Tempest in a Teapot?

As much as the latest backlash against social progress disheartens me, the actions and attitudes of people who champion social progress which actually hinder that progress disappoint me as much, if not more. Yes, people who champion social progress can hinder social progress, chiefly by spreading misinformation and acting in ways which alienate people, many of whom may be potential allies. I call such people–I’m thinking, right now, about extreme and/or misandrist feminists, the vegan police, scientifically illiterate vegans and environmentalists, anti-war activists who blame Islamist terrorist acts entirely on Western governments–social-justice dogmatists.

Yes, it’s infuriating that it’s 2016 and sexism, racism, speciesism, classism, heteronormativity, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry still exist. Yes, it’s maddening that people who engage in any form of bigotry use any number of excuses–for instance, religion, culture, peer pressure–to, well, excuse it, or those among their number deny the prejudice and bigotry happen, or exist, altogether. But condemning the folks who engage in prejudice and bigotry, and don’t respond well to being called out on it, is not a constructive response, or reaction. Nor is turning social justice, or a positive attitude towards social progress, into dogma.

I understand the frustration of social-justice dogmatists–of all types and stripes–but lashing out at people, condemning them for what they’re doing and/or not doing, and adopting a holier-than-thou attitude don’t solve anything; nor does it help to harbour attitudes of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘with us or against us’–we have to at least meet each other halfway. This doesn’t mean compromising our principles or accommodating dangerous ideas, but we have to at least try to understand those we don’t agree with.

Social-justice dogmatists mean well, and I believe they have the best of intentions, but their actions, and even some of their ideas, ultimately hurt their respective causes, mostly by acting holier-than-thou, alienating those who don’t agree with all of their ideas, and trying to silence those who disagree with them. Negative, hurtful actions and ideas negate the best of intentions.

The urge to make a difference is strong–and noble. Idealism is fine, but we must live in the real world. In this day and age, skepticism is important–especially if we want to actually make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants.

Backlash, Version…?

Within the last two or three years, I’ve noticed people fighting back against advances in rights for women, people of colour, poor people, veganism, and other progressions in society. The way I see it, these people fall into at least two groups: those with privilege–eg. the manosphere and so-called ‘race realists’–who don’t want to give it up, and thus want to uphold the status quo and even turn back the clock; and those who side with them because they don’t want to suffer the same sorts of abuse as feminists, vegans, or anyone else who champions social progress, of any kind. Either way, this anti-progress attitude aims to stop social progress, simply because a number of people with one form or another of privilege have decided they don’t want to share, or to treat people who aren’t exactly like them like they matter.

In this backlash, the term ‘social justice warrior’ is thrown around as a blanket insult towards anyone who indicates they care about the world we live in, and our fellow creatures of all species, sexes, sexual orientations, ethnicities, gender identities, creeds, and so on, as are the terms ‘white knight’ and ‘mangina,’ which alerts me to the manosphere’s need to make up its collective mind about how its members view non-manosphere males. (Also, those terms are misandrist, as they state men don’t really care about the world or anyone who isn’t exactly like them, and those who actually do aren’t really men. In short, these terms are products of biological determinism.)

I acknowledge that those who give themselves the labels ‘vegan,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘anti-imperialist,’ and other labels associated with social progress of any kind say stupid things, and take things too far, but those participating in the backlash against social progress who deal with these folks use the same brush to paint everyone else, including more rational people, who give themselves labels associated with any kind of social progress, simply because a few people with privilege have an ‘I don’t wanna share’ attitude. I realize it’s human nature to generalize, but it’s important to know when doing so can do damage, particularly in the area of poisoning the well. This goes for everyone, whatever label(s) we give ourselves.

I’m a vegan, a feminist, I care about the environment, LGBTQ rights, and racial and ethnic equality, and I don’t care what anyone believes as long as it doesn’t negatively impact society. But I understand the importance of making sure one has one’s facts, and has them straight, before speaking, if one doesn’t want to make an ass of oneself. I understand misandry is a form of sexism and misanthropy is a form of speciesism (humans are animals–religious zealots and ‘spiritual’ types, get over it). No doubt there are others like me. Ergo, those who participate in the current backlash against social progress use the lunatic fringe of all social-progress movements to strawman, and poison the well against, the more rational among us–and we do exist.

Non- and anti-vegans, those who call themselves ‘men’s rights activists (MRAs),’ ‘race realists,’ etc., benefit from the status quo, and don’t want to see anything change as a result, apparently not realizing the status quo hurts them, too. I understand a lot of these folks operate out of ignorance, apparently having dealt only with the crackpots among those who disagree with them, and blind even to the ways they benefit from the status quo, never mind how it hurts them. The way I see it, only a tiny portion of the above entities want the status quo to stay as it is because of the ‘I don’t wanna share’ mindset. I’m guessing they can’t see how they themselves can benefit from social progress.

I know it shouldn’t shock me there are still people, in this day and age, who are afraid of change–of any kind. Afraid to let go of whatever privilege they have, perhaps because they don’t think they’re important without it. It doesn’t help there are those willing to deliberately misrepresent ideas, such as feminism, veganism, the struggle for racial and ethnic equality, and rights for LGBTQ folk and others who have never had a lot of power in society, and are willing to use the lunatic fringe of movements for social progress in their misrepresentations. I, for one, hope the numbers of the people afraid of change, and who actively fight against it, will peter out as time goes by, but all those of us who want change can do until then is educate people, and fight the status quo.

Jumping at Shadows: What to Do About Syrian Refugees?

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s definitely true in 2016, except the only things that have changed are the names. In 2001, the name was Taliban, soon to be followed by the names al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah; now it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), or the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL. And now the world has to deal with people fleeing Syria to get away from ISIS and the havoc it wreaks.

I’ll get this out of the way: I am not defending Islam, or Islamism. I’m making the case that we should make it easy for people fleeing dangerous situations to find a safe space, and to make those people feel safe and welcome where they go. I know that’s kind of difficult when we have blowhards like Donald Trump flinging verbal feces at everyone from the Middle East, Central Asia, and other nations ruled by sharia and other Islamic-inspired laws, playing on the fears of the general population, but let’s not assume that everyone from these areas has the same morals, values, and mores as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other Islamist or fundamentalist Muslim groups or cults, but, rather, just ordinary people who want nothing more than to live their lives. Just because people identify themselves as Muslims doesn’t mean they’re a threat, but if we treat them like they are, they could very well become one. Let’s face it: ISIS, and other groups like it, take advantage of people’s frustration and feelings of isolation and powerlessness, so laws and measures that make it practically impossible for self-identifying Muslims to start fresh and go about their lives breed potential recruits for groups like ISIS. In short, shunning refugees just because they happen to self-identify as Muslim is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every developed nation screens newcomers, immigrants and refugees, regardless of ethnicity, nation of origin, or belief–or non-belief. We have laws on our books, and police and courts to enforce them. If anyone breaks the law, let the cops and the courts deal with it–it’s kinda-sorta their job, anyhow. Granted, this is not a perfect system–hell, it’s not even foolproof (but, then again, nothing is)–but these measures were put in place to keep society safe. And, let’s face it, with terrorists and criminals–regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or any other circumstances–where there’s a will, they’ll find a way. But let’s not use this fact as an excuse to exclude anyone, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or any other circumstances.

I’ll be one of the last people to deny that religious fundamentalism–of any type or stripe–causes a lot of damage, and is a genuine threat. But, just as we don’t paint all Christians, Jews, or other religious folk with the same brush we use to paint their hard-line counterparts, let’s acknowledge that not all Muslims wish death to infidels or want to impose sharia worldwide. The current fear-mongering aimed at the Syrian refugees, and others like them, will just create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is definitely one of those situations where cooler heads must prevail.

All My Thoughts on Globalization

Talk on this subject has been dormant within the circles I move in here in Vancouver, but I’m sure the topic will come up again before long–this is Vancouver, after all, and people here who style themselves activists have a real bone to pick with globalization–or, rather, what they think it is. So, before that happens, I’ll tell you all my thoughts (right now) on globalization.

Wikipedia defines globalization as ‘the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views (sic), products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.’ This integration and interchange has occurred for thousands of years, at least since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. Sure, much of globalization from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century manifested in the form of imperialism, but discoveries were made and exchanges took place. Now, in the age of air travel and the Internet, globalization is inevitable. Thanks to today’s technology and communications infrastructure, the world is growing increasingly interconnected and pluralistic. It even helps with activism, by enabling activists to coordinate their activities via the Internet–the 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for instance.

Now I have to address a couple of major issues I have with those who bash globalization: first, the way they freak out when they see anyone in a different nation (especially if said nation is underdeveloped) wearing, say, a Roots or Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt (with or without traditional garb) while themselves enjoying things such as sushi, yoga, or anime in their own backyards–apparently not realizing they can’t have their cake and eat it, too–and talk about the concept of globalization as if it’s not a system of give and take–in effect, confusing, and conflating, the definitions of globalization and imperialism, the latter of which is what they’re really against. The thing is, ‘globalization’ and ‘imperialism’ are not synonyms. Granted, globalization can be done better, by acknowledging power dynamics between nations and ensuring more developed nations don’t take advantage of less developed nations; however, the attitude of ‘what’s best for business’ being the highest priority, rather than globalization, has wreaked ecological, economic, social, and other forms of havoc. P.S.: Complaints about people in different nations wearing, eating, or using, etc. items made by North American, European, etc. companies just create a tempest in a teapot.

I’m all for calling out injustice and inequality. But let’s make sure we learn the definitions of the words we use, and stick to the real issues.

The Simple Life?

It’s 2016, and I still encounter people who yearn, and call, for what they consider a ‘simple life,’ like the lives our ancestors lived. Now, I have no problem with people making their own clothes, growing their own fruits and vegetables, etc. What I do have a problem with is people decrying those aspects of modern development and progress which, among other things, keep us alive, and make our lives easier.

These are the folks who protest things like genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops, demanding instead an all-organic-all-the-time-regardless-of-the-circumstances lifestyle, call for everyone to ‘get off the grid,’ and protest development of any kind, even in underdeveloped, or Third World, nations, going so far as to romanticize the ‘traditional’ ways of those nations. (Tradition for tradition’s sake is, in my humble opinion, foolish.) And these folks say they protest these things because they’re concerned about, among other things, the environment; the claimed concern about the environment has gotten to the point where the desire for the ‘simple life’ has been confused, and conflated, with environmentalism. But are these people really concerned about the environment? I actually don’t doubt they are, but I also believe they’re trying to have it both ways, in that they fight any kind of development anywhere in the world, while themselves enjoying the fruits of that development at home. Never mind that people who don’t have access to these developments–for instance, farming technology and medicine–die because they don’t have these developments or access thereto. It seems, to me, that the anti-development, anti-GM, all-organic-all-the-time crowd is made up mainly of middle- to upper-class people who were bred, if not born, in more or less sheltered ivory towers, who apparently can’t be bothered checking their privilege at the door.

I don’t support science for the sake of supporting science; I support science because it has a proven track record of actually working. For instance, genetically engineered crops such as golden rice have the potential to feed people all over the world, including those who have no other options, whereas crop yields of organic farming, by itself, are 25% less than those of conventional farming. The folks who oppose GE crops of any kind and cry ‘organic is the only way,’ and oppose any other kind of development and progress, claim they have scientific evidence to back up their claims, but, if they ever present any, it’s bogus, as the anti-progress crowd actively misrepresents science,  and/or use scare tactics and appeals to emotion to get the public to listen to them, and to get what they want. If this crowd has science on its side, why do the people therein feel the need to use such tactics? And let’s not forget that, as often happens when this crowd gets what it wants, people die. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t consider any ‘solution’ that results in genocide on a scale that would make Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet look like humanitarians to be any kind of solution at all.

The truth is, the world is much different place now, in 2016, than it was even one hundred years ago. We’ve come too far, in terms of scientific, technological, social, and other forms of progress and development, to ‘get off the grid,’ turn the clock back and live the lives our ancestors lived. But, because of the scientific and technological advancements we have in this day and age, we in developed societies live longer and better lives than our ancestors did. I realize the planet we live on is the only one we know we’ve got, and I want to protect what we’ve got for the sake of future generations, but I’m not about to give up the advancements I’ve spent my life taking for granted and go back to the Dark Ages, or earlier. Also, what’s deemed the ‘simple life’ is actually anything but–our ancestors didn’t have the machines or other advancements that we have, so they actually had to perform hours of (literally as well as figuratively) backbreaking work to feed, house, and clothe themselves, and their life expectancies were shorter than ours are–hell, children have been known to die, sometimes before their fifth birthdays, mostly because of diseases which, in our era, are fully preventable, by way of hygiene and medicine. And yet those who live among us now who call for the world to give up the advances we have and our current quality of life and return to the ways of our ancestors don’t seem to realize that the vast majority of people who would do so wouldn’t last very long. Also, the vast majority of us, especially in developed, industrialized societies, after years of taking things like running water/indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating, medicine, and other scientific and technological advancements for granted, are too soft to stick this sort of thing out for very long.

That’s what angers me most about these people who decry the advancements we have now and call for a return to the ways of those who came before us: They ignore reality, cherry-pick the past (much like folks like David Barton), and use sensationalism, and even doomsday rhetoric, in an attempt to get the rest of us on board with their program(s). Alarmism sells ideas, but Chicken Little rhetoric is not what we need right now. Progress is not only a good thing, it’s necessary. But the world needs progress that benefits everyone, and doesn’t just make someone a buck.

Cultural Appropriation

It’s finally time for me to address an issue I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and which has occupied my thoughts for quite some time now (and may make me seem like a bandwagoner here): the issue of cultural appropriation. I’ll sum up my thoughts here: While context is important in regards to cultural exchange of any kind, and I acknowledge white people especially have to take history and social reality into account when we adopt aspects of non-white cultures (since we’re the ones with the most privilege), there is such a thing as taking things too far.

Take, for instance, the idea that white people shouldn’t wear clothing, jewellery, or body decor (such as mendhi) from cultures not our own, especially of our own accord, as doing so can be considered cultural appropriation. Clothing, objects, and symbols of any kind have no meaning in and of themselves; people give these things meanings. And cultures–past and present–are made up of people. Granted (as an example), a non-Native wearing a war bonnet is the equivalent of someone who never served in the Canadian Forces wearing a Victoria Cross–that I can agree with, especially considering the war bonnet, as an object and as a symbol, hasn’t been adopted into the non-Native mainstream to date. But is it really cultural appropriation if anyone, regardless of ethnicity, adopts something, or a few things, from one or more different cultures which have been not only adopted, but absorbed, into the Western mainstream?

Now, let’s look at the hypocrisy of those on the lunatic fringe (let’s be fair here) of those who complain about what they consider ‘cultural appropriation’–more specifically, disciples of the New Age movement who subscribe to the belief that what they consider cultural appropriation is wrong. For instance, Jeffrey Armstrong, Heather Lounsbury, and Jordan Pearce (of ‘Spirit Science’ fame) peddle products, services, and rhetoric modeled on some version of ancient Eastern philosophy, such as Ayurveda (in the case of Armstrong) and traditional Chinese medicine (Lounsbury). The thing is, these folks are white. Will those New Agers who whinge about cultural appropriation go after them for actually misappropriating other cultures–and for their own personal gain–or will they resort to special pleading? Especially when one considers that New Age products, services, and rhetoric are geared towards middle-class people, the vast majority of whom are white…

Because of globalization (a topic I’ll cover another time), the world has become more interconnected, and thus there is more cultural exchange and cross-pollination than ever before, so, except for a few situations, it’s ridiculous to talk about cultural appropriation, especially when originating cultures can access aspects of their own cultures, especially once those aspects have been adopted and absorbed into the mainstream. As John McWhorter once wrote, “With gay white men and black women, for example, it’s not as if the black women are being left without their culture after the “theft,” … The idea that when we imitate something we are seeking to replace it rather than join it is weak. … Every language in the world is shot through with words and grammatical patterns from other languages—that is, signs of people in the past doing what we would call ‘appropriating.'”

All of that said, I agree it’s not unreasonable to ask that we show respect for other cultures, and to ensure all cultural exchanges and borrowings are done on a level playing field. That is, everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gets credit for what they create; we not misrepresent, nor perpetuate stereotypes of, other cultures (Katy Perry, here’s looking at you); there’s enough for everyone (think yoga and what we in the West think of as ethnic food); and there are no double standards (think Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and Miley Cyrus’s dreadlocks).

In conclusion, like with everything else, it’s important to keep the subject of cultural appropriation in perspective.

An Open Letter to Progressives on International Blasphemy Rights Day

Today–September 30–marks International Blasphemy Rights Day. While the majority of the nonreligious are posting comic posts on social-media outlets today to mark this day as a day to criticize religion and say doing so is OK, I’m going to use today as an opportunity to address the left in the developed world, in regards to its stance on religion.

To all of you progressives:

I believe your minds are in the right place in regards to wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and not just a privileged few. But giving a free-hall pass to people who commit heinous acts in the name of religion is not the way to go, nor is making excuses for them, nor attempting to shift the blame onto other entities, such as the governments of industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc.–though I will be among the last people to say these nations don’t have shitty policies, which effect the world beyond their borders.

Now on to the topic at hand: Islam. Islam is a religion, not a race–let’s at least try to distinguish between the two terms. Also, why are you sending us the message that Islam is beyond criticism, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the enemy of humanity, is Islamophobic, bigoted, racist, pro-war, pro-occupation, pro-imperialism, etc.? Islam is not special, and does not warrant, nor should it be given, special consideration or treatment. There is a line between defending people who happen to be Muslims and demanding Islam be considered above reproach, critique, and even mockery, and treated as such. For instance, you’ll have to make like everyone else and live with it when people call out Islamic apologists like Hamza Tzortzis and Reza Aslan whenever they talk crap. And, lastly for this topic, stop it with the promiscuous use of the term ‘Islamophobia’–it doesn’t do anyone any favours, and we need to keep this discussion moving if we want to solve problems. If we want to end religious privilege–everywhere–we have to bring Islam to the same level as all religious and superstitious belief systems.

I would also like to take this chance to point out that criticizing, satirizing, and parodying religion, as opposed to giving it privileged status, does not infringe on people’s right to be religious. In societies such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, European nations, etc., people have the right to believe whatever the hell we want; what we don’t have the right to do is impose our beliefs on other people, in any way, or use our beliefs to infringe on the rights of others. If you want a better world, you should acknowledge the damage religion–and yes, that includes Islam–does, and help ensure it does not have a privileged place in society, but instead is kept in check like any other ideology is, and should be.