when this hit. If the price got high enough, and it was legal, I would have been willing to part with half that on ebay. I’m willing to bet shelves will be restocked before I run out, and if not, well, that was a risk I took. But seeing as that’s not how this world works, I’m just sitting on my excess toilet paper. :/

4. Resources are moved from where they are in excess to where they are short. When Hurricane Katrina hit, a guy in Kentucky bought 19 generators. He and his family then rented a U-Haul and drove 600 miles to an area of Mississippi left without power. He offered to sell his generators for twice what he had paid for them. People wanted to pay, but he was arrested, thrown in a cage for four days, and his generators were confiscated. Are there towns in the middle of the country that are unaffected by coronavirus with extra supplies that cities in need could really use? Would the people there be willing to invest some labor and some of their money into getting those supplies where people will be happy to pay 5x more for them? Probably, but we’ll never know, because then those people would be locked in cages and their investments taken from them.

All these are just immediate effects in the first few days of a shortage crisis. And yet, none of this is allowed to happen. Retailers will not raise their prices because they are afraid of the public backlash, they can’t take the reputation hit. “That asshole” doesn’t care about his reputation, he’s not in this for the long haul. His work is to bring the prices to where they should be so that society can reap all the benefits of items 1 – 4. He’s making sure that people will buy only what they really need, rather than stocking up at the worst possible time. He’s ensuring that the places that REALLY need the sanitizer can get it! He’s bringing more expensive substitute goods into existence by allowing them to be sold sustainably. He’s encouraging others to release their stockpiles. He’s encouraging areas with excess to export into areas that need the sanitizer. What an asshole!

And because all of this takes investment money, and work, and causes the entire country to hate you, he pockets the difference between the retailer’s cowardly Stripped Shelves Prices, and the true Emergency Price. It is very inefficient, yes. It’s so inefficient, that the prices he’ll charge are probably a lot higher than what the Emergency Price would really be, if the retailers themselves had the courage to actually price the products at their correct Emergency Prices. A lot of people will end up paying a lot more than they would have otherwise, and most people will be stuck with nothing at all, because one garage can’t supply even half of one suburb, much less a whole state. But retailers are cowards, so that’s what we’re left with.

Except we wouldn’t be, if people weren’t such selfish jerks and wouldn’t riot over Emergency Pricing. It’s an Emergency, but they refuse to pay more to get supplies that are in huge demand. They’re used to getting everything cheap, and now. And what’s worse, they demand laws that make Emergency Pricing illegal, they call it “gouging” to make it sound bad, and they’ll get men with guns to take away any product sold at such prices and jail the people bringing it to market.

So you get what we have here, pictured. Which is the way they want it. Well, they get it.

Yes, there are times when “gouging” can be evil. A spike in prices of scarce goods that are in high demand in a emergency is not such a time.

Jan 182020
 

Spoilers for The Village.

The Village is a Shyamalan movie about a group of people that leave modern society to raise their children in an American Colonial time-period replica, so that their children will never be exposed to violence and alienation of modern life.

In a recent Discord conversation, it was speculated that maybe the only way to really get rid of racism would be if everyone agreed to suppress all their racial emotions, act as if they don’t exist, and raise the next generation in a world that pretends there is no racism. The children won’t internalize racist impulses, and hopefully won’t even realize that racism was ever a thing until they’re old enough to find out about it in history books and be shocked that people used to be so shallow.

Someone pointed out that this was basically what was being done in the 90s, and it fell apart.

It then occurred to me that this was also done for gender in the 90s, and with far more success. It legit worked on some people. Notably: myself.

In the 90s, basically every piece of children’s media had at least one girl in it, and the girl was always as capable as the boy(s). Gadget in Rescue Rangers was the nerdy engineer and got the crew out of tons of jams. The Pink and Yellow Power Rangers kicked an equal amount of ass as Blue, Black, and Red.

This “sex doesn’t matter” permeated everything. Lara Croft was disproportionate to entice male players, sure. But she was still a better athlete and killer than every man in her video games. Every female character in fighting games had just as much ability to win as the male characters. RPGs that let you choose what sex your character was gave the same starting stats regardless.

When I was a teenage, my heroes were Xena and Sarah Connor. I loved Buffy too. I admired Chyna, though I didn’t watch wrestling.

The un-dimorphism of the era extended to male action stars. Some of the most popular of the decade were fairly lithe. Neo certainly isn’t one of the muscle-bound lunks we got in the 80s. (Have you seen what happened to Hugh Jackman between the first X-Men movie and the latest Wolverine? yikes)

Yeah, we had the lunks too, if less frequently. But they were more like jokes. Schwarzenegger wasn’t a real person, he was a cartoon in human flesh.

And honestly, I’m not sure why I’m harping on action movies. Action movies were but one symptom, and they don’t even matter that much because most people have zero action sequences in their lifetimes. This “there’s no difference between men and women” extended into all domains. People were primarily presented as unique individuals that may have incidental differences in personality, but whose gender only mattered for mating/matching purposes. It didn’t define anything else about the characters.

Ally McBeal was so egalitarian that they didn’t even have sex-segregated bathrooms. Daria, the most Gen-X teen show ever created, only ever used gender-types as the butts of jokes to show how stupid they are. The main characters we identified with were basically androgynous. As it should be!

Of course the true encapsulation of 90s media, the one thing that sums up the decade and its ideals, is Friends. America has always used sitcoms as the mirror it sees itself in. And what did we see in Friends? A group of attractive young people that hooked up with each other a lot, but treated each other as equals, with basically no differences in temperament or treatment due to sex. They even all have roughly the same morphology, having similar heights and builds. Joey and Pheobe don’t quite fit, but they are caricatures —the throwbacks from the 80s that we laugh at in recognition of our own past follies.

Being raised in a striving middle-class suburb, I didn’t just get this message from media alone. I got this message from everyone around me. My parents, my teachers, everyone. There’s basically no difference between boys and girls, we’re all people.

The thing is, it worked. I didn’t care what sex/gender people were. It struck me as an insanely weird thing to care about, and I chalked it up to the same lunacy that made people hate other religions or skin colors. Our ancestors be fucking nuts, yo.

One of my favorite essays was P.Z. Myer’s post about how any differences between the sexes must be contained entirely on the Y chromosome (since only that one is different), and how ridiculous it is to think that things like “preference in colors” or “favorite genres of fiction” would be encoded within it. There’s seriously almost nothing different between us, and any difference that there is has to have put selective pressure on the Y-chromosome. C’mon guys, are we really this dumb? Selective pressure being put JUST on the Y chromosome?? Stop being a dogmatic, sexist fool.

It worked so well that I was legitimately shocked when I discovered the large differences in physical strength between the sexes, even among people of similar sizes, in my late 20s. (Yes, it took that long). It was a vast chasm in my model of reality that I plunged into, smashing into every protruding jagged edge and rock outcropping along the way.

So sure, maybe this view isn’t as accurate as it should be. But I still believe deeply that that was a better world for everyone. We managed, for the space of a few years between the mid 90s and early 00s, to create a world without gender. We still had sex – everyone could see sex, and it determined who you were sexually attracted to. But gender didn’t matter. There weren’t (much) gender roles or expectations or stereotypes. Everyone was an individual. And since gender didn’t exist, your pronouns didn’t matter. People defaulted to what it looked like your sex was.

Then 4th wave feminism happened. I could go on at length as to why 3rd wave feminism is the one true way and 4th wave feminism is vile trash that has destroyed incalculable amounts of value. But I won’t. I will, instead, bemoan the fact that it brought back gender, and made it THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. We had fixed the world in one small way. At least in some corners of it. Until, like someone finding a hidden store of small pox, 4th wave feminism couldn’t wait but re-infect the world with glee. We were almost there guys. And now? Now your gender defines you. It defines how you act, how you are treated by both strangers and friends, and the broader social system, and it decides what side of the culture wars you are on.

We were almost there.

No wonder the newest generation wants to opt out entirely, and go un-gendered. I would too, if I hadn’t lived through proof that the same results can be achieved in a better way. In the 90s, you could just be who you are and it was fine. Now you are either a strongly-identified gender, or you have to contort your appearance and lifestyle into aggressively signaling “I am no gender!” While also imposing costs on anyone around you. That’s fucked up man.

I guess that’s part of why I resented Them, and why I felt They were on the side of the 4th wave feminists shoring up the vital importance of gender. Opting out of gender isn’t something you bother to do if gender doesn’t matter. It’s only if one has bought into the “Gender totally matters for everything!!” hype that one would be so concerned they’re not seen as either one.

I get now that it wasn’t that they were intentionally reinforcing the narrative. They just didn’t have other options, given how badly gender equality has been mangled over the past decade.

I’m hopeful that 4th wave will eat itself sometime in the 20s. wokeness already appears to be imploding. Hopefully the next generation will get to grow up in a less polluted social atmosphere, once we get back to pre-2010 levels of dignity and human respect. The dream of the 90s is still alive, and not just in Portland.