Women’s rights and GLBT rights are human rights

Note: I’ve started posting most of my writings about sex, culture, and society over to the Promiscuity Keepers Web site. The most recent post is an essay about why I, as a cisgendered straight man, care about the political assault on women’s rights and GLBT rights. Here’s a teaser:

Before I get started, though, let me say this: I am a white, cisgendered heterosexual man. That puts me in a uniquely privileged position; since I will never be pregnant, the assault on women’s right to choose doesn’t affect me directly. Since I am straight, the assault on the rights of gays and lesbians doesn’t affect me directly. Since I am a man, I am almost never the target of slut-shaming. I am, in other words, not the target of the campaign against women and gays that’s playing out on the airwaves and in the ballot boxes all over the United States right now.

But in a way, that’s kind of the point, because even though I am not the target of the attacks on women and gays, they still very much affect me. The thing is, these are not assaults on women’s rights or gay and lesbian rights; they are assaults on human rights. I am not gay and I am not a woman, but I am a human being. It would be a mistake for me to think that these things don’t affect me directly.

Let’s look at contraception. The debate over whether or not women should have easy access to contraception has turned into one of the defining issues in the current political discussion. Last October, presidential candidate Rick Santorum said “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK; contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” …

Want to see more? Read the whole post here!

Boston Chapter 11: When Hair Metal Attacks

I have, as the regular reader will no doubt have noticed, been remiss in relating the end of the tale about the adventures experienced on the road to Boston. The parts concerning giant prairie dogs, rooftop wonderlands, Guatemalans, and the fury of Nature have been related already, but a cavernous hole remains in my tale, that of our experiences once we arrived.

Fear not, gentle readers, that much-needed hole is about to be filled.

As I related before, we carefully timed our arrival in Boston to coincide with the wrath of Hurricane Irene, which had filled us with some not inconsiderable consternation yet which turned out, truth be told, to be something of a damp squib.

We spent the night–a night which, I might add with a not inconsiderable amount of frustration, we had originally intended to spend in Cincinnati in the care of the pet lesbians–watching reruns of the new Dr. Who on TV, while outside the walls Irene thundered her rage, by which I mean tossed around a few leaves and then slipped quietly away to go sulk somewhere else.

We did, as I mention before, brave the fury of the hurricane to find cheap Mexican food. Along the way, we passed this building, which is apparently for sale.

It’s an old Catholic church, on a large plot of land with an old school (complete with dormitories!) behind it. Apparently, the whole complex is long abandoned and up for sale. Oh, the thoughts that poured through my head, let me tell you…I thought, gentle readers, of secret lairs and poly communes and hacker spaces and, buried somewhere deep don inside, perhaps just a bit of doing something unspeakable on the altar, assuming it’s still there.


The next morning dawned bright and clear, and figmentj soon arrived to carry me off. I was soon able to meet her then-fiancee (and now husband–congratulations, sweetie!), and together they exposed me to downtown Boston, a weird record store, and, God help me, Bulbous Bouffant.

The latter actually came first, and it turned out to be rather a good thing. Had I not been exposed to the wonders of the Bulbous Bouffant, I might have departed that afternoon to wander Boston’s urban delights with my sanity wholly intact, and the consequences of that might have been…unfortunate. We ventured, you see, to a vintage record store.

Dear God, we ventured to a vintage record store.

I am a child of the 80s, by which I mean a teenager of the 80s, and so I’ve lived through what is arguably some of the worst pop music the 20th century ever produced. It didn’t seem all that bad, at the time; but I suppose it is always hindsight that reveals true horror. While we’re in the thick of it, our brains shut down, a protective measure gifted to us by millions of years of evolution and an ancestry made up of hunter-gatherers who were often so busy fighting of leopards with their bare hands that they couldn’t afford to spend the time to think “Holy shit I’m fighting off a motherfucking leopard with my motherfucking bare hands!” And so, during the 80s, it all seemed totally natural and normal that we would listen to music produced by emotionally volatile prima donnas with bleached hair teased to within an epsilon of reason and sanity on the illuminating topic of how bad they got it for teacher.

All this I knew, having, as I mentioned, lived through it, though that doesn’t mean I was quite prepared to come face to face with that unfortunate chapter of musical history, in the form of…

…Christian hair metal.

For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, which as near as I can tell both began and ended with Stryper, let me repeat that: Christian hair metal.

Christian hair metal is a microcosm of one of the most knotty and intractable problems of theology; namely, how can a divine being who is both good and just allow evil to exist? On the one hand, the fact that Christian hair metal ended with Stryper is evidence of God’s bountiful mercy toward His creation; but on the other, the fact that Christian hair metal began with Stryper is inherently at odds with the notion that there exists anything which is beneficent or just anywhere in all that which is or ever will be.

That wasn’t the real horror, though.

The real horror was lurking for us over the checkout counter.

Yeah, I got nothing.

The horror of my adolescence relived, we headed out to Boston Commons.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Boston Commons. I’ve been there a few times now, and one of the best memories I have of my sweetie Shelly involves the two of us watching the two happiest puppies in the world playing with each other on the grass on a beautiful spring day there, many years ago.

On this particular day, a bit more blustery and less sunny than that day, there were no surrealistically happy puppies rolling around with each other. There was, however, a man passing out flyers and railing against the perceived deficiencies of the public school system.

I spent most of my formative years in southwest Florida, where I received, it must be said, rather a good public-school education. Upon leaving that state, for reasons far too complicated to relate here but involving some of the more appalling shortcomings of the capitalistic system under which we live, I landed for a time in Georgia, where I spent a few years being knocked about by that very same capitalistic system. While I won’t bother to give you the details, I can offer this bit of hard-won wisdom: Should you ever be given the opportunity to become a minority partner in a desperately underfunded tech startup, run. Run your ass off. Don’t look back.

But I digress.

The upshot of all of this is that I am deeply inculturated with the ideas and values of the American South. So I can be forgiven, I hope, for assuming, when confronted with a man in a public park angrily carrying on about the shortcomings of the public educational system, if my first impulse was to assume that he wanted the subject of evolutionary biology struck from the curriculum, or wanted to bring back a mandatory hour of prayer to the classroom, or something else along those lines. It has generally been my experience, you see, that when someone complains about the quality of education in the twentieth century, it’s because he wants to bring it back to the eighteenth.

So it was with quite some surprise and pleasure that I listened to him for a bit, and read the pamphlets he was handing out, and I learned that he was arguing in favor of teaching critical reasoning and analytical thought in the public classroom, and proposed a course of study rich in mathematics, science, and logical reasoning.

One day, Boston, I will return to you. Even if only for a short time. Oh, yes, I will.

My tale is at this point nearly finished; there is little left to relate save for the bit about the elephants, which will have to wait until next time.

Love, love, love: where the Greeks went wrong

Everyone who’s ever had a liberal arts background, and most folks who’ve ever spoken to someone with a liberal arts background, and some folks who’ve never done either but who’ve talked about the philosophy of polyamory for any length of time, are probably aware that the Greeks, who loved creating classification systems for things almost as much as they loved war, developed a classification system for love.

In the Greek system, there are four distinct types of love. They believed in Agape, unconditional all-encompassing love like the love of the gods for humans (presumably just before the gods kill lots of people in an earthquake or a flood or something); Eros, or passionate love, usually (but not always) sexual; Philia, or friendship love, of the sort between comrades (and later used by psychologists for sexual kinks that most folks don’t have and usually that the psychologist in question doesn’t quite understand); and Storge, or familial love.

It occurred to me while I was preparing to shower this morning, as such things often do, that the Greeks missed a couple of types of love in their categorization.

Now, I am aware that the Greeks were legendary for their considerable talents in sorting and labeling things, an art they developed to such an advanced degree that their philosophers even devised classification systems for people (bronze, for slaves; silver, for tradesmen and politicians; and gold, for philosophers)…so it is with the greatest trepidation that your humble scribe dares to suggest that the Greek taxonomy of love might in the slightest way be lacking.

However, as much respect as I hold for their considerable skills at pigeonholing (and believe me, I hold it in exactly as much respect as it so richly deserves), I feel I must point out that their system is incomplete.

So I would like to propose two additional categories of love:

Orwellos, for compulsory love that is mandated by authority, such as the love of Big Brother, the love of Kim Jong Il, and the love of various hypothetical divine entities who love you in return but will cast you into a lake of fire if you fail to love them enough, or love them in the wrong way.

Stockholmia, or the love of one’s abuser, such as the love of Patty Hearst for the Symbionese Liberation Army and the love of Linux users for Linux.

There may yet be a seventh category of love, for love of people for political institutions which act against their interests, though it is not entirely clear to your humble scribe whether that’s an entirely separate category of love or simply a combination of the last two.

Edit: After further consideration and consultation with zaiah, I have come to the conclusion that the love of people for politicians and political parties who act against their interests is indeed its own unique form of love, rather than being a combination of Orwellos and Stockholmia.

I would therefore like to propose a seventh type of love. Following slutbamwalla‘s brilliant suggestion, may I propose:

Santoros, the love that people have for politicians or political organizations who appeal to their sense of identity while simultaneously acting against those people’s own interests.

Science: Not perfect, but just a bit better than most other systems

On another forum I read, someone made the claim that in science, politics and general human fallibility get in the way of learning the truth just as they do in all other areas of philosophical endeavor, and ended with “Science is little more or less immune to this effect.”

Which is, when it comes right down to it, totally wrong.

The entire point of using the scientific method as a means to understand the physical world is that science is, at least slightly, more immune than most other human endeavors. There are three reasons for science’s resilience when compared to other human institutions: skepticism, replicability, and peer review.

Skepticism means deliberately mistrusting your data, even if it says something you really really really really want it to say. Science works very hard to get rid of things like confirmation bias. It’s not always perfect, but at the end of the day it’s pretty damn good.

Replicability says that if something is true, it’s true for everyone, regardless of belief or political persuasion. If I measure the gravitational constant, and some guy in Iran measures the gravitational constant, if our measurements are correct they will be the same. No matter what philosophical, political, or religious differences we have.

Peer review means nothing is taken on faith. There are no holy fathers in science, no infallible popes. No matter how renown, popular, or revered a scientist is, if he’s wrong, he’s wrong. Einstein got some things wrong. So did Newton. Everyone’s work is checked. Nobody’s work is taken at face value. Everyone’s data is analyzed. Everyone’s results are scrutinized. From time to time, a scientist might try to bully his way into acceptance, sure; scientists are, after all, only human. But peer review has a way, eventually, of correcting their errors.

No human endeavor is perfect, but those built-in checks do mean that science tends to be self-correcting to a degree that most other human endeavors are not.

It is this fundamental attribute of the scientific method–its self-correcting process–that is the single most valuable thing about it. The scientific method does not guarantee happiness or justice or peace or validation. It does not guarantee that the results it offers will be what we expect them to be, or even that they will be comprehensible to us; the more we learn about the laws of nature on a very small and a very large scale, the stranger they seem to our intuition. It offers only one thing: the ability to model the physical world in a way that is consistent with observable reality.

But that one thing it does, it does very, very well indeed.

Up your bumper, Rush Limbaugh

Some time ago, before Rush Limbaugh and his buddies launched their all-out assault on women in their effort to give the Democratic party a landslide victory this November, I created a bumper sticker over at Cafepress: “I (heart) Sex and I Vote”.

I abandoned Cafepress years ago. However, this sentiment seems far more relevant and necessary today than it did back then, so I’ve set up the store again.

So, here it is again. If you’d like to show Rush’s fans how you feel about sex, click here!

I’ve also created icons suitable for LiveJournal, Twitter, and other blogs and forums from the same design, which you are free to download and use however you’d like:

100×100 pixels

80×80 pixels

Some Thoughts on Radical Honesty

A couple of weeks ago, before I travelled to the UK, I was home watching old episodes of the TV show Bones on Netflix. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s about a beautiful forensic anthropologist with an inability to relate to other people’s emotional state that’s as tenuous as a BitTorrenter’s understanding of intellectual property, a dashing FBI agent who has a startling lack of ability to think outside the box, and the wacky hijinks that ensue in the world of forensic science because each is too cowardly to admit that they fancy the other.

One particular episode I watched centered around a group dedicated to the idea of “radical honesty.” As might be expcted from a mainstream television show written for a mass audience by generally competent but not particulalry brilliant writers, the show’s main characters spent some time debating the merits of complete honesty in interpersonal relationships, and wacky hijinks ensued. In the end, cultural norms were validated, the easiest answer was reached, the bad guy was arrested, and everyone was happy.

Something left me flat about the episode, and after processing it for a while, I figured out what it was. Any discussion about radical honesty invariably ends up getting framed as a question about whether or not being honest all the time is good, and that is a terrible way to look at the question.

It has been my experience that people dedicated to the Radical Honesty movement tend to be, not to put too fine a point on it, rather horrible people. Now, I’m sure there are absolutely lovely, smart, compassionate folks who are part of the whole Radical Honesty thing…but I have yet to meet any.

The folks I have met to advocate Radical Honesty tend to fetishize blunt, unvarnished, raw communication, at the expense of compassion or of any sort of concern for the emotional response of the people to whom they are speaking. Like the main character in Bones, they tend to display a lack of empathy toward their fellow human beings that, from the outside, borders on active hostility.

And that’s unfortunate, because it means that conversations about Radical Honesty almost always end up being framed in terms of “Is honesty good, or do we need little white lies and other small deceptions in order to make civilization go?” The debate gets set in terms of honesty vs. dishonesty, and that’s a damn shame.

To me, it seems self-evidently obvious that honesty in one’s romantic affairs is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy that’s likely to lead to healthy, secure relationships. Debating the relative merits of honest relationships is, to me, as pointless as debating whether “round” is a good general shape for a wheel.

I advocate, absolutely and without reservation, for honesty in relationships. That would, at first blush, seem to put me square in the same camp as the Radical Honesty folks…and I still can’t abide them.

To understand why, one need only consider the question “Does my butt look big in this?”

It is a fact of the human condition, as sure and immutable as the fact that night follows day: Whenever anyone discusses the idea of honesty in a relationship, at some point the conversation will turn to “Does my butt look big in this?”

Those who advocate for dishonesty will say that the easy, comforting answer, the flattering lie, is best. The Radical Honesty crowd will say that telling the truth gives the other person the opportunity to learn the valuable life skill of Not Taking Things Personally…and besides, you’re not responsible for someone else’s emotional state anyway.

And they’re both wrong.

The question “Does my butt look big in this?” is almost never about the clothing in question or the butt in question. (I won’t say it’s never about that; the speaker might be getting ready for a job interview or a date or something, and looking for advice on the most flattering outfit to wear. But that’s very situational.) Instead, the question is almost always about something else–a passive way to fish for compliments or validation, an expression of body-image insecurity, something like that.

The white lie–“Yes, dear, your butt looks magnificent!” if it doesn’t–does little to address the real issue. And the person asking the question is unlikely to believe the answer, anyway.

But the Radical Honesty answer is no better; in fact, it’s worse. “Your butt looks big no matter what you wear” also does nothing to address the real issue, but on top of that it’s pointlessly, needlessly cruel.

It is possible to be honest without being cruel. That’s the part the advocates of Radical Honesty rarely get right. “I like your butt better in the polka-dotted skirt” might be an honest answer. “I love you dearly; there’s no reason to worry about your butt, because that’s nothing to do with the reasons I love you” is another.

Honesty without compassion is rubbish. The question should not be framed as “Which is better, honesty or dishonesty?” but rather “How can we strive for absolute honesty in a framework of respect, compassion, kindness, and sincerity?” All too often, when the question is framed as Radical Honesty vs. The Little White Lie, the only compassionate answer is The Little White Lie, because the philosophy of Radical Honesty–at least as I’ve seen it practiced–treats compassion with disdain, or even contempt.

Honesty is the best policy. Being honest is an absolute prerequisite for healthy relationships. But honesty does not excuse indifference to the feelings of others. Poor behavior is poor behavior even when it’s wrapped in the cloak of honesty.

The same is true, I think, of many different ideas about relationships.

There are a number of relationship philosophies that I think are absolutely essential to healthy positive romantic relationships. Other than honesty, they include the notion of accepting responsibility for one’s emotional state, being willing to accept and work through issues such as personal insecurity, and being willing to accept responsibility for wrongdoing without externalizing blame, among others.

Essential to all of these, though, is compassion and respect for the particular feelings and experiences of other people.

Unfortunately, I have seen examples of situations where people use every one of these principles as a blunt instrument against others. Any one of these can be subject to the Radical Honesty Effect–enshrinement of the principle above the basic rules of decency, to the point where adhering to the principle becomes validation enough that compassion can be discarded.

I’ve seen the idea that we are all responsible for our own emotional state become distorted by the Radical Honesty Effect in some parts of the poly community, where it seems to be taken as a code phrase for “I can do whatever I want to you, and no matter how it makes you feel, that’s your shit to deal with, not mine.”

With personal responsibility, as with honesty, there are compassionate ways to interact with others, and there are ways that suck. The notion that we are all ultimately responsible for our emotional states does not, in point of fact, justify one in being an arsehole, any more than honesty does.

Radical Honesty can become an excuse to say whatever’s on your mind without regard to the effect your words will have. The idea that we are all responsible for our own emotions can, if not watchdogged, become an excuse to behave however you like without regard for the way it affects other people. Unfortunately, what that means is that debate about either of these things tends to get framed in some unfortunate ways–honesty vs. dishonesty, personal responsibility vs. projecting responsibility for the way you feel onto others–that miss the real heart of the matter.

The heart of the matter, as far as I am concerned, is “What can I do to make my relationships stronger, built on a foundation of integrity and trust, and to help the people around me feel supported, cherished, and loved?” I don’t feel that dishonesty, whether in the form of “little while lies” or otherwise, does that; but I also don’t think that saying “Man, that dress makes your butt look like two enraged hippopotamuses dueling with light sabers under a circus tent!” does that, either. I don’t think that enabling insecurity by accepting responsibility for the emotional experiences of my partner does that; but I also don’t think that saying “Tough shit, that’s your issue, you deal with it” does that, either.

It is possible to be compassionate without sacrificing any of these ideals, which is something I rarely seen talked about in any conversations about them. In the case of a person struggling with some kind of negative emotional response, it can be as simple as “I see that this is something you are having difficulty with. I want to help support you and give you safety while you come to terms with it. Let me know how I can make you feel cherished and loved. If you need more of my time and attention while you deal with this, I am here for you.”

The key here is that any philosophy, even if it is true, does not excuse one for being a douche. This probably should be self-evident, but apparently it isn’t.