Social justice and storytelling

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer not to have sexist or racist tropes in my stories, it’s just that from a creative standpoint, my primary objection is to tropes themselves; they should be subverted, satirized or better yet, avoided altogether. Tropes, racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or not, are creative minefields.

For this reason, representation in-front of the camera, or in-character, is important to me creatively, not primarily for social justice reasons, but because it makes the story more real. The umpteenth visit to “The Planet of The White People” should become tiresome for anyone, left-wing or otherwise.

But I don’t see story telling as an exercise that should be undertaken by committee. What this means is that consultation has it’s limits; yes, a white writer can for example go into various Asian communities to ask questions (and should seriously consider paying consultation fees – there’s no reason why this information should just be free), but this doesn’t automatically make members of those communities part of the writing team; they may get a credit, but unless specifically hand-picked for the task from the beginning, they don’t just get editorial authority.

Creative integrity excludes like that.

From a social justice perspective though, there is an obvious if difficult workaround: representation at the writing/production level. Publishers can seek out members of a community or social group to write about that community or social group. Universities can review their admissions policies to check for institutionalized biases that arbitrarily exclude various social groups. Hollywood could be more thoughtful about which producers it supports, and be more pro-active about inclusion at that level. And people who care can campaign for these things.

I think it’s a little conspicuous though, that given how much attention has been given to representation of minorities in casting decisions, just how little the staffing of direction, production and writing positions have been similarly considered. A hundred and one hot-takes, with most focused on the limelight when their stated problems run a lot deeper, speaks of a culture pathologically attracted to celebrity.

The cogs and wheels behind the edifice may not be as glamourous, but they’re no less fundamental to increasing representation. Any cultural obsession that obscures that fact can reasonably be considered a political obstacle for anyone seeking progress.

Social justice is a consideration for some, creatively. But so is creative independence. There is a limit to what critique by third parties can contribute, and social justice doesn’t magically extend these limits. Unless you’re living in a totalitarian state, neither does any other political imperative.

From the misogynist nerds who think they own Rick and Morty, to woke-acting narcissists who think they get to provide directorial input on Doctor Who via social media, to any number of vain social media didacts who just can’t butt out, there’s no shortage of jerks online who’ll co-opt any political cause – left or right – if they think it’ll enable them to insinuate themselves into someone else’s creative process. A little bit of professional courtesy wouldn’t go astray here.

I could probably think of a thing or two about Cleverman that I’m not 100% behind, and I could probably go on to offer a critique. But there’s a huge leap between that and going on to pontificate about what Ryan Griffen needs to do with his work, as if he were obliged to listen to me in the first place. Well he’s not obliged, so I’ll not bother. Obviously white fellas are pretty apt to shoehorn their way into other people’s expression because on balance we’re raised with an implicit, unrealistic sense of our own importance. But as a general rule, ideally nobody should be doing any shoehorning.

I don’t see this being any different if the creator in question just happens to be conservative, either.

Perhaps if something was so far-right that it literally incited political violence, there’d be a Millian corn-seller argument there to stop the expression in its tracks – but that’s an extreme that goes well beyond mere critique. Similarly, if a particularly right-wing text defamed, there could be ethical and legal grounds for a demand of cease-and-desist and possibly compensation. Again though, that kind of injunction goes well beyond the realm of critique.

Litigation and indictment aren’t creative or analytic tools. (They’re not necessarily ethical all the time either).

Short of these kinds of injunctions, critics have very limited entitlements. They can critique. They can boycott. They can sulk. They can devise their own creative visions and attempt to build upon them. Ideally such creative visions can get a fair hearing, although often they don’t. The arts world can be rough, and is rarely ever fair.

But critics can’t just magically front-up via viral media and magically expect to be made a de facto part of an existing production or editorial team. And any critique undertaken with that sense of entitlement is bound to be self-indulgently bad. Any creative process that caves in to this kind of entitlement is likely to break – its reason for being being necessarily watered-down.

Maybe any given work of art, free of intrusion, will still turn out to be garbage. No political persuasion has ever been substantially represented without multiple failures occurring, and there’s still a role for critique in documenting these failure after the fact. Entitled didacticism still isn’t going to make this any better though.

Want to critique Star Wars to make the franchise better? Tough. It’s not your franchise to make better. Someone else may find your critique useful though.

Progressive or not, good critique is primarily for the public interest. It’s not a means of grasping control for one’s self. Professional boundaries matter.

So where does that demarcation leave white, male, heterosexual, left-wing creators who do have a care about social justice, but also a regard for professional boundaries? Hopefully nowhere too self-pitying. Hopefully nowhere crying and moaning that a woman has won out. Hopefully somewhere getting used to seeing other ethnicities on occasion being promoted above and beyond them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that while straight male left-wing creators may or may not have had ample experience at getting used to the success of gay male creators, the prospect of successful lesbians may still cause resentment. This is pathetic if true.

Beyond these realizations, good faith, a respectful curiosity regarding humanity, and an aversion to group-membership tropes are to my mind, if not ideal or all-encompassing, sufficient. I certainly have no intention of ticking off every box on some officious blogger’s checklist-for-wokeness, and unless somehow brainwashed, I doubt I ever will.

There will always be conflict occurring between these concerns every now and then, and I think creators need to resign themselves to that fact. When given the chance, I probably will consult with others that I trust, in private, if it’s not an imposture upon them. And I will peruse critique on an ongoing basis.

Unsolicited edicts from self-appointed editors though? Nope. Not a part of the process.

~ Bruce

Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.

***

“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.

***

Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.

Apparently my droogies ain’t hardcore, no more…

A couple of years ago, I wished Archbishop Dr Jensen, amongst others, a Happy Easter, for what was in my view, a gift – in particular, his over-privileged, petulant whining about atheists who wouldn’t submit to the will of Archbishops God. It was political gold.

But I’d like to thank another Jensen from the Sydney Anglicans for yet more wild speculation about people they’re in-touch with. I wish him a Happy Easter as well.

This time it’s not atheists being discussed, at least not directly (I mean, you can refuse The Lord’s message, and go for a bit of the biff), but brawlers.

All cities are violent, even though cities were ostensibly founded to protect us from violence. But among Australian cities, Sydney is famous for its love of a good ding-dong, a donnybrook, a barney. Cultured Melbourne is far too genteel for that kind of behaviour; sweet Adelaide even more so. – Emphasis added.”

(Michael Jensen, 2012)

Jensen waxes nostalgic about biff-clichés, but I’d like to think I can be a bit nostalgic about that kind of ‘sin’ as well. Let me tell you a little about my experience of Adelaide, South Australia, and its surroundings.

If cities are violent, such as being worthy of note, you’d expect country towns to be comparatively peaceful. In Port Lincoln, South Australia, I got into plenty of stupid fights as a kid; I got into my first knife fight at age eleven or twelve. (An interesting side note to all of the knife fights, then and since; the other guy always had the knife).

In 1991, amidst other adventures, I took a number of thumpings (under pillow, or Yellow Pages), and enjoyed a brief encounter between my scrotum and a hot lamp bulb, to see if I could be trusted to keep a secret. Fun stuff.

In 1992, after escaping Port Lincoln, one of my former acquaintances blew the brains out of one of my Father’s weed-smoking buddies, and brain-damaged another poor fellow, in Lincoln National Park. Glad I missed it, even as ‘genteel’ as it must have been.

A number of the people who managed to escape, have similar tales to tell, although I guess technically, if I’m to adhere to Jensen’s wisdom, I’d have to confess that a former mate, who I’ve been informed was killed a few years back by a screwdriver through the neck, met his end in Perth. You are probably well aware, this is nowhere near Adelaide.

Then there’s the sweet tales I could tell of my sweet stay in Elizabeth Vale; a suburb in Adelaide’s north, where I lived within walking distance of one of the homes of the Snowtown Killers (at around the time they were actively bumping people off for their Centrelink payments).

Two murders (not including any of the Snowtown murders) within the first two months of living in the area. Knife-fights between neighbours; knife-on-bare-fist; knife-on-knife; knife-on-garden-rake; knife-on-shard-of-glass…

…don’t get me started on the car-on-bedsit, or the syringe-based violence.

Sweet, genteel, Adelaide!

This is anecdote, of course. Not statistics. I’m sure throngs of people from Sydney could tell similar tales.

And what anecdote may Mr Jensen have by way of example? I’m sure those having experienced violence, those in need of respite and pastoral care could take, if not solace, then a sense of solidarity, or even awe, from Mr Jensen’s tales.

“The churches of this town have not always been above a bit of brawling themselves. You have to be tough to survive as a god-botherer in a town that despises wowsers so much. The Presbyterian minister John Dunmore Lang was himself a famously strident and uncompromising debater in his time.”

(Michael Jensen, 2012)

Cool story. I’d almost mistaken Jensen’s article for a middle class, toss-fest.

Happy Easter, folks.

~ Bruce

(HT: Neil).

A short civics of sexual envy

There are any number of common phrases that rub me up the wrong way, and among them is “sexual jealousy”. Usually the term is applied to some poor sod who either hasn’t got his (and it’s usually a guy) wick wet in a while, or harbours a resentment towards people who have a sex life.

Why is this a problem? Envy is when you harbour a desire for something you don’t have. Jealousy is when you harbour a desire for something that has been taken away from you.

Even if it’s over an ex sexual partner, it shouldn’t be called “sexual jealousy” because neither one’s ex-partner, nor their sex, is something for another person to own. They own themselves and they own their sexuality, and they grant access as they see fit. Nobody’s taking anything.

The only way sex can be taken away from someone is when one’s own sexuality is impaired by an external force – say chemical castration or a particularly nasty accident that leaves one physiologically unable to engage sexually. But this kind of thing isn’t usually what is on one’s mind when they say “sexual jealousy”.

So for a start, let’s begin by calling what we are talking about by the term “sexual envy“.

I find people who manage their sexual envy poorly particularly irritating at times. And so do a lot of people. The negative consequences of poorly managed sexual envy can be anywhere between someone being a bit of a jerk, to being a sex offender.

I’ve been meaning to post on this as a “people who shit me” post for a while now (it’s been an issue of annoyance for years and years of living amongst geeks), but I think I’ll play it a bit less rhetorical this time.

Feeling entitled to something nobody is entitled to

It becomes a lot more obvious when you appreciate that sexual envy finds its foundation in sexual entitlement – “I should have that”. Sexual envy isn’t just a melancholy over not having one’s desires met. Furthermore, sexual entitlement, if true, would necessitate sexual obligation on the part of some other sexual partner irrespective of consent.

Sex is a private matter. Not necessarily private in that we shouldn’t hear about it in public, but private in that it is in no part whatsoever a part of the commons. Consent via a private social contract is therefore necessary and thus entitlement to a sexual partner is impossible. People who seek to appease their own sexual desires by avoiding these contracts are what we call sex offenders.

The first and foremost thing that the sexually envious have to come to terms with is that they aren’t entitled to a partner, and therefore there is no justification for their envy – just explanations. They don’t have a reason to be envious, just reasons that they are.

It’s not always a serious problem

To a small extent, this is understandable and can be tolerated.

To cite a different instance of akrasia from my own life, I have moments of anger over a number of tragic deaths that have occurred amongst friends and family. I’m not entitled to have my friends enjoy immortality, or for them to be immune to risk. Death happens.

I don’t think it too much to expect that I get a bit of consideration around these kind of events, that I’m not going to be able to be entirely reasonable. But I still have to come to terms with, and properly manage this anger as best I can so that it doesn’t consume me, or become a problem for other people. When the shit isn’t hitting the fan, I think I do pretty well.

Similarly, I think we can afford to tolerate the occasional “all the good guys are either taken of gay”, or “I won’t be getting any tonight” by the sex-starved. This much is just harmless venting. A minor akrasia with the implicit, stoic recognition that things are what they are.

But there are plenty of ways in which poorly managed sexual envy, short of motivating sex offences and other, more disturbing phenomena, can still be the basis for antisocial behaviour.

Plans and pick-up lines

“I’m planning to get laid tonight!” says the young guy who has no idea who he is “planning” to have sex with. Given that consent is required, plans shouldn’t be made in the absence of the other, prospective partner. “I want to get laid tonight” is far more appropriate. If you do, you do. If you don’t, you don’t. And it’s not just rhetoric this. How many young men (and it’s usually men) go out for a night on the town with expectations (i.e. sense of entitlement, predicated on the obligation of a stranger) of getting laid, only to wind up in a fight? Or looking stupid (which they probably deserve)?

At the very least, this kind of attitude shows a premeditated disposition of bad faith towards potential sexual partners. It’s the kind of motivation that lay behind many a rehearsal of pick-up lines, which largely fail for this reason – if not the pathetic desperation, the inept attempt at manipulation is the ultimate turn off. The object of affection is left in the position of accepting the advance at the expense of their self-respect – “I actually slept with him after he used that line?”

For anyone to say “yes” to this kind of approach is to humiliate one’s self. “If I told you that you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?” Seriously, does anyone seriously expect another human being to abandon their self-respect just to get into the sack with someone spouting this kind of rubbish?

The plans and rehearsals are predicated upon a lack of respect, a failure to fully appreciate the concept of consent and again, as sense of entitlement. And it doesn’t go unnoticed – which is why it doesn’t work, except with the most sad and desperate and most willing to humiliate themselves.

Envy as ulterior motive

You’ve probably seen this oodles of times. People who go around critiquing other people’s relationships in instrumentally misleading fashion.

“She’s not good enough for him”. “He doesn’t treat her right”.

Either through gossip about how Ms X was a tramp, or how Mr Y doesn’t pay proper attention to his partner, it’s pretty much the same formula at its roots. Feign genuine concern for the welfare of the object of desire, cook up charges against the competition and naturally it (conveniently) follows that one’s self is the best candidate as lover.

It’s about as obvious to everyone as plans and bad pick-up lines. Everyone except perhaps the person performing the mental gymnastics. And again, it is predicated upon a lack of respect for the person desired, a failure to fully appreciate the concept of consent and yet again, a sense of entitlement.

Do you really think that she’d let her boyfriend talk to her like that? Do you really think she has so little self respect? Could it just be that they are having a bit of a joke? Do you really think so little over her to think that she actually needs your critical analysis?

Do you really think that just because they let you into a part of their lives, that they’ve invited you into the most personal aspects of their relationship? Did they consent to you being there?

What makes you think that you’re even a candidate for replacing the existing partner, even if she does give him the flick? What a sense of entitlement!

Emotional fallout

When there is a stoicism involved, with the implication that there is no entitlement, the emotional fallout from a friend with a lousy sex life is one of those things that friends just put up with. When the problem is amplified by depression, or anxiety, support should be able to be found from the appropriate health care professional – such support in my view, unlike sex itself, being a part of the commons. (Indeed, I think that those of the sexually envious denied a nationally funded mental health care scheme when they need it, have grounds to be angry – on this count they are entitled.)

But when it gets to the point that entitlement is surreptitiously assumed, as is the case when the sexually envious think their envy is justified, and people start to be treated in bad faith, that’s when tolerance can quite reasonably be wound back.

“Take me out with you so I can get laid as well!”

No.

For one, and healthy minded outing doesn’t treat sexuality as some kind of hunt. Sex just happens. A healthy sex life is a function of a healthy social life and a “hunt” isn’t healthy.

If your friends are getting laid, and they’re not hooking up in dubious arrangements, odds on they’re not “hunting” . Odds on they’re just treating people right.

And seriously, do you think the guys or gals or guys and gals want to go out for a night on the town, with someone who views the outing as a “hunt”? Someone with a penchant for “she’s not good enough for him”, or “he doesn’t treat her right”?

The only sexual entitlement is for one’s sex life to be free of coercion from outside of one’s mutually informed and consenting partnership. Being cock-blocked by the sexually envious,  constitutes such a form of coercion. Sure, the guys and girls may have not been out on the hunt, but if they hook up in good faith, who is the sexually envious to get in the way?

Entitlement squared

The emotional fallout can be hard on people having to deal with the sexually envious and putting up with it, when entitlement is assumed, is really an act of charity. People don’t have to put up with behaviours motivated in bad faith, not even from their friends.

I’ll say it again – it’s charity. And I mean “charity” with a specific meaning.

Welfare can come from the commons, in which case people have an entitlement and should expect it (within the limits of the tragedy) from a civilised society. Welfare can come from charity, which is not a part of the commons, which therefore people don’t have an entitlement to.

When sexual envy dominates a certain kind of private social interaction, to the extent of motivating behaviour in bad faith, the sexually envious remain within the private social setting from the charity of the other parties. They aren’t entitled to get laid on a night out on the town, and they aren’t entitled to being taken out on a night on the town by their friends if they’re going to behave like that.

I think this is true in a broader range of social settings, if not all social settings.

If the sexually envious insinuate themselves closer to someone else’s partner at a social gathering, they can expect to be ejected from it. They can expect to be ejected from their network of friends altogether. In a workplace setting they can expect their due warnings, then to be fired.

The sexually envious aren’t entitled to sex, and they aren’t entitled to having their sense of entitlement entertained.

After an extended period of this kind of behaviour, or if after due warnings, the sexually envious need to realise just how much their relationships are an act of charity on the part of other, private citizens. Charity that can be repealed with out further warning.

The sexually envious really need to take responsibility to stop it getting this far in the first place.

Diminished capacity

It can be argued that sexual envy is in some cases at in part pathological. At least I don’t intend to prejudice this.

But all the same, unless those having a problem dealing with sexual envy are institutionalised or in a prison for sex offences, the odds are that they still have other faculties in tact. It’s just that for the sake of their particular weakness, they lean very heavily upon their social network.

This reasonably comes with a cost and the cost is control.

If the sexually envious acknowledge that they have diminished capacity in managing something that has consequences for others, it falls to the capacity of others to deal with it. In any effective deferral of such capacity comes the deferral of some form of decision making.

This is reinforced by the realisation that one’s social network are within their rights to abandon someone treating them in bad faith. They have an entitlement to say no to private social interaction just the way that a potential partner can say no to sex.

I don’t think this ultimatum is one made in bad faith – the diminished capacity is in itself a kind of ultimatum in the way it limits choices, and having this foisted upon a social network is what drives the ultimatum in the first place. The sexually envious with diminished capacity had an ultimatum hanging over their heads in the first place. There’s no loss of freedom in this arrangement, just accounting.

So when the sexually envious pleads to their social network that they can’t control themselves properly, they are inviting the social network to take control for them. They are inviting the social network to set boundaries for them anywhere between minor considerations to total exclusion. The members of the social network have the right to protect themselves from the full array of antisocial behaviours stemming from sexual envy.

The sexually envious need to realise that this extends to discussion of control. Like it or lump it, the sexually envious need to realise that boundaries preventing discussion of matters of control in bad faith, can include boundaries preventing discussion of control altogether. Negotiation isn’t an option unless given by way of charity.

Ultimately, the sexually envious who plead diminished capacity can reasonably be excepted to accept the terms their social networks give them, or can reasonably be excepted to leave their social networks altogether. And before they whine about being emotionally exploited – their obedience in return for emotional needs being met – they should consider their track record amongst their cohort.

The fact that they are still in the cohort in the first place, with no conditions made before the plea of diminished capacity, shows the good faith and grace they have already been shown – to deny this would be disrespectful. If the seriously sexually envious individual has a cohort willing to take them on board, warts and all, they should be happy and grateful, not spiteful and selfish.

What the sexually envious (from the benign to the malicious) need to really get their heads around

  • Not having a sex life is not pleasant and is clearly sub-ideal, but it is not a problem necessitating a solution. To require a solution would first require an entitlement to be unmet, but there is no sexual entitlement to be met or unmet in the first place.
  • The problem (if any) necessitating a solution in the first place is the treatment of sex as an entitlement, which necessarily presupposes sexual obligation from others. Which is wrong.
  • If they treat sex as an entitlement, it’s probably a good thing they aren’t getting it. People so selfish don’t deserve the intimate trust of others.
  • When they aren’t getting sex because they treat potential partners in bad faith, it’s because self-respecting potential partners are turned off by this. And being turned down in these cases is a good thing because it preserves the self-respect of the person being approached for sex, while costing the suitor nothing worthwhile that they possessed in the first place.
  • Trying to not see sex as an entitlement, to try and get laid, is not a solution. The goal of getting laid, from an envious perspective, presupposes entitlement and is thus doomed to fail if overcoming entitlement is the primary goal. Which it should be.
  • The sexually envious are entitled to medical assistance for depression, anxiety and any other medical reason making things worse. They aren’t entitled to the charity of having their friends deal with acts of bad faith – and in cases of chronic bad faith, aren’t even entitled to the friends they treat this way. Psychiatrists, social workers and others are paid for that and it’s for the sexually envious, not their friends, to pick up the slack.
  • The sexually envious who manage their emotions so poorly as to regularly engage with their cohort in bad faith, can’t expect their cohort to keep them around without conditions being met. Nor can they expect their cohort to be open to negotiation on these conditions.
  • Being sex-starved but keeping your sexual envy well managed, is a better state to be in than being sex starved and rabidly envious. Sex shouldn’t be the goal. Getting over envy should.
  • And finally, because it warrants repeating – there is no sexual entitlement on which to base sexual expectations. Sexual entitlement, not lack of sex, is the problem.

~ Bruce

Atheist kindness

If there’s one particular argument over “who’s better and why” that I find disturbing, it’s the “theists do more/atheists do less to help the disadvantaged” trope. The PR associated with the “debate” over the issue has a way of making the vulnerable and disadvantaged, the very people who’s needs are supposed to be the purpose of the whole welfare venture, instrumental to other people’s self-image. Usually people who have more money than them.

Really, it seems quite selfish to me, this “we are kinder/just as kind”, kind of crap. You have these people who have a home, money and security, sponging off of the destitute for brownie points.

I’ve seen it in religious apologetics with the use of bad statistics, usually containing category errors which make unverifiable assumptions about those donating to charity. There are many avenues one can go by to help those in need, and most of them don’t discriminate against help on the basis of the life stance of the donor – hence they don’t exactly have a running census. You can’t just go and assume that all of World Vision’s work is the work of the religious – they seek donations from theist and atheist alike.

While I’m of the understanding that a number of church-based welfare agencies are pointedly non-proselytic (for example, it’s a violation of Centrecare’s code of ethics and social justice policy*), the same isn’t true of a number of religious aid initiatives. Let’s not mince words. Proselytism to the disadvantaged and vulnerable is predatory. It’s taking advantage of a lack of social justice to engage in coercion. Furthermore, it can get in the way of genuine relief efforts.

There are always resource bottlenecks in crisis situations. Even when infrastructure isn’t compromised, resources are finite and geared more closely to the supply and demand situation under normal circumstances. A large stochastic event drastically alters supply and demand in a way production isn’t geared to cope with. Take any of the serious Australian bushfires we’ve had in the past few years – we’re well equipped but in each relief effort you’ll hear words to the effect of “please no more clothes, just send food or donate directly to this fund”.

Storage space and transport are finite. Sending and storing things that aren’t needed doesn’t just not help – it can get in the way of relief efforts. A plane or truck carrying something that isn’t going to save a life could otherwise be used to transport something that could. In essence this is what John Stuart Mill called (and what economists call) opportunity cost.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that Haiti’s infrastructure was rubbish before the earthquake. It doesn’t take Einstein to tell that it’s even worse afterward. And it shouldn’t be beyond the average person off the street to be able to tell that a solar power bible isn’t going to pull anyone out of the rubble, or administer CPR, or set up a field hospital.

The easy answer to this is “ATHEIST CHARITY!!!” It’s an easy answer and like many easy answers, I don’t like it. For one, I prefer secular charity. There are two big, albeit not-necessary implications calling a charity “atheist” – either one of non-religious proselytism or exploitation for political ends: a response to the calculated stereotype that paints atheists as necessarily selfish (something the current Pope is guilty of spreading around).

It appears to be very easy for atheists to be baited into exploiting the beneficiaries of their charity, if only inadvertently. Take the recent “atheist giveaways“. Well meaning, no doubt. Needed, no doubt. And no signs of proselytism – that’s good.

But… Filming the needy at their most vulnerable – when they are asking for help – to produce a video showing how atheists can be nice, is not okay. It’s exploitative.

Sure, make a video arguing that atheists are nice people. Make a video promoting the cause of welfare. I don’t have a problem with either. There are however, right and wrong ways of going about it.

Helping people isn’t easy work, much less so when done properly. Just because the Vatican (and others) really has it in for atheists these days is no excuse to make great displays of kindness at any cost – including the cost of the dignity of the disadvantaged. This PR problem that has been foist upon us by others is the problem of said others – we shouldn’t be sabotaging our better inclinations just in order to respond.

Further to this. It should become apparent that in as far as the motives for helping people are concerned, I don’t think that the identity of the helper is particularly relevant. When I’ve done charity work, I haven’t, nor will I ever give a rat’s arse about who I do it with. At least in as far as religious affiliation is concerned.

Seriously, if you’re an atheist reading this, ask yourself “would I deny help from a theist in helping my fellow human?” If your answer is yes, then you’ve got problems. Sure, you probably don’t want to proselytise or be a party to proselytism directed at the poor – I can relate. But that doesn’t prevent you from working with religious people.

I know it’s not impossible because I’ve done it myself.

So what kind of “atheist charity” do you have if you have Christians and Muslims and fellow humans from various other religious affiliations at your side? You don’t have one. And if you aren’t church-based, and you don’t proselytise, what you have is a secular charity.

I’ve got a bit of a “faitheist” for a cousin, who likes to point out that there aren’t any atheist charities. Put simply, if you have a non-church-based charity that doesn’t proselytise and doesn’t care one hoot about who helps out, you’ve got as atheist a charity as many an atheist would ever want. Of course, these secular charities don’t stand out, but that’s not the point – they are numerous, but they’re there to help out, not to make a display.

Opportunity cost plays a part in this as well. Why waste energy on replicating welfare infrastructure that is already available to secular ends, even if the infrastructure just happens to church-based? Energy wasted on unnecessary replication of infrastructure is energy not spent on helping people.

That being said, atheists shouldn’t have their efforts frustrated either. There’s a lot of need in the world going unmet. So on the occasions that I’ve been made aware of secular not-for-profit initiatives aimed squarely at where need exists being discriminated against because of their non-religious status, I’m truly appalled. This comes down to opportunity cost as well.

A charity that serves X amount of utility, for Y amount of funding, displacing the utility provided by another contender (Z), where Xis being paid Y amount of funding to generate negative utility. Put more simply, they’re being paid to displace a better welfare agency and thus increase the need for welfare.

This can be put in even more sinister terms. Consider a thought experiment.

$1 million of funding is available to tender poverty relief. Using these funds, Charity A will alleviate $1.2 million of poverty; Charity B will alleviate $1.5 million of poverty. Due to denominational politics, Charity A gets the tender. The sinister aspect in this thought experiment is that the poor are paying $300,000 in opportunity costs so that Charity A can absorb $1 Million of funding into its infrastructure – along with all the political influence that buys – at the meagre cost of $200,000 (from tax-exempt income, of course).

This isn’t nearly as hypothetical as you may think. This, in various forms and with various sums, is essentially a lot of what happened with Job Network contracts under the Howard Government. Although the criteria for discrimination was more (albeit not entirely) secular – church-based institutions, along with more secular Job Network members, would be enticed carrot-and-stick to comply with new Job Network policy, attracting political influence at the price of giving political or religious validation to the Federal Government.

Concerns about what was best for the disadvantaged were pushed down the list of priorities as this religious-political horse trading was executed. Deserving, principled welfare groups (both church-based and secular) were themselves disadvantaged if they didn’t play along**. The needy being the end-recipient of this neglect.

The take-home message in all of this is that welfare agency, and not-for-profit attempts to better humanity’s lot in general, can be undermined when treated as political capital. Secular or not.

I am a big believer in secular welfare, and I think it the best way to bring about social justice – material needs being met with the best (albeit not infallible) guarantee of the preservation of human dignity. Not that I think for a moment that atheists have been selfish in the past, the renewed interest in welfare amongst the out-atheist community is to be welcomed. Just not as a PR exercise (why dignify anti-atheist propaganda with such a response anyway?)

In any undertaking of secular welfare however, we atheists need to keep in mind why we should be (not just why we are) going about it in the first place and let those justifications inform our strategies. We atheists are still quite capable of stuffing this up if we lose our way.

Perhaps instead of getting defensive in response to the fatuous “selfish atheist” charges, we just get on with the job and make explicit our expectations that our theist counterparts do the same. Appealing to them to join with us in opposing the treatment of welfare recipients as political currency.

~ Bruce

* Indeed, the policy goes beyond a “do not”, mandating that Centrecare workers take deliberate preventative steps against imposing their personal beliefs upon clients.

** This is all relative of course – even those that came through the process relatively unscathed weren’t at all happy about the horse trading for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the effect upon the provision of service.

Howard doomed to repeat history?

It has a bizarre kind of symmetry to it.

All is not well with the Australian economy. Sure, monetary deregulation (in a large part thanks to Keating) has kept today’s interest rates from spiking like they did before the 90s, thus rendering election debate on interest rates more-or-less moot. Enterprise bargaining (thanks again Keating) has ensured the growth of our economy; productive growth. The kind of growth that puts the P into GDP (or GNP if you prefer), not growth in speculation, not cost-push inflation simply making the numbers bigger.

Still, things could be better. Whether or not we are experiencing inflation depends on which basket you use to measure the CPI. My own personal basket, if you consider rent, is skyrocketing. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Debt. Once upon a time, debt used to be a stick that the Libs would beat the Hawke-Keating Govt. with (despite how much the prior Fraser Govt. contributed). Australian private sector debt (as a percentage of GDP/GNP) is worse under our current Federal Government than under any Australian Government in history. And that budget surplus that the Peter “The Grin” Costello is grinning about, well the shine is taken off of it when you consider the black hole in treasury to the tune of 60-odd-billion-dollars of unfunded super that the Federal Government has accrued.

Things could be worse, but things could be better. The Federal Government has nothing to pat itself on the back about when it comes to the economy and let’s face it, working families have it tough and more-so now that it is a lot easier to sack them (and while screwing their pay-packets down may be illegal according to the “Workplace Authority”, the “Authority” is often impotent in making determinations).

So it has to grate on many Australian’s nerves when they see comments like these.

(Source: Howard Facts ‘Never Better Off?‘)

Now Keating’s reforms (monetary and enterprise bargaining) may be things he can be proud of. They did good things for the Australian economy and still continue to do so. But… Things weren’t all that flash back when Keating was PM so getting all puffed-up and proud was probably a bad idea. Just as it’s a bad idea now.

Indeed, Keating was taken to task on his confidence. He was taken to task for his pride. A certain Australian lectured him on this mistake in the lead-up to mid-90s electoral defeat.

Surely then, the words of said Australian would also be pertinent political advice for John Winston “Never Had It Better” Howard!

Ah. The smell of hypocrisy in the evening.

~ Bruce

Disclosure: Bruce Everett is a (pretty nominal) member of the Australian Labor Party.